Using Self Talk
to Manage Your Anger
"Pins and needles, needles and pins; it's a happy man that grins." These classic words were made famous by Jackie Gleason in his role as Ralph Kramden in the 1950s TV sitcom, The Honeymooners. So why in the world was America's favorite bus driver so intent on repeating this phrase whenever he was on the verge of losing his temper? Quite simply, by changing his self-talk
or inner conversation with himself, Kramden was using a popular anger management strategy that continues to be widely used today.
The general idea behind this anger management technique
is that our inner thoughts (or what we silently say to ourselves) can have a great impact on how we feel and how we respond. If our self-talk is negative and/or antagonistic (e.g., "I'm not going to let her talk to me that way" or "One more word out of him and I am going to explode"), the likelihood is that our anger will intensify. On the other hand, if we can change our self-talk to something more soothing or calming (e.g., "Take a deep breath, stay calm, I can get through this"), the likelihood is that we will experience less anger and feel less compelled to respond in a hostile manner.
To help illustrate the power of this anger control tool, let's first examine the impact that other people's words have on us when we are angry. Have you ever been real
ticked off and then further egged on by the words of a friend or family member? On the other hand, can you think of a time
when your friend's words actually helped you to keep your cool? An example might be after you were insulted by a stranger. At such a point, as in most incidents in which one feels provoked or unfairly treated, you probably found yourself at a fork in the road in which you had some choices. You could take the "low road
" and retaliate in an aggressive or hostile manner or take the "high road
" and use your anger management skills
to stay calm and address things in a more appropriate fashion.
When at such a fork in the road, the words of your friend or family member may have been just enough to sway you in one direction or the other. For instance, at the time that you were insulted by a stranger, had your friend chimed in, "Don't take that. I've got your back," there is an increased likelihood that you would have taken the "low road" and reacted in an aggressive fashion. On the other hand, had your friend put his arm around you and said in a soft voice, "Stay calm. This is not worth it," the outcome may have been very different.
Recognizing and understanding the influence of your friends' words comes with both good news and bad news. First the bad news is that the positive people in your life may not always be by your side when you need their words of encouragement. The good news, however, is that you need not rely on other people's words. You can do for yourself exactly what those calming influences have done for you in the past. The key is to just pay more attention to your internal dialogue
and start replacing your negative thoughts with more positive ones.
While Kramden's "Pins and Needles" may not be the mantra that works best for you, perhaps you can develop your own to use when agitated or provoked. It can be something as simple as, "Relax. Take it easy. I can handle this." By modifying your self-talk during moments of anger or frustration, you will be more inclined to take the "high road" and avoid conflicts and negative consequences. Although changing your inner conversation with yourself may feel unnatural at first, it eventually will become second nature. So practice, practice, practice! All the while, keep in mind that your words can be extremely powerful and may ultimately hold the key to managing your anger.
Dr. Lyle Becourtney, a New York State Licensed Psychologist and Certified Anger Management Professional, has a private office in Blauvelt, NY in Rockland County. In addition to running weekly anger management classes, Dr. Becourtney works with individual clients as well as couples who are motivated to learn new anger management techniques.
Copyright © 2008 Dr. Lyle Becourtney,
All Rights Reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your website without alteration if you include this copyright statement and leave all the hyperlinks live and in place.
More Articles by Dr. Becourtney