Lorraine Kerr-Atkinson M.S. NCC, LPC

9090 S. Ridgeline Blvd, Suite 220 Littleton, CO 80129

Serving Highlands Ranch


Master of the Universe: Beyond Anger

The Seductive Belief Behind Anger

My kids love the Marvel Comic book movies. How about you? Ever notice that it is always the same problem in each movie? You know the story–the villain wants to take over the universe and run it his way. Needless to say, the rest of world is not excited to have the super villain run the universe and so the fighting and destruction begin.

I have noticed that anger is often founded in the same crazy idea that comic book villains declare—a hidden, unconscious notion that we somehow should run the universe. I’ll give you an example.

I was cleaning the kitchen the other night when I found myself becoming irritable. The more I cleaned, the more irritable I became. Why? I grew curious about my anger and began to notice my thoughts. Here’s a shortened version: “Why wasn’t this put away?;” “How many times do I have to explain the same thing!”; “Clean means no crumbs on the counter and the floor.” Sound familiar?

When I looked even more closely at my anger, I noticed that all my thoughts had one underlying theme in common–the kitchen should be cleaned my way! I was having, what a colleague of mine humorously calls, the Master of the Universe Syndrome.

Many of my clients that are working on anger, find themselves struggling with the Master of the Universe Syndrome. Ironically, this Syndrome is difficult to recognize because angry thoughts can seem logical and, as a result, our behavior seems entirely rational to us. For example, many times angry thoughts are around shared rules for behavior, what psychologists call norms. My angry thoughts were around the norms or rules that my family has agreed upon around cleaning. The seductive logic was that we, as a family, have agreed upon these rules; the rules were broken and therefore, my irritability is justified. Sound familiar?

Road rage is another, very common, example of the seductive power of the Master Of the Universe Syndrome. The seeming logic behind cursing and tailgating the driver that just cut you off is based on your belief that there are driving laws that everyone follows; they broke the law and so your anger is justified, right? Wrong.

Underneath that seemingly logical and reasonable angry thought is a very, illogical belief. Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Therapy, came up with a very simple premise regarding irrational thoughts. He noticed that there was an Activating Event, (the car cutting in front of you) and an irrational Belief about the event (that everyone follow the rules of road). Based on this irrational belief, there is a Consequence. That is, you behave in response to your belief. (For example, because of your belief that people should follow the rules of the road, you get angry, honk, and flip off the other driver.)

So why is the above belief (people follow the rules of the road) illogical? I’ll tell you why. It’s because people break driving rules every day. Think about it. Can you think of a single day when you have driven and a driving rule was NOT broken by someone? No? Neither can I! Therefore your belief that everyone follows the driving rules is an irrational belief. In other words, it is not based on reality. In fact, the reality is the opposite!

Notice that I am not saying that rules don’t matter or that we shouldn’t have driving rules. I am pointing out that the reality of how people drive cars is different from our ideas about how people should drive cars. While our ideals are north stars pointing us in the direction of desirable behavior, they can create anger and pain when we want to impose our beliefs on the reality that is happening in front of us. Why should you be the one to dole out the punishment to the offending driver by flipping him off? Why should you be the one to feel pain in the form of anger for his poor judgment? Who made you the Master of the Universe?

When I find myself having a Master of the Universe moment happening. I remind myself, with humor, that I am not in charge of the universe. This allows me to laugh and let go of my need to impose my ideas on others and my irritation soon vanishes. Let me know how you handle the Master of the Universe Syndrome.