Have Road Anger? Think of Luigi

One day last week, I heard from a previous patient of mine named Jim, whom I had not seen for 15 years. I had long forgotten he was in one of my anger management classes. He called to refer someone else and told me he had always remembered my story about Luigi, which I had shared many years ago. He said it cured his road rage problem. I thought I’d now pass it on to you.

So, who is Luigi, and what does he have to do with road rage?

Luigi was a little Italian guy with a handlebar mustache who always wore a sauce-stained apron and a big smile. He owned an Italian restaurant and catering service. His motto was “We deliver hot and fresh.” 

The problem was that he was the sole owner of his catering service, so he had to make deliveries himself. This meant he had to drive and keep his pasta sauce from spilling out of the pot—as he delivered the genuine homemade sauce to his customers.

How did he do it? It was simple. While driving, he put the pot brimming with hot pasta sauce between his legs.

He had to drive slowly to prevent spillage and damage to delicate body parts.

His dedication to his business was great for the customer. But bad for whoever was driving behind him.

So, what has this got to do with my road rage patient?

Well, whenever Jim felt the urge to be impatient and frustrated when following slow-moving traffic, he would imagine that it was Luigi in front of him driving so carefully and slowly with this pot of hot pasta sauce between his legs.

What happened to his anger when he did this? He said it melted away as a big smile crossed his face.

Professionally speaking, this technique is called “using humorous imagery” to diffuse anger. It’s like reducing stage fright by imagining everybody in the audience being naked and or seeing (in your head) your pouting or demanding partner as a small child with a pacifier in his mouth.

You don’t have to tell the other person what is happening in your head. It’s a private thing.

If you struggle with anger in your relationship, download our course Anger and Your Relationship, The Road to Repair”.

My course is designed to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of a relationship, the root causes of the issues you experience and provides you with a unique set of tools to turn to in times of stress. 

Each lesson features a professionally created video tutorial where I walk you through the steps and techniques taught throughout the course. Learn from helpful real-world examples from my many years of professional practice. Put the techniques to work in your daily life and see improvements in your relationship – even if your partner does not participate!

This course features the following:

  • Comprehensive online class based on material developed by Dr Tony Fiore specific to Anger and relationships
  • 23 professionally created videos that explain concepts and enhance your online learning experience
  • Many short and fun quizzes to give you feedback on your progress in learning the material
  • 48 page downloadable PDF containing worksheets for you to complete at your leisure – including a personal log so that you can record your experiences and evaluate your progress as you continue the program

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes. www.angercoach.com, follow the link and start your journey to a harmonious relationship. 

To schedule an appointment, please click here.

Take the High Road.

In my previous post, we learned what happens to our bodies in times of stress, how our brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and how this quickly begins to course through our bodies, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure.

In this post, I explain how to take the high road to de-escalate arguments and restore harmony in your marriage.

The technique I teach is straightforward in theory, but it takes work, time, and practice. Having some basic rules to fall back on in times of stress helps.

Rule #1

You, and only you, can apply this tool. You can not demand your partner follow suit and tell them it is time for them to retreat. This will only further stoke the coals and may result in a rip-snorting, roof-raising argument you are trying to avoid.

Rule #2

It is time to practice your agreed-upon ‘Rules of Governance’, covered in our mini-course. Whether you have just started dating or are 40 years into your marriage, this is a must for any couple.

The Rules of Governance are an agreed-upon set of rules you rely on in good and bad times. This is the perfect time to set an agreed-upon rule: if one person feels that the conversation is getting heated and they think they need to retreat, then the discussion is shelved; you take time to gather your thoughts, no questions asked.

Rule #3

Research shows that it takes 20 minutes to one hour before our bodies return to equilibrium after a stressful encounter. Give yourself time to calm down when you step away from the argument, but reassure your partner by giving them an approximate time frame when you will resume the conversation. This way, they do not feel abandoned; you are reassuring them that you know this is important to them, and you and they don’t feel abandoned.

Ensure you resume the conversation later and within an agreed-upon timeframe as opposed to the problem becoming permanently shelved.

There are a few ways you can approach this. Something as simple as:

 “Hon, I need to take some time to myself; I am not thinking straight and don’t want to say something I don’t mean.”


“Let’s shelve this conversation just for now. I want to discuss this; it is important, but give me a little time. I love you; we will work this out together.”

Offering reassurance that you care about their feelings and want to solve the issue helps your partner understand that you are not simply running away from the problem but doing the responsible thing and addressing it when you are in a better frame of mind.

Rule #4

Refrain from drinking or using illicit substances during your time out. This will only impair your ability to think effectively and will work against you because your partner may rightly think you are not taking the problem seriously if you are drunk or high.

Rule #5

Be mindful of who you speak with during your retreat time. Our instinct is to turn to those who will side with us during a heated argument. We all like to have our feelings validated, but this can work against us as it may impair our clarity of thought and push us firmly in a direction where we refuse to compromise.

We turn again to our Rules of Governance. Here, you may agree not to discuss problems within the relationship with others. Doing so may permanently change their view and color their opinion of the other person.

Here is one example:

Sam and Jeremy had been married for almost 15 years. Both couples got along famously with their in-laws. Sam and Jeremy both weathered the ups and downs of their relationship, but they never spoke ill of each other to family and friends.

One day, Jeremy was using Sam’s laptop as his computer was in the shop being repaired. He was sending an email when a message came in from a name he did not recognize. Without thinking, he clicked on the email only to find another man sending suggestive emails to his wife. He scrolled through the email chain and was devastated to discover his wife had sent the same to him.

