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Anger Control Workbook

by Matthew McKay, Ph.D. and Peter Rogers, Ph.D.

This workbook introduces a streamlined new approach that allows you to begin a higher level of anger control.

Full Description:   

The toxic costs of anger are well understood: sabotaged careers, alienated family and friends, and even physical damage to a point where illness or an early death can result. Unlike previous models of anger control that began by combating anger-provoking trigger thoughts at a relatively low level of anger, this workbook introduces a streamlined new approach that allows you to begin a higher level of anger control, so that fewer steps are involved. Throughout, the techniques are presented in a clear, step-by-step format and arranged to make it easy to tailor a program to your own personal obstacles and triggering events.

200 pages; 8 1/2 X 11;soft bound

Sample Activity
Dealing with Criticism

Criticism can be very painful. It can evoke memories from childhood when your behavior was minutely scrutinized for mistakes. Then you were judged and made to feel wrong, bed, guilty, and worthless. Each of these feelings has the potential for triggering anger, which is used to avoid and cover up the painful emotions.

There is a way of hearing criticism that can be beneficial to you. Accept the comment as feedback, separate out what is appropriate and useful, and disregard what is not. Here are the steps you need to take.

First, Stop the attack. Don't allow yourself to be verbally battered by anger, abusive attacks from others. Even if you are wrong, or feel guilty about the situation, you don't deserve to be kicked around. If the other person continues to attack you, despite your request to stop, you can call for a time-out or walk away.

Whenever Sharon called her mother, Etta, she was inevitably subjected to a scathing critique of her child-rearing skills. Nothing Sharon did seemed to be right, from the way she fed her children to the clothes they wore. Etta not only gave advice freely, she also yelled at her daughter, calling her an incompetent mother. Sharon would leave each telephone call feeling devastated. Eventually, with the help of a therapist, she learned how to handle the situation. Whenever Etta started to yell or call her names, Sharon would say, "Mother, please stop shouting or I'll hang up." If her mother continued, Sharon was instructed to say, "Oh well. Gotta go now. Bye," and hang up. She would then leave the house so that she couldn't hear the phone ring every ten minutes.

Next, remind yourself that what you're hearing is only one person's opinion about a specific aspect of your behavior. The criticism is about something you've done, not about who you are. The report that you submitted may be deemed "worthless" by your supervisor, but that doesn't mean that you are a worthless person, or that all your work in the past has been worthless. Accept the fact that you don't always do the best job, often because of being rushed or not having all the information you need.

Some criticism can be constructive and helpful. Before you fly into a rage or slink away in embarrassment, make sure you know exactly what the critic is trying to tell you. In order to get the most value out of the situation, you will have to ask for more information. Although it's uncomfortable to encourage the critic, probing for more information may provide you with the useful feedback you need to improve performance - or your relationship.

When Jim wrote the report for his company, he included lots of historical analysis and comparisons to other industries. His supervisor, Bob, returned the report to him, saying it was "useless." Jim felt hurt and devastated, but he was also curious. He asked Bob what exactly he would have liked to see in the report. It turns out that what was wanted was a current market analysis, comparison with other companies in the same industry, and projections for the next five years. The report Jim submitted, although good background material, was indeed unless. What Jim learned is that Bob doesn't always communicate his needs well. Next time he will ask more questions and get all the information he needs before writing a report.

Trevor thought that his relationship with MaryLou was going pretty well, despite fights now and then. So he was really surprised and hurt when Mary Lou became critical and attacked him, apparently out of the blue. "You're just never there for me. All you care about is yourself and your own needs." Gathering courage, Trevor asked her what she meant. "Remember last year when you broke your ankle and it was in a cast for six weeks? I was at your house every other day, cleaning up, cooking your feed, and waiting on you hand and foot. I've been sick with the flu for more than a week and you just go on with your life, and don't even come by to see how I am. Trevor was indeed "clueless," but now he has some more information. Mary Lou would feel cared for if he paid more attention to her and did some things to help her out when she was down.

There are three (3) techniques that you can use to deflect criticism, prevent escalation, and disarm critic.

1) Clouding is a strategy in which you partially agree with the criticism without accepting it completely. This requires that you listen carefully to the critic and agree with the part of the criticism that you feel is accurate. Other options are to agree in principle, or agree in probability.

For example, the criticism might be, "You spend money like it grows on trees. At this rate we'll be penniless in no time." You can agree in part by saying, "Yeah, we have been spending more money since we bought those horses." Or you could agree in principle, by saying, "I think you're right, it's not a good idea to spend too much money." Lastly, you could choose to agree in probability by saying something like, "It's probably true that we're spending quite a bit right now."

2) Making an assertive preference is a way of shutting off the critic completely. You use this technique by acknowledging the criticism, but disagreeing with it. There's no need to give a lengthy explanation or rationale for your behavior - you simply state that that's the way you want to do things. This technique assumes an equal power situation and is a very effective way of stopping further discussion without attacking the other person. And you can do it without getting angry.

For example, if the criticism is, "That's a dumb way to deal with your kids coming home after curfew," you can respond with an assertive preference statement by saying, "I hear that you don't agree with how I'm handling the situation, but I prefer to do it this way." If the critic tried to continue by pointing out the dangers of doing it your way, you can respond by saying, "Thanks for your concern, but I'm willing to take the risk."

3) You can make a content-to-process shift to prevent a discussion from heating up into a full-blown conflagration, or when you think that underlying feelings are fueling the fire. When you make a content-to-process shift, the focus of the discussion changes from the issue (content) to what's going on inside you or the quality of the interaction (process). It allows you to get to the real or more important issues that lies at the bottom of the conflict.

For example, "I know that you like me to look good in public, but we're always arguing about how much money I spend on clothes. I end up feeling accused and attacked by you. What's going on between us that we're feeling angry all the time?"

Exercise: Dealing with Criticism
Use the worksheet on the next page to prepare some more effective ways to deal with criticism. Begin by writing a description of a recent provocation scene in which you felt criticized and attacked. Then, write out what words or actions you would have employed to stop the attack. Next, write what specific questions you would have asked to learn more about the other person's needs, feelings, or problems. Finally, write down some ways in which you could have used clouding, assertive preference, or content-to-process shift to deflect the attack.

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