All you have to do is take to any social media outlet, turn on your television, or try to talk politics with relatives and you may note that anger is seeping out of the cracks - even when you try your hardest to contain it. With the stress and worry of the election, the war torn places around our globe, the stress of the holidays – or any number of other things I could list - it is no wonder a few of us are reacting in ways that aren’t our most becoming.
Anger is perceived in our society as a very individualistic problem. When taking an individualistic approach, anger is recognized by exploring one’s negative perceptions in order to change them. But does this always work? Especially these days?
Not so much.
Studies indicate that individual approaches to anger – that somehow one who is angry lives in a sort of bubble of his or her own making - are archaic and are not near as helpful as once perceived (Costa & Babcock, 2008; Stop F.E.A.R. Coalition, n.d ). In contrast, a more collectivist approach that embraces the family is being looked at as a new way to address anger. A collectivist approach encompasses the individual but looks at much more than the anger and the person displaying or feeling it.
Such an approach takes into account family disagreements, qualities of dysfunction, and the role of expectations. Collectivist approaches are a new way of thinking about the family and its members and the anger that stifles its functioning. All of these factors can create destructive manifestations of anger (Jager, Bornstein, Putnick, & Heindricks, 2012). Studies indicate that a much more holistic approach needs to be taken when dealing with anger and angry behaviors (Costa & Bacock, 2008; Jager et al., 2012).
So, what does that mean for those who are dealing with anger?
You do have a responsibility for your behaviors and you do have to take a long hard look at what you are doing and how you are contributing to your family dynamics or society at large. But you also cannot expect to change within a vacuum. Sooner or later, you will have to test these things out in the real world. For most of us, the real world means family, partners and spouses, kids, co-workers.
This means you have to get real.
Let people know you have anger issues. Most likely, they already know. So fessing up gets rid of the elephant in the room.
Let them know you are working on it. And then hold yourself accountable. They will. So the more you add action to those words, the better.
Tell them your coping skills. Explain to them the changes you are trying to make. Ask them to help you make them. Accept that you will not be doing what you did before.
And, honestly? That’s going to freak people out. They may not know how to react. Before, at least they knew what to do.
Now, there’s a new game in town. Let everyone know what the new game is and ask them to get on board (Ha! See what I did there? Get on board? Like a board game? Ahem. Anyway . . .)
For instance, if you used to stay in the room and would end a fight with your partner by punching a wall, tell them what will be different. By doing that, you are telling yourself as well. Tell them you are going to try like crazy to walk away and count to ten before that thought hits your fist. Let your partner know that taking a breather is the new ending and you need that. You need to express out loud that a hole in the wall is not the end. You need to make that commitment and hold yourself accountable. A walk away is a break and you will be back when you calm down. Talk about that now while your head is clear.
Then, your partner will know there is a new part to play for you both and they can help. They can let you walk away, knowing you will be back. That you are giving it your all and that means stepping out and breathing. That you will come back soon when the moment when anger wants to take over is gone.
This will take time. Learning new rules to a really old game you’ve been playing for a long time is hard work.
Anger is not just the individual. It affects everyone around you. Don’t pretend they are not there. If you are in therapy for anger, consider bringing them to a session, or two, or five. Let them in.
Play a new game where everybody wins.
Costa, D., & Babcock, J. (2008). Articulated thoughts of intimate partner abusive men during anger arousal: Correlates with personality disorder features. Journal of Family Violence, 23(6), 295-402. doi: 10.1007/s10896-00-9163-x
Jager, J., Bornstein, M. H., Putnick, D. L., & Hendricks, C. (2012). Family members' unique perspectives of the family: Examining their scope, size, and relations to individual adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 400-410.
Stop F.E.A.R. Coalition. (n.d.) Policy Statement on Couples Counseling & Anger Management
in Domestic Violence Cases. Retrieved from http://www.nymbp.org/reference/PolicyAgainstCC.pdf
Dr. Melissa Lee-Tammeus is a licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Jacksonville, Florida. She specializes in LGB couples, anger, and grief and trauma. To learn more about Melissa, check out her webpage at www.possibleselfcounseling.com