Case #1: Jeanette and Tom had been married 15 years. Wanting to surprise him for his birthday, Jeanette, with her own money, bought Tom a big-screen LCD television.
Tom’s reaction? He instantly blew up and berated Jeanette for spending so much money—buying more television than they needed, a bigger model than they had previously looked at together.
Jeanette was dumbfounded at Tom’s reaction; she truly thought this would be a gift that would greatly please him.
Case #2: Jim was having a friendly beer with his brother-in-law Jack when discussion turned to Jack’s success in life. Wanting to compliment him, Jim commented on how far he had come, how proud of himself he must be and how much he is an inspiration to others, given his background with alcoholic and dysfunctional parents.
Rather than seeing this as a compliment, however, Jack became offended and angry. He berated Jim for “putting him down," as he interpreted Jim’s comment.
Views cause anger
As these examples clearly show, people are not disturbed by things or events, but by their view of them, as Epictetusan—a Greek philosopher—observed early in 2nd century.
When an upsetting family event occurs, you have a choice of how you are going to explain it to yourself—what you are going to tell yourself about it. This will influence how angry, stressed, or upset, you become over event.
Learning to change what you tell yourself —your self-talk— can break cycle of negativity that can often poison our minds when we get angry. We all have 'scripts' in our minds that tell us messages and stories about family members and how they behave.
Tom, who exploded when his loving wife bought him a new television, was telling himself things like: she has such poor judgment-buying a bigger TV than we need; there she goes again, spending money excessively; why can’t she ever do what I want her to do? Why did I marry such a woman?
Of course, none of these things made any sense to Tom once he cooled down and became his rational self again. But, at moment of anger explosion, Tom’s self-statements seem 100% true to him.