What attitudes have you adopted that give YOU justification for losing your temper?
Here are some examples:
- “I know I am right, so I am entitled to demand that others shut up, listen to me and do what I say.”
- “I’ve had to deal with a lot of BS at work today, so people had better not get on my bad side at home.”
- “I was going to ask you out for dinner tonight, but you turned me down last night, so I’m not going to act sweet toward you now.”
- “You know the rule about finishing your homework before you watch television, but you chose to defy me.”
All of the above examples are variations of the same thing: creating self-justification for blowing your top; throwing your weight around; making your child cry, your spouse despise you and your coworkers fear you.
Those examples come from C. Peter Bankart’s book Freeing the Angry Mind (New Harbinger Publications). He says: “One of the things that gets in the way of angry people’s progress is that they tend to have lots of excuses that justify their being the way they are …. Even the people who realize how destructive their anger is, and who really want to change, can come up with a hundred trillion excuses for losing their temper and exploding at some poor soul who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ”
One of the ways we justify our temper and excuse our behavior is to use the word “but.” For example:
- “I came home in a good mood today, thinking about, playing ball with you, but there was your bike in the driveway.”
- “All I want is a little peace and quiet, but you just can’t leave me alone for 10 minutes.”
- “You know I am stressed at work, but you insist on talking about me overextending our bank account anyway.”
It’s as if we have set up our world with millions of trip wires – microscopic rules that other people must live by if we are to be even-tempered and understanding. But others keep violating our needs or preferences, so we have no choice but to explode at them. It’s as if everyone else forces us to be angry and forceful.
But Bankart reminds us that we can’t let other people’s screw-ups become excuses for screwing up ourselves and that lashing out at other people does not get them to obey our rules. It makes other people fear us and avoid us, but it doesn’t make your child any more responsible for his bike, and it doesn’t make your intimate partner want to be more romantic with you. In fact, you becoming angry and harsh likely will make him or her with draw from, defy and dismiss you.
Bankart offers a simple tip to help you stop using excuses to justify losing self-control. For the next week, eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary and substitute the word “and” instead.
Here’s how you might sound if you used “and” instead of “but”:
- “I have asked him a million times to not leave his bike in front of the garage door, and it hasn’t worked. I have to try something else. “
- “You turned me down for lovemaking last night, and I really want to be close to you tonight, so what can we do in order to warm things up between us?”
- “I’m really exhausted from work right now, and if you could give me 15 minutes of alone time to unwind, I’d like to do something fun together tonight.”
- “I am really stressed at work, and I overextended our bank account again because I was distracted. What can we do about this?”
Take a couple of your recent angry episodes and see if you can recall how you used the word “but” in those situations. Look at how you could substitute the word “and” in those incidents. Then make no excuses.
There is no excuse for you not being the person you want to be. There is no excuse for you to turn ugly, to be mean or to hurt the people you care about.