Challenge angry thoughts

By challenging angry thoughts, you can cut through the emotion to get to whatever needs to be addressed.

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Why this matters

Anger can be an all-consuming emotion with a destructive impact on your emotional and physical well-being. Depending on how you express it, anger can also damage others around you. But it can be useful when you refuse to react and instead challenge angry thoughts to look at what this emotion is telling you.

Explore and reflect

Our thoughts can  feed our emotional experience of anger. Here are some examples of challenging your angry thoughts.

  • You’re laid off with 100 of your colleagues and think: People are out to get me, they’re intentionally cruel.
    • Is it true that all people are out to get you?
    • Was it intentional cruelty or could it have been a business decision?
  • Someone pulls into a parking spot you were trying to pull into, and you think: No one has any respect anymore, people are just out for themselves.
    • Is it possible that they didn’t notice you?
    • Could they be stressed out or in a hurry due to an emergency that you’re unaware of?
  • Your friend is passed over for promotion, and you think: There is no justice, the rich just get richer. 
    • Could there be other reasons rather than just promoting the rich that went into the decision?
    • Is it possible that the person who got the position was better qualified or had a better interview?
  • You fail to save the document you’re working on and think: I’m a failure, I can’t do anything right. 
    • Is every person who failed to save a document a failure?
    • Is it true that you’ve never done anything right?

In each of these cases, our thoughts may become bigger and broader than the actual situation. We may have had several similar situations, so our anger becomes a response to all of them, rather than a response to the situation at hand.

When we have thoughts like these, we may tend to use much harsher language in evaluating or interpreting someone’s intent or in judging ourselves, and we tend to overly personalize the situation.

It’s important to practice putting your anger into perspective by challenging your angry thoughts, asking whether they’re appropriate for the situation and considering if they make you more effective. Harriet Lerner, in her book The Dance of Anger,1 suggests asking yourself questions such as:

  1. What am I really angry about?
  2. What’s the problem, and whose problem is it?
  3. How can I sort out who’s responsible for what?
  4. How can I learn to express my anger in a way that won’t leave me feeling helpless and powerless?
  5. When I’m angry, how can I clearly communicate my position without becoming defensive or attacking others?
  6. What risks and losses might I face if I become clearer and more assertive?
  7. If getting angry is not working for me, what can I do differently?

Take action

When you get angry, ask yourself the 7 questions above. Develop a regular practice of challenging your angry thoughts so that you’re in a better position to do something about your anger rather than just experiencing the emotion.

Additional resources

Anger as a symptom. Anger is a reaction to a perceived or an actual injustice. Sometimes we react with behaviours that look like anger but are actually a symptom of an underlying emotion like guilt or shame.

Challenge troublesome thoughts. Learn to manage difficult or troubling thoughts so they don’t dictate your mood or reactions.

Tame your self-talk. “You idiot!” You’d be offended if someone said this to you, but how often do you say it to yourself? Learn to make your self-talk more respectful.

Track your emotions. Gaining insight into why and when your emotions go up or down can be an important first step to enhancing your self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Understand anger. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with anger in yourself and others.


1. Lerner, H. (2005). The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships. HarperCollins Publishers.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann Baynton

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