When a Loved One Explodes from Anger

This is one of the most recent articles by Dr. Rifkin, published in Going Bonkers Magazine.

The sound the computer made crashing into the wall was really loud. Sarah jumped out of the chair where she was sitting and reading a magazine. Her husband, Joseph, had just thrown his new computer across the room, causing it to put a hole in the wall and sending shards of plastic and hardware flying. Sarah's heart was racing. She had only asked him to go and check on their sons who were upstairs playing video games.
Yes, Joseph had been stressed lately with job pressures, but she hadn't said or done anything to upset him. She started to ask him what was wrong, but Joseph stormed out of the house. What would make Joseph explode with such anger?

Understanding Anger
Everyone has anger, whether they admit it or not. Anger is energy that develops in response to the injuries that we experience in daily living. When used effectively, it's expressed as healthy, assertive behavior. Despite its explosive bad rap, anger is an important and healthy emotion.

To understand anger, we must first begin with understanding the place anger holds in the context of our emotions. Emotions are electro-biochemical reactions that take place in our bodies and provide us with the information and energy we need in order to take care of ourselves, as we navigate and survive the world around us.

For example, after an emotional, physical or psychological injury, your body generates energy (anger) as a way to attend to or fix the injury. Likewise, it may produce fear, as a defense against being injured again, or sadness, as a way to grieve or mourn the injury.

Explosive Anger
People who explode with anger can hurt themselves and others. They use their anger energy to break things, or yell, or act in irrational and harmful ways. Sometimes, really intense angry explosions are caused by an underlying mood disorder, like major depression or bipolar mood disorder.

Major Depression
Major depression (or unipolar depression) is very common, and can be recognized by having at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:
1. Depressed mood nearly every day, most of the day.
2. Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities.
3. Significant gain or loss of weight.
4. Being physically agitated or lethargic.
5. Being tired or not having enoughenergy.
6. Sleeping too little or too much.
7. Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt.
8. Inability to concentrate effectively.
9. Recurrent thoughts of death and/or suicide.
10. The severity of the major depression is related to how many symptoms the person has and how long it has been going on. Depression can be single episodes or a hronic condition.

Bipolar Disorder
In bipolar disorder there has been a history of both major depression and also some indication of a manic or hypomanic episode. One of the ways you can tell if someone is experiencing some level of mania is by noticing if they have an irritable, elevated or expansive mood for at least a week. During that time, they will have three or four of the following symptoms:
1. An inflated sense of self.
2. A markedly decreased need for sleep.
3. Being unusually talkative and hard to stop.
4. Racing thoughts or extremely loose connections in their thoughts.
5. Becoming highly distractible.
6. A significant and sudden increase in achieving goals or intense physical agitation.
7. Impulsive pursuit of pleasure without regard for the consequences of their behavior.
People who are suffering from bipolar mood disorder may have very intense and frequent fluctuations in mood. This condition can wear on them, and be part
of the injury that they experience.

Passive-Aggressive Disorder
A third common cause of explosive anger, beyond normal life stresses and injuries, is from difficult relationship dynamics. The most common of those is what I call a Passive-Aggressive/ Hostile/Dependent Relationship. In these relationships, one of the partners expresses their anger though passive aggression.

Passive-aggressive behavior is anger that is expressed, for example, by not doing something you agreed to do. This tends to draw anger at them from their partner. Since all relationships are based on agreements, passive-aggressive anger tends to break down and destroy relationships. The passive aggressive partner in a relationship may frequently ask, in a very pained tone,
"Why are you so angry all the time?"

Sarah and Joseph's story, continued…
While Joseph was obviously the angry, explosive partner, Sarah, appearing innocent as she quietly read her magazine, was the angry, passive-aggressive partner.

Joseph was stressed out with work and needed to work much of the evening to get a report out that was due in the morning. He had told Sarah this and was expecting that she would tend to the boys. Sarah had a pattern of not listening when Joseph would complain about his stresses at work. He had been so stressed for so long that she simply got tired of listening to him complain.