Jeremy’s first instinct was to pick up the phone and call his parents. Understandably, he reached out to them, but unfortunately, this permanently changed how his parents viewed their daughter-in-law.

Ultimately, the couple reconciled, but Sam’s relationship with Jeremy’s parents was forever broken. Holidays became a point of contention, and no matter what Sam did and despite her now unwavering loyalty to her husband, Jeremy’s parents refused to trust her.  

Use Your Time Wisely.

When we disengage from an argument, we sometimes do not know what to do with ourselves. It is hard to think straight when you are fuming, angry, and emotionally upset.

So, what should you do? I suggest taking time for yourself and not involving others. Do something that helps calm you and distract you so that you can begin to gather your thoughts.

Some of my patients like to play a game on their iPads. Others prefer to spend time with a beloved pet who helps soothe them. I know one person who, when they need to step away, takes their dog for a walk. 

Once you can calm your nerves, think clearly, and your emotions have returned to normal, it is time to begin thinking about the issue.

Try using a technique called Self-Talk. This helps you change the internal conversations you have in your head from negative to positive, and you can put the problem into perspective without your emotions taking hold.

Try writing down topics you would like to discuss when you come back together. This way, you can think clearly and don’t have to worry about forgetting something important.

Arguments occur within every relationship; how we learn as a couple to overcome differences and make the necessary changes creates a harmonious relationship. 

Your relationship and bond with your partner will strengthen each time you use this technique as issues are aired and solved. Always remember, if in doubt, step away, gather your thoughts, and let cooler heads prevail.

To learn more about taking the high road and self talk, download our mini-course “Discover Harmony In Your Relationship: A Psychologist’s Guide To Conflict Resolution.” 

This mini course introduces you to the concept and principals of Verbal Aikido and its application in marital communication. Verbal Aikido empowers you to resolve marital conflict in a harmonious manner that fosters unity in your relationship. We then explore the importance of emotional connection and how modern day technology has entirely changed our communication methods. Finally, we learn about conflict igniters, what this is, how this behaviour leads to contention and disharmony and we teach you how to address these behaviours effectively and harmoniously to achieve resolution.

This course features the following:

  • Online class based on material developed by Dr Tony Fiore specific to anger and relationships
  • 4 professionally created videos that explain the concepts and enhance your online learning experience
  • Short and fun quizzes to give you feedback on your progress in learning the material
  • Downloadable PDFs containing worksheets for you to complete at your leisure so that you can record and evaluate your progress through the program

If you would like to schedule and appointment with me, please click here

How to Let Calmer Heads Prevail. Part one.

Cassie and Phil loved each other dearly but often found themselves in heated verbal battles over almost anything and everything. The most minor disagreements quickly became a full-fledged war over who was right and who was wrong.

This left Cassie and Phil feeling exhausted, emotionally disconnected from each other, nursing hurt, and harboring resentment that grew with each argument. 

When an argument ensued, both immediately went on the defensive; their bodies moved into fight or flight mode, and they hurled insults and comments they would never say when their minds were reasoning. 

Much hurt and resentment could be alleviated if they learned to “Retreat and Think Things Over.” However, many factors prevented them from doing this. First, let us look under the hood and see what happens biologically when we argue.

What Happens to Our Bodies When We Feel Anger?

The first thing that happens is our brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This quickly begins to course through our bodies, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure (this is why some people feel their face flush when stressed.)

Muscle tension and heightened awareness are also felt, helping us with our instinct to either fight or flee.

However, as some senses are heightened, our reasoning ability decreases markedly. This can lead to verbally responding in a manner we would not do under normal circumstances. 

Unfortunately, our body’s reaction to anger and stress can also lead to some people acting or behaving in a physically or verbally aggressive manner. There is a technique I teach to my patients to prevent arguments from escalating. However, there is a small catch.

The Solution Sounds Easy…But Is It?

Walking away from a heated argument allows you to process the physical response within your body, calm down, and resume the conversation when you can both reason and think calmly and without heightened emotion.

However, this advice I offer my patients, especially those seeking anger management, sounds very simple. Still, in reality, it is much harder to put into practice.

As I mentioned earlier, when the brain floods with our fight or flight hormones, it can reach a point of no return where one or neither partner backs down. Both choose to argue to the bitter end and say and do things they later regret.

One may accuse the other of “avoiding” or “running away” from the problem. The other may feel invalidated, or that a resolution must occur, and by walking away, their partner is refusing to confront the issue and find a solution.

Worse still is when one partner needs space and the other, instead of allowing them the time to cool down, follows them from room to room, escalating the argument and leaving the other with no means of escape.

This is a no-win situation for all involved. So, how do we approach this so that both couples feel validated and issues can be broached and resolved even when heated conflict arises?

What are the Warning Signs?

You may be laser-focused on your physiological responses when engaging in a heated argument. However, it is essential to be aware of the external factors in most arguments that warn you it is time to walk away and calm down.

  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Raised voices.
  • Feeling your temper rise or getting out of control.
  • Feelings of negativity and being unable to focus on your thoughts.
  • The argument escalates rapidly.
  • Unable to speak logically and being aware of this.
  • Wanting to move away or flee from the fight.
  • Heat racing, muscles tensing.
  • Minor issues suddenly become significant problems.
  • Inability to calm yourself and reason during the argument.

Why Retreating to Think Things Over Works.

Temporarily distancing yourself allows you time to calm down, for your body and the hormones to return to normal, and for your brain to go back to its normal state, allowing you to think clearly and rationally. 

Take the High Road.

