Managing Anger


This document as of 7/19/15 is at version 0.5At this stage it has the material which will be present in the 1.0 revision and it has been ordered into sections but the material is still in its raw form.

What is Your IQ?

While we usually think of IQ as standing for Intelligence Quotient Burns suggests another useful term is Irritability Quotient. (Burns 149) Burns provides a survey on pp. 149-153 to measure one’s irritability quotient. It is based on Dr. Raymond W. Novaco’s Anger Scale.

Options for Handling Anger

  • “Traditionally psychotherapists…have conceptualized two primary ways to deal with anger: (a) anger turned ‘inward’; or (b) anger turned ‘outward.’ The former solution is felt to be the ‘sick’ one…Ultimately it corrodes you and leads to guilt and depression.” (Burns 153)
  • “You have a third option: Stop creating your anger. You don’t have to choose between holding it in or letting it out because it won’t exist.” (Burns 153)
  • “It’s natural to believe that external events upset you. When you’re mad at someone, you automatically make them the cause of all your bad feelings.” (Burns 154)
  • “Anger, like all emotions, is created by your cognitions.” (Burns 154)
  • “Your feelings result from the meaning you give to the event, not from the event itself.” (Burns 154)
  • Negative events occur many times each day, but our feelings are still the result of the interpretations we place on the events. (Burns 156)

Legitimate Outbursts?

  • Oftentimes responding emotionally in an outburst of anger is self-defeating even if you are being genuinely wronged. (Burns 156)
  • Focus on the negative action the person took against you rather than on who they are in their entirety. This is the difference between saying someone treated you with disrespect and saying that someone has no respect for anyone. (Burns 156-157)
  • “When you write people off…you catalog in your mind’s eye every single thing about them you don’t like (the mental filter) and ignore or discount their good points (disqualifying the positive).” (Burns 157)
  • “In reality, every human being is a complex mix of positive, negative, and neutral attributes.” (Burns 157)


  • “Labeling inevitably functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. You polarize the other person and bring about a state of interpersonal warfare.” (Burns 157)
  • “…you cannot enhance your own esteem by denigrating someone else even if it does feel good temporarily.” (Burns 157)
  • “There is one and only one person in this world who has the power to threaten your self-esteem–and that is you.” (Burns 157)

Mind Reading

  • “Another distortion characteristic of anger-generating thoughts is mind reading–you invent motives that explains to your satisfaction why the other person did what he or she did.” (Burns 158)


  • “The third form of distortion…is magnification…you exaggerate the importance of the negative event…” (Burns 158)

Should and Shouldent’s

  • “Inappropriate should and shouldn’t statements represent the fourth type of distortion that feeds your anger.” (Burns 159)
  • “When you insist on perfection from others, you will simply make yourself miserable and become immobilized.” (Burns 159)
  • “Irrational should statements rest on your assumption that you are entitled to instant gratification at all times.” (Burns 159)
  • “People who are anger-prone often formulate their desires in moralistic terms such as…: If I’m nice to someone, they should be appreciative.” (Burns 160)
  • “The perception of unfairness or injustice is the ultimate cause of most, if not all, anger.” (Burns 160)
  • “In spite of the fact that ‘absolute fairness’ does not exist, personal and social moral codes are important and useful…I am saying that moral statements and judgments about fairness are stipulations, not objective facts.” (Burns 161)
    • Burns takes a post-modern, relativistic position on the nature of morality. I disagree with this stance.
  • “When you overlook this [that we all think differently] and blame the other person for being ‘unfair’ you are unnecessarily polarizing the interaction because the other person will feel insulted and defensive.” (Burns 162)
  • “To say anger serves no purpose is…more all-or-nothing thinking, and to say it never works is an overgeneralization. Actually, anger can be adaptive and productive in certain situations. So the real question is not ‘Should I or should I not feel anger?’ but rather ‘Where will I draw the line?'” (Burns 163)

