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Controlling Anger

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Controlling Anger
Do We Have to Act Like Beasts?

by Bill Malone, MSW, LISW

What do each of these descriptions have in common?

    A husband says to his wife: “It is your fault that I hit you… you would not shut up.”

    A salesman says to his supervisor: “That client makes me so mad I could not help it. Besides, yelling and screaming is the only way I can be heard and it makes me feel better. Just let me blow up.”

    “I could not take it any more, so I hit that creep,” says a 14 year old teenager who got suspended from school for fighting.

    “If the teacher was nicer, I’d behave better and I would sit in my seat,” says the third grader to his mother after giving his mother the third note from his teacher.

Each of these phrases are expressions of anger from individuals who do not see that their anger is something that is in their control. Each of these phrases are examples of how the other guy is responsible for their anger. These individuals see that their anger is being controlled by external forces, in other words, forces from outside themselves.

In my years of doing psychotherapy with children and adults who have poor anger control, I have become aware that we need to better understand how to express our hostile feelings. We have all heard the saying, “If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything.” This is not the kind of anger education that prevents outbursts of rage. This only encourages more explosions.

The therapeutic goals for individuals with anger control problems is as follows:

  1. Learn about anger and dispel the myths about anger.
  2. Learn to express anger in a safe, healthy manner.
  3. Learn what the triggers that fuel anger are.
  4. Learn to cool the rage.
  5. Learn to stop repressing and start expressing.
  6. Learn that anger is an emotion under inner control rather than external control.

Let us talk about anger for a minute. Anger is a normal feeling just like sadness and happiness. Anger cannot hurt anyone. The behaviors that follow the angry emotion are the causes of human pain and hurt.

According to a well-known psychiatrist, Dr. John Terlesky, “Having angry thoughts are a normal part of life. There is nothing abnormal about them. However, when anger is repressed for long periods of time, it comes out twice as strong as when it was repressed.”

It is well documented in the mental health field that repressed anger is a leading cause for depression. If an individual is not permitted to express himself, or does not permit himself to express his negative feelings, the feelings are turned on himself. Many suicides and homicides are a result of anger that was repressed over time.

Anger management is a learned skill. Effective parenting and modeling by parents is the first course that children have at learning to express their anger. I have observed in my practice, if parents have trouble expressing their anger, so will their children. If children are taught to repress these feelings, they will have a harder time controlling them. In turn these children go to school and encounter situations that frustrate them and make them angry. Because they were not taught to effectively express anger, they act out. These children may appear hyperactive, uncooperative and irritable and are hard to manage. They have problems achieving. Learning effective anger control will aid them in their academic success.

Many times husbands walk away from their wives while in an argument because their anger is surfacing and they feel like striking out. Instead of acting out, they walk away, become distant or avoidant. They may say things like, “I don’t want to fight about it.” Inwardly, they are saying to themselves, “If I get mad, I will not be able to stop my anger and I will do something that I will regret.”

I have counseled many couples where the husband has had an affair. When counseling privately with the husbands, many admit the affair was a result of being angry for years of emotional abandonment. This indicates the external solution to the inner conflict of anger.

I too have counseled with many depressed married women. In counseling with them, I find that their depression is a result of them holding back their anger and resentment. They are fearful of their own inner strengths so they keep their anger to themselves, but get back at their mate by taking away their affection. This becomes a vicious cycle where no one in the relationship prospers.

I teach my angry clients, whether they are children or adults, effective anger skills. I have found that changing a person’s expectations of how a certain task should or ought to go will reduce some anger. Changing attitudes is another major strategy to reduce the amount or degree of anger a person will experience. I know myself that if I am in a positive mood, criticism, frustration setbacks just roll off my back.

Role-playing provides clients an opportunity to practice different styles of anger expression. The more one practices with how they express themselves always leads to a better outcome.

Discovering what one says to oneself (self talk) provides a lot of information about the degree of anger that is experienced by that person. I remember working with a 7 year old, who told me he called himself dumb and stupid. The more he called himself names, the angrier he became. His parents and teachers complained that he was hitting others and himself. They were concerned. By having the child say nicer things to himself, much of his acting out stopped. The teacher and parents thought I performed magic. All I did was get him to think of himself in a nicer manner.

Imagery and visualization are powerful tools to help reduce anger. These techniques allow an individual to work with some very difficult problems in a relaxed state. Thus, helping them feel they do have control of their most uncomfortable emotions.

There are other tools that therapists utilize to help clients gain control of their anger. Medication is one of those tools. If you or someone you know has trouble keeping his or her anger under control, you can tell them that they can learn different skills and find life to be less frustrating. I or one of my colleagues are ready and able to provide them professional, confidential treatment. Call today for an appointment. Remember, no one can make you angry if you don’t let them. Anger is controlled by internal forces, not external ones.

Copyright 1993, 1998 by Bill Malone. All rights reserved.

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