Anger and Increasing Self-Control

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Reader’s Question

I am 19 years old, and I am a very short-tempered person. I don’t hit anyone when I’m angry, but I become very rude and harsh verbally. I’m always in arguments with my mom and my sister. Both of them hate my attitude and are always telling me to control my temper.

I start nagging people very quickly if I think they’ve done something wrong.

Recently I had a huge argument with my mom and I really raised my voice like all hell was breaking loose, which I know was very wrong, but I couldn’t seem to help it. My mom is very depressed and sad and has physical problems, too. I’m concerned that I upset her. I lost my temper because of a huge misunderstanding. Now, my mom is simply not speaking at all. I have apologized for my misbehavior but she still seems depressed. I fear I really crossed some limits this time, and I really need to learn how to control my temper. Please help!

Psychologist’s Reply

Q: There are many ways that you can increase your level of control over your impulses. And increasing your level of self-control can not only provide you with a boost in self-esteem but also help you improve your relations with others.

Cognitive-behavioral methods have proven quite effective in helping people acquire increased self-control. Naturally, it would be best for you to work with a therapist who specializes in this area, but even if you don’t, there are some principles that you can employ:

Most research indicates that when we are focused on the “big picture” and the long-term potential consequences of our actions — as opposed to our immediate wants — our self-control is increased. So, instead of focusing on the problem of the moment, we can train ourselves to think more about our overall situation and the likely consequences of making one choice over another. In doing so, we’re more likely to make a more reasoned choice. This technique involves one of the cognitive components of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

How we interpret what’s going on greatly affects how we will respond. So, if we entertain thoughts like “She’s doing this just to upset me” or “He doesn’t care about me,” we’re likely to experience an escalation in our negative emotions, which can lead to a loss of impulse control. Changing such thoughts to less negative thoughts can keep us from escalating emotionally and eventually losing control.

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We can also learn how to stop a particular response and replace it with a response or behavior that is incompatible with our original urge. This technique involves one of the typical behavior components of CBT. So, when we find ourselves becoming angry, we might replace the urge to verbally lash out with a brisk run in the neighborhood. This allows us a chance to release energy and gives us time to think as well.

There are many other techniques that can help. Medications can also be helpful in assisting a person to increase their level of impulse control. Also, certain conditions such as a low level of depression, some degree of bipolar disorder, ADHD, etc. can predispose a person to impulse control problems. So, it is best to consult a professional and devise a plan based on your unique needs and circumstances.

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