Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cranky Analysis: Cognitive Restructuring, or Changing the Way You Think

We're back to the American Psychological Association web page about controlling anger, looking at the second strategy to "keep anger at bay," cognitive restructuring.

The first strategy, relaxation, has worked pretty well. My crankiness seems more short-lived lately, because it's hard to get too crabby when you're hearing Conan O'Brien say "be cool, my babies!" in your head. And my mood has improved by trying out the Wii Fit and starting to get a little exercise.

So, onto cognitive restructuring:

Cognitive Restructuring

Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colorful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, "oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined," tell yourself, "it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow."

Be careful of words like "never" or "always" when talking about yourself or someone else. "This !&*%@ machine never works," or "you're always forgetting things" are not just inaccurate, they also serve to make you feel that your anger is justified and that there's no way to solve the problem. They also alienate and humiliate people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution.

Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won't make you feel better (and may actually make you feel worse).

Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it's justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is "not out to get you," you're just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it'll help you get a more balanced perspective. Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, willingness to do things their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and disappointed when we don't get them, but angry people demand them, and when their demands aren't met, their disappointment becomes anger. As part of their cognitive restructuring, angry people need to become aware of their demanding nature and translate their expectations into desires. In other words, saying, "I would like" something is healthier than saying, "I demand" or "I must have" something. When you're unable to get what you want, you will experience the normal reactions—frustration, disappointment, hurt—but not anger. Some angry people use this anger as a way to avoid feeling hurt, but that doesn't mean the hurt goes away.

The first time I read this article, this notion of "changing the way you think" really resonated with me. In particular, the jump from reasonable to extreme and illogical when you get angry was a hallmark of my crankiness. In recent times, I have found this is typical of me when I get cranky -- I jump to an extreme reaction pretty quickly. I think it's a bad habit I've really burned-in to my neural pathways. This section of the article is now in the back of my mind when I do start using exaggerated language. It helps me recognize what I'm doing and pull back from the cranky state more quickly.

On my re-reading of this section now, I see the last paragraph contains a lot of meat for me to chew on as well. It's true for me that the reaction I choose to disappointment or lack of agreement is often crankiness. There's a very good point here -- yes, disappointments and disagreements will occur, but the key is how you choose to react to them. I "would like" to see myself reacting in this more tempered way.

The last sentence in the section is the most thought-provoking of all -- expressing the notion that some people use anger as a way to not deal with their feelings. I recognize now that I do that, as noted in Cranky Reason #5: I Get Scared. At the time I wrote it, though, I didn't look at the crankiness as a way to avoid looking at the scariness of the situation. This one sentence has led me down a path of thought so I can clearly see that. I wonder if that's one of the reasons why I've become increasingly cranky over the last few years -- just trying to keep those scary feelings at bay.

Okay, another "aha" moment for me .... just admit it, Cranky, this situation sometimes scares the bejesus out of you. If I acknowledge this, I don't have to get cranky to fend off the scariness. What a concept!


Anonymous said...

Hi Cranky! I am one of those who used anger to mask fear. I was a terrible bully when I was young because I did live in constant fear. This is a great article, and for those of us who "have a temper", it takes a lot of work, but it does eventually work.

Cranky said...

Rain - glad to hear you've had success working on your temper. I really feel this insight I've gained on masking fear can have a big impact.

Diane J Standiford said...

As FDR said, Face your cranky and it will turn to swanky...somethin' like that.