Don’t D.I.E., Instead T.H.I.N.K.
by Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
From simple annoyance to fiery rage, loss of temper, with its emotional and physiological mayhem, so mess with your life that it’s time to prevent, not just manage the thunder. Sure quarantine, masks, gloves, hand washing, that itch on your cheek you aren’t supposed to scratch, kids at home all day long, and the ever-present threat of catching COVID19 can get to the calmest of us. Lashing out in anger over even the smallest slight or obstacle only makes sense if your goal is to strip yourself of peace while inflaming your bitterness and indignation.
Sure, frustration may be appropriate when it comes from the right place, is well controlled, is short in duration and results in something healthy. But when temper is driven by selfishness, demanding, insisting self-talk, and leads to physically explosive, people harming outbursts well, then it’s time to get a handle on it.
Sick and tired of something and then you blow up? Show your anger in devious ways? Show you’re pissed-off with sarcasm? Ready to rage and instead barely put on a fake smile? Hear your friend badmouthing you and you think it “makes you feel” furious? So your thalamus, amygdala, and frontal lobes go into high gear as a result of telling yourself a story about some outside event. You’re inflaming your rage and your brain is hijacked.
You’ve no doubt read about the value of calming your emotional brain by relaxation training, deep breathing, regular exercise, healthy diet, wise problem solving, counting to 10, and over-the-counter or prescriptive medication to calm your wrath. I say, “YES” to them all, when and if properly done. They will, no doubt, help ratchet you down, dial back your fury and ire, settle your seethe, and eliminate erupting.
But why not learn to prevent the boil in the first place? Want to fix broken bones or prefer to prevent bones from breaking in the first place? Why place an ambulance at the bottom of the hill when you can put up a fence at the top of the hill? Beyond common sense approaches to dissipating temper, what can you do to prevent it from boiling in the first place?
Don’t D.I.E. Instead T.H.I.N.K.
I’ll explain. Temper never starts with anything other than thinking about an external event in a certain way. Nobody, not the angriest person you know, “gets” angry or is “made to feel” angry or “let’s others get to him/her.” No, that’s not the way temper blossoms. It grows solely in your own thoughts. Sorry. Not blaming. Just fact.
As Epictetus said, “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them.” So remember rule #1: Temper is triggered by what you think about events or things that happen, not by those things.
It’s important to know the common triggers about which you have temper-provoking thoughts. These may include places, things, events, situations or people in your life. Of course, if your relationships aren’t going well, or if you are using unhealthy substances to control your feelings, or if you are struggling with depression or anxiety, or perhaps your finances aren’t going well, or your aren’t getting enough restorative sleep, controlling your thinking won’t come easy.
Let’s say someone jumps in front of you on line while you are waiting to order your morning coffee, takes “your” parking space, jumps on “your” spot on the floor in your group exercise room, picks up the last size 4 jeans that you demanded be “yours,” or your boss tosses some extra work your way on Friday afternoon. You think, “That’s not fair!” “She shouldn’t do that!” “That’s not my job!” “I’ll never get those jeans again!” “This is awful, terrible, horrible!” “I can’t tolerate this!” “This always happens to me.”
You erroneously believe you are under threat, have been attacked, have been victimized or somehow have been hurt. You haven’t been. There’s really no “thorn in your side.” Someone did something you didn’t like. There are no real “shoulds” or “oughts,” but rather a long list of preferences you, we, all have.
Ask yourself these temper preventing questions: Is there another way of looking at your situation? What would someone who hasn’t angered him/herself be thinking about this situation? What is the worst thing that could go wrong? How can I benefit from this situation.? Remember that things don’t happen TO you, but rather FOR you? Will this matter in 5 years?
Think something should or must be different? Turn it into an “I’d like it to be different but it doesn’t have to be.” Think something is awful? Turn it into, “It’s too bad.” Think you must be different, that others must treat you differently and that your life must be better? Rid yourself of those demands. Demanding, Insisting and Expecting yourself, others and your life to be different (D.I.E.), only results in hurting yourself.
Is what you are thinking about a person, place, situation, event or thing True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Helpful (T.H.I.N.K.)? Always say or think, “I made myself angry.” Keep in mind it’s a foolish waste of time to do that to yourself.
What temper intensifying statements would you be wise to scrub from your mind?
“She always does that!”
“They never listen to me!”
“You have to do this for me!”
“I absolutely must not be late!”
“These drivers should get the heck out of my way!”
“My life must be fair!”
“People must appreciate me!”
“He has to agree with me!”
So you can either manage your temper or you can think yourself out of it in the first place. It’s entirely your call. Marcus Aurelius observed, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” Revoke it.
Dr. Mantell, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and is a sought-after speaker on behavior science. He can be contacted at [email protected] His website is https://drmichaelmantell.com/ This article is reprinted from San Diego Jewish World which, along with The Moderate Voice, is a member of the San Diego Online News Association.