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Handling Irritations

Chapter 13: Handling Irritations

Tools for Anger Work-Out

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D. 


How is anger different from irritation? Are there any similarities?


Thing that makes me angry: are violations of the rights of major consequence to me.

Irritation: are violations of my rights, but to a lesser degree; of minor consequence to me.


Thing that makes me angry: are often done by those close to me, i.e., members of my family, my co-workers, friends or neighbors

Irritation: are usually done by those not in a significant relationship with me, i.e., clerks, taxi drivers, waitresses, customers.


Thing that makes me angry: have their roots in old scripts, past feelings of hurt and rejection.

Irritation: arise on the spur of the moment, spontaneously.


Thing that makes me angry: require that I be assertive, often requiring repeated efforts at self-assertion.

Irritation: are acts that are best handled by being assertive on the spot.


Thing that makes me angry: are things that I've tried to ignore, but they don't go away; they take a great deal of my energy and effort to resolve.

Irritation: are uncomfortable, but can be handled with a minor amount of energy and effort.


Thing that makes me angry: Is often the result of the frustrations of facing chronic irritations.

Irritation: are often others' habits that happen to grate on my nerves.


Thing that makes me angry: arouse my emotions regardless of my mood; these violations cannot be ignored.

Irritation: are more a result of my of my mood; i.e., today I might not be bothered, but tomorrow, if I'm tired, hungry, or depressed, I might get upset.

What are some examples of irritations and their levels of intensity for me?

I will read the following list of irritations and rate each one in my journal on the following scale from 1 to 5 as to its impact on my life.

1 = no irritation        

2 = mild irritation

3 = moderate irritation

4 = marked irritation

5 = severe irritation

Irritation Inventory

  1. Waitress gets my order mixed up.
  2. Co-worker comes to work late without calling.
  3. Bus or taxi passes me as I try to call or wave it down.
  4. People are talking behind me in a movie.
  5. People are smoking in a non-smoking section.
  6. Waiting in a long line as people try to push ahead of me.
  7. An airplane, train, or bus connection is missed.
  8. A client is late for an appointment without calling.
  9. An event begins between 15 and 30 minutes late.
  10. An event begins between 30 and 60 minutes late.
  11. An event begins more than one hour late.
  12. I wait and wait for a clerk to assist me.
  13. I have to wait in my doctor's office more than 30 minutes past the time of my appointment.
  14. People are making noise outside of the room where I am trying to sleep.
  15. An airline loses my luggage.
  16. The weather is lousy on my vacation.
  17. The sun isn't shining.
  18. It is raining.
  19. A store is sold out of an item I wanted to buy.
  20. A pushy salesman is urging me to buy something.
  21. Someone nags me to stop a behavior I enjoy.
  22. I misplace my keys and can't get into my car, house, or office.
  23. Someone cuts me off in traffic.
  24. Someone in traffic calls me a name or gives me the universal “finger sign”
  25. I get an unsolicited phone call from a salesperson.
  26. My mail box is loaded with junk mail.
  27. I arrive somewhere and I find it closed.
  28. I am put on hold when calling someone on the phone.
  29. I get a crank call after I have gone to sleep.
  30. Someone is making loud eating noises.
  31. Someone is cracking gum loudly.
  32. Someone smells (body odor or strong perfume).
  33. A store is crowded.
  34. A hotel has no vacancy.
  35. My car runs out of gas.
  36. My car gets a flat tire.
  37. My car breaks down.
  38. I lose something worth less than $5.
  39. I lose something worth $5 to $20.
  40. I lose something worth more than $20.
  41. People don't recognize me even though I've been introduced to them before.
  42. When I've raised my hand to be recognized and a person doesn't call on me.
  43. When a public speaker cannot be heard.
  44. When a clerk, or waiter, treats me crudely, or disinterested.
  45. When someone doesn't laugh at my joke.
  46. When I get lost in a new place, because of poor directions I've been given.
  47. When I miss my plane, train, bus, or ride.
  48. When a menu lists no prices.
  49. When I can't understand the language a person is speaking to me.
  50. When someone dresses or acts in a way I find repulsive.
  51. _____
  52. _____
  53. _____
  54. _____
  55. _____
  56. _____
  57. _____
  58. _____
  59. _____
  60. _____

For the abovet ten items, fill in specific irritations for me and rate them.

How do I usually feel when I am faced with an irritation?

When irritated, I experience any or all of the following:

Peeved, anxious, panic stricken, amazed, upset, nervous, fuming, surprised, bothered, worried, embarrassed, despondent, frustrated, shaken up, stupid, vengeful, hostile, ticked off, betrayed, dismayed, agitated, angry, undesirable, disconcerted, uncomfortable, explosive, ignored, flustered, upset, befuddled, confused, cynical, disbelieving


What do I usually do when I am faced with an irritation?

When irritated, I do any or all of the following:

  • take the blame
  • overreact
  • yell or scream
  • do a slow burn
  • leave or storm out
  • take charge
  • demand attention
  • blame others
  • make excuses
  • deny it
  • ignore it
  • ask others to handle it
  • pretend it didn't happen
  • worry about it
  • ask for help to deal with it
  • take action to resolve it


Why do I avoid direct action in handling irritations?

I usually don't take direct action when I:

  • am embarrassed to admit that I'm irritated.
  • don't want to embarrass those causing the irritation.
  • feel it would be better to drop it; make no big deal over it.
  • fear an argument or a fight will come of it.
  • fear confrontation.
  • believe I deserve what happened.
  • believe that it was my fault.
  • am out of touch with my feelings.
  • can't decide how I should feel: angry or compassionate.
  • am busy looking good for others.
  • become confused and can no longer think clearly.
  • experience a shut-down of creative juices.
  • cannot rapidly problem-solve myself out of the situation.