After crashing his computer against the wall, Joseph had cooled off by taking a walk around the neighborhood. Upon his return, Sarah approached him with disbelief. She genuinely wanted to know what was wrong and why Joseph had gotten so upset. When he explained that she hadn't seemed to hear his needs and concerns, Sarah got defensive and Joseph started to get angry again. Sarah told him that if he was wrecking the computer, he obviously had a serious problem with anger. She thought he should talk to a therapist and get help with anger management. Joseph couldn't deny that he needed help with his anger, since all Sarah needed to do was to point to the hole in the wall as proof. If he was exploding with such dynamic force, clearly he needed help. Joseph went to meet with Dr. Jones.

After completing a thorough history of Joseph, Dr. Jones uncovered his distant and demanding parents, who expected him to be the best in his class at school, yet were unavailable for any real emotional closeness or support. Dr. Jones also was able to rule out major depression or bipolar disorder as preliminary diagnoses. This led her to ask more about the nature of Joseph's marriage to Sarah, to see if she could discover the injury that had led to his explosive outburst.

She asked Joseph to invite Sarah to come in. Dr. Jones discovered that Sarah had
grown up as the only child of two alcoholic parents who had divorced when she was seven. She had lived with her mother through high school, always keeping her distance from her parents who were frequently drunk and easily angered. Sarah had learned not to need much or to give much emotionally, and to make her self scarce at home. Dr. Jones asked Sarah to begin to look at how the emotional dynamics from her childhood family had played out in her current family and marriage. Sarah could see that she had a history of maintaining emotional distance, and how she had been passive-aggressive in her marriage. However, Sarah still blamed Joseph for acting out his anger. Dr. Jones agreed that what Joseph had done was destructive and unacceptable. She made it clear to Sarah that she intended to continue to work with Joseph on learning to express his emotions to Sarah before they became explosive. But she wanted Sarah to understand that, in order for him to be able to make the changes he needed to make, Sarah would have to make changes as well, in regards to her passive-aggression and emotional withdrawal from their marriage.

Over the course of the next year, Sarah and Joseph continued to work towards an acceptance of each others' feelings, and towards becoming more responsible in understanding, owning, and expressing their own emotions in healthy ways.

Whether angry explosions are the result of major depression, bipolar disorder,
passive-aggressive/hostile dependent relationships or other life injuries, it's
important to remember that behind every explosion of anger is an injury. It's that injury that needs to be uncovered, acknowledged, and addressed.

Undoing Depression

This is an article that was featured in the magazine "Going Bonkers"

What You Need to Know

By Dr. John R. Rifkin

Life is intrinsically hard, which means we all get injured during the process, in one way or another. “Life” injuries often cause anger, and anger turned inward, leads to depression.

Depression, known by therapists as major depressive disorder, is a problem for many people. Statistically, about one in six people will experience a major depression over the course of their lives, though many people believe that the incidence is much higher. The first step in undoing depression is to understand what it is, how it can affect you, and what causes it.

Depression has no single cause, and often results from a combination of things. You may have no idea why you or your family member are experiencing depression.

Whatever its cause, depression is not just a state of mind. Depression is related to physical changes in the brain, and connected to an imbalance of a type of chemical that carries signals in your brain and nerves.

Your brain is a giant messaging system that controls everything from your heartbeat, to walking, to your emotions. It's made up of billions of nerve cells called neurons. These neurons send and receive messages from the rest of your body, using brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals, in varying amounts, are responsible for our emotional state. Depression happens when these chemical messages are not delivered correctly between brain
cells, disrupting communication.

So why isn't your brain delivering your chemical message correctly?
Some of the more common factors involved in depression are:

Trauma and stress. We all know the effects that chronic stress and trauma can have on your physical health. Stress can cause physical changes in your body, including your brain, causing depression. Issues like financial problems, the breakup of a relationship, or the death of a loved one can bring on depression. You can become depressed after changes in your life, like starting a new job, graduating from school, or getting married.

Family history. Genetics play an important part in depression. It can run in families for generations.

Pessimistic personality. People who have low self-esteem and a negative outlook are at higher risk of becoming depressed. These traits may actually be caused by low-level depression (called dysthymia).

