CBT For Anger Management & Impulsive Behaviour
CBT attempts to train the client to use and develop their rational cognitive brain rather than be overwhelmed by the faster but essentially instinctive and impulsive emotional brain [see home page] of which the primary task is to trigger emergency physiological responses to danger. In the modern world this 'rush of blood' reaction is evident not just to the threat of physical attack but as a response to perceived threats of status and power.
In order that the body prepares it self for what is termed the 'Fight or Flight' response, powerful hormones are released into the body and blood is rushed to the heart and limbs ready for action. This sudden re-distribution of the body's energy resources leaves other less essential areas such as bowel and bladder control depleted. It also renders the brain incapable of rational considered thought. Repeated angry responses floods the body with stress hormones which can linger unprocessed in the body and can cause long term damage to our wellbeing.
The aim of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is to re-programme the emotional brain so that it more readily distinguishes between real threat, which requires physiological responses in the body for its survival and egotistical drives, which if unguarded can trigger the same response. This involves undoing any negative conditioning and developing the capacity for better self control and appropriate responses relative to the situation we find our selves in.
Cultivating deeper self-awareness improves our ability to do this in practice by observing and regulating our thought processes. In a split second we have the choice to think or re-act. Putting a gap between what we feel and reflex behaviour is the essence of cognitively mastery. When Eleanor Roosevelt was asked how she had managed to remain calm when someone had paid her an offensive gesture, she replied;
No one can ever offend you without your permission What was meant by this remark was that an insult only has any power in it if we believe it is true and this remains our decision.
Developing a sense that we always have options and at an even deeper level we have different areas of the brain which serve us best in different situations is known as Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman in his ground breaking book of the same name first coined this phrase in 1994. Goleman argued that emotional intelligence or EQ can matter more than IQ and includes self awareness, impulse control, persistence, zeal, motivation, empathy and social deftness and can be nurtured and strengthened in all of us. He terms a momentary loss of control an emotional hijacking and quotes Horace Walpole to illustrate the impact of letting our feelings get the better of us;
Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel
Walpole's remark is an interesting but simplistic view and perhaps more of a reflection of his social observations of class inequalities at that time than a universal principle. However the latest neuro-science and behavioural studies have given us greater understanding of the dynamics of the human brain and the evolutionary development and complexity of human nature. With fresh insight we can see for example that a world class tennis player often suspends cognitive thinking when an instinctive level of play, which is faster and relies on learned responses [practice], serves him better Indeed too much thinking in this competitive game of individual 'survival' can get in the way!
Contrast the above with a football game which is played more so, but not entirely with, the cognitive brain which was designed to plan ahead and co operate with others for the survival of the group. Consider the breakaway striker working diligently and co-operatively as a team player, then, suddenly he races for the goal as if he has lost all sense of the game plan. In this moment he is on his own, driven by instinct to save himself [his ego] he freezes, a conflict of the two brains as cognitive thought about where he should place his shot on goal collides with the emotionally flooded limbic brain and ball goes way over the post! Whilst the passionate expression of the emotional brain can indeed lead to an exciting display of 'poetry in motion'. Keeping a cool head however, is a job for the cognitive brain!
The ability to tame emotional energy therefore, empowers us with the necessary skills essential for making the right choices based on an accurate assessment of the circumstances we find [or think we find ourselves in]. Drawing on the power of our most appropriate mental faculty when under pressure and taking command of our thinking processes improves the chances of making decisions that focus on desired solutions and outcomes. Giving in to primitive instinct when we are driven to anger may make us feel better in the short term but we can pay a high price for a self indulgent act of aggression when there is only the ego at stake.
The opportunity to think before we react is always there, even if sometimes, we may feel we have been provoked into action and have no choice. Becoming more aware of the physiological changes in our bodies when we are aroused and conscious of chemicals being released into our system in preparation for fight or flight responses takes practice but allows us to distinguish the difference between appropriate feelings of rage risen up in order to defend ourselves from real physical attack and to prepare our bodies for an extremely dangerous and perhaps heroic act or, reverse the process, recognise inappropriate heated feelings, step back and cool off. It is the mastery of such emotions and the essential dominance of mind over body that is central to the mental discipline applied in the practice of martial arts. Investing time to understand our emotions and finely tuning our self awareness is essential if we are to claim control of the contents of our consciousness.