Guidelines for Determining Whether Anger Is Productive

  • “Is my anger directed toward someone who has knowingly, intentionally, and unnecessarily acted in a hurtful manner?”
  • “Is my anger useful? Does it help me achieve a desired goal or does it simply defeat me?” (Burns 164)
  • “The emotional arousal in your voice conveys a message of alarm and importance that might not come across if you were to deal with him in a calm, totally objective manner.” (Burns 164)
  • “The adaptive and positive effects of your anger differentiate it from hostility, which is impulsive and uncontrolled and leads to aggression.” (Burns 164)

Methods for Reducing Anger

Develop a Desire to Do So

  • “Anger can be the most difficult emotion to modify…” (Burns 165)
  • “Use the double-column technique to make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of feeling angry and acting in a retaliatory manner. Consider both the short-term and long-term consequences of your anger.” (Burns 165)

Replace “Hot” Thoughts with “Cool” Thoughts

“…write down the various ‘hot thoughts’ that are going through your mind when you are upset. Then substitute less upsetting, more objective ‘cool thoughts,’ using the double column method…” (Burns 167)

Imagining Techniques

“These daydreams actually keep your anger alive long after the initial insult has occurred.” (Burns 169, 171)


  • Try using humor. (Burns 172)

Thought Stoppage

  • Perform “thought stoppage” – occupy your mind with something else (a book, conversation, task). (Burns 172)


  • If issue remains and/or is persistent, engage in vigorous physical activity. (Burns 172)

Rewrite the Rules

“You may frustrate and upset yourself needlessly because you have an unrealistic rule about personal relationships that causes you to be let down all the time.” (Burns 172)

“The rules that get you into interpersonal difficulty often won’t appear to be malignant. On the contrary, they often seem highly moral and humanistic.” (Burns 173)

  • “If I am a good and faithful wife, I deserve to be loved.” (Burns 172)
  • “The responsibility in the marriage should be shared 50/50.” (Burns 173)1”It’s an undeniable fact that human relationships, including marriages are rarely spontaneously ‘reciprocal’ because people are different. Reciprocity is a transient and inherently unstable ideal that can only be approximated through continued effort. This involves mutual consensus, communication, compromise, and growth. It requires negotiation and hard work.” (Burns 174)
  • Oftentimes, as we expect less we receive more. (Burns 174)
  • Use the double-column technique to identify self-defeating should rules and replace with a better rule. (Burns 175)

Learn to Expect Craziness

  • If someone acts crazily, learn to expect crazy behavior from them. (Burns 176)

Enlightened Manipulation

  • Dr. Mark K. Goldstein has done significant work in this area – particularly “behavioral conditioning of husbands by wives.” (Burns 177-178)
  • “…reward the desired behavior instead of punishing the undesired behavior. Punishment causes aversion and resentment and brings about alienation and avoidance.” (Burns 178)
  • This doesn’t always work, isn’t the only way to interact, but is useful sometimes. (Burns 180)

“Should” Reduction

Use the double column technique to evaluate your “Should” rules for others and respond with reasons why the individual does respond as they do. (Burns 180-181)

Negotiating Strategies

  • “…fighting is a form of intimacy. Do you really want to be so intimate with…[x]? Wouldn’t you prefer to get what you want instead?” (Burns 182)
  • Tell the individual what they did right. (Burns 182-183)
  • Disarm by finding some way to agree with them. (Burns 183)
  • Clarify your perspective calmly and firmly. (Burns 183)
  • “Repeat the above three techniques over and over in varying combinations until…[x]…finally gives in or an acceptable compromise is reached. Use ultimatums and intimidating threats only as a last result, and make sure you are ready and willing to follow through when you do.” (Burns 183)

Accurate Empathy

  • “Empathy is the ultimate anger antidote…It’s the highest form of magic…and its spectacular effects are firmly entrenched in reality.” (Burns 184-185)
  • Sympathy is the ability to feel what someone else feels. (Burns 185).
  • Support is acting in a “tender, understanding manner.” (burns 185)
  • “Empathy is the ability to comprehend with accuracy the precise thoughts and motivations of other people…When you have this extraordinary knowledge, you will understand and accept without anger why others act as they do even though their actions might not be to your liking.” (Burns 185)
  • “…empathy is difficult to acquire. As humans we are trapped in our own perceptions, and we react automatically to the meanings we attach to what people do.” (Burns 185)