Why do I overreact to irritations?

I overreact to an irritation when I:

  • have been irritated by this same thing so many times. Can't anyone ever learn?
  • misread the situation and take it personally.
  • am in a bad mood, either exhausted, overworked, or depressed, and feeling sorry for myself.
  • have had it; this is just one too many irritations for one day.
  • want to get revenge for the negative attitude of those involved.
  • am reminded by the person involved of someone whom I despise.
  • displace my anger on the irritating person instead of finding the real culprit.
  • feel that my requests to stop this behavior have gone ignored.
  • initially reacted passively, then realized how I am being taken advantage of.
  • feel confused and out of control.
  • begin to feel that this irritation is part of a plot to drive me crazy, or make me fail, or lose.


What irrational thoughts are involved in my response to irritations?

A. For no reaction to irritations:

  • I must always look good to others.
  • It is bad to take my anger out on others.
  • What would others think if I got mad?
  • There is no sense in getting upset.
  • Why let a little thing like this get to me?
  • It doesn't pay to let others know when their behavior bothers me.
  • I always end up a loser when I let others know what irritates me.
  • It is important for people to see me as free and easy and laid back.
  • No one cares how I feel anyway.
  • What good does it do to let others know my reactions?
  • If I show my feelings about this, then they will always know how to get to me.


B. For overreaction to irritations:

  • Everyone is out to get me.
  • Little things add up to big problems.
  • I have always been taken advantage of in my life.
  • Why can't I be a winner at least once?
  • It is more important to ventilate my anger than to get an ulcer.
  • It doesn't matter who gets the brunt of my anger as long as I feel good afterwards.
  • I'll never allow anyone to put one over on me.
  • I have to be on the alert; I might be taken advantage of again.
  • No one will ever irritate me like that again.
  • Things like this have a way of messing up my life.

What healthy steps can I take to handle irritations in the future?

1. Specify the problem

Identify exactly when I get irritated.

Identify the feelings I experience.

Identify the behavior or circumstance that creates irritation for me.

Identify what in my past history is similar to this experience.

Identify each element of the irritation. Am I:

  • out of control
  • embarrassed
  • experiencing a time delay
  • overwhelmed
  • confused
  • being seen as stupid or dumb
  • experiencing a violation of my rights
  • being ignored
  • being devalued
  • over powered

How much power have I given this situation? Does it affect my thinking? Emotions? Behaviors?

What it is about the situation, those involved, and the circumstances that I give them so much power over me.

What irrational thinking am I going through as I try to deal with the irritation?


2. Defuse the moment

Slow down in my responses. Take time to complete the problem analysis in Step A before I react.

Ventilate my anger, either on my own in my head, or in a place away from the cause of the irritation. Allow myself to experience the anger ventilation. Try not to ventilate it on another person. Don't be explosive.

Script an assertive response to the irritation. Let others know I am angry, hurt, or offended by their behavior. List the corrective action I would like to see happen.


3. Take assertive action

Once I have exhausted my explosive anger, temper, and emotional response, I am ready to confront the source of my irritation in an assertive style. I would then:

Openly state that:

  • I am upset or angry because ...You did...


  • This happened: ...and ...
  • I feel that I deserve better than this ...


Please do the following to correct the situation:

  • Address the source of irritation openly with clarity of speech and expression.
  • Admit my humanness in that I am fallible and subject to negative emotions when things don't go the way they are supposed to.
  • Invite the source of the irritation to brainstorm solutions with me. Decide on a win-win solution.
  • Take control of my reactions so that the source of irritation is not given the power to intimidate, bully, or threaten me so that I eventually back down from resolving the irritating circumstance.
  • Give myself permission to pursue the confrontation until I feel resolution and closure.


4. Take action again

Once I've confronted an irritation openly I will:

  • be able to handle similar irritations in the future.
  • believe in my power to control my response to irritations.
  • face irritations assertively, better prepared to deal with negative situations.
  • rehearse and visualize myself being successful in handling irritation in the future.
  • continue anger work-outs to openly ventilate my anger in a healthy way and defuse future irritation.

Steps to overcome irritations


Step 1: I first need to clarify how irritations differ from those things that truly anger me. I will respond to the following in my journal:

  • What do I believe is the difference between those things that irritate me and those that truly anger me?
  • How is my behavior different when I am irritated than when I am angry? Is there a difference?
  • How are my feelings different when I am irritated than when I am angry?
  • What do I do differently when I'm irritated than when I am angry?
  • What signs point to irritation rather than anger for me?


Step 2: Once I've differentiated my anger from irritation, I need to identify and rate the intensity of the irritations in my life by completing the survey in this chapter.


Step 3: For each of the irritations in the survey that I rated 3 or higher, I need to answer the following questions in my journal:

  • How do I normally react to this irritation?
  • How do I feel when this irritation arises?
  • What people are usually the source of this irritation?
  • When does this irritation usually arise?
  • Where does this irritation usually arise?
  • What are my reasons and irrational beliefs that account for (1) my taking no action and/or having no reaction, or (2) my overreacting to this irritation?


Step 4: For each of the irritations in the survey that I rated 3 or higher, I need to apply the Healthy Steps listed in the above section on taking healthy steps to handle irritations in the future.


Step 5: After I've worked out the healthy steps to handling irritations for each one I've identified, if I am still unable to handle these, I need to return to Step 1, and begin again.