Most of the clients I treat for anger management describe themselves as terrible people. Furthermore, they are often described as bullies by their family members and those who are close to them. Typically such a description will come from a spouse who will call in to schedule an appointment on their behalf.
In getting to know these clients, overwhelmingly men, I find that they are typically overwhelmingly nice. To a point where they are inconsistent in setting for themselves healthy boundaries with other people. In close relationships this becomes a problem as the person seldom addresses naturally occurring conflicts with the other person or persons. This leads to stuffing of feelings and chronic pretentiousness in the relationship, until the person can no longer keep his feelings bottled up, the next stage is the angry outburst. In severe cases, particular crisis fueled episodes, the angry person habitually engages in bouts of angry outbursts with strangers.
To others who witness these outbursts, based on their feelings of confusion and feelings of being upset, they come to see the “angry” person as a bully or mentally unstable at worst. Meanwhile the person who engaged in the angry outburst is burdened by feelings of guilt and shame and will typically resolve to double down on his commitment to being the nicest person possible. Unfortunately this plays out as the person failing to exercise assertiveness skills leading to little or no boundaries being set. This then sets the stage for a new cycle where the person habitually stuffs his feelings, bottles up resentment before deciding that he can no longer put up with perceived disrespect. For people in close relationships with these people, it could feel that the angry outbursts are unpredictable, when it fact they are very predictable.
At the beginning of therapy for poor anger management, the person is first introduced to exercises for recognizing his difficult feelings. He is then introduced to cognitive strategies for recognizing and responding appropriately to his difficult feelings.
The core of addressing poor anger management skills is to address the core beliefs of the chronically “angry” person which influence his episodes of anger. For example, with someone who has difficulty exercising healthy boundaries in his relationships with others, it will be important to determine what beliefs he holds unto which prevent him from setting healthy boundaries.
It could be a belief about how he communicates with others, or it could be a belief about how he sees himself, these are just two examples of a variety of possible beliefs a person could hold unto. For example, I once had a client share with me that he viewed expressing his disagreement at work and at home as a form of complaining. He then further stated that he saw complaining as a form of being weak minded.
Whatever belief he is holding unto, is going to be an irrational belief. Put simply, irrational beliefs are beliefs which are not true, but feel true to the person who holds unto them. For example, a belief which states that “no one should curse at me,” is a belief which feels true, because people generally don’t like to be cursed at, but is an irrational belief because we have no control over the words of others.
Once an irrational belief has been identified, a healthier alternative is chosen for the person to adopt, along with cognitive behavioral strategies for internalizing the new belief. The process of practicing new beliefs produces a paradigm shift in how the person’s sees the world around him and subsequently how he interacts with others.
For those who are successful in adopting and implementing new healthier beliefs, family members and others close to them come to see them as more genuine, confident and compassionate.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.