Physical conditions. Serious medical conditions like heart disease, cancer, and HIV can contribute to depression, partly because of the physical weakness and stress they bring on. Depression can make medical conditions worse, since it weakens the immune system and can make pain harder to bear. In some cases, depression can be caused by medications used to treat medical conditions.

Other psychological disorders.

Anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and (especially) substance abuse often appear along with depression.

Depression can severely disrupt your life, affecting your appetite, sleep, work, and relationships. Some people say that depression feels like a black curtain of despair coming down over their lives. Many people feel like they have no energy and can't concentrate. Others feel irritable all the time for no apparent reason. The symptoms vary from person to person, but if you feel “down” for more than two weeks, and
these feelings are interfering with your daily life, you may be clinically

The symptoms that identify depression may include:

Constant feelings of sadness, irritability, or tension

Decreased interest or pleasure in usual activities or hobbies

Loss of energy, feeling tired despite lack of activity

A change in appetite, with significant weight loss or weight gain

Achange in sleeping patterns, such as difficulty sleeping, early morning
awakening, or sleeping too much

Restlessness or feeling slowed down Decreased ability to make decisions
or concentrate

Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt

Thoughts of suicide or death

The good news is that depression is very treatable. Most patients, even those with severe depression, show improvement after they seek treatment. Your doctor will prescribe treatment based on the pattern of your depression, its severity, persistence of symptoms, and your history. While it is true that some instances of major depression may go away without any treatment, the risks of not treating outweigh the risks of treatment. Treatments may include psychotherapy, medication or both.

Understanding Anger
Some therapists define depression as anger that gets turned inward, against your self, combined with a feeling of hopelessness and/or helplessness. Most psychotherapy, therefore, is focused on helping people reconnect with their anger and turn it out of depression and into the two healthy uses of anger: self-nurturance or empowerment. This is what I call “unbending anger.” In order to “unbend” your anger, you must first be able to realize when you are angry. Part of what makes this difficult is that most of us think of anger as simply yelling and screaming, throwing things or breaking things. This is aggressive behavior, not anger. Anger is actually a secondary emotion, one of three secondary emotions, that follow a pain or injury. The other two secondary emotions are sadness and fear.

The other reality about anger is that it is energy -- energy that is actually
meant to fix what is hurting us. Learning to turn your anger outward, into healthy energy, is an important step in undoing depression. A therapist can help you learn how to do this.

Stop, Drop and Roll

No, this isn't a fire drill. In addition to the ongoing support that a client receives from their therapist, the therapist also supplies tools, or methods the client can use to help them combat their feelings of helplessness. The tool that I like to use for helping the client “unbend" their anger is what I call “Stop, Drop and Roll.”

“Stop, Drop and Roll” is a form of a cognitive behavioral therapy that is focused on helping the client to identify their dysfunctional use of their angry feelings and begin to utilize that energy for self-nurturing and empowerment. Before you can remember to "Stop, Drop and Roll", you must notice you are on fire. Negative thoughts create an internal fire, so notice when you have them.

Stop. Stop the thoughts as soon as you notice them.

Drop. Get grounded and figure out what the anger is all about, really. Roll. Roll forward and make a plan about how and where you can put the energy of the anger you are feeling.

Let's look at the example of Dora to help clarify how to work out of depressive thoughts and behaviors. Dora came to me as a 27 year old single woman who was suffering from a moderate level of Major Depression. She was the youngest of five daughters, and grew up in a family that was not very warm or emotionally expressive. Her belief was that her father, who was distant and involved in his work to the exclusion of his family, really wanted a son, and was disappointed with her being a female after so many failed attempts. That was her belief about herself: she was simply another failed attempt.

Dora had recently experienced the breakup and rejection of a relationship she'd had for three months with a boyfriend and, in spite of being very bright and having graduated from college, she was working at a job she didn't enjoy. What precipitated her coming in for therapy was that her supervisor had found her crying at work and sent her to the company's employee assistance program. They had discovered that she had been having suicidal thoughts and had referred her for psychotherapy. After clarifying her diagnosis and referring her to a psychiatrist for anti-depressant medication, we began to focus on trying to discover what Dora's depression, and her underlying anger and injury, was all about. We began to investigate how she was abusing herself in her own thoughts.

