Anger Management Classes - Why Don't You Grow Up?

by James A. Baker
(August, 2008. Recovery Today)


Anger Management Techniques - You Don’t Have to Hit to Hurt

Dear AngerManagementSeminar.com:

My husband and I are always fighting about something. One minute we can be discussing something normally, and then BOOM it gets ugly. Most of the time it isn’t even anything major, but once we lose control it is awful. He says it is not his fault, but I think we are both to blame. Please give us some direction here.

Shell-shocked in Sherman


Dear Shell-shocked:


You have raised a very important question: Where do these irrational misunderstandings come from? What can cause a seemingly mature, reasonable, intelligent adult to suddenly switch into a rage-a-maniac? Sometimes anger is the natural result of the fight or flight response most of us feel when we are afraid or startled by something. In addition, anger is one of the stages of the grief we feel when we have experienced painful losses, and we can sometimes get stuck in that anger and never move on. But there is another process that also comes into play, and when it does, anger is often the inevitable result.

Games People Play

Back during the 1960’s, Dr. Eric Berne, a brilliant psychiatrist, published a fascinating book called Games People Play, in which he explained the complex structures that create our personalities and how those structures affect our relationships. His work is really quite detailed and beyond what we can discuss here, but a few of his basic ideas are worth noting.


Dr. Berne surmised that our personalities and behaviors are the product of three distinct “ego states” operating in our brains. Each of these ego states is a slightly different version of the same person, but each has a different point of view and a different way of responding to what is going on. He calls these ego states the Parent, the Child and the Adult.


The Parent refers to those thoughts, feelings and opinions we now have that we were taught during those early years of life when adults, especially our parents, gave us instructions. We were too young at that point to think for ourselves, so grown ups just told us what to do and how to think, and we believed them. Some of this is safety related - “Don’t touch that hot stove;” some of it might be more intrusive and personal, “Stop crying. Boys don’t cry.” All those messages - good and bad - get programmed in and still form the basis of a lot of what we believe about the world and how it works, even if we don’t always like it.


The Child is that part of our personality where our feelings about those early events are stored. “Wow, it was really scary to hear Mommy yell like that,” or “Christmas was so happy!” We still tend to draw on this reservoir of emotions formed early in life as we react emotionally to things going around us today.


The Adult part of our personality begins to develop as soon as our little bodies can start moving around, picking up stuff and exploring -- usually around one year of age. The Adult investigates, analyzes, confirms and expands our database of information, often taking input from both the Parent center and the Child center and comparing it to information it has discovered on its own. For instance, “Oh, Daddy was right. I should have been more careful on the swings because I just now flew off and broke my arm!”


As we grow older, the Adult center of our personality should be leading the way as it learns and grows and takes more responsibility for using information wisely to get things done. However, for better or worse, the Parent and the Child are also right there, too, sometimes passively observing and sometimes jumping right in and creating confusion. This is especially true when two people are trying to communicate, but the message is being received and processed on both ends by different ego centers.


Here is an example:
Bob (Adult state) “Honey, I have a late meeting today and I won’t be home until 7:00. Don’t you and the kids wait supper for me.”
Cindy (Child state) “That’s not fair. I HATE it when you are late. The kids and I need you at home. You spend too much time at work as it is!”


Interactions between Adult ego states are generally safe, but when you get the other ego centers involved - especial Parent versus Child or Child versus Child - things can get out of hand, and irrational thought patterns and out of control anger can easily be the result. A lot of irrational thinking and out of control anger is the result of the Child or Parent side of someone’s personality stepping up and hijacking the conversation. These disruptive responses are common in people who had painful, scary, difficult childhoods and now feel they need to protect themselves all the time.


Think back on a couple of your more recent anger episodes. Is there any chance that your Child or Parent state - maybe reacting to someone else’s Child or Parent state - gained too much influence and hijacked the conversation? Get out a piece of paper and describe these events, what it was about, who said what, what you were thinking and why. Do you see any evidence that your Parent might have been too pushy (characterized by words or thoughts involving “must,” “should,” “can’t,” “never,” etc.)? How about indications that your Child was kicking up a fuss, usually recognized by feelings or thoughts like, “this is not fair,” “this is too hard” “I’m scared and I don’t know what to do,” etc?
To the degree that you can limit your Child’s emotions or your Parent’s bossiness from taking over, you will have a better chance of limiting your irrational thinking and managing your anger safely. Stick to the facts, say how you feel and ask for what you need calmly and respectfully, and even if someone else is acting angrily toward you, you can avoid a destructive anger episode.


Jim Baker founded the Anger Management Training Institute (www.AngerManagementSeminar.com) to aid anger addicts and the people who care about them.



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