During a heated argument, our emotional brain takes over from our thinking brain. When this happens, our brain is taking the low road, the path that allows our brain to think on its fundamental level. Our emotional brain doesn’t care for diplomacy, politeness, or the feelings of the person you love most. 

When you retreat before an argument becomes heated, you allow your emotional and thinking brain to work together so that you can understand your emotions and verbalize them effectively while considering your partner’s feelings. This is taking the high road in an argument.

So, How Do I Take the High Road?

In theory, this technique is straightforward, but it takes work, time, and practice, and it helps to have some basic rules to fall back on in times of stress. Stay tuned for part two where I teach you the steps to take the high road and how to overcome differences and make the necessary changes creates a harmonious relationship.

To learn more, download our mini-course, “Why couples fight: A Psychologist’s guide to understanding relationship conflict.”

In this mini-course, we emphasize the importance of centering your mind and body, creating a state of mental and physical calm. We teach you the value of being mindful of your emotions and the importance of acting objectively rather than subjectively. Additionally, we explore concepts such as “dropping the bone,” mastering the art of taking the high road in an argument, and how to deflect sarcasm. While these skills are crucial to every relationship, they are often overlooked. Here, we guide you and help you develop these essential skills so that you can rely on them when stress and conflict inevitably arise.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes. www.angercoach.com, follow the link and start your journey to a harmonious relationship. 

To schedule an appointment, please click here.

Bullying is a distressing experience, especially when it originates from someone in a position of power or authority. When this happens, you can feel helpless and powerless to speak your mind for fear of retaliation, leaving you trapped between a rock and a hard place. 

On the one hand, you would like to tell the bully precisely what you think of them; on the other hand, they know the power dynamic is squarely in their favor, and if you retaliate, the consequences may impact you heavily. This is a difficult situation that many people may relate to. So, let’s look into this topic a little further.

Why Do Some People in Positions of Authority Bully?

Bullying can stem from a complex interplay of both psychological and emotional factors, often reflecting the person’s insecurities, power imbalances, and underlying motivations. Understanding these dynamics may help us understand why some authority figures resort to bullying.

Firstly, their misuse of power is a fundamental factor. Authority figures entrusted with control or leadership might abuse their position to assert dominance and maintain control. In some cases, this behavior results from a need for validation, insecurity, or a fear of losing control, leading them to exert their authority aggressively.

Psychological research suggests that some individuals who use positions of power to intimidate and undermine others may exhibit traits of narcissism. Narcissistic personality traits can manifest in bullying; they use this behavior as a means to maintain a sense of superiority, feed their ego, or manipulate others for personal gain. The need for admiration and lack of empathy may drive them to exert dominance over others.

Another contributing factor could be their own experiences of being bullied or mistreated in the past. Authority figures who have unresolved trauma or negative experiences may replicate these behaviors as a way to regain a sense of control or as a misguided attempt to toughen others up, believing it’s a necessary part of the hierarchy or growth process.

Some bullies lack empathy and the ability to perceive how their actions negatively affect others. They may feel bewildered as to why people avoid them in a personal setting, having no idea that their actions are causing them to feel isolated or rejected. 

How to Cope With a Bully

Firstly, I can not stress this enough, but it’s crucial to understand that the bully’s behavior does not reflect your self-worth. Take this moment to breathe deeply and know there are things you can do to help you regain a sense of control and well-being.

Coping with the emotional and mental impact of a bully can be particularly daunting. Dealing with bullying demands resilience, assertiveness, a solid support network, and understanding why a person may act in this manner.

  1. Recognize the Dynamics: Understanding the power dynamics at play is crucial. The bully often uses their position to assert dominance or control and can do this for many reasons. Please recognize that the behavior reflects their misuse of power and does not define your worth or capabilities.
  1. Emotional Resilience: Cultivating and nurturing your emotional resilience is critical. Take time for yourself, do something that helps you mentally escape, something you can lose yourself in so you are not repeatedly playing a negative conversation or situation over in your head. Engage in your favorite hobbies that bring you joy and help you relax. Writing a journal can also help. Sometimes, expressing your feelings in written form allows you to understand them a little more clearly, and once written, they are out of your head, and you no longer need to hold onto them. Building emotional resilience provides a buffer against the emotional toll of bullying. This way, when you have had a bad day, you know you can lose yourself in something you enjoy; this helps you regain your power.
  1. Assertiveness Training: Developing assertiveness is empowering. Practice assertive communication, setting boundaries, and expressing yourself confidently and respectfully. Role-play scenarios where you assert boundaries calmly and firmly to build confidence in facing the bully without escalating the situation. Ask a friend to role-play with you to help you practice. When you do meet your bully, do so confidently. Look them in the eye and speak calmly and clearly while asserting yourself. However, do not put yourself in a dangerous situation by asserting yourself. If you feel that you are in danger, call the police or the National Domestic Violence hotline at 800-700-7233
  1. Document Instances: Keep a detailed record of bullying incidents, including dates, times, and actions. Documenting instances provides clarity and can serve as evidence if you need to report the behavior. It also helps in maintaining perspective and preventing gaslighting attempts.
  1. Seek Support: It is essential to reach out and ask for help from the people you trust and respect. This might include friends, family, or colleagues who can provide emotional support and perspective. In professional settings, confiding in HR or higher management can be crucial. Seeking professional counseling or therapy can also help as they can offer guidance and coping strategies.
  1. Understand the Bully’s Motivations: Often, the behavior stems from the bullies own insecurities, power imbalances, narcissism, or unresolved issues. Understanding this can help in depersonalizing the situation and help you focus on self-preservation.
  1. Be Kind to Yourself: Remind yourself of your worth, capabilities, and strengths, and know their bullying does not detract from the person you are. Surround yourself with the people you love and activities you enjoy, and constantly remind yourself that their behavior does not reflect who you are. 

