As the author of an anger management book, and a psychotherapist, I sometimes deceive myself into thinking that I am immune to becoming angered. Once I resume practicing what I preach, I come to realize which cognitive messages of mine became once again corrupted. By corrupted I mean a reversion to the unhealthy thinking patterns.
Common messages that become easily corrupted in people are messages that deal with peer to peer interactions, particularly when it comes to the matters of acceptance and respect. It is easy for us to formulate beliefs around messages that sound appealing to our ears. Specifically, messages that permit us to hold unto delusional beliefs regarding how others are to regard us. For example;
“I should not be disrespected”, or “I should be accepted and treated fairly”, these messages are common themes for the types of messages that set people up for a poor anger management episode, resulting in regret and burned bridges.
Before I go any further, I feel the need to mention that the type of anger management I practice, isn’t about encouraging anyone to play the role of a coward. Quite the contrary, the type of anger management I practice, and teach takes a great deal of courage and inner strength. It’s like chess, your goals are to capture your opponent’s king and protect your king, and during any game you have to be emotionally willing to lose pieces. In real life having a sense of clarity of what your priorities are, allows you to forgive slights or insults.
A client once asked me where I thought he had bought into the messages which fueled his anger, I responded by telling him, everywhere. Sure, early experiences do matter, what is most often overlooked when it comes to cognitive messages is reinforcement.
We should be cognizant of the friends we keep, and the types of media we consume. For example, it becomes hypocritical of me to buy into the non aggression principle, and then go watch a action movie. My first sign of fallibility is when I start to tell myself that it’s just a movie. The truth is that action movies reinforce my already reinforced messages regarding aggression, “an eye for and eye,” and in some cases preemptive aggression. I am still a big believer in self defense, but I have also learned how tapping into the good of others serves as an effective self defense technique. (A blog post for another time.)
Our reinforced maladaptive and negative cognitive messages could easily be reinforced if we deceive ourselves into downplaying the significance of mediums through which old and negative messages have traditionally been reinforced.
Cognizance and avoidance of sources that transmit old and negative messages is not enough. The next step is to seek out new sources that promote and reinforce new messages themed around assertiveness and compassion. This mentality is why the alcoholics anonymous has been successful and effective in helping those wounded by addiction for so many decades. The success comes from offering a new source for the transmission and reinforcement of new and healthier messages.
Good and bad ideas have equal potency to become infectious.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.