In this article, I discuss strategies you can use to avoid ruminating on self-righteous anger.


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

In my last article, I compared the appeal of focusing on self-righteous anger to the lure of the sirens in Greek mythology. I then discussed the great costs of such ruminating: It takes an emotional and physical toll; it decreases ability to focus and perform well; it detracts from enjoyment of activities; it impairs social relationships; and it leads to a cycle of negativity.

Because of these great costs, it is important to have strategies to avoid ruminating on self-righteous anger. In the following sections, I will discuss these strategies.

Set aside times to ‘vent’

It is unrealistic to have the goal not to express your thoughts and feelings fuelling self-righteous anger. And there is not a problem in doing so provided that you don’t spend vast amounts of time ruminating. Setting aside times to ‘vent’ to a supportive relationship partner, friend or family member will allow you to express your thoughts and feelings and be validated. Being able to do this ‘venting’ and be validated allows you to reduce the intensity of your anger and no longer feel the need to dwell on it.

Counteract ruminating by attention-switching

As you go about your day, it is normal for all kinds of thoughts to enter your mind including those which fuel self-righteous anger. Having said that, just because such thoughts enter your mind does not mean you need to give them attention, energy and focus. Instead, use a strategy employed successfully in mindfulness meditation: Just notice the thoughts and switch your attention back to what you were focusing on (such as a task or an enjoyable activity) before the anger-fuelling thoughts entered your mind.

If you were not focusing on other thoughts before the anger-fuelling thoughts entered your mind, try switching your attention by thinking thoughts which reliably put you in a good mood. These can include imagining a relaxing place you have been to, thinking of people or pets you enjoy being around, recalling something positive that happened to you recently, and expressing gratitude for people and things that enhance your life.

Counteract ruminating with balanced thinking

People ruminate on ‘hot thoughts’ which fuel anger and other emotions which interfere with their ability to enjoy their days and focus on tasks and activities. Hot thoughts entail dwelling on the negatives about the person’s behaviour or character when there may be other less negative information or even positive information which we are not aware of or are not paying attention to.

Using skills from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) like thought records will help you to change your hot thoughts about the person to balanced thoughts which consider all the information about that person’s behaviour and their character—both the negative information and the less negative or positive information.

For example, even though the person’s behaviour may appear to have been unreasonable to you, you can often consider evidence which leads you to see how their behaviour may have seemed reasonable to them. It is also often possible to change hot thoughts about a person’s character stemming from their recent behavour (such as “They don’t care about/respect me or other people”) to balanced thoughts (such as “Even though I’m not happy with how they behaved toward me on this occasion, they have behaved respectfully toward me and other people on other occasions”).

Such balanced thinking is not intended to excuse or justify the other person’s behaviour. Rather, it is an effective way to help lower the intensity of your anger and reduce your tendency to ruminate on hot thoughts which drive it.

Counteract ruminating with action and problem-solving

Your tendency to ruminate on hot thoughts driving self-righteous anger can also often be lessened by taking action or problem-solving. This might involve talking with the person you are angry toward to work through the issue.

This can sometimes allow you to express your thoughts and feelings which may lead you to feel that the person understands how they have hurt you—perhaps even to the point of apologizing to you. Such talks can also help you understand the other person’s perspective which can lead you to realize they did not engage in the behaviour to deliberately hurt you.

Action and problem solving to counteract ruminating at other times may involve setting boundaries with the person to let them know that you did not appreciate their behaviour and that you demand to be treated with respect. If the response you receive to your reasonable concerns is negative, you may decide to limit your interactions with the person or cease all interactions with them. Whether their response is positive or negative to your boundary-setting efforts, your tendency to ruminate on self-righteous anger should decrease.

As with most issues, using a combination of cognitive and behavioural strategies is often the best course of action to avoid ruminating on self-righteous anger.

May you use CBT skills to avoid ruminating on self-righteous anger,

-Dr.