Anger is neither a good or bad emotions, it just is. In fact anger, alongside with love are two emotions we are born with. Have you ever seen a newborn baby cry out because they are really hungry? You know they are angry!
Anger is a purposeful behavior that helps motive and create energy for change. Often anger has powerful physiology behind it. You can feel anger in your chest, your fists. Many people feel it “coursing through their veins” or in their heart. We all need anger or the energy to drive change.
Anger tells us that something in our lives isn’t the way we want it and we need to change it. So there are many good aspects of anger.
When Anger Becomes a Problem
Anger, when it is over used or misused can stop becoming effective and in fact turn harmful. Anger is a problem when it creates problems for us in our romantic relationships, with our children, with our co-workers, our parents or in society. Any time a behavior, whether it is Angering, Drinking, Drugging or Anxietying starts creating problems for us in our life and interferes with normal functioning or getting us what we want, it is by definition a problem
Purpose of Anger- for Angry Person
The purpose of anger is to get what you want. An angering person, in that moment believes anger is the best choice s/he can make to get what they want. They are rewarded for their anger because THEY DO GET WHAT THEY WANT. They learn that it works! Anger works in spite of any negative consequences, so it is an effective choice, in the immediate short-term.
Why does the person keep choosing anger, even though it has negative consequences like broken relationships, guilty, remorse, shame and embarrassment? BECAUSE IT WORKS FOR THEM IN THE SHORT TERM! They get what they want. In fact, the reward of getting what they want is greater than the negative consequences so they will continue to choose anger and be less inclined to seek out alternatives to anger.
Angry Spouse? If it is in response to Coercion, it is not an anger problem
Many spouses will come to see me claiming their spouse has an “anger problem.” Upon investigation, the “problem” spouse is able to have many friends, hold down a job and never uses anger inappropriately, except with their spouse. Upon further investigation, the “angering” spouse is responding to coercive tactics used by the complaining spouse.
This type of anger, in response to coercion, is a marriage problem. The marriage problem is that the two spouses do not want the same thing and the one spouse is trying to force the other person to agree to or do something they don’t want to do in a way that violates the other’s boundaries or space- this tpe of behavior by the complaining spouse is also known as COERCION.
Coercive tactics in the form of guilting, nagging, complaining, blaming, threatening or bribing will result in strong reactions from people. When the pressure is relentless and the only option left for receiving spouse to get his or her message across is anger, then this is an unhealthy system. The angering spouse is reacting to the coercive tactics of the other spouse. The couple needs new ways to handle their disagreements.
The anger that is in response to coercion is not anger problem, but rather a relationship problem and would need to be dealt with differently. The couples needs to learn how to replace coercion and forceful tactics with more effective conflict resolution skills.
The Angry Person: It is a relationship problem
If you are married to someone or have a sibling or a parent that is angry or abuses their anger to get what you want, what do you think YOU are teaching them every time you give in to their anger? When they use Anger on you and give in, even though you may be mad, you may not speak to them or may get angry back, but you still give them their way, what have you taught them? You have taught them it is okay to treat you like this. They learn that they can use anger and get what they want, because it works. Often these type of angry people will not use anger where it is costly like at work or with friends. So the do have control and they just choose to use angry on you. Often they will blame you or say that you “caused” them to get angry but the reality is, is that they choose it because it works on you.
Why do they continue to choose it? BECAUSE IT WORKS! Generally the angry person is using anger in very selective situation and only on certain people. Why these situation or certain people, like spouses or children? Because it works and there is no negative consequences for the angry person. The people in their lives keep teaching the angry person that their angry is an effective way of getting them to comply and get what they want.
An effective part of treatment is teaching the non-angering partner new effective ways to deal with the angering person’s behavior to make it less effective. That’s right the non-angering person needs counselling to help them learn how to deal with their angering spouse. Often the non-angering partner wants their partner to change. But no one will give up something that is working. Therefore the non-angering partner often needs to change their behavior first to make the angering partner’s behavior less effective or completely ineffective. Once their anger doesn’t work they are motivated to learn new ways to deal with situations that anger once worked but no longer does.
If there is domestic abuse used as part of the angering, this would be another different approach. If your spouse is physically abusing you, you would need to call the police and perhaps consider filing a Personalized Protection Order (PPO).
Root Problem of Angering
Most people do not have charactorlogical anger, but rather situational anger. Charactorlogical anger is the type of anger that sociopath have. These are people that often have criminal records, they use anger and violence indiscriminately to get what they want and do not have any remorse. They will often have criminal records and run-ins with law enforcement starting at a young age.
What the majority of people are dealing with is someone that has not developed more sophisticated coping skills for dealing with the frustration of not getting what they want or not having things work out they way s/he wanted.
They often lack problem solving skills, especially in relationships. When I ask people how OLD does your angering loved one look, they often tell me about 3, 4 or 5 years olds. This shows you were the development for coping with frustration and disappointment stopped. Essentially the angering person is having a 3-5 year old temper tantrum. But a childhood temper tantrum in adult is a very scary thing and it gets people to comply with their wishes.
How do Angering People Get so Angry?
People have ideal pictures in their head of what they want for themselves. These pictures encompass 1000s and 1000s of different things, place, people and situations. When we experience a conflict between our ideal state and reality, we will experience anger. This initial flash of anger response lasts only 5 seconds to 10 seconds. People who choose to anger, take that reaction and then choose to continue to anger and make it bigger. Anything after the initial 10 second initial reaction of anger is a CHOICE. The purpose people choose anger is it is the BEST WAY THEY KNOW HOW TO GET WHAT THEY WANT.
Treatment for Angry People
Treatment approaches for angry people are highly dependent upon understanding how the person uses anger and how long it has been the prefered choice. The longer it is established the more challenging it is to change and the more work the client will need to do. If it is in response to a coercive spouse, that would be a different approach than someone who uses anger to get what they want on specific people. Aside from anger that results from coercion, most angering people have thinking and belief errors that contribute to their anger.
Common thinking errors are: (Taken from BECK, 1999)
1. Catastrophizing (also called fortune telling): You predict the future negatively without considering other more likely outcomes. Example: “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all.”
2. Emotional reasoning: You think something must because you “feel” (actually believe) it so strongly, ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary. Example: “I know I do a lot of things okay at work, but I still feel like I’m a failure.”
3. Labeling: You put a fixed, global label on yourself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonable lead to a less disastrous conclusion. Example: “I’m a loser. He’s no good.”
4. Magnification/minimization: When you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation, you unreasonable magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive. Example: “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am. Getting high marks doesn’t mean I’m smart.”
5. Mental filter (also called selective abstraction): You pay undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture. Example: “Because I got one low rating on my evaluation (which also contained several high ratings) it means I’m doing a lousy job.”
6. Mind reading: You believe you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other, more likely possibilities. Examples: “He’s staring at my direction and he doesn’t like me.”
7. Personalization: You believe others are behaving negatively because of you, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior. Example: “the repairman was curt to me because I did something wrong.”
8. “Should” and “must” statements (Musterbating or imperatives): you have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and you overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met. Example: “It’s terrible that I made a mistake. I should always do my best.”
Angering people also need to learn more effective ways to deal with their frustration and increase their frustration tolerance. Lastly, if angering is occurring in a relationship and it is not in response to coercion, the partner of the angering person will need to learn news to deal with the angering person to teach them that anger no longer works on them. Therapy for people that choose to anger will incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management and problem solving skills.
If you are experiencing anger problems or living with a person that uses anger abusively, contact us to learn how we can help you at 90307239