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Anger and Self-Talk

One important part of an anger control plan is "self-talk". Self-talk is the conversation you have with yourself inside your head, in other words your thoughts in response to a situation. For example, if you are deciding whether or not to eat a fattening dessert, your self-talk might go something like this: "Wow... that sounds good ... I already ate way too much at dinner but I am planning on exercising tomorrow ... so I guess I'll go ahead and have it".

One way to change your behavior and your feelings about an event or situation is to change your self-talk. This is just as true about controlling anger and aggressive behavior as it is about changing any other kind of feeling or behavior. For example, to change your mind about eating that fattening dessert you might train yourself to think different thoughts. You might get yourself to remember something like "my doctor told me to lose weight,.... to cut down on fat.... and heart disease runs in my family" when faced with that kind of decision. This same strategy can be applied to anger that gets out of control or is inappropriate to the situation.

Certain kinds of thoughts tend to make you angrier, while other types of thoughts tend to lower your anger level. If you can recognize the thoughts you have that crank up your anger, you can try to replace those thoughts with calming, soothing thoughts that will bring your anger level back down.

Here are some examples of the kinds of thoughts that can make you feel angry and some example ideas on the kinds of thoughts you might use to replace them: Thoughts that make things seem worse or more important than they really are an lead to increases in anger. These kinds of thoughts can blow annoyance and aggravation way out of proportion.

Examples of angry thoughts:

  • "Well, she's late, that ruins the whole day."
  • "I just can't stand in this line one more second."
  • "I can't stand how she always talks to me like this."

Alternative self-talk:

  • "It's really not worth getting all angry about and it doesn't really ruin the whole day."
  • "Why should I get all angry about this? I can wait a little longer, it's no big deal. Who will care in a week anyhow?"
  • "In the big picture, this is pretty small. I'll just make the best of it."

"Should" thinking can also be problematic. These thoughts can change your "wants" and "desires" into demands that are placed upon the rest of the world. You are thinking like this when you use a lot of "should be", "need to be" and "is supposed to be" in your self-talk. For instance, "She should be on time." Although we may have strong feelings and opinions about the way things "should be", we do not live in an ideal world or in a world where we get to have control over other people and all events. No matter how mad we get it probably isn't going to change these facts.

Examples of "should" thinking:

  • "They need to do it my way - it's the way things should be done!"
  • "He should be more considerate and be on time!"
  • "That's not fair!" (implying that it should be or needs to be other wise)

Alternative self-talk:

  • "It's not realistic to think people will always act the way I want them to."
  • "I can't control how other people act, no matter how angry I get. So why let myself get all worked up about this?"
  • "Well, it looks like I won't get what I want this time. It's not the end of the world. It's disappointing but I can deal with it."
  • "Instead of getting angry, I'll tell her that I'd like her to call me if she's going to be late."

Thoughts that label people or things in extreme terms can lead to increased anger. Labeling someone as an "idiot" or a "fool" just makes you feel angrier. Using swear words can also make you feel angrier. Try using more realistic negative descriptions.

Examples of thinking in extremes:

  • "This guy is a damn idiot!"
  • "This thing is a useless piece of crap!"

Alternative self-talk:

  • "This guy sure is a slow worker."
  • "It's broken, that's all."

Jumping to conclusions without checking out all the facts can cause many a sticky situation. Your conclusion might not be accurate and it also might crank your anger up. If you had all the facts, you might find out that your anger is out of proportion to the situation or not needed in the situation at all. Slow down and check out the facts.

Examples of jumping to conclusions:

  • "The only reason he would do that is to get to me."
  • "He cut me off on purpose!"

Alternative self-talk:

  • "Where's the evidence that this is the only possible reason?"
  • "Maybe he is just a bad driver. Maybe he's on the way to the hospital. Don't jump to conclusions."

Working on changing your self-talk is only one part of a good anger control plan. There are many other anger control strategies, like "time outs", deep breathing and exercise. By figuring out what works for you and practicing using your plan when you get angry, you can feel more in control of your anger, yourself, and your PTSD.

Source: Adapted from Positive Coping Skills Toolbox
VA Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (MIRECC)

Page last modified/reviewed by athealth on January 29, 2014