For many of us who have been violent with our partners, that violence came after something set us off. Certain words or situations generate extremely strong reactions that are way bigger than what is needed. Then, if you’re like me, regret sets in and you’re left wondering how to control your anger before it controls you.

The title of this book, How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You, spoke right to my problem. The book was published in 1997 and the process was pioneered by author Albert Ellis decades before that. However, the human mind still works the same and a sound process to change it never goes out of style.

Making anger management a formula

One thing I really appreciate about this book is how the author gives us a simple model for understanding and controlling anger. He uses “ABC” to describe what happens when we get angry. Something Activates it, we pass it through our Beliefs, and the angry emotion that results is the Consequence. I can plug my experiences right into the formula and it helps me understand where my anger was needlessly created.

He adds a “D” (Disputing beliefs) to the formula to disrupt what otherwise seems like an automatic reaction. From there, it makes stopping it and creating a more manageable emotion, like disappointment, frustration, or regret, possible. This simple yet effective way of thinking about and interrupting anger can help anyone make significant changes in how they handle rage.

If we get to a problem-causing emotion at “C” like anger, we need to ask what belief got us there. The author correctly suggests that it was likely an irrational belief. The added challenge is that we’ve likely “practiced” this irrational belief frequently, reinforcing it into a habit.

The way to break this pattern is to Dispute the irrational belief, replacing the irrational thought with a rational one. For example, rather than irrationally seeing the situation as “awful”, viewing it more rationally as “not our preference” leads to disappointment rather than anger. Because irrational thinking is a habit, this dispute requires vigorous and frequent practice.

Applying the concepts of How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You

My ex-wife frequently criticized my decisions, an “Activating” event for me. When I heard her criticisms, I “Believed” she thought I was stupid and a poor provider for our family. As a “Consequence”, I became angry with her, and sometimes that anger escalated into violence.

Clearly, my belief was irrational, although I couldn’t see it until I looked for why my emotions progressed into anger. While no one likes criticism, I could view her words as just her opinion about my decision. added “stupid” and “poor provider” to her statements, which was my irrational belief.

Consistent with our change process

The processes described in How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You are consistent with those we describe in our Change Process. A critical start is identifying Buttons (Activating events) that lead to big, harmful reactions (Consequences). To change the outcome, we need to Challenge Distorted Thinking (Dispute beliefs). Our Different Endings Simulator and Simulator 2 will allow you to practice vigorously challenging those irrational beliefs.

Mr. Ellis gives both the theoretical understanding and practical techniques to apply, which creates lasting change away from self-defeating behavior. His treatment method enables the reader to become less reactive, which also helps us feel better about ourselves. Managing anger is difficult to learn, but How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You provides some of the best guidance I’ve seen.