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Anger Contracting (continued)

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Examine Your Angry Thoughts

businessman thinkingAs we described previously, the first thoughts that come into your mind when you are angry are likely to be  judgmental and to be based on incomplete information. If you simply react to these incomplete impressions, you will end up attacking the people you are upset with, and this may not be the smart or right thing to do. Instead of just 'going off', agree that you will carefully and critically examine and evaluate each circumstance that provokes your anger. The best time to do this is during the time-out that you should take before your anger gets out of control.

Learn to recognize the types of situations that trigger you, and the types of characteristic angry thoughts that tend to occur to you when you are faced with those triggers. Take time out to decide whether or not reacting in anger will be your best choice. Retrain yourself to think logically and critically about provocative situations that would otherwise be guided by your automatic (and frequently wrong-headed) emotional reactions.

Speak Assertively

Agree that you will spend some time each day practicing assertive communication skills. Read a book about assertive communication. Write down the aggressive things you'd like to say to people who anger you, and then re-write them in more assertive ways. Practice speaking the more assertive statements out loud in front of the mirror, or with a partner (during role-playing). Practicing these statements in advance of angering situations will make them easier to use when you are confronted with the real thing.

Along side of practicing your assertion skills (which are about how to respectfully say what you need to say), you might also benefit from practicing listening skills. Becoming a skillful active listener will improve your communication abilities, thereby expanding your options for getting what you want from other people.

Make It Short

The duration of your anger management contract is important. Specifically, any contract you draw up should only cover a short span of time – one to several days at a time are a good sized duration. Many people start out with a twenty-four hour contract and continue to make new commitments as they reach the end of the previous ones. Holding yourself accountable over shorter periods of time will allow you to adjust your contract as you learn to put anger management techniques into practice. Shorter contract terms also help you to feel successful. You can reward yourself upon successful completion a short contract, feel good about that, and then create a new contract (also for a short time). Contrast this with a long contract where you don't get rewarded for weeks. Shorter contract terms and frequent small rewards for success make for the best, most effective contracts.

Whether you decide to go day by day or for longer periods, you and your witness should both sign the dated contract, and you should keep a copy of your contract with you or posted in a public place so it serves as a reminder of your commitment.

Let Your Friends Help You Reality Test

Your partners, friends, and trusted associates can often recognize when you are getting angry better than you can, so it is a good idea to include them in your anger plan, if possible. Agree on a signal that friends can give you when they see you start sliding into old aggressive patterns. Once you receive the signal, you will know you need to change your behavior to avoid escalating your anger. You may want to take a time-out or agree to postpone your argument until you can speak about it from a more calm and rational place.

Reward Yourself

Write rewards for yourself into your anger contract. You should have a reward each time you successfully do the things you said you'd do during each short contract. The reward you choose should be simple and reasonably healthy—something you won't mind going without if you have a setback in working your program, but nevertheless something you want, are willing to work for and can feel good about enjoying when you succeed. For example, you might reward yourself with a small portion of your favorite food, or a small donation to your favorite charity. Small, frequent rewards are more useful than infrequent, larger rewards.