Dora was caught in the web of low self-esteem, constantly telling herself that she was unattractive, unintelligent and generally worthless. She believed that nothing would ever work out for her, and that she was doomed to an unfulfilling life. Once we identified these negative and self-destructive thoughts as problematic, we began to use "Stop, Drop and Roll" to intervene.These negative thoughts were examples of how she was catching on fire, and we agreed that she would begin to notice these thoughts.

Once she was able to notice these self-abusive thoughts, we worked to help her begin to intervene by stopping the thoughts when she noticed them. This was the "Stop" step. At the same time, we worked to help her begin to use the “Drop” step, to get grounded and begin to understand where the anger that she was turning inward, was coming from. She discovered that some of her anger was related to the real, here and now injuries of being rejected by her boyfriend. Some of her anger related to feeling stuck in the unfulfilling clerical job she had to go to day after day. As we explored her family of origin, she began to realize that she never felt that she had received the attention and appreciation from her father that she needed. She never felt valuable or appreciated. Old injuries had produced anger in her that she was
unaware of, and that she had been directing against herself.

It helped Dora to understand her depression. She also was helped by the impact of her anti-depressant medication, which continued to help improve her mood and functioning over the course of the first two months of treatment. She began to understand the emotional dynamics that had contributed to her mood sinking so low.

Once she understood the dynamics of her depression, she was more ready to begin the "Roll," or action step in completing the "unbending" of her anger. She began to have plans about how and where to put the energy of anger that had been previously fueling
her depression.

In terms of diverting that energy into self-nurturing, she began an exercise program that included running in the evenings. She felt that she didn't have the money to afford an exercise club, but she was able to begin to gradually work herself into running and getting into better physical shape. An added bonus from this process was that the exercise produced endorphins in her brain, which also have a natural antidepressant impact. She also began to treat herself to luxurious baths after her
runs. These self-nurturing activities were used to intervene in her previous
behaviors of ruminating about all the bad things that had occurred in her life.
Dora also began to work into more empowerment, or acting on the world so that the world would nurture her more effectively. One of the goal activities was to become more social, and eventually she decided to join both a running club and a hiking club.

Through these behaviors, she began to make more friends and to have a greater social support. She also decided that she wanted to have a better job, and began to look for
alternatives in the newspaper and within the company for which she worked. When nothing materialized right away, she decided to look into going back to school and getting a Masters degree.

At the end of treatment, which took most of a year, Dora was not depressed. She continued on her antidepressant medication for another year, which is the usual course of treatment, to insure that her depression did not return. She also continued occasional psychotherapy meetings during that year. Eventually she felt ready and was able to successfully withdraw from her medication without any relapse into depression.

Dora's successful case is a good example of how most cases of major depression respond to appropriate treatment. The tragedies that you read about are usually because the person did not find help or did not find it soon enough. Almost all kinds of depression are treatable with medication and/or psychotherapy. Even after you've learned that you have depression and sought treatment for it, you may not feel better immediately. Depression can be frustrating, because recovering from it takes time. While you do have to be patient, there are still some steps you can take now to help yourself feel better.

Every day can feel like a struggle when you're depressed. Medical care and therapy are the most important steps to recovery. But there are other things you can do to help yourself undo depression:
Realize that nothing comes out of the blue. Your depressed state has a root cause. Examine past troubling events or situations in your life, and talk to a therapist about them.

Feel Your Feelings. Depression is the suppression of feelings. Acknowledging those feelings often causes depression to improve. Recognize early signs. It's important to recognize and treat depression as early as possible, which decreases your risk of becoming depressed again. If you pretend the problem isn't there, it's probably going to get worse. Watch for the types of events that contributed to depression in the past, and be alert for early symptoms.

Set realistic goals. You may feel overwhelmed by everything you "should" be doing at home or at work. Try not to be hard on yourself. Remember that depression is an illness and that you can't force yourself out of it. Focus on small, realistic goals to ease yourself back into your work and family routine.