Remember, overcoming bullying from someone in a position of authority is a gradual process that requires perseverance and courage. It’s about reclaiming your power and not allowing the bully to live rent-free in your head or diminish your self-worth. Developing resilience, assertiveness, seeking support, and self-care are pivotal in navigating this challenging situation so you can foster a sense of empowerment amidst adversity.

To learn more about effective communication and keeping a positive outlook during stressful times, download our mini-course, “Rise above the chaos and embrace your inner smile.”

In this mini-course, we emphasize the importance of centering your mind and body, creating a state of mental and physical calm. We teach you the value of being mindful of your emotions and the importance of acting objectively rather than subjectively. Additionally, we explore concepts such as “dropping the bone,” mastering the art of taking the high road in an argument, and how to deflect sarcasm. While these skills are crucial to every relationship, they are often overlooked. Here, we guide you and help you develop these essential skills so that you can rely on them when stress and conflict inevitably arise.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes. www.angercoach.com, follow the link and start your journey to a harmonious relationship. 

Thanksgiving is a time of joy, celebration, and eating massive amounts of food while the buttons on our pants strain for dear life. It’s when families come together to create lasting memories and reminisce about past feasts, succulent turkey, and football games won and lost. However, this time of year can also be challenging for many, as it brings the dynamics and tensions within family units to the forefront. 

As the big day approaches, stress levels increase, which can have a domino effect. Someone may have a bad day and snap at you in the store. This makes you mad, and you arrive home feeling vexed and annoyed and, in turn, take it out on your partner. Anger and stress are unwanted gifts that keep giving, which tends to be exacerbated this time of year.

As a family therapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the struggles that people face when dealing with problematic family members during the holidays. I want to offer some guidance and advice to help you through the holiday season.

The Reality Behind Holiday and Family Conflicts:

The holiday season creates the perfect environment to re-ignite deep-seated family dynamics, stirring up emotions we thought were long forgotten. For instance, adult children returning home may revert to their old roles, leading to power struggles and disagreements. Past grievances can resurface, rekindling old conflicts while spending extended periods in close quarters with family. This can lead to cabin fever, sibling rivalries, or other interpersonal issues that magnify underlying tensions.

Awkward Conversations:

The holiday season brings out both the best and worst in people. Someone will inevitably bring up a topic of conversation that rubs another the wrong way; it wouldn’t be the holiday season without it. 

I know a couple who are asked every Thanksgiving, ‘So, when will you start a family?” They have no intention of having children, and they explain this every year, but people continue to ask and always feel uncomfortable.

So, how do you react to questions or topics such as this, especially when sensitive matters such as politics, religion, or personal life choices arise? Here are some strategies to help you navigate these conversations:

  • Redirect the Conversation: When a touchy subject arises, gently shift the conversation towards a safer, neutral topic. For example, if politics come up, you might say, “Speaking of politics, did you catch the latest ball game or binge-watch anything recently?” Try to lighten the atmosphere without being dismissive.
  • Active Listening: When someone expresses their opinion, actively listen without immediately responding or placing judgment. This can help defuse tension and encourage open dialogue. 
  • Practice Empathy: When engaged in a conversation you may disagree with, try using empathy to understand the topic from the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and look at how and why they may have their opinion. We sometimes argue before the other person can finish their thought and miss a crucial point that changes everything. Remember, it is OK not to agree with everyone; we all have the right to our opinions.
  • Set Boundaries: Communicate your boundaries politely but firmly. If someone persists in discussing a topic that makes you uncomfortable, say something like, “I’d prefer not to discuss this right now. Let’s focus on enjoying our time together.”

Toxic Family Members:

Dealing with a toxic family member adds yet another layer of complexity to our holiday season. I know several patients who dread this time of year; their stress levels rise because they know they have to deal with that one person in the family who seems to go out of their way to make their day miserable. Here are some strategies to manage such situations:

  • Choose Your Battles: Not every issue needs to be confronted during the holidays. Assess the importance of the problem and decide whether it’s worth addressing. Conversations can be shelved and picked up at a more appropriate time. There may be topics that you will always have differing views on. It is OK to agree to disagree and say as such in a kind yet firm manner, for example: “I don’t think we are going to see eye to eye on this topic; let’s drop this and chat about something else.”
  • Limit Interaction: Spend time with toxic family members in small doses, and make sure you have a support system in place to help you cope with any negativity. Chat with your support people ahead of time; you can even have a code word or subtle gesture you can give them so they can step in and help distract from the conversation. Be sure to ask them if they feel comfortable doing this so they don’t have to choose sides.
  • Be Kind to You: Prioritize self-care during the holiday season. Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, such as walking, exercising, or just taking time away from the family to read a chapter of your book, walk your dog, unwind, and lower your stress levels. 
  • Keep a positive outlook and embrace your inner smile: When things begin to go south and tensions rise, keeping a smile on our faces and our thoughts in a positive place can be challenging. However, remember that this time of year is fleeting; things will return to normal, and there is the opportunity to create some fantastic memories. When your stress levels build, think of something you are looking forward to or focus on the positives of the holiday. You may be thrilled to see your Dad after many months of separation, or your sister may have done something ridiculous that you can both laugh about for years to come. It is the small things that keep us going.

Remember that every family has its quirks, and while conflicts may arise, they don’t define the entire holiday experience. Focus on the love and shared moments that make the holiday season special, and remember, if things get stressful, there is always pumpkin pie!

