The root of anger is pain. When you experience pain, your natural reaction is to get angry. Anger gives your body the speedy reflexes and explosive power to move yourself to a safe place. For example, a mosquito bites your arm, causing you pain. In an instant, you become angry and slap the mosquito — an aggressive reaction to pain. The next time a mosquito lands on your arm, you impulsively smack the insect before he has a chance to inflict discomfort. Your reaction is automatic, quick and unquestioned.
You can cultivate emotional impulses, known as impulse beliefs, in a similar fashion. An impulse belief is your emotional interpretation and reaction to another person’s behavior. For example, you might interpret a compliment as an attempt to make you feel proud. On the other hand, you might have an impulse belief that the person is trying to inflict pain when they insult you.
Impulse beliefs can be accurate or inaccurate. When you hold an accurate impulse belief, you correctly interpret the intentions of the other party. For instance, when your spouse serves you a piece of your favorite homemade pie, you can assume he did it out of love and genuine interest in your culinary happiness. An inaccurate impulse belief might be that you think he gave you the pie in some sinister plan to make you fat.
Inaccurate impulse beliefs have a detrimental effect on relationships because they cause one-sided anger issues in which other party never has a reasonable chance of overcoming. When you engage in impulse beliefs, especially inaccurate ones, you project shame and blame onto the other person. This person may have the absolute best intentions, completely unaware that his innocent thoughts and actions have been hijacked by your anger. You disregard his true motives and replace his intentions with your own. In this way, you dehumanize the people you are in a relationship because you deny them their true feelings and impose your own thoughts onto them. You minimize their efforts to express love as a way of punishing them for transgressions they are unaware of committing.
Impulse beliefs project your own negative feelings of personal shame and guilt onto those people you hold the most intimate relationships with, especially those whom you’ve shared very long relationships. As a child, you were wired to respond to the impulse beliefs you imposed on your parents. You started out your life believing your parents did everything as a direct result of their love for you. When you went through your teenage years, your impulse beliefs indicated that your parents did these things because they hated you. Once you reached adulthood, you recognized the fact that your parents indeed acted out of love but that many of their thoughts and actions had nothing to do with you. You learned to reassess the impulse beliefs you forced onto your parents as your relationship with them matured.
You engage in inaccurate impulse beliefs when you assume you know what another person is thinking. You decide ahead of time the meaning of each nuance, and assign secret importance to everything she says and does. When she brings you coffee, you think, “She just does that because she’s trying to act like a victim. She knows I hate that and is trying to make me look bad in front of the family.” In reality, she might have thought you seemed tired and could use a nice cup of coffee.