Cognitive Rehearsal

“When you get angry, you may feel you react too rapidly to be able to sit down and assess the situation objectively and apply the various techniques…This is one of the characteristics of anger…By the time you are aware you are upset you may already feel out of control.” (Burns 191)

Create a list representing an “anger hierarchy” of those situations most likely to trigger your anger and rank from +1 (least upsetting) to +10 (most upsetting). (Burns 191)

  • “The provocations should be ones that you’d like to handle more effectively because your anger is maladaptive and undesirable.” (Burns 191)
  • “Start with the first item on the hierarchy list that is the least upsetting to you, and fantasize as vividly as you can that you are in the situation. Then verbalize your ‘hot thoughts’ and write them down.” (Burns 191)
  • “Next fantasize flying off the handle…Now record how upset you feel between 0 and 100 percent.” (Burns 192).
  • “Then go through the same mental scenario, but substitute appropriate ‘cool thoughts’ and fantasize that you feel relaxed and unperturbed; imagine that you handle the situation tactfully, assertively, and effectively.” (Burns 192)
  • “Now practice going through this version of the scenario each night until you have mastered it and can fantasize handling the situation effectively and calmly in this manner.” (Burns 193)
  • “You might…[object]…[that] it is unrealistic to fantasize a positive outcome…since there is no guarantee [he] will respond in a friendly way.” (Burns 193)
  • “The answer to this objection is simple. There’s no guarantee they’ll respond abrasively either, but if you expect a negative response, you’ll enhance the probability of getting one…” (Burns 193)
  • Each situation may require a different approach. (Burns 194)
  • “It will be crucial not to evaluate your progress in your anger-reduction program in an all-or-nothing way because emotional growth takes some time, especially when it comes to anger.” (Burns 194)

Get Advice

Ask friends or other trusted individuals for advice when you cannot figure out how to respond appropriately, they can oftentimes see from a different perspective a resolution that eludes you. (Burns 194)

Ten Things You Should Know About Your Anger

  1. “The events of this world don’t make you angry. Your ‘hot thoughts’ create your anger.” (Burns 194)
  2. “Most of the time your anger will not help you.” (Burns 195)
  3. “The thoughts that generate anger…often…contain distortions. Correcting these distortions will reduce your anger.” (Burns 195)
  4. “Ultimately your anger is caused by your belief that someone is acting unfairly or some event is unjust.” (Burns 195)
  5. “If you learn to see the world through other people’s eyes, you will often be surprised to realize their actions are not unfair from their point of view.” (Burns 195-196)
  6. “Other people usually do not feel they deserve your punishment. Therefore, your retaliation is unlikely to help you achieve any positive goals in your interactions with them.” (Burns 196)
  7. “A great deal of your anger involves your defense against loss of self-esteem when people criticize you, disagree with you, or fail to behave as you want them to.” (Burns 196)
  8. “Frustration results from unmet expectations…your frustration always results from your unrealistic expectation…The simplest solution would be to change your expectations.” (Burns 196-197)
  9. “It is just childish pouting to insist the right to be angry…The crucial issue is–is it to your advantage to feel angry? Will you or the world really benefit from your rage?” (Burns 197)
  10. “You rarely need your anger in order to be human. It is not true that you will be an unfeeling robot without it.” (Burns 197)


1”It’s an undeniable fact that human relationships, including marriages are rarely spontaneously ‘reciprocal’ because people are different. Reciprocity is a transient and inherently unstable ideal that can only be approximated through continued effort. This involves mutual consensus, communication, compromise, and growth. It requires negotiation and hard work.” (Burns 174)

1 thought on “Managing Anger”

  1. Reciprocity, on the contrary to Burns’ ideation is actually a vital part of our DNA as human beings. Open any Anthropology 101 textbook and it is one of the very first concepts of human life that we learn of. Yes it requires continued effort but so does eating food, basic hygiene, literally every most trivial element of modern or ancient reality. It only requires basic movements for a person to engage in it at all.

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