To learn more about effective communication and keeping a positive outlook during stressful times, download our mini-course, “Rise above the chaos and embrace your inner smile.”

In this mini-course, we emphasize the importance of centering your mind and body, creating a state of mental and physical calm. We teach you the value of being mindful of your emotions and the importance of acting objectively rather than subjectively. Additionally, we explore concepts such as “dropping the bone,” mastering the art of taking the high road in an argument, and how to deflect sarcasm. While these skills are crucial to every relationship, they are often overlooked. Here, we guide you and help you develop these essential skills so that you can rely on them when stress and conflict inevitably arise.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes. www.angercoach.com, follow the link and start your journey to a harmonious relationship. 

In this mini course, we teach you to the art of Irimi. Here you learn to focus on your partner while centering yourself using your ‘wise adult’ frame of mind. Irimi involves using cognitive empathy to understand your partner’s perspective from a loving and harmonious place. There are six techniques that we cover that are designed to foster an environment of unity and togetherness making it difficult for continued hostility. Once you have mastered these steps, you can move on to the next of Verbal Aikido, Aiki.

This course features the following:

  • Online class based on material developed by Dr Tony Fiore specific to anger and relationships
  • 5 professionally created videos that explain the concepts and enhance your online learning experience
  • Short and fun quizzes to give you feedback on your progress in learning the material
  • Downloadable PDFs containing worksheets for you to complete at your leisure so that you can record and evaluate your progress through the program

Friends Jane and Anthony have very different ways of viewing the world. Jane is a pessimist (“the glass is half-empty”) while Anthony is an optimist (“the glass is half-full”)

Let’s compare how they think about similar life experiences:

Scenario 1: A bad thing happens: both lose their jobs
Jane is devastated, convincing herself that she is all washed up, she can never catch a break, her boss was an SOB, it is useless for her to try to be successful, and she is not very good at anything.

By contrast, Anthony has a healthier inner dialog, telling himself that he probably wasn’t very good at that particular job, his skills and company needs did not mesh, and the firing was only a temporary setup in his career.

Scenario 2: A good thing happens: both find a new job
Now Jane, ever the pessimist, believes she was able to find a new job only because her industry is now really desperate for people, and they must have been short-handed.

The more upbeat Anthony sees that he landed a new job because his talents were finally recognized and he can now be appreciated for what he can do.
As this example illustrates, research by Dr. Marvin Seligman finds that optimists tend to interpret their troubles as transient, controllable and specific to situations.

When good things happen, optimists believe the causes are permanent such as traits and abilities. Optimists further believe that good events will enhance everything he or she does.

Pessimists, on the other hand, believe their troubles will last forever, will undermine everything they do, and are basically uncontrollable.
Even when good things happen to pessimists, they see these things as temporary and caused by specific factors (which will change eventually leading to a negative outcome)

Why is Optimism Beneficial?

Optimism and hope cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work and better physical health.
In fact, one long term study at the famed Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota found that optimists lived 19% longer in terms of expected life span than did pessimists.

Optimistic thinking skills are also a powerful antidote to anger. In fact, many participants in our anger management classes report their anger lessening as they learn to replace negative thinking and feelings with more positive ones.

How to think optimistically

There is now a well-documented method for building optimism that consists of recognizing and then disputing pessimistic thoughts.
Unfortunately, people often do not pay much attention to their thoughts and thus do not recognize that they may be destructive and leading to negative emotions.

The key to disputing your own pessimistic thoughts is to first recognize them and then to treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life is to make you miserable.

In effect, you can become an optimist by learning to disagree with yourself- that is, by challenging your pessimistic thinking patterns.

For skeptics, it is important to point out that optimistic thinking IS NOT the process of positive thinking in the sense of telling yourself silly affirmations that you really don’t believe.

Rather, it is the process of correcting distorted or faulty thinking patterns that create problems for you.

By teaching yourself to think about things differently (but just as realistically) you can morph yourself from a pessimist to an optimist – and tame that anger bee in the process.

Case #1: Jeanette and Tom had been married 15 years. Wanting to surprise him for his birthday, Jeanette bought (with her own money) 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, and buying a bigger one than they had previously looked at together. Jeanette was dumbfounded at his reaction, as she truly thought this would be a gift that would greatly please her husband.

Case#2: Jim was having a friendly beer with his brother-in-law Jack when the discussion turned to Jack’s extreme success in life.

Wanting to complement 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 complement, however, Jack became offended and angry and began to berate Jim for having said such a thing that he was interpreting as a “put down.”

Anger is caused by our view of things

As these examples clearly show, people are not disturbed by things or events, but by the view they take of them—an observation made in the early 2nd Century by Greek philosopher Epictetus.

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—which will greatly influence how angry, stressed, or upset you will become over it.

Learning to change what you tell yourself – your self-talk – is a powerful tool to break a cycle of negativity that can often poison our minds when we get angry. We all have a voice in our mind that tells 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 the moment of anger explosion, all those self- statements seemed 100% real and true to him.

Jack who became offended at being congratulated for overcoming his past, was actually having the following conversation in his head: he is putting me down because I had alcoholic parents; he is saying I am not capable of being successful on my own instead of “overcoming” something in my past; he is mocking me because of how I grew up.

No wonder he became so upset at Jim’s innocent attempt at a compliment. Like many of us, he was responding to his perspective of what was being communicated —not Jim’s.

Three Steps to Change Self-Talk

Step 1 – Retreat and Think Things Over. Do not respond immediately to a family anger or stress trigger. Give your body and your mind a chance to calm down so you can think rationally. Research shows this may take at least 20 minutes.

