On the last track we discussed, how other emotions create anger. These methods of anger creation are pride influences anger, fear’s effects on anger, loneliness creates anger, and anger can reflect inferiority feelings.
On this track, we will discuss the two intentions of anger displays. Anger is displayed by choice as negative anger or positive anger. As you know, anger displays can intensify a situation. Conversely, assertiveness helps reduce tension and anger. The consequences of the anger displays differ with intent. As I discuss these topics, see if you can relate these ideas to your anger management clients.
Two Intentions of Anger Displays
#1 Negative Anger Displays
First, we’ll discuss negative anger. Clearly, the intention of a negative anger display reflects a desire to hurt. In my practice, I have found retaliation plays a key role with negative anger. Do you agree? Clients may think to themselves, “I wish I could make him as angry as he makes me,” or “I’m so angry I could scream, but I won’t give her the satisfaction. I’ll just clam up and hope she starts feeling as guilty as I do.” As you know, anger management clients express anger to hurt others as they feel hurt. I spoke with Darren, age 27, who had been displaying passive aggressive negative anger toward his wife, Rebecca.
Darren stated, “Whenever Rebecca confronts me with any type of criticism, I just look away and remain quiet. She gets so frustrated when I won’t answer her. If she demands an answer, I just shrug or tell her I don’t know. What gives her the right to criticize me, anyway?” Darren may have had a number of reasons for his negative anger, but, as I found out, he was trying to hurt Rebecca the same way he felt hurt by her criticism.
Darren stated, “I may be a little lazy and insensitive sometimes, but that’s how people are, right? The bitch can’t expect me to want to talk when all she does is make me feel worse than I already do!” As you are aware, helping clients become conscious of their intentions is an important part of constructive anger management.
Technique: Rational Emotive Therapy
With Darren, I used Rational Emotive Therapy in order to help him become aware of his intentions. As you may know, Rational Emotive Therapy focuses on disputing irrational thoughts about a situation and replacing them with rational ones. Rational Emotive Therapy requires thought before action in anger situations.
a. To practice, I asked Darren to write down a recent example of something which caused him to display negative anger. As you know, this example is the client’s activating experience. Clearly, Darren’s activating experience was Rebecca’s criticism.
Second, I suggested Darren write his beliefs about the experience. For example, Darren wrote that Rebecca had no right to criticize him for his laziness or lack of sensitivity.
c. Third, I asked Darren to write down the consequences of taking action on those beliefs. Darren easily saw how his passive aggressive approach to Rebecca’s criticism prohibited any positive communication.
The fourth step in the rational emotive therapy process is to have the client dispute their own belief. Based on the negative consequences of Darren’s proposed action, it was easy for him to see the fallacy in his belief that Rebecca had no right to criticize him. I asked Darren to write a second set of beliefs that may reflect positive consequences.
When he finished, Darren felt like he should face Rebecca to discuss their issues.
#2 Positive Anger Displays
In addition to negative anger, we’ll look at positive anger. In my practice I don’t see much of this in the early stages of cognitive therapy intervention. As you know, positive anger usually manifests as assertiveness and tends to be a learned expression of anger. See if you can relate to any of the following statements clients have made. Here is statement number one. “Even though I’m angry with him right now, I don’t want to make him angry. I just want him to stop that behavior. I’ll do my best to let him know without hurting him,”
Here is statement number two regarding positive anger. “I hope I confront her in a way that she’ll be able to sense how much respect I have for her. I want her to know I’m angry, but I don’t want her to be hurt.” How close is one of your anger management clients to making this statement? When clients have positive and constructive intentions behind their anger displays, it is possible for them to alleviate tension and animosity . As you have probably experienced, these clients intend to make their needs known and improve relationships. However, probably like yours, the relationships of my clients are already affected by negative expressions of anger.
When a client learns Rational Emotive Therapy and begins to display positive anger for the first time, they may experience misunderstandings in their relationships. In my experience, these first displays of positive anger expression can be misconstrued as sarcasm. In Darren’s case, he stated, “I decided to face the issue next time Rebecca wanted to talk. So when she did, I made eye contact and asked a few questions. But when I showed concern and a willingness to solve our problems, she thought I was making fun of her.” I asked Darren how he felt about Rebecca joining him for the next session. In that session, Rebecca felt that Darren seemed sincere. Do you have a client who has difficulty asserting themselves due to longstanding negative anger displays? Are you using RET with them?
On this track, we discussed the two intentions of anger displays. Anger is displayed by choice as negative anger or positive anger.
On the next track, we will discuss children and anger. The five keys are don’t be threatened by your child’s anger, let choices and consequences shape the child, don’t preach, don’t major in the minors, and share your own experiences.
What are two types of anger displays?
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