Change Your Internal Conversations to Control Your Anger

Every Holiday season Vicki found herself angry and silently seething at her older sister, Susie, and mother as they were merrily chatting about Susie’s successful life.

Change Your Internal Conversations to Control Your AngerThanksgiving was no exception. Vicki had to sit stoically while Mom praised Susie’s new house, her recent promotion at work and how well the grandchildren were doing. Not once did their mother or Susie ask about Vicki’s life in a way that sounded sincere to Vicki.

As a result, Vicki was feeling ignored. Sensing this, sister Susie tried to make contact with Vicki by inviting her to her daughter’s upcoming graduation at which she would be giving the Valedictorian address.

This invitation put Vicki in internal turmoil. While she wanted to be part of the family, there was this inner voice telling her things like: “Sure, they talk to me when they want something!” and “Why should I spend money on a gift when I’m not really part of the family anyhow? Besides, Susie didn’t come to my daughter’s graduation last year.”

What We Think is What We Get

At this point, Vicki is gettng more upset and angry as she struggles with her inner conversation. “Why do they treat me this way?” she is asking herself. “They should pay more attention to me. They never give me credit for anything.”

If someone asked Vicki what was causing her anger, she – like most people – would say something like “It’s my family… they are impossible NOT to get mad at… they constantly make me angry because of the way they act toward me.”

Trigger and Responses

And, like most people, she would only be partially right. While her family members may serve as a TRIGGER for her angry feelings, it is the conversation she has with herself about her family that really causes distress and angst.

New self-messages (or thoughts) can make the difference. As human beings, we have the capacity to monitor our own thinking patterns – to think about what we are thinking about – and thus change our emotions.

Monitoring and changing internal conversations is an important tool for anger management any time of the year, but is critical around the holidays. Holidays encourage family members to interact with each other, sometimes re-igniting lifetime dynamics and painful issues.

Holiday Self-Help Messages

Break bad habits by choosing one, or more, tactics from the following list. But remember, it takes repetition to develop these new “thought” skills:

1.Control: I don’t NEED to get defensive. I can stay calm and deal with it.
2.Keep Cool: As long as I keep cool, I’m in control of myself.
3.My Anger is a Signal: Take the time to talk to myself and relax.
4.Limits: I can’t control my relatives and in-laws. They will think and do what they want. But I CAN CONTROL how I express my feelings.
5.Surviving Criticism: If my family criticizes me, I can survive that. Nothing says I have to be perfect.
6.Reality: The way my family sees me isn’t necessarily the way I am. Their perceptions may be totally wrong.
7.Toleration: This visit will soon be over. I can hold on for a bit more.
8.Acceptance: I have to accept that my family may not treat me the way I would like – but I can live with that.
9.Independence: Nothing says I have to live up to the expectations of my parents or relatives.
10.Reality Check: Maybe I am over-reacting to what they are saying. I understand my anger or insecurity may come from outdated feelings.
11.Inner Strength: I don’t need to doubt myself; what they say doesn’t HAVE to upset me. I’m the only person who can make me upset or calm.
12.Time Out: Before my angry outburst, I will take a “time-out” to cool off, think about these things and calm myself.

Dr. Tony Fiore

After graduating from Purdue University in 1972, he has been active in both community mental health, the private practice of psychology, and teaching, coaching and writing for over 30 years. He has completed numerous certificate programs including Human Sexuality at UCLA, Personal Coaching at the Life Coaching Institute, and Anger Management at the Anderson and Anderson program. To add to his experience and training in conflict resolution, he has also received advanced training in Marital Therapy at the Gottman Institute in Seattle, Washington and he is a certified group leader in the Keeping Love Alive Program by Michele Weiner-Davis.

Dr. Tony Fiore is a California licensed psychologist (Lic Number PSY6670), trained marriage therapist, coach, anger management expert, and author. He has worked with hundreds of couples and individuals in his clinical practice and has taught nearly 1000 anger management classes in southern California since 2002. With a partner, he had co-authored several widely-used books on anger management based on a model of anger management which is now taught to hundreds of other professionals across the country.

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