Using a “Time Out” to Help Control Anger
In my last article, I discussed, How to Avoid Conflict Escalation with an Effective “Time Out”, in today’s article I will talk more about avoiding conflict escalation…
Unless you practice anger control skills, when you take a “time out”, it is possible to physically detach but to remain psychologically engaged. This results in the Time Out being ineffective. Mild exercise such as walking or engaging in some sort of pleasurable activity or fantasy can help you to distract yourself. While detached, you need to work at controlling your “Hot Thoughts.”
- Avoid the temptation to go over the conflict or to recall past injustices.
- Work at achieving a perspective that enables you to empathize and recognize that you are partly right and partly wrong.
- See the disagreement from your partner’s point of view.
Your “Self Talk” is very important at this point. Negative Self Talk keeps you psychologically engaged. At this point, journaling or talking it out with a safe person can be helpful. This safe person needs to be someone agreed upon in advance who will support the positive changes you want to make. Some people, who try to be sympathetic, may actually enable your Hot Thoughts. This is not a good person with whom to talk.
Returning from the Time Out…
The person who initially signaled the time out takes responsibility for getting back together. Usually it is safe to return when you are able to admit that you were not entirely right. If you call the Time Out promptly, a few minutes are all that you need for the anger/apprehension level to subside to the safety zone. When you get back together, the signaler states that he or she was partly right and partly wrong in the preceding conflict, and that he or she is now ready to resume the discussion. You should not use the Time Out to avoid unpleasant content. You need to return to the original topic. If our partner is able to acknowledge that he or she was also not entirely right, then it is safe to continue. If this does not happen, then you need to signal a second Time Out. It is important to realize that calling a Time Out represents a success rather than a failure. Each time you successfully follow the Time Out process, the comfort level for each other increases.
What to do when you return…
Before coming back decide what you need to do. Here are some possible choices:
- Let it go
- Put it on hold
- Discuss it
- Problem solve it
If during anyone of these activities, the situation escalates again, you can then take another Time Out.
Keep a Time Out log
The time out log is a way for you to record how you are using the time out, what you are doing to calm down and what decisions you make after you cool down. Here are some suggestions for your log:
- Description of the situation: Write down two or three sentences or phrases about how you became upset.
- Negative thoughts: What thoughts were you having that caused you to feel upset?
- Upset level: From one to ten, with one being slightly and ten being out of control, at what level were you upset?
- Difficult feelings: What difficult feelings were you having? Identify both the primary and the secondary feelings.
- Left a what point: What was going on when you left? What were your cues that you needed to leave the situation?
- Minutes to cool down: How long did you take?
- Place: Where did you go to cool down?
- Self calming actions: What did you do to cool down?
- Self-calming thoughts: What self-calming thoughts did you use to replace negative thoughts?
- Your decision after the cool down: Did you let it go, put it on hold or talk to your partner about it?
Remember, the time out is not a tool to change or control your partner or child; it is a way to center yourself so that you can respond appropriately to the situation. As you record your experience on a regular basis, you can track your progress and take action to improve in those areas where you are having difficulty.
The decision to use anger or violence is your own. Violence is about using power to control another person. Anger, alcohol or other drug use, poverty, or mental illness does not cause violence. Enmity or the need to control others causes violence. Both anger and violence are a matter of choice. Your thoughts and beliefs determine your feelings and actions more than biochemistry or genetic heritage. Venting anger rarely leads to any real lasting relief or lasting catharsis. It instead leads to more anger, tension and arousal. While anger is a normal emotion, violence against the people you car about is never justified and is not a healthy way to express anger.
This is an excerpt from my book “Embracing Change From the Inside Out”
If you’re ready to make life changes from the inside out contact me, I will help you understand how to make those changes.
You can also contact me to speak at your next event, I will adjust my topic to the needs of your audience.