Step 2 – Look at the evidence. The most convincing way of disputing negative self-talk toward a family member is to show yourself it is factually incorrect. Do not lie to yourself, but like a detective simply and honestly look at all the evidence around the issue at hand.

For instance, when calm Tom remembered that his wife was excellent with money and rarely overspent. Jack remembered that Jim never disparaged him and, in fact, had always supported him throughout the years of their friendship.

Step 3 – Find alternative ways of interpreting the behavior of family members that is more positive—and more useful.
Tom was finally able to see his wife’s buying behavior as a sign of love and caring for him, rather than trying to hurt him or cause stress.
Jack was eventually capable of seeing that Jim was truly trying to complement him and that he truly saw Jack as someone to be admired because of how far he had come in life.

Beth and Tom were happily married for over 25 years— no small feat in today’s world. At first, their friends could not understand how their marriage succeeded, due to numerous perceived shortcomings.

However, closer scrutiny of their marriage revealed that it was their thinking patterns—the ways they explained and interpreted their partner’s behavior to themselves—that strengthened, rather than weakened, their marriage.

Tom’s lack of self-confidence? No problem! This only made Beth feel very caring toward him. His stubbornness and obstinacy? Again, Beth explained this to herself as “I respect him for his strong beliefs, and it helps me have confidence in our relationship.”

Beth’s jealousy? Tom told himself: “this is a marker of how important my presence is in her life.”

Beth’s shyness? No problem! Tom liked it because “she does not force me into revealing things about myself that I don’t want to…this attracts me to her even more.”

Marriage and health

Numerous studies have shown that the health of your marriage plays a major role in determining your overall physical health. Healthy marriage—healthy body!

Hold on to your illusions

Being able to see things in your mate that your friends don’t is a very positive predictor of marital success according to recent research by a professor at the State University of New York. Remarkably, satisfied couples see virtues in their partners that are not seen by their closest friends.
In contrast to this “illusion” by happy couples, dissatisfied couples have a “tainted image” of each other; they see fewer virtues in their mates than their friends do.

The happiest couples look on the bright side of the relationship (optimism). They focus on strengths rather than weaknesses and believe that bad events that might threaten other couples do not affect them. But, what if you are an optimist and your partner is a pessimist? That can work!

Or, the other way around? That can work, too.

However, two-pessimists married to each other place their marriage in jeopardy because when an untoward event occurs, a downward spiral may follow.

Pessimistic scenario

Unlike Optimists, pessimistic partners make permanent and pervasive explanations to themselves when bad events occur. (Conversely, they make temporary and specific explanations to themselves when good events occur.)

See what happens when Susie is late coming home from the office. Husband Jim explains to himself that “she cares more about work than about me!” Susie explains to herself that Jim is sulking because “he is ungrateful for the big paycheck I bring home!” and tells him so.

Jim defends himself by saying: “You never listen to me when I try and tell you how I feel!” Susie, being a pessimist, responds: “You’re nothing but a crybaby!”

Optimistic scenario

Either partner could have stopped this negative spiral by interpreting events differently. Jim could have interpreted Susie’s lateness as a sign of what a hard worker she is and noted she is usually on time. Jim could have seen that her lateness had nothing to do with her love for him, remembering all the times in the past that Susie has put his needs first.
Susie, if she had been an optimist, could have seen his sulking as a temporary state rather than a character flaw and tried to pull him out of it by pointing out that she really wanted to get home earlier, but her big account unexpectedly dropped in at 5:00 o’clock.

The Optimistic Marriage

The message is clear from both clinical experience and research: optimism helps marriage. When your partner does something that displeases you, try hard to find a believable, temporary, and specific explanation for it, i.e.: “He was tired;” “She must really be stressed,” instead of “he’s always inattentive,” or “he’s a grouch.”

On the other hand, when your partner does something great, amplify it with plausible explanations that are permanent (always) and pervasive (character traits), i.e.: “She is brilliant,” or “She is always at the top of her game,” as opposed to “The opposition caved in,” or “What a lucky day she had.”

Even as a child, James was described by teachers and his parents as a happy optimist. As the story goes, one day his parents decided to play a joke on him and test his attitude by requiring him to spend an afternoon cleaning deserted stables at what had been a local racetrack.

Returning after two hours, James’ parents observed him singing while happily shoveling manure. Astounded, they walked closer, only to hear him saying to himself over and over, “There has to be a pony in here somewhere.”

James did naturally what researchers are increasingly discovering: optimistic thinking skills are a powerful antidote to anger partly because the optimist has better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work, better physical health and better relationships. Who couldn’t admire and love a person with such a great attitude?
But what if you are not naturally optimistic? How can you become an optimist if you now insist on seeing the glass as half-empty instead if half-full?

The good news is that, according to psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, optimism is a learned mental skill. As a past president of the American Psychological Association, he has plenty of research to back up his theory.
To become an optimist, according to Seligman, you must master the skill of arguing with yourself!

Four ways to argue with yourself

At its core, optimism is a style of interpreting events that occur in your world – it is a your personal theory or explanation of why both good things and bad things happen to you.

While everyone experiences both setbacks and victories in the normal course of life, optimists – in contrast to pessimists – have a very distinct style of explaining things to themselves.