Do what you enjoy. Even if you don't really feel like it, set aside time to do things that you like. Get together with friends. Take a walk. Go to the movies. Take up a hobby that you set aside years ago.

Hold off on big decisions.
Since depression can color your outlook on everything, it's best to avoid making
any big decisions; quitting a job or moving, for instance, until you feel better.
Establish priorities. Direct your energies into what's most important to you.

Take responsibility ONLY for your actions. Depressed people often
feel guilty about things that they have no responsibility for (like the death of a
parent or the divorce of their parents).

Be generous. Helping others puts your own situation into perspective. Cultivate intimacy. Let down your defenses so people can see and accept you as you are. During depression, people often feel disgusted with
their true selves, and hide that self from everyone. Stop hiding and be happy
with who you are.

Gain Perspective. During this time, you may be overly critical and pessimistic. Seeing things in the proper perspective can heal a lot of inappropriate pain.

Getting Support. Even though millions of people are coping with depression right now, it's a medical condition that can make you feel completely alone. One way that some have found helpful to work through this feeling is to join a support group. Whether they meet in person or online, support groups offer a place to talk about depression where people can help each other. Keep in mind that support groups are not a substitute for therapy or medical care. They are also different from group therapy, since they aren't led by a professional.

Avoid alcohol. Although you might think it will help you feel better, alcohol can make your depression worse. Depressed people are at special risk of developing substance abuse problems, and alcohol interacts with many antidepressants.

Exercise. There's more and more evidence that exercise helps with mild to moderate depression. When you're considering an exercise plan, don't be too ambitious. Find an activity that you like, start slowly, and work up to exercising three times a week or more for 20 to 30 minutes.

When your loved ones are depressed, they're not the only ones who suffer. Typically, many of those around a depressed person; friends, family, and loved ones, also struggle with the effects of his or her condition.

Watching someone you love
fight depression can be frustrating and frightening. Remember, you can't take responsibility for someone else, and the decision to get help is up to the person
with depression. But, there are things you can do. For many people with depression, a friend or loved one who cares can be their most important resource.

What can you do? Learn about depression. Educate yourself on the causes, symptoms and
treatments. Knowing about the condition will help you better understand what a depressed person is going through.

Do what you can to make sure that a person with depression gets medical care. Encourage your friend or loved one to stick with his or her therapy or medication. Offer to go with him or her to appointments as support. Be supportive and patient. Listen to what the depressed person has to say. Without being pushy, encourage your friend or loved one to do the things that he or she used to enjoy. See friends. Go to the movies. Take a walk.

If someone you know is thinking about suicide, don't ignore it. Do whatever you can to get help for that person. Get in touch with his or her doctor or therapist.

Helping a person with depression can be exhausting and overwhelming. Here are some things to keep in mind that can help both of you: Try to get other people involved in helping a person who's depressed, since doing it on your own can be difficult.

People with depression often resist attempts to be helped. It's okay to feel angry and frustrated, but don't confuse the person you love with the illness. Depression isn't anyone's fault. It is not possible to “snap out” of depression. No matter how overwhelmed you feel, take time for yourself.

What You Should Know About Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, technically, is anything that a psychotherapist does in their office with clients. In reality, there is a great deal more to what psychotherapy is and what it is all about.

In contrast to what Managed Care has tried to tell clients for many years, it is not only for people who are extremely sick or for the "worried well." Most people can benefit from taking a look at themselves and the various difficulties which we all experience in our lives.

A good psychotherapist will help you to quickly sort out what types of difficulty you are having in your life and whether these problems are amenable to short or long term treatment. There are various techniques and clinical tools that therapists use, from hypnosis to EMDR to cognitive behavioral therapies to experiential therapies.

In short term treatment, specific, here and now problematic thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors are targeted and begun to be addressed by making them conscious and working directly to make changes. Frequently, even if these are very current problems, the therapist will want to know about your family history and any other dynamics which have impacted you significantly. These issues tend to be addressed more intensively in long term therapy.

