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Section 11
Using a 'Passive Aggression and Anger Suppression Checklist'

Question 11 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed ways in which to address sexually abused boys who are experiencing anger problems.

In this section, we will examine three negative or unproductive ways sexually abused boys have of managing their anger through: suppression, open aggression, and passive aggression.

♦ Technique: Modeling Anger as a Cycle
Unlike what was discussed in the previous section, many times, clients believe that any expression of anger is harmful. This, as you know, usually happens when a client grows up in a home with a violent or angry parent. I find it beneficial to emphasize that anger and emotions can be seen as choices of how to handle the overwhelming emotion.

I illustrate this choice by modeling anger as a cycle:
Step # 1 - First, there is a painful circumstance that results from the three preservations we discussed in the last section: those of personal worth, essential needs, and basic convictions.
Step # 2 - Then, many clients will try to change their environment, for example, plunging into a project or moving to a different part of the house. However, this choice does not always guarantee anger relief. Sometimes, it can lead to friction in personal relationships. The tension in the relationships increases the client's emotional confusion which then takes them back around to painful circumstances.
Step # 3 - To break this anger cycle, I find it helpful to point out to the sexually abused boy there are three negative ways of managing anger: suppression, open aggression, and passive aggression. The first three suppression, open aggression, and passive aggression do not tend to be successful, however, the last two, open aggression and passive aggression, usually end in breaking the anger cycle.

Three Negative Ways of Managing Anger

♦ #1 Anger Suppression
Thomas, age 14 and who was sexually abused when he was 10, would suppress his anger in his therapy sessions with my colleague Ted. Thomas would never let anyone, including Ted, what was going on in his head. For several months, he had refused to talk about the abuse to anyone. As you can guess, this soon led to depression, which often occurs when a sexually abused client can't constructively express his feelings.

Thomas would say, "I just don't want to bother people. It's my problem and I can handle it." To help Thomas realize that he was indeed suppressing something that needed to be expressed, Ted asked him to fill out a "Suppression Checklist".

The list included the following statements:
--I care a lot about what other people think of me. I don't like other people to know my problems.
--Even when I feel flustered, I try to make it look like I have it all together.
--If a family member or friend upsets me, I can let days pass without saying anything.
--I tend to feel depressed and moody a lot.
--I don't tell people when I'm in pain (headaches, stomach ailments)
--There are times when I wonder whether my opinions are appropriate.
--Sometimes, I freeze when confronted with an unwanted situation

Thomas checked almost every statement on the list. He stated, "Wow, I never knew that I was doing those things and that they had anything to do with anger. I guess I do keep too much in." As you can see, Thomas had finally accepted the fact that he needed to express more of his emotions.

♦ #2 Open Aggression
The second type of anger management as discussed in a previous section, is open aggression. This type of anger management is the one that most people associate with "angry people". This is when a person makes a self-preserving stand for personal worth, needs, convictions but at someone else's expense. In boys, open aggression manifests itself through physical means. Fights and other ways of physically expressing this emotion tend to make boys feel superior or substantially stronger.

♦ Technique: Examine a Situation
Fifteen year old Carter, a sexual abuse client of mine wanted everyone to treat him in a certain way. When a teacher gave him bad grade, Carter would yell and scream and accuse her of not taking into account that he had emotional problems. To help Carter understand what type of anger was appropriate and what wasn't, I tried the "Examine a Situation" technique. I asked Carter to think of the last time he had been extremely angry and had acted out.

Then, I asked Carter the following questions:
Question # 1 - Who was there?
Question # 2 - What happened to make you so angry?
Question # 3 - Did anyone tell you not to be mad?
Question # 4 - What was your first reaction-yelling, running away, hitting, slamming doors, breaking something?

Next, I asked Carter to make a list of behaviors that he exhibits when he is angry and to highlight the ones that actually made him feel better. Carter highlighted, "Yelling". I asked him if that helped or hurt his relationship with other people. He said yelling always hurt the people he yelled at. I then asked Carter to make a list of alternative ways to express his anger. He wrote, "take deep breaths, count to ten, keep voice level". When Carter put these into practice, he found that he came out of disputes much more satisfied.

♦ #3 Passive Aggression
In addition to suppression and open aggression, the third negative way of expressing anger is passive aggression. As you know, passive aggressive clients try not to speak openly about their frustration. However, in not expressing their emotions out loud, they do so in less direct ways. Sexually abused boys tend to display this type of behavior in group therapy.

Greg, age 13, was abused by his grandfather. However, because his parents refused to believe him at first, Greg reacts to them in a passive aggressive manner. He pouts and sulks. He also refuses to do the chores his parents set out for him, even though they have already apologized for their disbelief. Greg would not admit that he was displaying angry behavior.

♦ Technique: Passive Aggression Checklist
To help Greg, I asked him to fill out a "Passive Aggression" checklist. It included the following statements:
--When I am frustrated, I become silent, knowing it bothers other people.
--I am prone to sulk.
--When I don't want to do a project, I will procrastinate. I can be lazy.
--When someone asks me if I am frustrated, I will lie and say, "No, everything is fine."
--There are times when I am deliberately evasive so others won't bother me.
--I sometimes approach work projects half-heartedly.
--When someone talks to me about my problems, I stare straight ahead, deliberately obstinate.
--I complain about people behind their backs, but resist the opportunity to be open with them face to face.

After he had finished, Greg stated, "I do those things all the time when I'm around my parents. I guess it does affect them more than what I thought it did." Through this exercise, Greg could finally realize that he was exhibiting habits of a passive-aggressive person.

In this section, we discussed three negative, non-productive ways sexually abused boys have of managing anger: suppression, open aggression, and passive aggression.

In the next section, we will examine various causes of anger: ignored need to be loved; feeling controlled; and creating your own anger.

What are three negative, un-productive ways sexually abused boys have of managing anger?
To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 12
Table of Contents