So many times, when working with young people or adults, issues with expressing anger continually arise and often, when speaking with the client, they express how they feel as though it is out of their control. Being out of control suggests to me, that it is a reaction without thought and decision, where the individual feels as though they are at the mercy of their behaviour – this is problematic as often, these behaviours are destructive to the self or others.
Is anger something that can be addressed in therapy?
Well yes, like all other aspects of human nature, anger is definitely changeable. The feeling itself is OK, normal and has good reason for its existence. When someone is feeling angry, adrenalin is released to prepare the body for flight or fight; this is the body’s preparation to stay and fight its battle or run in order to safeguard itself. This innate protection is for when we are faced with a threat though today, threats are very different to what they once were and are very much influenced by our thought processes; our perception of what is a threat.
I’d like you to consider this diagram as I discuss how our feeling of anger is influenced by our thoughts and consider thoughts, feelings and behaviour as a full package to anger……if you’re feeling angry; there will be something happening from all 3 components.
If you think of the last time that you felt angry; it as possibly because you felt under threat, because you felt something was unjust or perhaps as a consequence of not being allowed to do something you wanted…….all these situations, and that of your own, start with a thought process. That’s all well and good, maybe you already knew this or maybe you feel as though you have no thought process in the moment. What I would say to the latter, is that you do have a thought process and what I would recommend is that you tutor yourself, or look for support, to become aware of this. If you know that you have the thought process then you are ready for the next step which is looking at the details of your thoughts and reframing them, making sense of them in the here-and-now and using reality by means of reflection, to assess the relevance of your thoughts in the instances that have made you angry.
Let me put this into some context; so once you know what your thought processes are, you can pick them apart and change them. If they are old rules, maybe they were important at some stage in your life but are less so now or perhaps you have a belief that was handed down to you from care givers and you now decide you want to believe differently. If you change and update your thought processes then the feelings that were paired with old thought processes will no longer rise to the surface, situations that once made you angry will be looked upon within a different frame and the behaviours that follow will inevitable also be different.
Anger is useful and sometimes justified though the behaviours some show as a response, are definitely not OK; I hope I have not over simplified a feeling that can feel so consuming, but instead offered a vision of hope; you can make the changes.