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The Evolving Science of Anger Management
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Inthe last section, we discussed four reasons to take personal responsibility for anger. These included understanding how to state your needs, understanding that others know their needs, understanding inevitable collision of needs and understanding strategies for satisfaction.
In this section, we will discuss Six Steps to Responsibility. These include reinforcing others, meeting your own needs, finding support elsewhere, setting limits, negotiating assertively and letting go.
Six Steps to Responsibility
♦ Step #1 - Reinforce Others
First, let’s discuss developing more effective strategies for reinforcing others. Roland, age 47, described his wife, Diana’s, work ethic. "Diana is a professor, and she lives at her computer. Presenting papers and case studies is more important to her than our relationship!!"
Roland developed trigger thoughts such as, "She doesn’t care about me!" that relieved him of any blame for his unhappiness with his marriage. Eventually, however, Roland came to realize that no one was to blame, but if he wanted to change the situation, he would have to use new coping strategies. Roland reasoned, "Diana and I both enjoy racquetball. Joining a racquetball club might reinforce her, as well as tempt her away from her computer."
Do you have a client who needs to develop a strategy regarding reinforcing others?
♦ Step #2 - Meet Your Own Needs
Second, let’s discuss taking care of the need yourself. Iris, 73, was irked at the behavior of her friend, Ingrid. Iris described, "Ingrid arrives half an hour to an hour late for everything. When she does get there, it’s all apologies and a litany about how her day was without asking a single thing about me. It’s like I’m not even there."
Clearly, Iris needed to be acknowledged. I asked Iris, "Is there anything you can do to lessen or prevent Ingrid’s lateness from bothering you?" Iris said, "I suppose I could offer to drive Ingrid to lunch or only meet her in groups. If that doesn’t work…I could always bring a book." As you can see, Iris was finding ways to take care of her needs, rather than blaming Ingrid.
♦ Step #3 - Find Support Elsewhere
Third, in addition to reinforcing others and meeting your own needs, let’s discuss developing new sources of support, nourishment, and appreciation. T.J., age 26, stated to me, "Andy and I get together once or twice a week to play cards, eat or just talk. But every damn time he gets interested in a woman the whole thing evaporates. It’s like he’s saying, ‘Forget it man, first things first,’ I feel like he doesn’t give a shit!! And what gets me is that I know when things don’t work out, it’ll be like old times again!"
Over the course of several sessions I encouraged T.J. to find alternative sources of support instead of continuing to make requests of someone who was unwilling or unable to give him what he wanted. T.J. decided that he could grow closer to his other friends and divide his time more evenly among them. Do you have a client who could benefit from developing a new source of support?
♦ Step #4 - Set Limits
Fourth, I find that setting limits is important. As you are aware, this is the art of saying no. Alicia, age 20, came to me about problems with her father. "He’s killing my mother with his demands, his screaming criticism if she makes the slightest mistake! Drunk or sober, he’s relentlessly cruel. I’m doing his laundry, his grocery shopping, taking him to the doctor…but I can’t not do it! If I tell him to stuff it, the whole burden of his selfish ass will fall on my mother! I can’t leave her to cope with him alone!"
Obviously, Alicia’s reluctance to set limits for her father resulted in her being used and abused. I asked Alicia, "Can you think of any ways you might set clear boundaries for your dad?" Over the course of several sessions, Alicia responded that she could arrange private visits with her mother while limiting contact with her father.
♦ Step #5 - Negotiate Assertively
In addition to reinforcing others, meeting your own needs, finding support elsewhere, and setting limits, the fifth step to responsibility is the importance of negotiating assertively. As you know, this is the process where the client directly asks for what he or she wants.
I stated to Michelle, age 34, "Since your needs often conflict with the needs of others, it is usually not enough to simply make requests. You may have to offer something in exchange or compromise so both you and the other party feel satisfied." Michelle had described to me, "Sometimes I just feel lonely. Even though Brad’s there I just feel it. Every time I tell him I need more support, he gets angry and accuses me of demanding too much. I tell him he is deliberately withholding support at the very time I need it most. Brad gets more upset and then we start shouting and sometimes we even slap each other."
Michelle used blaming-style attacks because she saw Brad as having all the power to give or withhold what she needed. In the end, Michelle decided to request shared activities that would bring her closer to Brad. If Brad resisted, her fallback suggestion was to schedule something fun for later. Do you have a client who does not know how to negotiate assertively?
♦ Step #6 - Let Go
Sixth, let’s discuss letting go. There are two ways of letting go. The first is to accept the situation as it is. As previously stated with Michelle and Brad’s relationship, Michelle may eventually have to accept that Brad is less supportive than she would prefer him to be. This may be an unavoidable negative in a relationship that has many positives that make it worth keeping.
If Michelle can accept this unchanging aspect of Brad’s personality, it may reduce her overall sense of pain and alienation. The second kind of letting go is recognition of unrewarding or toxic relationships and release them. Where is your anger management client, regarding the concept of "letting go?"
♦ Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique: Analyze Your Anger
I asked Michelle to analyze her anger. There are eight questions specifically that can help a client shift focus from others to him- or herself:
Question # 1 - What stress underlies my anger?
Question # 2 - What were my trigger thoughts? For example, Michelle stated, "I guess my trigger thoughts would be, ‘I feel lonely’ and ‘I wish Brad would show me more affection.’"
Question # 3 - Are there more effective strategies than anger for reinforcing others to meet my needs?
Question # 4 - What can I do to meet my own needs and reduce my stress?
Question # 5 - Can I find other sources of support, nourishment, or appreciation besides the person with whom I feel angry? Michelle stated, "Going shopping with my girlfriends always puts me in a good mood. Spending time with my mom once in a while is nice too. She really knows how to pamper me."
Question # 6 - What limits do I want to set but feel afraid to acknowledge or insist on?
Question # 7 - How can I negotiate for what I want?
Question # 8 - How might I eventually let go?
In this section, we discussed Steps to Responsibility. These included reinforcing others, meeting your own needs, finding support elsewhere, setting limits, negotiating assertively and letting go.
- Stimpson, Aimée; Kroese, Biza Stenfert; Macmahon, Pamela; Rose, Nicola; Townson, Julia; Felce, David; Hood, Kerenza; Jahoda, Andrew; Rose, John; Willner, Paul. The Experiences of Staff Taking on the Role of Lay Therapist in a Group-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Anger Management Intervention for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities. Jan2013, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p63-70. 8p. DOI: 10.1111/jar.12006.
In the next section, we will discuss Four Fallacies of "Should." These include the entitlement fallacy, the fallacy of fairness, the fallacy of change and the "letting it out" fallacy.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Josephs, L., & McLeod, B. A. (2014). A theory of mind–focused approach to anger management. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 31(1), 68–83.
Mienaltowski, A., Corballis, P. M., Blanchard-Fields, F., Parks, N. A., & Hilimire, M. R. (2011). Anger management: Age differences in emotional modulation of visual processing. Psychology and Aging, 26(1), 224–231.
Short, D. (2016). The evolving science of anger management. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 26(4), 450–461.
What are the six steps to responsibility?
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