Anger Management Class: Three Ways Automatic Thinking Fuels Anger

Dr. Purushothaman
September 23, 2013

One thing an anger management class should help you to understand is that we all use mental shortcuts that oftentimes are very helpful, but sometimes end up fooling us into misunderstanding a situation and getting angry because of it.

What do I mean by mental shortcut? Well, if you really had to think through every single thing that happened to you it wouldn't take very much for your brain to go into overload. So, Mother Nature has provided humans with the ability to use a sort of automatic processing that helps to cut down on the amount of brain power needed to understand everything that is going on around us.

Mental shortcuts are so natural that most people aren't even aware when they are happening. Most people have an "a-ha" moment when these shortcuts are explained to them and instantly recognize that they do indeed use them themselves and they have caused them to become angry.

The first thing to understand is that everything that almost everything you experience goes through an evaluation process that looks a bit like this:

Trigger leads to Shortcut leads to Reaction

Scientific research has identified a dozen or so shortcuts that people use. Most of us have two or three that we use more often than others. Dealing with shortcuts is actually very easy and, once you become aware of yours it takes about five minutes of practice a day for 8 weeks or so to stop using them.

Anger management classes teach how to avoid shortcuts in three steps. Step number one is to become aware of what your shortcuts are. A couple of the most frequently used shortcuts are described below. Step two is to come up with different questions that challenge the automatic thought. Step three is to remind yourself several times a day of the shortcuts you use and what questions you should use to challenge them.

If you practice this technique you will be surprised at how easily you begin to catch yourself going to the mental shortcuts and how quickly you can begin to think of things in a different light. With practice, you will literally begin to see a difference within a week or so.

Lets take a quick look at three of the most common shortcuts that I've seen in my anger management classes:

1) The Negative Telescope is when you could have a ninety nine good things happen to you but you focus in on the one thing that didn't go the way you wanted it to. Sadly, this happens a lot with couples in long term relationships and is often the cause of many fights.

2) The psychic is when you think you know what someone is thinking or what his/her intentions were without you being told by him/her. You just assume that you know where a person is coming from. This is also frequently seen in couples. The funny thing is sometimes the longer you know someone the less you really know them because you are constantly reading their mind instead of talking to them about what's really going on.

3) Shoulds are when you think something or someone "should" be a certain way or there is something wrong. How many times have gotten angry and thought to yourself: "I wouldn't get mad if s/he would do it my way"? Even though the word should is not used the implication is that there is only one way to do something and any other way is wrong or upsetting.

Learning and changing your automatic thinking can very quickly help you with an anger management problem.


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