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Five Non-Defensive Attitude Questions
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In this section, we will discuss three interpersonal costs of anger: raising defenses, losing a sense of well-being and isolation.
Three Interpersonal Costs of Anger
♦ Cost #1 - Raising Defenses
The first interpersonal cost is raising defenses. As you are aware, what makes aggression damaging is that it doesn’t stop. Energy is channeled into putting up barriers, rather than into communication and problem-solving. As I stated to Jason, age 32, "Though barriers protect against pain for you, they make it impossible for you to reach the people you care about—even with genuine feelings of love or support."
Jason’s anger was often met with defensiveness from his wife, Rosa. Rosa’s defenses included numbness, judging, irritability, attack, withdrawal, revenge, and extreme restriction of response. When Jason and Rosa’s pattern was set, Rosa became trigger-happy and was reluctant to switch from vigilance to trust and openness. Rosa often fought Jason’s anger to maintain her boundaries and a sense of self.
Does your client raise defenses, thus putting up emotional barriers that shut out those they love? Do your client’s loved ones react with a judgmental attitude or withdrawal? At the end of this section, I will explain two techniques I like to use called Assessing the Cost of Anger and the Non-Defensive Attitude Technique.
♦ Cost #2 - Losing a Sense of Well-Being
The second interpersonal cost is losing a sense of well-being. In Jason’s case, his anger often led to helplessness. His helplessness occurred in four steps.
a. First, he would recognize in himself, "I’m in pain; something is wrong or lacking."
Second, Jason would think someone else—usually Rosa—should fix the problem.
Third, Jason would express anger with aggression.
d. Fourth, Jason was met with resistance and withdrawal from Rosa.
After step 4, Jason would feel frustrated. The cycle then would repeat. For Jason, a sense of entitlement would start the cycle: "I should never feel pain, but if I do, you must fix it." Jason put responsibility on others to meet his basic needs and gave up his own power in the process. The problem got bigger when he used anger as his preferred strategy to make Rosa change.
As she increasingly resisted, Jason felt his life was sliding out of control, saying "Nothing seemed to work, no one seemed to care, and no one was good enough." Does a client of yours feel helpless?
♦ Cost #3 - Isolation
The third interpersonal cost is isolation. The price of Jason’s anger was isolation. Rosa remained very distant for fear of being hurt.
Jason became very lonely.
Over the course of several sessions, I stated to Jason, "Loneliness can cut people off from social support in two ways:
a. First, a cynical attitude towards others can result in not recognizing that real support is available.
Second, unrealistic and overly-demanding expectations can make available support seem worthless and lacking. In both cases, people cannot feel the support that exists around them."
Does your angry client isolate him- or herself from social support?
♦ Techniques: Assessing the Cost of Anger & the Non-Defensive Attitude
I asked Jason to assess the cost of his anger. Using a scale of 0-4, with 0 being "no effect" and 4 being "major effect," I asked him to rate the impact of his anger towards possible anger-triggers. These included Jason’s responses toward authorities, his spouse and errors. Over the course of this exam, Jason looked for patterns in his anger, and concluded that he felt angrier at home than at work, for example. He chose to concentrate his efforts in rebuilding his relationship with Rosa.
A second technique I used with Jason was the Non-Defensive Attitude Technique. I gave him five questions to ask himself when he felt his anger rising.
1.) Why do I have to be in control of the situation with Rosa?
2.) Can I allow her to control part of it?
3.) Can I share control with Rosa?
4.) If I lose control, what is the worst that might happen?
5.) Does this situation matter this much to me?
In this section, we have discussed three interpersonal costs of anger. These included raising defenses, losing a sense of well-being and isolation.
In the next section, we will discuss Four Implications of Choosing Anger. These include that there is nothing inherently right or legitimate about anger, anger is an expression of stress, forget displacement and anger is a choice.
What are three interpersonal costs of anger?
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