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Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

The other day I pulled out of my driveway and onto the main thoroughfare leading downtown in Helena, Montana. It had lightly snowed a few days before and then warmed up considerably, so the streets were slushy and slippery. Luckily, I only have about a three minute commute to my office.

A half a block later, I glanced into my rear-view mirror and saw that there was someone right behind me. I mean right behind me. I couldn’t tell how close he actually was, but I felt my hackles go up. Hey! Get off my butt!

As he continued to tail me I felt that adrenaline that comes right before anger begins to flow through my veins. As I passed through the neighborhood, I felt my temper climb. I began to imagine myself doing all sorts of things…tapping my breaks…slowing down to 10 miles an hour to make him late…pulling over,  rolling down my window and giving him that old universal sign language for…well…you know.

I turned left at the street where my office is located and looked to see if he was still behind me. He wasn’t. A couple of expletives entered my mind.

I began to reflect on the thoughts that had gone through my mind while we were both tooling down the street. A main one was, I can’t get hurt again! I broke my neck by falling down the stairs at my house in the year 2000 and I have an issue with chronic pain. Early on in the process healing, I was in so much pain that I seriously did not want to live much longer. Thank God I found a wonderful chiropractor who put me back together enough that I now enjoy my life very much.

Well, I knew that I always feel fear when I get into situations like this. I am worried I will get injured again somehow; get a whiplash if someone hits me from behind. But I also knew my anger level was over the top for the situation, so I kept thinking about it. Another block went by…and then it came to me.

I had been very worried about my dog. I have a golden doodle named Emma. She one of the great blessings of my life. She is smart and hilarious and affectionate…a mass of joyful auburn curls. A few years ago she was diagnosed with diabetes and we give her two shots of insulin a day to keep her pancreas working. The day before we had gotten a call from our vet and she was worried Emma now had Cushings disease. I had read about this early on in her treatment and although I couldn’t remember exactly what it was, I knew it wasn’t good.

The vet was still testing, so I purposefully didn’t go back online and look it up. I told myself not to feed my fears that way, and we didn’t know yet if she actually had it or not (she didn’t, thank God).

But in the middle of the night, and again that morning, I had been really worried about her. I hadn’t been in a great frame of mind when I said goodbye to her and got into my car.

I then I realized that my quick rocket flight into anger stemmed from my fear that I was going to lose Emma.

Just realizing that didn’t take my anger down to zero as fast as it had climbed to sixty, but by the time I got to my office, I had forgotten all about it. And all that in less than 3 minutes.

Mindfulness Skill ~ The Body Scan

Have you ever taken a moment to notice if your anger is actually stemming from something other than what is presented to you in that moment? A DBT Skill called Body Scan can help. The next time you feel your anger go up in a flash, stop and do the scan. Ask yourself, what is happening in my body? What is happening in my thoughts? What is happening in my environment? Am I feeling “over the top?” Does the situation really warrant it? Give yourself some moments to reflect on what is going on before you react. You will calm down much quicker and not do something that may ruin your own day.

Have you ever gotten really angry and then realized your emotions went way beyond what triggered them? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s talk about it! There’s a lot we can do about the problem of too much anger.

Out of Control ~ Part 4

Out of Control ~ Part 4

Anger ~ When Doing the Opposite Can Help


In Out of Control Part 1, we talked about the brain, and how that non-thinking, emotional part of our brain, right smack in the middle of our heads, can hijack us, and cause us to react in ways that tend to hurt others or ourselves.


In Out of Control Part 2, we discussed thinking errors, and how our feelings in childhood can affect the way we think.  We also learned that the way we think can affect our feelings, and that our feelings can affect our behavior, and on and on!


In Out of Control Part 3, we discussed how learning to be mindful could help us, not only control our emotions, but also, in some ways, reshape how our brain works. It’s almost like a reboot.


So, in Out of Control Part 4, I want to leave you with a tool to help you when you feel one of the hardest to control emotions – anger. Anger is one of hardest emotions to control.


One of the skills in Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder(1993) is the skill of Opposite Action. This skill can actually help slow down and even reverse an emotion if we know what we are doing and we are willing to do it. But being willing is key to any skill. And being willing with this skill is particularly relevant.


In the case of anger (and other emotions as well) the first step is to figure out if the anger is justified. Usually, when we become angry with someone, we have a reason for that stirring up in our bodies, that clenching of our hands, that tightening of our jaw. But sometimes, we get angry because we misunderstood something we thought someone said or did. Sometimes we get angry because we are experiencing “triggering” emotions. Our feeling arises because we were just reminded of something that happened in our past. But sometimes, it’s actually justified. What then?


We know that the first urge when angry is to “approach.” In other words, we want to defend. We want to strike out in words, or in a look, or even in a closed fist sort of way. The thing is, rarely do these actions help us in any way unless we are actually protecting ourselves from danger. Other times, we at least want to get the anger to come down a little bit before we decide our next move. So what can we do?


Opposite to Emotion ~ Anger


One of the first steps to changing the level of anger we are carrying is to “gently avoid” the person we are angry with. What does it mean to “gently” avoid? Let’s say you are in a heated discussion with someone and you know if you storm out and slam the door they will either follow you or at least become more angry, making the situation worse. To gently avoid, instead of storming out you simply excuse yourself and walk into another room. It can be the bathroom, or the kitchen, anywhere other than where the argument is taking place (this predisposes that the other party is a reasonable person). You can say something like, “Hold onto that thought,” and leave the room long enough for both of you to calm down.


By the way, while you are in the other room there’s a couple more opposite actions you can take. Try to avoid rethinking the argument, planning your latest comeback, or developing a case against the person you are angry with. Try to think about something else for a few minutes.


Try to put yourself, just for the moment, in the other person’s shoes. What could be triggering their response? Is it possible they are thinking of a past event? Are they having a particularly hard day? Are they defensive because their feelings are hurt?


Now this one is hard…but it works. Many times, we are reacting to the way someone is treating us. What if we were to do or say something just a little bit nice? Chances are, the other person would respond differently, which would calm our anger, which would cause us to act differently, which would then cause them to act differently, and the whole entire blow-up may be avoided all together.


The skill of Opposite Action is not guaranteed to work in every situation with every person you get angry at. The more the anger is justified, the harder this may be to implement. But for someone who feels they have a “problem” with anger, a skill like this can be extremely helpful. Give it a try, and let me know in the comment box if it worked for you. Any questions? Give me a holler. Join the conversation.