Looking back over the years, it’s hard for me choose any one practice location that was my favorite. I have worked with client populations from about every walk of life I can imagine, and some I couldn’t have imagined before I met with them. And, they have taught me some things that I would never have figured out on my own in a million years. This is one of them:
Trying to avoid or ignore getting angry doesn’t make you any less angry. It does, in fact, sometimes serve to make you angrier.
Oh, how I struggled the first few years of being a therapist. I was working with clients, both male and female who had been adjudicated by the court system for “anger management” and domestic violence therapy sessions. We worked long and hard on the logic of getting so violently angry about what often seemed to me to be the smallest of things. We talked it out, we developed strategies to avoid that level of anger and we processed it some more in group therapy. But, I didn’t notice it helping all that much, really. I took this struggle with me to Orlando when I moved there and worked in a Department of Juvenile Justice lockdown facility for youthful female offenders. I mean, these kids were angry. They weren’t just there for talking back to their mamas. I once assessed a young woman who had slit the throat of the last therapist who had tried to assess her. So yeah, because I’m fond of my throat just how it is, I developed a vested interest in working with clients who presented with anger.
I owe a great debt to those young women. All of them had been through some tough stuff and had lived to tell about it. And, I am humbled and honored that many of them did tell me about their experiences. I think of them often and wonder where they are now. Working with them helped me develop a different sensibility about being angry. Here are a few things I have learned along the way:
1) Run, Forrest: Human beings don’t like to feel pain, and anger is one of those crappy-feeling emotions. Once you get past the adrenaline high of righteous indignation, there is only the elevated blood pressure, churning in your stomach and sore muscles from tensing up your body. (Men can add the ever-potent testosterone to that cocktail.) Who wouldn’t want to make that experience go away as quickly as possible? Some folks make it go away by lashing out behaviorally with fists and words in an attempt to fight fire with fire–neutralize a very physically experienced emotion with physical effort. Others storm out and try to disconnect with it. But those solutions are like taking an aspirin for chronic headaches without finding out the underlying reasons for them. Therapy and mindfulness exercises can help you sit with the anger, experience it as much as you need to and make conscious choices about how to deal with it.
2) Accept it you must: We live in a society that promotes happiness as something you can attain like a shiny new toy. And why, if you are not happy, then there must be something wrong with you, you negative Nellie. But this just isn’t true. Anger is like any other emotion–valid. When you realize you’re angry how does that make you feel about yourself? What do you believe it means about you if you’re angry? What would it mean about you if you owned up to the anger and figured out in a gentle, purposeful way where it comes from and what you want to do with it?
3) Visualize it: Clients have told me that they want to memorize the feelings associated with how they will behave in highly-charged situations. They have done this by doing meditations in which they envision feeling the anger, experiencing it fully and making choices that are different than the ones they have made in the past. We bring up the situations that provoke the anger in therapy as vividly as possible and then, through a variety of different means explore and enact the different behavior. One client who had struggled with angry outbursts most of his life decided that he wanted to laugh (in a nice way, not a scary serial killer way) when he got too heated. After practicing this for a bit, he genuinely began to regard his anger with gentleness and chuckled to himself in situations in which he previously might have blown his top.
Do you need some help managing difficult emotions? Why don’t you give me a call so that we can talk about it?
Your Partner in Healing,
Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:
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