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On the last track, we discussed the five methods for handling anger. These are suppression, open aggression, passive aggression, assertiveness, and dropping it.
On this track, we will discuss how feeling controlled causes anger. Some main ideas to consider in a cognitive therapy environment are why control occurs, how a client responds to control, and the acknowledgement of freedom. As I describe these ideas, decide if any of these aspects of control are applicable to a client you may be treating.
#1 Why Control Occurs
These three factors are, performance takes priority, difference is threatening, and, obligation becomes mandatory. Your client may be able to find out if performance is taking priority by having him or her think about their communication with others. Does it appear performance and actions, rather than feelings become the focus for control?
Here is an example: Michelle, age 34, was showing anger toward her husband, Mike. Michelle stated, "Mike is always putting me down and telling me what to do. The other day my schedule was hell and I got nothing done because of so many interruptions. The phone, the kids, getting the damn meal on the table! I was so frustrated, but he didn’t care about that. All he said was "write down your schedule and stick to it. What’s so hard about that?" Michelle’s feelings mattered less to Mike than her performance. Michelle’s personal feelings were pushed aside, Michelle felt controlled by Mike.
b. Secondly, the typical anger management client perceives differences in others as threatening. Have you found that though clients give themselves credit for being open-minded, their lives don’t reflect this tolerance? Though they enjoy new and unique experiences, they gain composure from things that are familiar. Thus the "don’t think that way, it’s too different!" mentality can become controlling.
c. Third, controlling behavior may relate to a history of obligation instead of choice. I have found that by asking a client a couple questions I can isolate mandatory obligation as the reason for control. First I ask "Can you remember receiving instruction on how to speak and act?" and then I usually follow this up by asking "How were you trained to make choices by your family?" The client may recall receiving instructions from his parents on how to speak and act; however he or she may not be aware of how they currently make choices.
#2 How a Client Responds to Control
a. First, I explained to Michelle she could look into a mirror for several minutes and then look at a photo of her husband, Mike, who was controlling. I asked her to look at Mike’s photo for the same length of time she looked at herself in the mirror. I asked Michelle to try to imagine how Mike feels about her and compare it to how she feels about herself. Michelle wrote these comparisons down to evaluate with me later. Michelle identified Mike’s disregard for her feelings and his emphasis on the appearance of their relationship.
b. Second, we discussed the ways in which Michelle’s feelings about herself and her perceived feelings that Mike had were similar and different. Michelle believed Mike loved and respected her, but put more importance on how others perceived their relationship. You may find this technique can also help a client understand the reasons for control. Michelle saw Mike’s emphasis on the appearance of their relationship as his desire to be as perfect as possible. Michelle’s understanding regarding Mike’s control issues helped her manage anger more constructively.
#3 The Acknowledgement of Freedom
Clearly, it is important the client can distinguish freedom and selfishness. Would you agree that the two healthy methods of handling anger discussed in track 1, assertiveness and dropping it, cannot be used by a client who does not acknowledge their own freedom? Clearly, reinforcing a sense of freedom can be difficult. If I notice lack of freedom is the cause for a client’s anger, I begin to rebuild their sense of freedom over time. First, I inform them passively of their freedom. Next, I will educate the client on personal freedom.
Over the next several sessions, I will support any desires for freedom the client may express and reassure the client if they act out their freedom. This type of cognitive therapy intervention can go a long way in helping a client to acknowledge freedom.
On this track, we have discussed how feeling controlled causes anger. The main concepts we considered are why control occurs, how a client responds to control, and the acknowledgement of freedom.
On the next track, we will discuss five myths that perpetuate anger. These myths are history of rejection leaves a client with a feeling of impending rejection, letting go of anger means conceding defeat, no one understands the client’s problems, the client doesn’t deserve to be happy, and there is nothing to look forward to anymore.
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