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Addressing Anger Problems in Sexually-Abused Preadolescent and Adolescent Boys
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In the last section,, we discussed the way that the four
types of environments can affect sexually abused boys: the evasive environment;
the environmental vacuum; the seductive environment; and the overtly sexual environment.
you are aware, a symptom of being sexually abused is anger.
In this section, we
will examine the ways in which to best address boys who are experiencing anger
♦ #1 Misconceptions about Anger
One of the
major reasons for referral to therapy is the anger sexually abused boys vent.
Do you agree that many boys in this situation are not aware that they are angry?
I find it important to point out to them that anger is not just screaming and
physically hurting others, but involves other emotions as well such as: frustration,
irritability, annoyance, blowing off steam, fretting, and critical thoughts.
year old Michael was the client of my colleague, Louis. Michael would state, "I'm
not really that angry. I mean, I can understand why all my girlfriends don't want
to be around me. I'm annoying. But I never got angry with any of them." As
you can see, Michael's critical thoughts of himself as "annoying" were
a manifestation of anger, even if Michael did not see it.
To help Michael in understanding and recognizing the many
facets of his anger, Louis asked Michael to put a check mark next to the statements
that apply to him. Some of the statements included the following:
-- 1. Impatience comes over me more frequently than I would like.
-- 2. I nurture critical thoughts quite easily.
-- 3. I feel inwardly annoyed when family and friends do not comprehend
-- 4. I can accept a person who admits his or her mistakes, but I have
a hard time accepting someone who refuses to admit his or her own weaknesses.
-- 5. Sometimes my discouragement makes me want to quit.
-- 6. Sarcasm is a trait I
use in expressing humor.
After he had completed the check list, Michael had
checked most of the statements on the list. This indicated to Louis and to Michael
that much of his anger is revealing itself more than is necessary.
Anger Management Groups I conduct, I define anger as an attempt to preserve:
-- 1. personal worth;
-- 2. essential needs;
-- 3. basic convictions.
Then, I like to
discuss with the group just what they think their anger stems from in these three
-- 1. personal worth;
-- 2. essential needs;
-- 3. basic convictions.
Anger as an Attempt to Preserve Personal Worth
In the area of sexual abuse,
anger as an attempt to preserve personal worth is a direct result of a feeling
of disempowerment. As we discussed in Section 2, disempowerment results from the
feelings of helplessness during sexual abuse. In reaction to these feelings, boys
will try to regain power through aggressive means.
Sometimes, this can manifest
into the well-known "identifying with the aggressor" syndrome. Thirteen
year old Ryan would start acting out in sessions, belittling the other members
and not letting other people say what they wanted to say. Often, when another
boy would express extreme emotion, Ryan would say in a whisper but loud enough
for those around him to hear, "Weak". This negative input was severely
hurting the dynamic of the group.
♦ #3 Anger as an Attempt
to Preserve Essential Needs
The second definition of anger, after preserving
personal worth is the attempt to preserve essential needs. The attempt to preserve
essential needs relates to a sexually abused client's sense of insecurity resulting
from the abuse. When their needs are ignored by the abuser, it can give the client
an over-zealous desire to preserve those needs which have been taken away. Jared,
age 11, was abused by an uncle.
When he told his parents, Jared was ignored and
alienated from his family who were unwilling to believe that a close relative
could do this to such a young boy. Jared, angry that no one would believe him,
lashed out at his mother and brothers, kicking them whenever he was around. Finally,
his school counselor suggested he be put into therapy, where Jared related the
abuse. As you can see, Jared's need for loving support was ignored and as a result,
he became angry and expressed that anger in a destructive way.
Anger as an Attempt to Preserve Basic Convictions
In addition to preservation
of personal worth and preservation of essential needs, the third definition of
anger is the preservation of basic convictions. This type of anger occurs when
a strongly instilled belief is challenged. When this happens, the client becomes
defensive. The main line of thinking here is that any opposite view is considered
Taylor, a sexual abuse client of mine, was having trouble accepting
the homosexual members of the group. He was raised in a strict, Baptist home.
Taylor would sarcastically say things such as, "What do fags know about rape?
Don't they like that kind of stuff?" Taylor made it obvious that he was not
saying such demeaning things out of ignorance, but to emotionally hurt those boys
who were openly gay.
♦ Technique: Releasing and Resolving Anger
help these boys in managing their anger, I used the "Releasing and Resolving
Step # 1 - First, I divided the group into three categories, depending
on where in their bodies they feel a surge of energy in response to anger:
-- a. mouth,
-- b. hands,
-- c. legs and feet.
Ryan and Taylor were placed in the "mouth"
Step # 2 - Then, I gave each group materials appropriate to their group name that
could best help them express their anger.
For the mouth group, I gave them writing
utensils, paper, journals, chewing gum, tape recorders and what I called a "yelling
box" which is a box filled with wadded newspaper or paper towels with a cardboard
tube inserted into it.
This enables the boys to yell into the box while decreasing
the disturbance of others.
For the "hands" group, I passed out clay,
cookie cutters, foam cuttings to rip into something, newspaper to rip up, and
sponges to throw in a room where nothing will be damaged.
I placed Jared in the
"legs and feet" group and gave them a pillowcase and paper to tear up
and stuff into the pillowcase that they can kick when they feel the need to act
out their anger.
This technique allowed them to express the anger in a more suitable
way for them, but in the least harmful way. Do you have a group you might try
the "Releasing and Resolving Anger" group with?
this section, we discussed the ways in which to best address boys who are experiencing
In the next section, we will examine the three
negative ways of managing anger: suppression, open aggression, and passive aggression.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Charak, R., Eshelman, L. R., & Messman-Moore, T. L. (2019). Latent classes of childhood maltreatment, adult sexual assault, and revictimization in men: Differences in masculinity, anger, and substance use. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(4), 503–514.
Fosco, G. M., Lippold, M., & Feinberg, M. E. (2014). Interparental boundary problems, parent–adolescent hostility, and adolescent–parent hostility: A family process model for adolescent aggression problems. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 3(3), 141–155.
Gupta, S., Bonanno, G. A., Noll, J. G., Putnam, F. W., Keltner, D., & Trickett, P. K. (2011). Anger expression and adaptation to childhood sexual abuse: The role of disclosure. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 3(2), 171–180.
What is a definition of anger? To select and enter your answer go to .