Conflict Resolution

Anger Management: you Have to Own your Anger to Manage it

Mitchell H Milch asked:

People don’t fall into neat little categories no matter how hard we try to classify them. Still, in my psychotherapy practice I do notice a strong correlation between folks with chronic anger management problems and those who exhibit self defeating personality traits. These clients’ identities are often organized around a core belief that they are “victims” by virtue of the fact that they continue to suffer from parental improprieties long after growing up and leaving home. As much as these clients express sincere wishes to move forward with their lives, making these wishes a reality are easier said than done. Each and every time they are angry, the experiences feel as if salt is being poured on their incompletely healed emotional scars. “Forgiving their parents” can be as disposable a goal as used toilet paper is a disposable commodity. With the fervor of evangelists they will settle for no less than one of the following: 1) An end to their pain and suffering, 2) An escape from their pain and suffering, 3) Revenge or 4) Special entitlements to compensate them for their misfortunes. It doesn’t matter whether they recall their parents as being miscreants of the most premeditated variety, or just very limited and clueless about what motivated apparently automatic and mindless methods of parenting. They hold tenaciously to demands that the justice be served.

These folks present as unlucky and unfortunate souls who have not separated who they are from how they were treated as children. They tell their stories of woe certain there are signs pasted to their backs that read: “Go ahead and kick me everyone else does!” In truth, the sad ironies are that they are not by any stretch of the imagination victims any longer. They are in actuality architects of their own pain and suffering; victims of their own self defeating patterns of behavior that they deny and minimize responsibility for. They are still invested in being victims in search of ideals of fairness and justice that cannot and will not be served. How these rigid and unrelenting patterns shape their chronic anger management problems is the subject of this article.

As already stated these folks are aptly described as self defeating personalities. No matter how many times these individuals will lock themselves out of their cars, cut their fingers while preparing meals, get into car accidents or wind up in relationships where they are bullied, abused and degraded, in their hearts of hearts they are not responsible for their trials and tribulations.

This begs the question: How could that be that they are not responsible? Well, it’s not the case. They believe that managing these problems should not be their jobs because they didn’t bargain with their parents to be saddled with such problems. Thus, they link “not deserving” such a fate with not needing to own and manage these problems. They’re scared to death that they might not be able to do anything about their problems and might be condemned to a lifetime of suffering. Now that’s quite a parental legacy to have to shoulder! So they resist committing themselves to fixing their problems because they find the unfairness and injustice of it all intolerable to come to terms with. They keep banging their heads against the walls in broad daylight hoping that others who watch them suffer will suffer right along with them. The message implicit in misery seeking company is: “Will you stop standing there and please do something to end my suffering!”

These individuals are victims of a guilt perpetuating machine that runs 24 hours a day. They are as capable of cruelty, sadism, anger, rage, envy as anyone else walking the planet. The crux of their problems are that they do not see themselves as un-saintly like the rest of the human race. They have not learned to own and contain such feelings, wishes and impulses without feeling horrible about themselves. Consequently, absent an external provocation these folks are at the mercy of internal mechanisms that demand punishment and self sacrifice for what are universal aspects of human experience they equate with being bad, evil and destructive people. Thus they try unsuccessfully and ineffectively to defend against what is “evil” and “destructive” leaving them out of control of shadows that keep provoking guilt. The guilt in turn demands self sacrifice. Oh, how envious they are of those who live lives of pleasure and plenty.

What is human for others and does not interfere with their pursuit of happiness oppresses these folks, burdens them and limits their capacities to be happy. The subjects of this article are inescapable victims of the need to suffer because they learned growing up that you suffered as a precondition of being cared for. “Being” did not make you eligible for much at all. You had to earn whatever you got and usually did so with a pound of flesh or guilt. “What do you mean you’re not hungry? There are kids dying of starvation every day in Africa.” Do you get the point? In addition the rules of engagement inside these homes were such that no one owned up to being responsible for what exacted so much self sacrifice. In fact, if anyone felt anything regarded as evil and destructive the accepted myth was that someone else must have “made them feel this way.” So, these so called assaults on each others’ self esteem led to sanctioned acts of retaliation. As was might be expected in such environments the children being weak, small and relatively defenseless took the brunt of the attacks.

By now you may have probably read between the lines and figured out that victims beget victims. These folks are condemned to remain victims until they develop the mindset that they can change themselves. Short of that they walk around wearing their unhappiness on their sleeves as their currency for paying for what they feel entitled to. You may know such people like you know yourselves. They are notorious for apologizing for anything and everything. They apologize for taking up space, breathing too much air or they will even ask permission to go to the bathroom. The message is that they do not feel entitled to much and they assiduously ask for little to avoid frustrations and disappointments because if they do not get what they feel entitled to for all their suffering they are likely to feel that they are being attacked as completely worthless and blame others for contemptible feelings that bubble to the surface. I’m referring to all that they regard to be evil and destructive which they will desperately need someone to assign blame for.