Said another way: It is your belief about what happens to you that determines your reaction, more than the event itself. The knack of disputing your beliefs is a thought-skill, the mastery of which will morph you into the optimistic style of thinking. There are four ways to do this:

  1. Look at the evidence. According to Seligman, the most convincing way of disputing a negative belief is to show it is factually incorrect.
    Most of the time you will have “reality” on your side. Your role is that of a detective as you ask “what is the evidence for my belief?”.
    For example, is it really true that you never succeed in anything? (Very doubtful. Everybody succeeds some of the time). That you are the worse parent you know? ( Can you remember any success you have had as a parent?) That you are an incurable glutton? (Can you sometimes resist food?) That you are incredible selfish? (How many times have you been unselfish?) Using this skill of looking at the evidence, you can defeat pessimism with more accurate perception and recall of what is really true.
  2. Consider alternative causes. Most events in the world have more than one cause. Pessimists latch onto the most insidious; optimists tend more to give themselves a break. For example, a marital breakup usually has many causes which probably contributed to its downfall. You can blame yourself. You can blame your partner. A more optimistic interpretation is that neither partner failed as an individual; it was the relationship (the combination) that failed.
  3. Put events into perspective. If the facts are NOT on your side and you cannot honestly see other causes to a negative event, you will need to look at the implications of your beliefs to become an optimistic thinker. Is the event really as catastrophic as you may be making it in your mind? (hint: few things are). Usually, the implications or long-term effects of your misfortune aren’t as awful or devastating as you may be seeing them.
  4. Is your belief useful? Even though a belief may, in fact, be true, it may not be useful. Some beliefs cause more grief than they are worth. You may tell yourself you are a failure, for instance. This belief will likely cause to you stop trying. Instead, substitute a more useful belief like “Just because I failed once doesn’t make me a failure.” Then, behave accordingly with your new belief.

Dateline: December 4th. Orange County, California. A 29 year old man was shot to death, an apparent victim of road rage. According to newspaper accounts, he had a reputation for never backing down from a fight.

The man and his half brother were heading home from a plumbing job when the trouble began. Driving in a criminal fashion, three men in another car zoomed in front of their car. These men started hurling profanities and flashing obscene gestures at the brothers, who returned the insults.

Things escalated until an illegal gun was pulled. Rather than backing down, the man got out of his car and began walking toward the gunman. Two shots rang out, missing the man who then continued to walk toward the gunman until he was shot and killed.

While this tragic incidence is illustrative of an extreme case of aggressive driving, there are thousands of lesser cases in the United States yearly. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, incidents of aggressive driving have increased by 7% every year since 1990; however, few courts mandate anger management treatment for traffic offenders.

Five Zones of aggressive driving

Research by Dr. Leon James at the University of Hawaii reveals five categories of aggressive driving. Which zone do you or a loved one fall in?

  1. The Unfriendly Zone: Example: closing ranks to deny someone entering your lane because you’re frustrated or upset.
  2. Hostile Zone: Example: Tailgating to pressure another driver to go faster or get out of the way.
  3. Violent Zone: Example: Making visible obscene gestures at another driver.
  4. Less Mayhem Zone: Pursuing other cars in a chase because of provocation or insult.
  5. Major Mayhem Zone: Example: Getting out of the car and beating or battering someone as a result of a road exchange.

Do aggressive drivers see themselves as such?

According to Dr. James and his research team, drivers who consider themselves as almost perfect in excellence (with no room to improve) also confessed to significantly more aggressiveness than drivers who see themselves as still improving.

What this means is that despite their self-confessed aggressiveness, 2 out of 3 drivers still insist on seeing themselves as near perfect drivers with almost no room to improve.

These drivers see “the other guy” as the problem and thus do not look at their own aggressive driving behavior.

What causes aggressive driving behavior?

While there is no one standard definition for aggressive driving, many psychologists see anger as the root cause of the problem. Regardless of the provocation or the circumstances related to problems on the road, it is ultimately our emotional state, our stress levels and our thinking patterns that either cause us to drive aggressively or lead us to be the victims of others.

In short, many of get us get in trouble because we are driving under the influence of impaired emotions, especially anger.

Like drunk driving, aggressive driving is more than a simple action or carelessness; it is a behavioral choice that drivers make.

It is normal and natural to feel angry when certain events frustrate us on the road. But, how do you deal with these angry feelings to cope with the situation more effectively?

Two ways to cope with impaired driving emotions

Research clearly shows that reducing stress and changing your self-talk can help you cope. It is important to learn these skills so you will not need the services of a criminal attorney for a road-rage related offense:

  1. Reduce your stress. Driving is emotionally challenging because unexpected things happen constantly with which we must cope. We often drive under the pressure of time, or the pressure of congestion and delays which add to our general stress level. Suggestions include listening to relaxing music or educational tapes on the road, leaving 15 minutes sooner, and getting up earlier so you are less rushed.
  2. Change your perspective with different self-talk. Learn to view the situation differently. Anger and stress are caused more by our perspective of things than the things themselves. Much research shows that what we tell ourselves also much to do with the emotions we create, including anger. Suggested self-talk statements that will reduce anger and stress on the road are:

Traffic delays are a part of living here. I must accept what I cannot change.
I will allow more time from now on to take into account traffic delays.
I do not need to take personally the bad or aggressive driving patterns of other drivers. They are not doing this to me personally; they don’t even know I exist as a person.

The person driving badly may be having a bad day and I need to be more tolerant or empathetic. Perhaps it is an old person doing the best they can. Perhaps it is a young mother trying to get to the babysitter on time after work. It could be someone who just came from the doctor’s office with bad news about their health.

Getting upset will not change the traffic situation; getting upset will only make me more miserable.

Literally, think again. And then think about what you are thinking about- especially around anger issues.

As famous psychologist William James said over 100 years ago:

“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.”

