Archive for July, 2013

Thinking angry thoughts

Posted on July 18, 2013 in FiM, Uncategorized, WaW

Some people believe that thinking through their angry feelings — what researchers call angry rumination — helps them work through the causes and consequences of their anger. The basic idea is that they can work through their anger and, they hope, deal with it more effectively. Research suggests that this is not true, at least not very often.

Researchers define angry rumination is persistent thinking about a personally meaningful anger-inducing event. It typically involves repetitive, often intrusive thoughts about the event. Angry rumination is often accompanied by angry feelings and, in many cases, it instigates thoughts about justice or even revenge. It appears that, at least for most of us, when we try to think through the event we actually spend most of our time thinking about the event. Because the event made us angry, we all-to-often end up imagining ways to “make things right,” rather than dealing with our angry thoughts and emotions. Truth be told, sometimes it feels oh-so-good to imagine ways of turning the tables on someone who has done us wrong.

The costs of angry rumination can be pretty high. First, it reduces self-control which makes it difficult for us to deal effectively with our angry thoughts, feelings, and aggressive urges. So, the more we think about what made us angry, the less capable we are of controlling our selves. To make matters worse, angry rumination increases aggressive behavior. So, when we keep thinking about the angry situation, we tend to make ourselves more likely to act-out our anger in inappropriate ways and less capable of stopping ourselves from doing something bad. And if all of that was not bad enough, this potent cocktail increases the likelihood that we will lash-out toward undeserving people, animals, or objects. The old adage about “kicking the dog” is very apropos here.

There are constructive ways of working through an anger-inducing event, and there are good reasons for doing using these techniques. The challenge is to be very, very sure we are engaging in constructive thinking and not angry rumination. Perhaps sharing with a trusted person, someone who can empathize and deal with our experience, and also keep us from tipping into angry rumination.

How do you deal effectively with that person who cuts you off in traffic, or the guy who cuts in line at the grocery store, or that person who trash-talks when your favorite team loses the game? Right now I’m thinking of Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but I’ve changed the words a bit…”Don’t be angry…”

We hope you are flourishing!

Matt and the entire Flourishing in Ministry team

Research citation: Denson, T. (2013). The multiple systems model of angry rumination. Personality & Social Psychology Review (Sage Publications Inc.), 17(2), 103-123.