Out of Control: Angrier Than You Need to Be

People in high places have given extreme anger a ten-syllable name, “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” which is much more impressive than, upset.

This term can be applied to the tiny percentage of the population that suffer from abnormalities in the part of the brain known as the amygdala. However, most of the super-anger we see from time to time does not have a pathological origin. It is normal anger gone to extremes, which is less intimidating for the client. Super-angry clients recognize this trait in themselves immediately. I begin by asking our client a few focusing questions. For example, “When else have you felt like this?” “What angered you the most when that happened.” Their answers to these questions are often something like, “They hurt my feelings,” “They made me feel bad” or “It was unfair”.

Most clients seek anger counseling when they come to realize that their way of moving through life is not working. They have begun to see that it wasn’t bad luck or someone else’s fault. They have started to look back on a lifetime of lashing out at problems, instead of using their adult judgment to find solutions. They have come to the realization that they cannot manage their angry outbursts by themselves anymore. They need a guide to continue their journey without scorching the earth behind them. They need a new set of choices, a new way of moving through life. I respond by giving them choices they didn’t know they had. They find these new choices empowering and encouraging.

Therapist: “Besides angry, how else do you feel when people disrespect you?”

Client: “Sad.”

Therapist: “Where does that sadness come from?”

Client: “It’s always been there.”

Therapist: “When else have you felt this way?”

Client: “I remember when my big brother pushed me off my bike, punched me and rode away on it.”

Therapist: “How did that make you feel?”

Client: “Upset.”

Therapist: “What does upset mean?”

Client: “I felt bad.”

Therapist: “Does it mean you got angry?”

Client: “Sure I did. I ran and told my mother. She told me it was probably my fault, and that I should stop crying like a baby and grow up!”

Therapist: “How did that make you feel?”

Client: “Like I didn’t count, I wasn’t important.”

Therapist: “Like you were invisible?”

Client: “I still do, it’s like I’m my important.”

Therapist: “Did you feel life was unfair to you, that you weren’t worth caring about, that you were insignificant?”

Client: “Yes.”

Therapist: “When did you stop feeling that way about yourself?”

Client: “I guess I never did.”

Therapist: “You have carried that expectation into adulthood with you. Who else were you angry at?”

Client: “No one.”

Therapist: “Were you angry at yourself for letting these bad things happen to you, for being unable to do anything to make it stop, for being such a pushover?”

Client: “Yes, I guess so. I didn’t realize it.’

Therapist: “You were too busy being angry at your bullies. Do you admire pushovers?”

Client: “No, of course I don’t.”

Therapist: “What if you are one of them?”

Client: “I guess I am.”

Therapist: “When did you get over it?”

Client: “I guess I never did.”

Therapist: “Then you cannot have a very high opinion yourself. Could it be that you were angry at yourself for being so vulnerable, for letting people victimize you, for not standing up to them?”

Client: “That makes sense.”

Therapist: “Would you say you took these childhood betrayals personally?’

Client: “Wouldn’t you?”

Therapist: “I would. For many people, when they feel anger in the present, it brings them back unresolved feelings from the past. When someone makes you angry in the present, are you inclined to take it personally, as if it were a reflection on your worth as a person?”

Client: “Yes.”

“Therapist: What is it called when anger in the present ignites unresolved anger from the past?”

Client: “I call it losing my mind.”

Therapist: “That’s one way to put it. I call it super-anger. You are angrier than you need to be because this current painful experience has tapped into a pool of unresolved anger from the past. Some may say to themselves, ‘I am still a victim, I am stupid for letting it happen, I should have seen it coming, I should have stood up for myself.’ This is called shoulding on yourself. It makes you feel guilty, in addition to being angry at the bully. This combination overloads your system, and you erupt like a volcano. This whole process is taking place below conscious awareness where you can’t process it, let alone manage it in a mature, appropriate way. When this happens, you don’t have the anger anymore, the anger has you.”

Client: ‘Yes. I feel like a stupid pushover all over again.”

Therapist: “It’s like an old wound that opens up and bleeds. On what day did you get over your anger?”

Client: “I guess I never did. It was so unfair! He was bigger than me.”

Therapist: “Did you feel like a victim of this unfairness?”

Client: “Yes.”

Therapist: “Do you still feel like a victim waiting for another attack to happen?”

Client: “Story of my life.”

Therapist: “Did you feel out of control?”

Client: “Yes.”

Therapist: “How do you feel when you’re out of control?”

Client: “It’s scary.”

Therapist: “What is that scary feeling called?”

Client: “Scared.”

Therapist: “It’s called anxiety. Is anxiety painful?”

Client: “Yes.”

Therapist: “You are in pain most of the time. All this pain makes you angrier than you need to be. Did you take it personally when your brother knocked you off your bike?”

Client: “Wouldn’t you?”

Therapist: “Anybody would. How do you feel now when someone victimizes you, calls you a jerk, keeps you waiting twenty minutes, criticizes your performance on the job?”

Client: “Angry.”

Therapist: “How angry are you?”

Client: “Sometimes I get very angry!”

Therapist: “Do you think you might be angrier than you need to be?”

Client: “I never thought about it. I thought my anger was justified.”

Therapist: “Where does your anger come from?”

Client: “Nowhere.”

Therapist: “It seems like nowhere, but it’s been stored in your memory bank all these years. When something makes you angry in the present, it triggers this store of unresolved anger from the past. It makes you angrier than you need to be in the present. You are out of control, over the top. Your anger is in control now, not you. It overrides your adult judgment, and provokes you to say and do things you wouldn’t otherwise.”

Client: “It just comes over me so fast, I can’t stop myself!”

Therapist: “Your filled to the top with anger now. It hasn’t been relieved the right way, it’s still down there waiting to be triggered by the next unfairness, the next victimization. Like a stone in your shoe: ach step forward comes with pain! Would you like to get rid of this anger so it won’t keep bothering you for the rest of your life?”

Client: “Yes.”

Therapist: “Good! Now we can begin.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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