Most of the clients I treat for anger management think of themselves as terrible people. Furthermore, they are often described as bullies by their family members and those closest to them. Typically such a description will come from a spouse who has called to schedule an appointment on their behalf.
Is the problem simply boundaries?
In getting to know these clients (overwhelmingly men). I find that they are typically very kind and considerate people. To a point that they are inconsistent in setting healthy boundaries with other people.
What does having boundaries actually mean? Put simply, boundaries are rules and limits regarding our interactions with other people. You can read more about the many different aspects of personal boundaries here.
In close relationships, the inability to set boundaries becomes a problem as naturally occurring conflicts fail to be addressed. This ultimately leads to repressing feelings and if the situation becomes chronic, bottled up feelings will evidently surface in the form of an angry outburst.
This can occur habitually, not always with family, but often with strangers who provide a “safe” outlet for repressed anger.
Anger as a strategy for safety
For the person who has no boundaries, an angry outburst is a tool they have learned to use that will keep them safe. They have learned to react with anger in response to a small problem. This is because they are unfamiliar with the techniques they can use to establish healthy boundaries with others.
To others who witness these outbursts, based on their feelings of confusion and upset, they come to see the “angry” person as a bully or mentally unstable.
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, (for obvious reasons) this strategy only serves to worsen the problem.
Control your anger by setting healthy boundaries
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. For example, it may be appropriate to address what beliefs are holding him back from setting healthy boundaries. Techniques for setting healthy boundaries are taught and practiced. allowing the client to begin to exist in a world that feels safe and secure.
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.