4 Crucial Ways Anger Management Falls Short

by Melissa Karnaze

Anger management usually advises stopping anger in its tracks.

And calming down.

So that anger doesn’t get expressed.

But what anger needs is your attention.

So that you can learn from it, and use that information to be more response able to your life.

Anger is just the messenger, signaling to you that something is not right.

That thing may be a dysfunctional belief that you have, some unrealistic expectation that is causing you a lot of pain, or a boundary violation which you have allowed and cannot bear the brunt of any more.

Anger has value

Anger is a logical response in that it alerts you of a problem that does exist; if the problem didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have gotten angry.

The problem may be:

    • External – Someone or something gives you cause for upset (e.g. your brother whacks you in the head, a Mercedes cuts you in traffic and causes you to miss the light, it starts to rain on your only day of the month to visit the beach)
    • Internal – Something you believed, allowed for, did not know, failed to respond to, etc. gives you cause for upset (e.g. you think your neighbor despises you because of the nice cars in your driveway, you keep lending money to people who don’t pay back, you don’t hear back from your best friend in ages and assume they don’t care anymore when in reality they’ve been bedridden)
    • Combinatorial — The problem is hard to identify as being solely, or at least predominantly caused by, external or internal factors. It’s a blend.

Without the signal of anger, you wouldn’t be aware of these problems. Anger acts as your information filter.

1. Anger management devalues anger

You can’t understand, let alone identify the problem that you anger is signaling, until you muster up the courage to follow the anger back to its underlying message.

Remember, emotions are underpinned by cognitive networks — thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, expectations, constructs, and yes, your logic.

When you experience a lot of anger, it doesn’t mean that your anger is the problem. Or that your anger needs to be corrected through anger management.

When you experience a lot of anger, it means that there are a lot of problems due to internal and external factors — that you need to attend to now, before the problems get further out of control.

Anger’s value is that it alerts you of problems. If you “manage” your anger instead of listening to it, you miss the message, and problems don’t get resolved.

2. Anger management is driven by anger-phobia

It’s popular belief that anger management is healthier than venting anger. That it’s better to “cool off” than to “spew out.”

This popular belief reflects a fear — of the anger itself being too intense, too violent, to irrational, or too unfounded, to be acceptable.

But when you learn how to really get in touch with your negative emotions, such as anger.

And I mean really get in touch with them…

    I’m serious here. There’s no sugar-coating, rationalizing, intellectualizing, or staying at the surface-level allowed. Only crass, crass, and more crass. Only your genuine feelings. That you get in touch with through honest, mindful, courageous emoting.

…then, you have absolutely nothing to fear, because you realize that anger is your ally.

It’s there to alert you of danger — that you need to be aware of so that you can avoid pitfalls and fix problems. Again, these problems may be externally or internally triggered.

3. Anger management irresponsibly links anger to rumination

Anger management proponents use rumination as one big reason why expressing anger — fails. They try to scare you by saying if you vent, you’re only going to exacerbate the problem. By dwelling on your anger, and ruminating for days.

What they don’t see, is that honest, mindful, courageous emoting does not lead to rumination.

It leads to mobilization.

Ruminating is repeating the same content over and over. It’s counter-productive because it keeps your perspective “stuck,” usually in helplessness or victimhood.

Actually integrating all your negative emotions and letting them blast at full force is a totally different process.

You don’t censor, you just say it how it feels, no matter how unprofessional, ugly, aggressive, or yucky it may seem. And then work with your anger constructively.

Meaning, rumination is out of the picture.

There may be profanity. Maybe yelling. Maybe punching a pillow. Maybe pushing pen onto page until it bleeds.

But once that anger is listened to, its job is done. Once it’s been heard and accepted by you — and thus validated — it doesn’t fester in your body like a deadly toxin.

Because it’s already surfaced — to your conscious awareness.

And you have no choice but to act on the information you gained from following your anger back to its cause.

You can’t go back to “not knowing” why that external or internal factor makes you upset. You can’t go back to blindly raging — because you are mindful of the “why” behind the upset.

And if you’re still raging, you know it’s because you haven’t responded optimally to the situation.

4. Anger management is not response able

Anger management is aimed at avoiding anger. Getting rid of it.

That’s based on the assumption that anger needs to be eradicated, instead of juiced.

Which is driven by the fear of anger-as-being-far-too-intense to handle.

Anger management is supposed to be the responsible thing to do. The mature, civilized, adult, loving thing to do.

But finding ways to safely and appropriately express your anger, and later on constructively work with it — is the response able thing to do.

And response ability is much more productive than responsibility.

What say you?

Do you think anger management is an outdated way to view anger? Or spot on?

