Inside the Criminal Mind

Understanding the dark side of human conduct

The Flawed Concept of Anger Management: Part 2

Working to eliminate anger pays dividends.

In response to my last blog concerning the flawed concept of “anger management,” I received a number of comments.  Two points that were raised are that anger is “instinctive” and that it can be useful.

I will not debate whether anger is instinctive.  In fact, I think that simply fortifies my point that anger results from fear.  The fear may come from an immediate, direct physical threat leading to the response of  “fight or flight.” However, in our daily lives anger usually results from fear that  is caused by having unrealistic expectations. Let’s take a mundane example.  You are assembling a piece of furniture.  After trying to decipher the instructions and spending what you consider an inordinately long time at the task, you are growing irritated, a mild form of anger.  You did not expect this to be such an ordeal, and you have a pressing list of other things to do.  Your irritation has resulted because the task is not conforming to your expectations. You underestimated the difficulty of the task. And perhaps you tried to accomplish this task without allotting enough time.  So, you had two erroneous expectations.  If you had told yourself that you needed to allocate double the time and undertake assembling the furniture on a day when you had little else to do, your mental state likely would have been far different. With a more relaxed attitude and more time available, you would have found the task challenging but you would not have become angry.  The fear and thus the anger arose because you were not in control; things were not going as you expected. 

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If you are angry and change your thinking, the anger dissipates.  If your thinking was realistic to begin with, then there is no anger.  Anger is not an asset in daily life.  In the example above, anger likely would interfere with our effectiveness undertaking a task.  And it might result in alienating anyone around us who now has to deal with a frustrated, irritated person.

In terms of anger being protective, I would argue that it is destructive.  If you think you are being taken advantage of, how does anger help address the perceived injustice?  There is something to “a soft answer turneth away wrath” and to “catching flies with honey instead of vinegar.”  Moreover, firmness and assertiveness are different from anger.  More often than not, anger compounds the issue being addressed.  Firmness and assertiveness help solve the problem in a constructive fashion.

 

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

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