Human Resources

Is Your Anger Irrational?

Dealing with Difficult People

We know that how we think about things determines to a large degree what we experience, and this is particularly true about anger. Anger is a strong emotion and can quickly become irrational, even when it seems justified. Use cold, distant logic with yourself to avoid your thoughts becoming distorted. The most common forms of distorted thinking are:

  • Magnifying
  • Destructive labeling
  • Imperative thinking
  • Mind reading


This type of distortion turns the consequences of a negative event into a catastrophe.

For example, if you usually get angry when you are two minutes late for a meeting or miss a particular call, you are probably magnifying the problem. Ask yourself if you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Do you have a tendency to take something that is unfortunate and turn it into the worst possible situation?

There are some things you can do to control your tendency to magnify a bad situation. These three steps can help you neutralize your anger:

  • Make a realistic assessment of the situation. How bad is it really?
  • Be very precise and accurate in the language you use to describe the bad situation. For example, this wasn’t the worst restaurant you’ve ever eaten at. The soup was cold and service was slow.
  • Look at the whole picture, not just the annoying piece.

Here are some coping thoughts that you can use:

  • “Yes, this is frustrating but it’s not the end of the world.”
  • “By next week, none of this will matter.”
  • “It’s a setback; it’s not worth getting all bent out of shape.”

Destructive Labeling

This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. When you use destructive labeling, you broaden one or two qualities into a negative, global judgment. Examples may include calling your boss a jerk, your girlfriend a hag, or your colleague a loser.

Destructive labeling creates and perpetuates anger because it forces you to focus on only the negative characteristics you find irritating in another person. Sometimes we label others in an effort to protect our own self-esteem. However, when you hear yourself labeling someone, step back and describe the annoying behaviour with precision.

Here are some coping thoughts that you can use:

  • “Why am I swearing?”
  • “I feel frustrated and things aren’t going the way I’d like them to, but I can cope.”

Imperative Thinking

This is when you have a list of inflexible rules about how you and others should act. For example, “You should have called me back right away if you weren’t interested.”

Imperative thinking creates anger because it implies that we are entitled to get what we want in a specific situation, or that people should be the way we want them to be. Then, when our imperatives are violated, we think an injustice has taken place.

Violating our own self-requirements (for example, thinking, “I should have done a better job”) also creates anger because we perceive the violation as failure. Usually what this means is that we have unrealistically high expectations. This is a trait we often see in a chronically angry person.

Here are some coping thoughts that you can use:

  • “I’m not being reasonable here.”
  • If you use the words should, must, or always, stop yourself and ask, “Is that really true?”
  • Try thinking of the situation from someone else’s perspective.

Mind Reading

With this type of distorted thinking, you rarely check out your presumptions. Instead, you act as if they were true. (For example, you may think, “If my co-worker respected me, he would have asked for my opinion. Since he doesn’t, I will ignore his input too.”) Clearly, we don’t have the power to read someone else’s mind. Often, these presumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Here are some coping thoughts that you can use:

  • “How do I know that this is true?”
  • “What assumptions am I making?”


Most of what we’ve been doing is looking at your behaviour over the long term and making you aware of what has been going on in your own mind. This includes the thoughts that trigger your anger, the distorted thoughts that can fuel your anger, and the thoughts we can use in place of these.

If you can get a handle on the type of self-talk or inner dialogue that goes on in your head all day, and have some different coping strategies, you will have made a big start toward getting your anger under control.

Are you interested in learning more about

Anger Management?