5 Steps to Responding Rather Than Reacting to Anger

Think of your brain as a juke box where most of your records – your reactions to different situations – were recorded well before your reached adolescence. Then, as life goes on and every time someone pushes your button, you automatically play the record that fits each situation.

5 Steps to Responding Rather Than Reacting to AngerTake for instance, being bitten by a big, black dog at age 3. As a normal child your brain would make a record called “become afraid when you see a big, black dog.”

Forward to age 28. you have forgotten the dog incident at age 3. You are walking down the street and pass a dog that is big – and you guessed it – black. You automatically feel anxiety and apprehension and you want to avoid it, even though it is behind a gate and cannot harm you now. You find yourself thinking things like, “Big black dogs are dangerous,” and “It’s better to walk on the other side of the street.”

And so it is with many anger reactions. We find people and situations that literally “push our buttons,” and we respond just like that juke box that automatically pulls down a record and starts playing it.

Of course, there are times when we SHOULD play the usual record. For instance, many social ills in our society are solved by people becoming righteously indignant (a form of anger) and taking action to correct an evil or a wrong.

Other times, anger gets people’s attention and they start taking us more seriously. But, 95% of the time, the negative far outweighs the positive when we lose control of our anger feelings. The costs are usually high and the benefits low.

Most of the time, anger simply doesn’t get us what we desire or need in the first place and only makes things worse in terms of consequences to us, our “victims,” and to the people (like children or employees) who may witness it.

Rather than reacting to anger triggers, here are five steps you can learn to choose how to deal with the situation – to respond rather than react.

1.Awareness: Become more aware of patterns of behavior you exhibit to life triggers. The first step in changing behavior is to become aware of it and recognize it as it is occurring. For instance, “Whenever she talks to her mother on the phone, I want to grab the receiver and slam it down.”

2.Consequences: Learn to think of consequences before you act impulsively. Ask yourself: “If I do that it will only make matters worse; she will think I don’t like her mother; it will stop us from being close tonight; Is it worth it to get angry?”

3.Listen: Listen to the conversation that you are having with yourself and have a different one! As human beings, we have the ability to monitor our own thinking patterns – to think about what we are thinking about: “Why am I thinking she shouldn’t talk to her mother? Why am I trying to control her? What right do I have to demand she give me attention instead of being on the phone? Am I the center of the universe?”

4.Interrupt your normal pattern of behavior and replace it with conscious behavior that moves you closer to your real goals: “What are my options in dealing with this besides getting angry?”

*Go over and kiss her on the neck
*Whisper, “I could use some attention.”
*Tell her how it makes you feel when she spends so much time on the phone instead of with you.

Pick your battles and learn to accept irritating behavior without getting upset.

5.Observe: Watch how differently people respond to you after you start doing things differently. For instance, your husband complains about his boss. If your usual response is to say something like “I’m tired of hearing you complain about her – would you like to hear about a day that was really horrible?” try support and understanding: “I’m so sorry you had such a tough day; would you like to tell me about it?” See if he doesn’t respond to you differently than normal. It is much better to try to change other people’s response to you by changing you first – rather than just demanding that they change to satisfy your needs.

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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