Anger Management Courses - Anger Management

by James A. Baker
(March, 2009. Recovery Today)


I have had an anger problem all my life. I have been in therapy for several years, trying to understand what is causing my problems. I want to get better. Right now I am on antidepressant meds, but I still struggle with angry feelings; I just don’t have the energy to yell as loud. This is starting to feel hopeless.

Hopeless in Cincinnati

Dear Hopeless:

Anger is a tricky behavior. It may definitely have roots in things that talk therapy might help you discover, but finding out why you are angry is not the same as stopping the destructive angry patterns. Once anger becomes a confining, defining attitude in your life, it becomes more like a habit or even an addiction. Have you heard the expression, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail?” Well, to a certain extent that is true for people with anger problems. The only thing that gives them any sense of control in life anymore is anger; it gives them energy, it gives them a sense of empowerment, the adrenalin rush can be invigorating in itself, and sometimes it even appears that anger works for you, because it intimidates a few people to get out of your way.

But, like any addiction, the blowback is a real problem, as you have come to realize. So, rather than talk about how bad you feel about your anger and how bad your life is because of it, you might be better served by discovering new strategies to deal with it. Through careful planning and hard work, you can train yourself to respond differently to situations that cause inappropriate anger episodes. You might start by simply not allowing yourself to do those behaviors you normally do when you lose control of your anger.

For instance, do you yell, slam doors, use threatening or accusing language or attack people with sarcastic, demeaning language when you get angry? Well, stop doing those things. That’s right, I said STOP doing them. I know that sounds very simplistic to someone who has been spending hundreds of dollars on therapy and getting nowhere, but play along with me here. Getting angry is not your problem; how you express your anger is the problem. What you may not realize is that by allowing yourself to express your anger in these over-the-top, counterproductive ways, you are actually throwing fuel on your anger fire. Each of these very familiar behaviors pushes up your anger response and undermines your judgment, sending your anger spiraling out of control. If you want to stop your destructive anger, STOP the behaviors.

Look at it this way. An alcoholic might eventually come to the place where he desperately wants to stop drinking. So he joins AA, and what do they expect him to do? STOP drinking and start working on sobriety by following the 12 steps. You can’t keep drinking and say you are in recovery. You can go to counseling and talk about how much you want to stop drinking and how your parents weren’t there for you as a child so you started drinking to fit in and be accepted and all that stuff. However, none of that will help with your alcoholism if you don’t STOP drinking. And you certainly can’t advocate that it will help you stop drinking if you knock back a six-pack every night after work.

In the same way, an anger addict can’t start making progress with his anger until he STOPS those angry behaviors. The behaviors are keeping him trapped in a destructive anger cycle, by driving the stimulus response factors that get him in trouble in the first place. So, what do you do when you get angry? By now you ought to be able to diagram your typical anger episode - how it starts, how it escalates, and how it ends. All along the way, you ought to be able to pinpoint the behaviors that you do - yelling, sarcasm, arguing, grabbing, pushing, slamming, criticizing, confronting, even just sitting and staring at the other person with a cold, hard stare. Add each behavior to your list and beside it decide what you will do instead of this behavior, whenever you find yourself in a situation that could lead to a destructive anger episode. Share this list with someone you can trust, and ask them to hold you accountable so that whenever they see you crossing the line, they have permission to kindly point out that you need to get back in line.

Okay, I know this will feel very awkward at first, kind of like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Anger is often about trying to maintain a sense of control, and when you STOP doing the behaviors that make you feel like you are in control, you are very likely to feel vulnerable, defenseless and out of control. This is normal. It is also the first step to learning to deal with your anger in safer, saner ways. If you stick to this plan and let your accountability partner keep you on track, you will eventually develop a different relationship with anger.

Just remember, you can’t learn to deal with anger in a new way until you STOP acting out in your old ways. The insights you seek will come later. For now, the best hope you have is to show the courage and honesty to take responsibility for your actions and just stop doing them.

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