How do you “manage” your anger? Or work with it?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat March 16, 2010 at 6:28 am

The articles just keep getting better and better! Yep, I did it…..I let some things slide, boundaries crossed and ignored….
What began as an internal conflict turned into small external conflicts. Then confusion set in as I warred with my feelings and gratitude. How could I feel so angry and grateful at the same time? Why was this making me so miserable. After a while the combination began to make me question myself, my emotions, my feelings and my reactions.
Then the consequence of my letting things slide; not being specific in my instructions and accepting, “Well they are doing the best they know how and that is good enough for me” came to fruition.
This not only caused me more work but frustration I didn’t understand at all. Once the big bang of negative emotions came rushing out I was horrified by my reaction. I found out the other person was clueless about what I had expected of them in the first place even though I thought I had communicated with them. I had thought ‘Oh everybody is so busy…… I’ll deal with that later’ Yeah right! That bit me in the hiney. The upside is now the other person knows exactly what I meant and should have conveyed in the first place. They also know the burden I have been under and want to help me make the situation flow easier. I apologized for unleasing on the other person and they were sympathetic to my reaction. Physically I feel freer by getting those emotions OUT OF MY BODY. There IS some residual guilt for letting go so completely though.

Pali March 16, 2010 at 9:44 am

hi Melissa George at inexces tv would like some contact details can i give you his email george@inexcess.tv has something in mind for the show ?

Melissa Karnaze March 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Pat, yeah, letting the big bang come later than sooner usually makes it more intense! That’s why it’s smarter to sweat the small stuff, than let it build up and cloud your thinking.

The gratitude part is tricky. When it’s applied too early, it’s like an injection. And confusion or internal conflicts are likely results. When it’s not rushed, but a natural by-product of working through the big bang first and responding mindfully to the situation second… then it’s far more powerful and genuine.

Glad to hear your were able to resolve the outburst with the other person. :) Don’t worry so much about the guilt. It’s HEAVY programming society slaps on early on — that you should feel dirty and ashamed of being so angry.

I look at anger this way: The more upset you let yourself be… the more committed you CAN be to protecting that which matters to you most. That’s actually a beautiful mother-bear thing. People who won’t let themselves get upset are not going to be able to protect that which matters most…

So screw the guilt — or actually, work it! The guilt is a sign you’re treading into deep territory that the rest of society is too afraid to acknowledge.

Thanks for sharing Pat. :)

Hi Pali, I can be reached through the contact form on this site, or directly through email: info[at]mindfulconstruct[dot]com.

WN March 18, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Yeah, I think I know what’s going on with me and it’s all hitting me pretty hard. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Borderline Personality Disorder, but it might be something you wanna cover in the future. It’s basically the inability to use the portion of the brain that regulates mood. Now, I think even you, Melissa, would agree that humans should be equipped with the ability to regulate emotions should the need come up, like say while driving or when trying to focus all your energy on meeting a deadline, or–you could think of other instances. Raising a child.

People with BPD can’t do this. And it can cause a lot of pain to those around them, including themselves. These people commonly lash out at themselves in the form of cutting or suicide attempts.

The book “Stop Walking on Eggshells” gave me a pretty good heads-up to what this condition is, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Evidently, BPD is not widely accepted or often diagnosed–frequently misdiagnosed.

I don’t think I have a phobia of anger any more than the common person does. But when someone’s anger is way out of proportion from what they’re reacting to, I think it’s totally ridiculous. And if this is a chronic problem, and this person’s relationships are failing because of it–this is a disorder.

“Stop Walking On Eggshells” advises non-BPD’s to use the usual boundary-setting tools and such that you’d get anywhere. Basically, it just lays out how to get along with difficult, high-conflict people. And things like, Don’t take it personally, and Know that they’re not manipulating you even though it appears as manipulation, and Find time for yourself, Focus on your own needs, etc.

Sound advice, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. How can I not take things personally when my boundaries are constantly being trampled, in EPIC ways!? How can I pretend that I’m not being manipulated? How can I focus on my own needs when virtually all my attention and energy is going to this person?

These are rhetorical questions that I don’t expect you to know the answers to, and not really on subject with this article, but I’d love to know what a Cog-Sci Expert has to say.

*btw, I started a blog… not where I’d like it to be at the moment, but I’m iterating whenever I get the chance. Thank you so much for inspiring me to do this, Melissa! Really, thank you :)

Melissa Karnaze March 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

WN, first of all, so happy to see your new blog! Write on! Subscribed. ;)

Secondly, I’ve only briefly read about BPD for an Abnormal Pysch online course I took after college. And, while I studied cogsci in college, my views and conclusions aren’t traditional.

For instance, when explaining mental health disorders, the DSM (and the general scientific community) places too much emphasis on the determinism of genes (and imbalanced brain chemicals) and largely ignores the huge component of neuroplasticity. Humans are extremely vulnerable in their first years of development, yet science isn’t well situated (right now at least) to look at what developmental factors co-create a lot of these behavioral disorders. Without getting off-topic, I think this is a huge reason why mental health is largely about treating symptoms, not solving and preventing problems.

Now, I think even you, Melissa, would agree that humans should be equipped with the ability to regulate emotions should the need come up, like say while driving or when trying to focus all your energy on meeting a deadline, or–you could think of other instances. Raising a child.

Yes, I agree. There are certain situations where certain emotional expressions to certain degrees are inappropriate and/or unsafe. Those aren’t as common as day-to-day situations, whereby most people think anger is still inappropriate.

