Psychological Self-Help

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Les Carter starts his latest book about anger with this observation: “…I have learned
one thing. There is always something more that feeds the anger than what is
observed (or blamed) on the surface.” Beneath the strong, willful, hateful looks on
the angry person’s face, there may be fear, insecurity, hurt, the dread of being all
alone, the feeling of being wronged, etc. Getting over our anger usually involves
getting to know how we feel neglected, wounded, or deprived of our just dues. An
angry person always has a history—a critical, hateful, demanding, belittling parent,
an on-going bitter conflict with a sibling, being a bully or bullied, growing up in a
neighborhood that taught hatred of their traditional enemies, etc., etc.
Underneath the self-centeredness and nastiness of anger or rage (as seen by outside
observers) can be seen a demand for fairness or justice (as the angry person sees
it). Anger is often a demand that things be done in “the right way,” that I get the
respect and status I deserve, that I get what I want and be obeyed, that I be in
control, that my importance be acknowledged, and so on. In the angry person’s
mind, if you don’t do what I’m asking you to do, you are insulting me and being
defiant or hateful. So, I am justified to be angry.
Obviously, if these anger-generating beliefs and attitudes (cognitions) are not
changed, the anger will continue and probably get worse. The main question is: how
to change these ideas of an angry person…and, keep in mind, you may be dealing
with a coiled rattlesnake. This is what Carter calls the irate person’s “anger trap,” i.e.
being caught in an irritating, unhappy situation without knowing how to get out of
the mess. The tools that life tends to give angry people are criticism, blaming and
threatening others, shaming, guilt-slinging, and rage. No conflict resolution skills, no
empathic listening to another viewpoint, no revealing of your own self-doubts and
fragile ego, no searching for compromises, no admission that your demands and
views might be wrong, etc. Angry people see other people as too unfriendly and they
themselves often feel too fragile to handle their anger in a different way; they can
sometimes be gradually encouraged to try new approaches. They usually need help
to find better ways to resolve angry conflicts.
As we discussed in indirect aggression earlier in the chapter, many people avoid
angry outbursts and have ways of denying their own suppressed anger, such as
withdrawing or sulking and feeling frustrated, irritated, and impatient. There are
several origins of anger that can be confusing, including the mad person suppressing
his/her anger, then projecting anger to the other person: “Why are you doing this to
me?” or “Why are you so upset with me?” Other people keep on suppressing their
anger to avoid the irritation they feel until they explode over a small matter. Lots of
people are just quiet until the anger blows over (that works well for many of us).
Almost all of us avoid touchy topics. Some act as if they agree (when they don’t) but
never get around to resolving the conflicts. That is passive-aggressiveness because
the resistance and anger come out in concealed ways. Some of these methods may
work, some won’t. All too often we can see examples all around us of open, seething
aggressive people overpowering the less intense ones and getting away with it. That
tells us anger works and reinforces our own anger. We also see how powerful indirect
aggression (such as gossip) and thinly veiled anger (jealous, sullen, resistive
behavior) can be.
A counselor might start by urging the angry patient to see that direct or indirect
anger has a purpose—this awareness can motivate the angry person to find new
ways to handle upsetting conflicts, i.e. develop an anger management plan. That
would involve recognizing what triggers your anger, what justifies your anger and
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