Contrary to what some people might think, the goal of anger management counselling courses is not to get rid of your anger! Anger is one of the basic emotions that we experience as humans, and it is not possible to get rid of it, as much as you might sometimes wish that you could! Instead, the goal is to learn to manage or control your anger, so that you can connect with it and express it cleanly and clearly in a way that it becomes constructive rather than destructive.
There are three main factors that contribute to problems with anger:
- Stress / Pressure
- Your past experience with anger
- Your attitudes and beliefs regarding anger
About Anger – Stress / Pressure and Anger
Stress is a big contributor to anger in our times. It is also in some respects the easiest to deal with. The pace of life for many people in modern times is very fast. Work pressure can be a big stressor for many people – a sense that you have to push yourself in order to achieve or keep up with colleagues or rivals. The modern nuclear family – or even single parent family – puts extra pressure on people. There are fewer adults around to share home tasks, or to talk to, to get sympathy or understanding if we are having a difficult time with our partner. We are also continually bombarded with invitations to do more and experience more, so we have less and less ‘downtime’ – to relax and unwind. All this can result in a ‘short fuse’, so that you explode more readily as the inevitably frustrating incidents occur in your daily life. If this is a primary issue for you, you may need to find ways that you can add relaxation into your life. Even if it means just grabbing a precious hour to yourself to do nothing once or twice a week – maybe just relax in a hot bath. Or find time to chat with friends who you can share the frustrations of life with (as well as the joys!).
The Influence of your past experience on your anger
If you are having difficulty controlling your anger, it is very likely that your past experience with anger is playing a big part! It is surprising how far back this can go. Remember those ‘terrible twos’ that time in every childs life when they are always getting into tantrams? This is a significant period in any human’s development regarding their anger. If we are amongst the rare few who have had ‘ideal parenting’ we will have had parents who let us express our rage whilst keeping safe boundaries for us and others, and at the same time connected with what was underlying our rage – respecting our drives, whilst at the same time not necessarily giving in to us. As we grew through childhood, they would have mirrored our anger to us verbally, so that we could gradually learn to recognise it and find ways to articulate it safely and clearly to others. The result would be that as adults we would be conscious when anger arose in us, and we would know how to control our anger, how to process it and articulate it constructively to others. This is mature, adult regulation of anger.
So what can go wrong? There are several common experiences, and those of us who weren’t fortunate to have experienced ‘ideal parenting’ may have had one of more of them, to varying degrees. For some people their parents squashed their child’s natural outbursts of anger. This is easy to do, as parents are so much bigger than children, so they can use force, more or less aggressively, to dampen a child’s anger. As the years go by, the child ‘learns’ the message that it is not safe to express his or her anger. As an adult, such a person will probably find that they have unexpected and sometimes volcanic, uncontrollable outbursts of anger.
In more extreme cases, when parents are more or less continuously violent and aggressive to their child, the child learns that it is not safe to express anger at all, and he or she buries their anger. Alongside this, they introject their parents message that there is something wrong or bad about them. The result can be various forms of self-harm – less obvious forms such as over-eating or depression, or more obvious forms of self-harm such as cutting themselves.
Sometimes, as adults, people will act out the aggressive that was visited on them by their parents, carers or siblings, and become violent and aggressive themselves, to varying degrees and in varying circumstances.
A more subtle parental influence can come in the form of famiilies where the expression of any strong emotion is not allowed. The parents / carers are not outwardly aggressive, but they persist in putting across the message to the child that anger is a bad emotion and not allowed. As an adult, such a person might find it extremely difficult to access any anger in themselves at all, which may result in them being very passive around others, and easy walked over. Indirect, passive-aggressive behaviour, and cold, unemotional hostility might be the resultant behaviours in this instance.
The influence of your attitudes and beliefs on your anger
By attitudes and beliefs we mean how you think about others and situations. Many of us have been culturally conditioned into thinking and relating to others in ways that fuel our anger. Some typical types of thinking that fuel anger include blame (eg “It’s your fault that this has happened!”), moralistic judgements (thinking in terms of what’s wrong and bad about the other person), generalisations (“You always . . . !” “You never . . . !”). These ways of thinking and communicating wtih others are tragic, because not only do they fuel anger, they also antagonise the people we are trying to communicate with, leading us further and further away from getting what we want or need in relation to others.
The process of Nonviolent Communication, which Daren teaches as part of his anger management courses, will help you to find better ways to think of others and yourself and communicate with others, so that you can generate more understanding and connection with others, and get more of what both you and others want in different situations!