Change Yourself: Making New Choices to Manage Anger

Therapist: “When was the first time you can recall feeling that life was so unfair?”

Erin: “I remember when I was something like 8 years old, my friend Jen wanted me to come out and play. I asked my mom if I could, but she said I had to watch my little brother Bob until she was done folding the laundry. So Jen left and I felt like it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t spend time doing what I wanted to.”

In this memory, Erin wasn’t sad, she was angry. Her anger, which she was forbidden to express by her mother, had turned inward and lead to symptoms of depression. This trivial experience in Erin’s life gave rise to a whole constellation of beliefs towards herself, towards others and towards the life that lay before her. Below are some of the beliefs she began to acquire:
“I cannot get what I want.”
“It doesn’t pay to even ask for what I want because I won’t get it.”
“My brother is more important than I am. His needs come ahead of mine.”
“It’s not fair that other people get their way and I don’t.”
“I have no control and there is nothing I can do about it.”
“I doesn’t pay to get angry, it only makes things worse.”
“Life is not fair and I am powerless to change it.”

As an adult, Erin doesn’t get angry like everyone else can. She just holds onto her childish belief that she isn’t “allowed” to express her anger for fear of the consequences: rejection, loss, or abandonment.

Her role in the family is not the one who receives, that is her little brother Bob’s role. No her role is the super responsible big sister, the giver, the pleaser, the martyr, the one who suffers in silence until she explodes. These are all unhappy roles that were inflicted on to her by the adults in her life while she was growing up. She is still angry at the unfairness, the victimization, the injustice of having all this hurt that she does not deserve because these things are not supposed to happen to good little girls.

(Therapist) “Who so you blame now?”

(C) “I blame myself, its my fault that I can’t get it together. Then I blow up at my coworkers over small disappointments and inconveniences.”

(T) “Is there a pattern in these blow ups?”

(C) “I get angry when someone takes over a project I’m working on because the director wanted it ASAP…As if I was doing a lousy job.”

(T) “You take it personally, as if it were a reflection on your worth as a person.”

(C) “Isn’t it?”

(T) “No you are a worthwhile human being regardless of your performance.”

(C) “It hard to accept.”

(T) “It’s new to you, but that is how you can live your life as an adult, with an identity of your own.”

(C) “What if I don’t want to change? Maybe other people need to change!”

(T) “I agree. They should. They picked up beliefs in their childhood that they never examined, let alone re-examined. They are imperfect too.”

(C) “But it still hurts when they put me down.”

(T) “Instead of charging them, which they have not asked you to do and wouldn’t work anyways, you have the right and responsibility to change yourself. It’s your pain, your vulnerability, your role in life. When you change yourself, very often other people will pick up on it and treat you differently, like an equal member of the human race.”

(C) “How is that done?”

(T) “Its done by doing your homework. Homework is how we practice a skill. Your homework could be making new choices. You can choose to catch yourself taking a set back more personally than you need to take it. You can choose to remind yourself that you are worthwhile in spite of it.”

(C) “What do I do with the anger?”

(T) “You can choose to manage your legitimate anger like a grownup. You can say, ‘It makes me angry when you do that.’ This is called telling the truth.”

(C) “Isn’t that whining, you know bitching and moaning?”

(T) “No. It is expressing a legitimate human emotion appropriately in a timely manner. It is not too strong and it is not too weak. It isn’t a crime and you are not guilty of displeasing. Maybe they will respect you enough to listen to what you are saying and cooperate with you as an equal. But you are a worthwhile human being either way. It is unpleasant not to get your way, but you are an equally respectable and lovable person despite your imperfections. One of them is that you get angry from time to time, just like everyone else.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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