As I indicated, such folks have anger management problems that stem from the fact that they remain victims of those who raised them. As long as they feel helpless and hopeless to change they regard being held accountable for their anger as adding insult to injury. The unfairness and injustice of being stuck with an impoverished sense of entitlement is compounded by the fact that to own their hostilities toward these parental figures is to render them entitled to nothing. They might as well be dead. At least if they surrender to demands that they work, sweat, suffer without complaints when they are treated unfairly they are then, entitled to ask for something. The sense of injustice eats away at these folks and they cannot forgive their parental figures who they continue to avenge in part through their self defeating acts.

Being self defeating means by definition putting yourself in harms’ way even if you don’t see it that way. These folks are notorious for not seeing red lights and red flags. When their scenarios do not play out according to expectations shaped long ago by what happened growing up, these individuals can get downright aggressive. As an example, I recall a woman who worried herself sick over her son whenever he w
as traveling. She would use her obsessive worries as a moral justification to call him incessantly until she reached him. When her son found her self- righteous
defense of her mothering role manipulative and annoying his mother would try to induce guilt by portraying herself as the paragon of motherhood who was unappreciated by her son. When such tactics only escalated her son’s disapproval of her she would rage in a desperate attack on him as being everything he wasn’t but in fact, she was being in the moment; self centered, spiteful and vindictive. Hey, what did she have if her glorification of self sacrifice got her nothing for her time and trouble?

These personalities fit the profiles of battered spouses; men and women. They may feel so guilty over their hostile wishes, feelings etc., that they are at the mercy of efforts on the part of the batterer to justify what is unjustifiable. If the attacks continue a point is reached where the battered party will feel so bad about themselves and so resentful of the aggression that they will flee what has become a re-living of their role as child and identify with the aggressor, the aggressive parent from the family of origin. It’s not uncommon for these folks to wind up in court arrested for a domestic violence incident when in fact, the police reports read largely like muggings and they are the ones who have been mugged. Once again two wrongs don’t make a right but, the mentality of an angry victim is not unlike the mentality of a child who identifies with what he has learned.

When these folks come into my office not only do they bring their chronic tales of woe, they also bring with them the guarantee that I will be asked to enact with them scenarios similar to the ones they describe to me. We call such enactments, compulsions to repeat history. If we are victims of history then, we have to find ways to control its impact on us. We will try and shape that which we know how to deal with: To control its influence, destroy its influence or change its influence. The compulsion is indisputable evidence that we are not willing/able to mourn our losses and move on.

For example, my clients will come in, regale me with stories of how they are being taken advantage of, reject my efforts to explore what it all means in terms of their motives for such self defeating actions and then, forget to pay me for weeks on end. Misery loves company and passing the role of victim on to others is a way to stave off envy, and affirms a sense of entitlement to be compensated for all their pain and self sacrifice. Their actions express a logic that can only be understood by blurring the boundaries between the past and present: “What right do I (their psychotherapist) have to get consideration for my time and trouble when they do not consider themselves and do not ask for their due from others?”

In my psychotherapy practice I help these folks in a variety of ways. 1) I model healthy self interest and both encourage them and expect them to do so. In other words, I try to instill hope in a future of higher self regard by modeling what I hope to they will learn to identify with. I treat these clients with respect as capable of growing, changing and coping with unfairness and injustice in life that we all must learn to accept, to be reasonably happy. 2) I normalize all the feelings they believe are evil and destructive, establish ground rules for acceptable ways of expressing them, mirror expressions of these feelings with acceptance and understanding, and reassure my clients that they will not destroy me with their anger. I also reassure them that I will not retaliate should they express anger and disappointment towards myself. 3) I encourage, and acknowledge their expressions of healthy self interest and resist rewarding self defeating actions. Conversely, I model healthy self interest. 4) In addition, I also model healthy assertions of authority to empower my clients to challenge their guilt, challenge time honored notions that glorify self sacrifice, and neutralize their attacks on themselves that for so long had left their self esteem and mood in ruins. 5) We reframe their anger as an emotion that is a starting point to assess what they are not getting too little of or too much of that they don’t deserve, and then how to use their anger to assert their rights to be treated with more respect and consideration and 6) I provide these clients the corrective experiences of being re-parented so that they can mourn their childhood losses and shed their identifications as victims.

I have attempted with this brief article to describe for you the origins of anger management problems experienced by self defeating personalities; their characteristics and how they can be addressed through psychotherapy. You can teach someone everything they need to know about assertive communications, fighting fair, de-escalating conflicts, mindfulness, etc. However, if folks are still at war with images of abusive and neglectful parental figures, until they are ready to wave the white flag all the anger management classes in the world won’t empower these folks to change until they are ready to own the consequences of what growing up has left them with as their problems to solve.

Content – Members-Only Content for WordPress

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *