Monday, April 27, 2009

Anger as a feeling trigger

Anger is a difficult topic to address because of the relationship to so many topics. It is a robust topic with multiple meanings and ways it is expressed. I will summarize a number of issues regarding anger as may relate to the acting out cycle. If these are relevant, please work with your network to obtain support and additional resources.

Anger as a primary feeling
What makes anger so difficult to understand and treat is the confusion around the phrase“ I’m angry.” Feelings of anger, mad, rage, frustrated and disappointment reflect different intensities of anger. What may trigger anger varies.

Anger as a secondary feeling
It is worth repeating: What makes anger so difficult to understand and treat is the confusion around the phrase “I’m angry.” Sometimes anger is a response to other feelings. The concept of “flight or fight” highlights this difficulty. When someone experiences fear, they typically want to run away or attack the source of the fear. In these cases, anger is actually a response to the fear. Treatment should focus on the source of fear. Another example as highlighted in the Payoffs for Sex is that anger may be in response to hurt. I’ve worked with clients whose acting out behavior is a form of revenge to hurt the partner or other person. These two examples highlight the importance of understanding why you are angry. If your feelings of anger are in response to a response to another feeling, it is important to identify and address the primary feeling instead.

Anger as part of a process
In the topic on Feelings of Grief, the stages of grief highlight how anger is a normal part of the grieving process. In circumstances where you experience loss, understanding how anger is expected as part of that process is helpful. Treatment for coping with anger in this example will address the process of coping with loss and grief.

Strategies for coping with anger
I mentioned in the section on Anxiety how I like the “_____ for dummies” series of books. They also have a book Anger Management for Dummies book that may be helpful In addition to reading additional material in coping with anger, the following strategies may be helpful.

Mindfulness: In the topic on the Power of Thought, I raised the topic of becoming aware of your body, thoughts and feelings. This skill is also helpful in coping with and expressing anger.

Time outs: Giving yourself a brief break from the situation can reduce unhealthy expressions of anger. I have my clients say “I need 15 minutes to settle down and think about what I need to say.”

Assertive communication: Review the upcoming topic on assertiveness. Learning how to assertively communicate when you feel anger is important.
Relaxation: Reducing overall stress and identifying ways to relax creates opportunities to focus on what is important and how you want to respond.

Meditation/Journaling: The ability to reflect on an encounter where you felt anger can improver your ability to understand the source of your reaction. Assessing your behavior can improve future responses.

Reaching out: Reaching out to your support network for support, coaching, feedback and advice when you feel anger is also helpful. A different perspective is sometimes what it takes.

Anger as an issue for follow-up
In the topic on Cross Addiction/Compulsivity, I highlighted different forms of acting out such as chemical use or spending behaviors. Anger can be a form of acting out as well. Every once in a while, I have a client who has significant problems regarding expressing, managing, and coping with anger. In some circumstances, client will be abusive toward others. Most often this shows up as verbal abuse, but in some situations, the client will engage in physical abuse. It is NEVER acceptable to express anger in this way. If you find that you struggle with coping with the anger, or that you continue to escalate after using the strategies above, I recommend further follow-up for additional support. This may include anger management classes/training or ongoing therapy.

• Describe the circumstances when you felt anger.
• When you find yourself angry, what other feelings may be the associated with the anger.
• What are your plans to improve your ability to express anger in healthy ways?
• Review your sex history. Examine how anger is related to the acting out behaviors. Might how you express anger be a form of acting out? Highlight any relevant examples.

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