I don’t think I have a phobia of anger any more than the common person does. But when someone’s anger is way out of proportion from what they’re reacting to, I think it’s totally ridiculous. And if this is a chronic problem, and this person’s relationships are failing because of it–this is a disorder.

I would too. But then, I would wonder, now what happened for it get to out of proportion? Yes, it could be due to genetic factors. Or, it could be due in part to behavior conditioning, likely starting from an early age. And I think this relates not only to BDP, but individuals who are told by professionals they need anger management. My personal bias is that before subscribing cool-off techniques, figure out *why* the person is perceiving threats out of proportion, and go from there. However, this can’t be started unless the person *wants* to do this, and sees it as a *problem* they *want* to work on.

“Stop Walking On Eggshells” advises non-BPD’s… Don’t take it personally, and Know that they’re not manipulating you even though it appears as manipulation, and Find time for yourself, Focus on your own needs, etc.

Sound advice, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. How can I not take things personally when my boundaries are constantly being trampled, in EPIC ways!? How can I pretend that I’m not being manipulated? How can I focus on my own needs when virtually all my attention and energy is going to this person?

The short answer you’ll get from me is: you can’t. Unless you work through taking it personally and feeling manipulated, first. And find some way to be okay with it despite your initial emotional reaction. It takes a lot of patience to interact closely and long-term with someone who’s constantly pushing your boundaries, and then to balance that with what you’re *really* feeling… it gets very complicated.

I think what it comes down to is figuring out what you are really responsible for, and what you want to be responsible for. You can’t be responsible for fixing another person’s emotional problems, especially when they don’t want to or don’t believe they need to be fixed. Codependent behavior is trying to fix (so that you can finally be happy) or sticking around in hopes of doing so in the future. Which means choosing to be closely linked to a person who is damaging to your well-being — regardless of the legitimacy of their reasons for behaving so.

It’s a bit difficult for me to offer more of an opinion, because I know very little about BDP and disagree with many of the assumptions DSM makes to define mental-emotional disorders. But I’ll let you know if I come across anything.

WN March 23, 2010 at 8:33 am

Melissa,

It’s very comforting to hear your thoughts on this–thank you.

Yeah, I do see now that the way we label disorders is basically labeling the symptoms, and trying to figure out ways to make the symptom cease–whether it’s through the use of drugs or therapy or just time or who knows what other forms of treatment work that we haven’t discovered yet.

I think the best think that we’ve got so far is talking about things that we don’t want to talk about, face, own up to, etc. — in a safe place, with a safe (preferably professional) person. In this way we’re going to be able to realize, re-cognize, the things in our past that are causing us to act in ways that are damaging.

Another realization for me is that disorders are always measured against the ideal. Well, then we’re all just a little fucked up then, aren’t we? :)

I don’t know if the person in my life would be diagnosed with BPD if she were to see a professional, and I don’t know if it would even help if the label were made conscious to her. Too much stuff out there paints a grim picture about the “disorder” to the point where it may lead a person down a cyclical path of further inner turmoil and guilt. Labels may only be useful for the practitioner, not the patient.

The more I read about BPD the more I see my own mom and my partner’s mom. And the males in my life all seem to display varying degrees of codependency. It’s a whole ‘nother world once you start to identify these things in your life. It’s not necessarily depressing–just a trip–a trip that we all walk around with… something.

But at the end of the day we get by.

Bringing these issues to the fore is crucial to living a freer life, setting healthier boundaries, standing up for yourself, making a happier home.

All is possible with neuroplasticity! You need to start a new self-help movement: The Law of Neuroplasticity or The Power of Neuroplasticity. :D Seriously, that’s such a key concept that people aren’t aware of. Popular opinion is: people don’t ever change.

Thank you, Melissa, for this safe place.

Melissa Karnaze March 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Another realization for me is that disorders are always measured against the ideal. Well, then we’re all just a little fucked up then, aren’t we? :)

My short answer is yes. :) Even with a “perfect” childhood, unexpected and painful stuff does happen in life. All we can do is respond, in one way or another.

It’s a whole ‘nother world once you start to identify these things in your life. It’s not necessarily depressing–just a trip–a trip that we all walk around with… something.

Indeed. These types of patterns are severely overlooked in mainstream mental health. (It’s much easier to blame things on brain chemical imbalances.)

But once you see the patterns, there’s no going back. And all of a sudden you can see so many more choices before you.

And what’s often overlooked, is the power of communicating the patterns that you see — to your partner or others in your life. When you express your emotions in a way that doesn’t put them on the defensive, it *can* (depending on the circumstance and person of course) disarm them. Which is totally different from being accused of being wrong, or being labeled with a disorder.

All is possible with neuroplasticity! You need to start a new self-help movement: The Law of Neuroplasticity or The Power of Neuroplasticity. :D Seriously, that’s such a key concept that people aren’t aware of. Popular opinion is: people don’t ever change.

I thought that’s what we’re doing here! ;)

Actually, neuroplasticity is a popular new niche in self-help books. Unfortunately, some of that piggy backs on dysfunctional uses of the Law of Attraction, but the term’s getting out there. :D

Thank you, Melissa, for this safe place.

Thank you WN for helping to keep this place safe. :)

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