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I am not an angry man…………

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……….but I may be a man who is sometimes angry.  And I am not an anxious woman but I may be a woman who is occasionally anxious.

How we define ourselves is important. It impacts on how we think about ourselves and how we behave. If we are having a difficult time it may occasionally be helpful to challenge the words and images that we employ when we are considering our own thoughts and actions.  That is particularly so when this type of self-talk becomes self-critical.

It will be an unusual person who has not occasionally growled at themselves for being careless, whether the impact of that action resulted in a broken glass, a dented car or a damaged relationship.  We may then tell ourselves reassuringly that accidents can happen and the incident was just a slip, a one off occurrence. It is usually only when we identify a chapter of accidents that this self-talk fails to soothe or alternatively when the impact of the accident is seen as catastrophic. 

Sometimes our self-talk can become damaging rather than soothing.  This may happen when we start to fix our internal view of ourselves with the constant use of one word.  Emotional challenges become more disruptive when there is a sense of rigidity in our thinking whereas flexibility of thought and emotional health can be complementary. Change is an inescapable part of the human condition and we are more easily able to accommodate change when we allow ourselves variation in thinking.  The holiday maker who is adamant  that the success of her or his the holiday depends absolutely on good weather can be setting themselves up for a more disappointing experience than that the traveller who decides that she or he will have a fun time come rain or shine, certainly for this summer at least!  

Is our glass half full or half empty?  Do we expect the best or the worst in any difficult situation?  Do we regard ourselves as an optimist or a pessimist? These are easy phrases to use but perhaps we should exercise caution in allowing ourselves to continually voice a single answer. Once we start to think about ourselves in a certain way there is the possibility that we will become too quick to recognise that descriptor. We may then start to look for evidence of that behaviour in all our responses. That can be helpful when the descriptors are positive and self-affirming but not when the ideas include potential negative connotations. 

Obvious examples of problematic descriptors can include anxiety, depression or even anger.  The person who holds an image of themselves as an angry person may start to see validation of that description in every irritable exclamation or critical comment.  Those who regard themselves as depressed may begin identify with the lyrics of every melancholy song; and the anxious individual may always expect a sleepless night to come before an important interview or event. 

An alternative way of describing ourselves internally can be to accept that we are a woman or man of many parts. On occasions we will enjoy life to the full and walk with a smile. There will however inevitably be days even for the most positive amongst us, when the sky is grey, the car is playing up, the dog is ill and we are aware of a self-induced headache which owes something to the amount we drank the night before. That collection of woes is sufficient for anyone to feel low. Yet just because we may feel fed up for a day or so does not mean that we have become a depressed person.  

On some days we may be irritated by small things but that occasional flash of anger does not mean that we have turned into an angry person.  Similarly even the most seasoned traveller may become concerned at a sudden bout of turbulence but a moment of anxiety at thirty thousand feet does not mean that the individual has become an anxious person beset by worries he or she cannot control. 

Part of the richness of human experience is the great spread of emotions we feel. That we may be happy, sad, uplifted and downcast in the space of ninety minutes is the natural state experienced by most football fans on a Saturday afternoon.  The cinema or theatre goer on a Saturday evening may feel sadness and joy, alarm and relief concentrated into a single act of one performance.  And annoyance, laughter and incredulity probably always occur in the half hour soap opera experience that many indulge in on a daily basis. Fluctuating emotions remind us that we are alive. We are capable of holding many different emotional states and surviving the experience.  

We can however occasionally become stuck in one emotional frame. When that happens and we cannot shift the mood, we may then start to believe that we really are a depressed person, an angry individual, or someone who is inevitably destined to be insecure. We may convince ourselves that these are inherent descriptions of our personal characteristics and then start to carry these critical definitions with us.  On those occasions one to one work with a therapist in the counselling room may be helpful in reawakening that internal flexibility. 

When we find ourselves continually reflecting on one specific way of being, it may be time to question some of our self-definitions. If one critical inner voice becomes a little too strident or insistent perhaps it is time for an internal argument.  

We are formed of many emotional parts and it is our choice as to which if any, should define us.   Exercising that choice in a very conscious way may help to assure you that you are not an angry person but just someone who is occasionally angry. Allowing yourself some emotional flexibility may encourage you to reflect that you are not an anxious person but just someone who can become concerned when there is a good reason to feel that way. 

Maybe those emotions simply reflect the life we live today and the different roles that we have? And perhaps it really is okay to feel that way.



Geoff Boutle

added on 14th July 2012

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