On the last track, we discussed children and anger. The five keys we discussed were don’t be threatened by the child’s anger, let choices and consequences shape the child, don’t preach, don’t major in the minors, and share your own experiences.
On this track, we will discuss rationalizations that perpetuate anger. Four rationalizations you may have encounter with your anger management clients are “my past is to painful, forgiveness is too good, why should I try when no one else does, and anger is a familiar habit”.
As you have probably experienced, clients may tend to cling to anger in spite of cognitive therapy approaches which provide potentially helpful knowledge. Do you agree most rationalizations contain some type of truth? As you know, this can make rationalizing an easier path for anger management clients than working to change things for the better. As I describe four typical rationalizations, see if you can apply them to your practice.
4 Rationalizations that Perpetuate Anger
#1 “My Past Is too Painful”
One rationalization you probably have encountered is “my past is too painful.” A client’s painful emotional past often relates directly to similar painful experiences in the client’s adult relationships. From so many negative feelings, the client may develop a pessimistic, “what’s the use” attitude. That’s what happened to Miguel, age 31. For example, if Miguel had a disagreement with a supervisor, he would think, “My dad was always unreasonable. Why should I have to put up with this?”
Or if his wife, Darlene, forgot something from the store, Miguel would state, “You're just like my mother. Always promising, but never delivering. You’re useless. Why did I marry you?” Miguel stated, “Darlene began asking me to stop comparing her to my damn mother. You know, it’s easy for her to tell me to give it up, but how can I when it is so damn real and painful?” As you can see, painful experiences from his past seemed as fresh to Miguel as if they had happened only days before. These painful experiences perpetuated Miguel’s anger.
#2 Forgiveness is too Good
The second rationalization I find that perpetuates anger is forgiveness is too good. Miguel was unable to form a positive relationship with his parents because he could not forgive them. His parents refused to admit wrongdoing, so Miguel felt like forgiveness was too good for them. Miguel stated, “I hate to think I’ve just got to accept the fact my parents neglected me and there’s nothing I can do about it. Why does this misery have to continue? It’s unfair!”
Technique: Relationship Building
To help Miguel drop his anger towards his parents, I tried the Relationship Building technique.
a. First, I assisted Miguel in writing letters to his parents. As you know, these letters are for the client’s use, not actual letters to be sent. We structured these letters to convey Miguel’s feelings.
b. Second, I role-played conversations with Miguel’s parents to help him find new ways to speak with them from a position of equality. As you have probably experienced, clients may try to forgive, but the person being forgiven may ignore it or act as if there was never anything to be forgiven. Miguel hesitated to resolve his anger through forgiveness. Through Relationship Building, Miguel gained an understanding that he cannot control the past, but can choose a new direction for himself.
#3 “Why Should I Try When No One Else Does?"
The third rationalization I find that perpetuates anger is “Why should I try when no one else does?”. Anger management clients may feel like they are trying to make things better while no one else does. As you know, anger management is much easier when everyone involved is willing to work towards a resolution. You have probably experienced that this is not always the case.
Gayle, age 42, was concerned with her son, Jeremy. Jeremy’s grades were starting to slip, but Gayle’s husband Greg refused to acknowledge a problem. “Each time I would bring up Jeremy’s grades, Greg would say ‘Oh, everything will be fine.’ He wouldn’t even talk to me about it. He takes this same damn attitude with all family problems, like they’ll just fix themselves. Maybe I should quit trying to help Jeremy and see what happens.”
Gayle’s anger increased when Greg was indifferent and feeling like no one else cared. As you know, the danger here is that Gayle may allow her feelings to be so closely linked with Greg’s responses that she may also lose her personal initiative. Gayle’s son Jeremy was the real focus, so she needed to maintain her own stability and focus on Jeremy rather than her husband Greg's 'I don't care' attitude.
Technique: Breathe Deeply
I showed Gayle how to breathe deeply. When I use this technique, I like to explain to the client why it works. As I explain this basic breathe technique, think of a client you are currently treating with whom you may have overlooked the basics of relaxation.
a. First, I stated to Gayle, “Deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, helping the muscles to relax. Also, deep breathing focuses your immediate attention on something other than the object of your anger.” I asked Gayle to sit comfortably and relax her neck and shoulders.
b. Second, I asked Gayle to take a deep breath from her stomach, hold it for two seconds, and exhale with a sigh. I asked Gayle to visualize her tension and anger leaving her body with each exhalation. As you may have experienced, having a client relax and refocus their attention helps them calm down, leading to better choices in dealing with anger. Gayle found it easier to stop being angry on Greg and focus on Jeremy after calming herself by breathing deeply.
#4 Anger is a Familiar Habit
In addition to “my past is to painful, forgiveness is too good, and why should I try when no one else does”, a fourth rationalization that perpetuates anger is anger is a familiar habit. Sound familiar with your anger management client? You may have clients who seem to enjoy staying angry. Anger management clients may know anger is harmful, yet it is such a familiar habit they wouldn’t know how to live without it. Agree?
Anger becomes so routine for some clients, they can’t imagine responding any other way. Do you agree anger can seem like an addiction? As you are aware, adjustments in thought and lifestyle are necessary to counter anger. You might consider the Relationship Building or Deep Breathing techniques explained on this track to help your habitually angry clients to break their addiction to their anger habit.
On this track, we discussed rationalizations that perpetuate anger. Four rationalizations you may encounter are “my past is to painful, forgiveness is too good, why should I try when no one else does, and anger is a familiar habit”.
On the next track, we will discuss Assertiveness Training through Role Playing. There are eight steps in Assertiveness Training. They are select an incident, have the client describe how the incident would normally play out, role-play with another therapist, have the client share his or her reaction, have the client visualize the situation once more, have the client role play the situation twice with the other therapist, give the client feedback, and encourage the client.
What are four rationalizations that perpetuate anger?
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