The case of Sally and Jim

Sally and Jim sat in my office glaring at each other. Sally told a story around an angry conflict they had had eariler in the week.

I found Sally to be quite humorous and entertaining. But Jim had an entirely different perception. Getting more and more agitated and angry as he listened to his wife, he looked at me and said “see what I mean, doc? Isn’t she irritating?

“I don’t find her irritating,” I replied. I then went on to explain that “irritation” (or most other traits or ways of relating) isn’t as much in the partner as in your perception of it- or how you think about it- or the general attitude you have toward your partner to begin with.

In other words,your mental set or mental framework you have toward your partner influences how you interpret what they do or how they are.

Negative and positive sentiment override

There is much marital research at the Gottman institute to back this up. There, researchers discovered something called “negative sentiment override” vs positive sentiment override.”

In Gottman’s theory, when negative sentiment override (NSO) is present, there is a discrepancy between the perceptions of the receiver and the sender of an interaction.  Just like Jim, we can distort and see a communication through a negative lens, even when their partner did not intend it to be negative.  In fact, objective observers may not perceive the interaction to be negative, at all. (just as I didn’t see Sally as irritating, like Jim did).

 It is in the “eyes of the beholder” so to speak, that he or she are on the receiving end of something negative. By contrast, In positive sentiment override (PSO), negative interactions are not seen as particularly negative, or at least they are not taken personally.  When there is PSO between a couple, the partners give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Even if one partner IS conveying negativity in content or tone, the other does not personalize, react to, match, or “store away for a rainy day” their partner’s bad mood, negativity, etc.

Getting from negative to more positive sentiment overide: Two Steps

Sounds good, but how does a couple shift from negative to positive sentiment override? Try these two steps as a startup strategy:

Step 1- Try to become friends again by doing things you enjoy together -like when you were dating. I know there are any obstacles to this: children, Covid-19 pandemic, money ,etc but try a little harder to re-connect.
See the attached worksheet to give you some more ideas.

Step 2- Consciously alter you thought patterns about your partner by looking at what you are telling yourself about what they do that makes you angry or upset toward then.

Here are some “self-talk” thoughts I teach people in my anger management classes to teach themselves to be less angry at whatever their partner does. These changes in thought patterns have helped many hundreds of partners be less angry toward their partner- even if their partners doesn’t change their behavior.

Change Angry Thoughts to 4 Corrective Thoughts

Angry Thought #1- My partner should think like I do. If they don’t, its my duty to work on them until they do think like me- or at least admit they are wrong.

Corrective thought #1: My partner and I don’t have to think alike: to get along we just have to be tolerant of how the other one thinks.

Angry Thought #2-My partner does things I consider stupid or wrong. Because they are stupid or wrong, they shouldn’t do these things.

Corrective thought #2: Within limits, they have a right to do what they want to- but I also have a right not to want to live with a person who does those things and I will communicate that to them calmly.

Angry Thought #3- I know I am right about the issue we often fight about.

Corrective thought #3: I am not 100% right nor are they 100% wrong on any matter of dispute. Fact is, usually “the truth” is in the middle. In marriage, there is more than one “truth” so it is possible you are both “right” but you are each looking at the conflict or issue from a different point of view.

Angry Thought #4– Things should go my way- because I deserve it and because I want it that way.

Corrective thought #4: I am not the center of the universe, or even the center of our relationship. It is irrational to think that things MUST go my way- even though I would like them to. Rather than getting angry, I need to work on my skill of accepting what is instead of what I self-centeredly want it to be. I also need to practice thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.”


Download a FREE PDF file called “Sharing Things as a Couple Worksheet” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

News item: “A 32-year-old Payson man learned that lesson the hard way Sunday. He was driving down a street in Orem (Utah) with his wife and children when he exchanged angry words with a local man. The Orem man pursued the family and tailgated their Chevy Suburban. In the heat of the moment, the Payson man stomped on the brakes. In the collision, his wife suffered neck injuries. Both men were cited for reckless driving and disorderly conduct.”

As this news story illustrates, the cost is often very high to losing one’s temper and not controlling anger on the road and elsewhere.

Costs can be calculated in financial as well as emotional and social terms. This man has to live with the fact that he injured his wife and probably traumatized his children. He also has to live with himself and perhaps his lowered self-esteem.

As we teach in our anger management classes, aggressive driving is often a “dance” with both parties participating and thus escalating each other’s anger.

Rather than “dancing,” it is better to ignore the poor driving of the other person rather than retaliating. Hostility begets more hostility, as this driver found out.

A very useful anger management tool to use in these situation is changing “self-talk” to calm oneself down. Self talk allows you to put things in perspective and think rationally rather than emotionally with medisavvy. Click here for a free article on using self-talk and other anger management tools to deal with aggressive driving.

If you have heart problems and are on a ventricular fibrillator, try to stay calm!

Boston researchers are reporting that bursts of anger may trigger potentially fatal heart rhythm disturbances. The hotter the temper, the higher the risk appears of ventricular fibrillation.

“The old conventional wisdom is that, if you know someone has a heart condition, don’t get them upset,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, medical director of the cardiac program at Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ont.

There have been hints before that emotional events can cause disturbances in heart rhythm and the balance between our innate “fight or flight” response, Simpson said. But this is the first “direct, solid evidence that an episode of anger can immediately precede a dangerous arrhythmia” said Simpson, a spokesman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Learning to manage anger involves eight core tools including learning to deal with stress, and learning different “self-talk” to take the stress out of potentially stressful situations. Deep breathing, meditation, and better time management can also greatly reduce stress in many people’s lives.