I had a client who was physically abusive to his wife. As a result, she had shut down emotionally. Neither person knew how to improve the situation and both parties walked around with lots of unmet emotional needs. He was as miserable as his wife. He detested his rage and yet it felt so uncontrollable. He didn’t seek help until she left. When he got to the clinic he felt embarrassed and ashamed. When he left his first session, he felt hopeful that he could learn techniques to channel his anger and keep it from controlling him.
Anger is both learned and inherited. Research suggests that people who have difficulty managing their anger may be genetically predisposed to impulsivity and the adrenaline rush that typically accompanies lots of anger. That being said, there are many ways of controlling and expressing anger that will not compromise the safety of another person.
Many of my clients who have difficulty suppressing their anger experienced anger in their childhood. They were either physically or emotionally abused by their parents. Anger can be a learned response. There are many adults who grow up doing the same things their parents did. They must learn to break the cycle of violence!
For many people, anger is a defense mechanism. It hides the pain or lack of control in the relationship. When things aren’t going well it’s not unusual for a spouse or parent to vent anger to hide their vulnerabilities. As you can imagine, people who have explosive anger disorders have poor relationships with others. They frequently hook up with adults with low self esteem and who are afraid of being abused. It’s as if these two people have magnets that attract each other.
Anger management specialists feel it is imperative to treat the symptoms and reduce the stressors that contribute to anger. Clients benefit greatly from learning deep breathing and progressive relaxation techniques. These strategies help to reduce physical tension and stress within the body. When there is less adrenaline flowing, there will be fewer anger outbursts
Clients use the power of their mind to control and calm their body and impulses. When they begin to feel the rush of anger, they take preventive measures to de-escalate the tension. They feel less angry and react differently. They get a great sense of satisfaction from medicating their reactions naturally rather than chemically.
I encourage clients to use their mind and imagine a peaceful place where they can go to get away from stress. Often, it’s helpful to have them imagine breathing in a calming, soothing color and breathing out the color of stress or anger. This allows them to “let go of the anger”.
Positive self-talk can be very helpful in regulating anger. Self-soothing statements can help you from reaching the boiling point. Too often, a client will say that someone made them so mad. I frequently tell clients that no one can make you feel. I ask them to repeat the following statement instead:
“I’m not going to give him/her the power to make me mad.”
Other self-soothing statements are:
“I can handle this—I’m in control.”
“I won’t let this get to me.”
“Easy does it.”
“I can come back to this later.”
“I’m going to take a time out.”
Anger is a legitimate feeling. It’s neither right nor wrong. It needs to be acknowledged and released in healthy ways. Every person deserves a quality life. Uncontrollable anger is abusive and it’s a deal-breaker in relationships. You’ll never have the closeness you want until you learn how to manage it.