Inside the Criminal Mind

Understanding the dark side of human conduct

"Anger Management:" A Flawed Concept

The objective should be elimination of anger, not "management"

Judges order perpetrators of domestic violence into "anger management" classes. Probation and parole officers do the same with many of their clients. The same is true of many therapists, social service professionals, and drug and alcohol counselors who come into contact with angry men and women. They do this out of concern for their clients or patients whose virulent anger destroys lives.

Unfortunately, the very concept of "anger management" is flawed. To say that one will "manage" anger is to make anger acceptable and legitimate. The message is that it is alright to be angry; one just must learn to manage it better.


Anger is a destructive emotion. Anger alienates others. Anger results in emotional, physical, and financial injury. When we are angry, we are not thinking rationally and are less effective in what we are doing. When we are angry, we sometimes surrender power to others who can decide simply not to deal with us.

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Individuals who live with perpetually angry people walk on eggshells. They never know when the person whom they are intimidated by will take offense and erupt. That is because the angry person in fact does blow up in any situation that eludes his control or threatens his fragile self-image.
At the basis of anger is fear. Think of the last time you were angry. If you stop to analyze it, fear was the source of your anger - the fear of loss of control, fear that something might not turn out as you anticipated. People whose self-image relies on controlling others are the angriest of all. Take road rage as an example. Most of us who encounter an erratic driver shrink back and try to avoid him. Although we may mutter something under our breath, we do not seek to engage with this person who is a complete stranger. The controller goes into a rage and decides to teach the other driver "a lesson." Tragedy may result.


Behavior is a product of thinking. If we change our thinking so as not to expect to control others, we are far less angry. People who are realistic about life, who deal with adversity constructively rather than by trying to control that which is beyond their control are usually calm and effective. They are not burying their anger. Realistic in their expectations of others, they adjust and make corrections when things do not go their way. This is not "anger management." They are not angry to begin with.
Programs that purport to help people with anger must teach these individuals to recognize their "errors in thinking," examine their ramifications, and teach correctives. The objective will be reducing, if not eliminating, anger rather than "managing" it.

Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.,is a clinical psychologist practicing in Alexandria, Virginia and author of Inside the Criminal Mind.

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