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How to Handle Being Angry at Yourself

Learn how to handle being angry at yourself from anger management expert Dr. J. Ryan Fuller in this Howcast video.


I'm Dr. Ryan Fuller and I'm going to address how to handle being angry at yourself. So this is a question that, in fact, comes up a lot clinically, but there hasn't been enough scientific attention given to anger management when the target of the anger, in fact, is the self. So if we think about the typical ABC model for anger, where A is an activating event like, you know, "I spoke really disrespectfully to my mother or my romantic partner." B is the belief about what I did, but also about myself where I might think, "I shouldn't have done that. I really should be nicer after all she's done for me." And then oftentimes, there's a judgment or a global evaluation of my worth where I might think something along lines of, "I must be a horrible person for saying such a thing. I'm really disrespectful." And then the emotional consequence might be guilt, but it could also be in this case, anger at myself. So some particularly good interventions if we want to look along the cognitive lines are to challenge the Bs, to challenge our beliefs about the activating event and the beliefs we have about our self to see if they're, one, logical, two, if they're based in reality, and three, if they actually help us to feel better or function better.

And so while it's a very, very good idea for most of us to be really respectful and kind and speak in that manner to our loved ones, nothing says we have to all the time, and that if we don't and we make a mistake, that we, in fact, become horrible people. So while negative emotions like self-anger can be important because they, in fact, punish the behavior itself naturally so we don't repeat it, the question is, even though it willed to the trick, is it necessary? Is it possible than instead of feeling that high degree of anger where I might be driving up my blood pressure and putting myself at risk for a heart attack, could I instead make a mistake, say something disrespectful, which is not something I want to repeat, have beliefs that are more logical and rational about the event, what I did, and myself, and lead to something where I might be annoyed with myself or experience regret instead of a high level of self-anger or rage? So the way to answer that question hopefully is to challenge those first set of beliefs. And here are some kinds of questions you can ask yourself to dispute those beliefs.

So, where is the evidence that thinking I have to always be respectful, even if it's a good idea, where is the evidence that if I believe that I have to always be respectful that I will, in fact, be respectful? Where is the evidence that if I believe I have to be respectful, I'm going to feel better as a function of that? In fact, if you tell yourself again and again, "I have to be respectful. I have to be respectful. I have to be respectful." And then you catch yourself violating that, how are you going to feel? Well, you might feel really angry at yourself. I would recommend to a client that might be perfectly fine to keep that belief if that anger was the only thing that was going to change your behavior. But if you can change your behavior without it, why not let it go? Finally, how does it logically follow that if I am disrespectful one time or even many times that I, in fact, become a horrible person? Does that mean that if I behave respectfully five minutes later, suddenly I have become a wonderful person? Or would it be more accurate and probably more adaptive instead to rate my behavior? We're not saying the behavior is okay. By any stretch to the imagination is a very good idea to behave respectfully and kind and live your morals and values as much as possible. But if I tell myself I have to always, it doesn't make it so.

What if I instead establish my goal is as much as possible and hopefully it will be always to live my values and behave respectfully? If I don't, it doesn't necessarily make me a bad person. It means I did a bad thing. And I can practice some form of self-acceptance while totally, totally rating the behavior as a problem and then actively taking steps to make sure that I don't repeat it. So I want to be clear. It's important to practice self-compassion, not to cut ourselves a break on the behaviors. We want to change the behaviors. But because if we're sitting there punishing ourselves emotionally with high-intensity negative emotions that aren't necessary, we may not be doing ourselves any favor in terms of changing the behaviors. If you think about becoming really, really angry, it doesn't necessarily set the stage to make it easy to communicate respectfully the next time. Instead, let's see if we can aim for, "I wish I had behaved respectfully. It's really bad that I didn't. It doesn't make me a horrible person. It means I'm a person who would benefit from really practicing figuring out what went wrong, how I can do it better the next time. So I experienced regret and I changed my behavior and suddenly my goals are more in line with my values and morals."

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