Regardless of what type of treatment you think you may want or need, it is important for you to find a therapist with whom you can relate. In order to develop a trusting relationship with a therapist, they should be licensed or supervised by someone who is licensed. It is also important to talk with a potential therapist to see if their rationale or approach to therapy makes sense to you. If you are hiring someone to help you make sense of your life, you want to know that they make sense and have competency of their own.

While it may be obvious if you are having severe problems that it makes sense to seek help, many people do not. There is still a stigma in our society that frequently prevents people in need from seeking help. Also, those who aren't in severe need should realize that they don't need to wait until they are miserable to ask for help.

While most people will find a substantial improvement within three to six months of treatment, the more childhood damage and the more serious your diagnosis, the longer the length of treatment is likely to be. For some people suffering from chronic problems, ongoing treatment may be required to help them remain stable.

In general, research shows that most people make significant improvements in their lives and their functioning when they work with a clinician who is trained, experienced and empathic.

Anger Styles: Healthy Assertive Behavior

Assertive behavior is the use of anger to take care of yourself interpersonally. It's the part of the anger spectrum that is used most frequently. As a style, it is the healthiest. While there are appropriate times to be aggressive and to be passive-aggressive, in the normal course of social interaction, assertive behavior will usually serve best. There are three parts to being assertive. The first is that assertive behavior requires that you know what you are feeling. If you are not in touch with what you feel, it becomes very difficult to try and meet your needs. An example of this would be that if you don't know you are hungry, you won't seek food. While being in touch with feelings may seem simple, and is basic, many people have been trained by their family of origin to ignore their own emotions.

The second part of being assertive is to know that your feelings are ok by definition. That means that you don't have to defend what you feel, to yourself, or anyone else. You do have to accept them. Once you accept your emotions, you can figure out what you want to do about them.

The final piece in assertive behavior is to know that you have a right to express you feelings. That is different than having to express your emotions. Once you know that you have a right to make your feelings heard, you still have to decide when and where it takes care of you to express them. Some people aren't likely to honor the emotions that you might share with them. These people do not deserve to know what you are feeling, since that is intimate emotional information. We only share these feelings when we believe that there is a likelihood of having them accepted and taken into account.

If you have an assertive anger style, you may be wondering when it is appropriate to be aggressive and/or passive-aggressive. Aggressive behavior is appropriate in competitive sporting contexts, or when you are facing a situation where it is required to defend yourself or one of your loved ones in the face of some physical threat. Generally speaking, it's not appropriate to initiate threatening someone else. Passive-aggressive behavior is appropriate in getting rid of unwanted attention, positive or negative. Ignoring someone who is attempting to get your attention. It is also appropriate to use in specific ways when you are working for a problematic boss. You may choose to not respond to a boss who's behaving inappropriately. This way you get to avoid a confrontation that could threaten your livelihood, while maintaining your integrity.

It's great to have an assertive anger style. Remember you have a full spectrum of responses available to you.

Redefining Anger and Its Role in Psychotherapy

The emotion of anger has suffered from a bad reputation, probably forever. This is a result of the fact that people who hurt other people are often angry, and no one wants to get hurt. While there has been extensive research on the difficulties that anger can cause, recently more research has been done on the beneficial aspects of releasing anger in ways that are constructive. Unfortunately, anger is all too often treated as a dysfunction.

It certainly can be. If anger is constantly repressed, it can become explosive. When that happens, it certainly is problematic. However, anger is also central to the clinical definition of depression: anger turned against the self, combined with a sense of helplessness or hopelessness. It also plays a significant role in anxiety as seen through the paranoid projection of anger onto the world, making the world look more dangerous than it is in reality. In relationships, conflicts involving anger are the central piece of devolution.

I believe that much of the difficulty that we have in dealing with anger results from not having a good understanding of what anger is and how it needs to be utilized for a healthy psychological functioning. As with all emotions, anger actually make sense if you accept it and then try to understand what it is all about. This is because, while emotions are non-rational, they do make sense. There is always a reason why they appear.

If we define anger in a non-pejorative manner, we can look rationally at how its energy needs to be utilized appropriately to generate a high level of functionality. All problems begin with an experience of injury and pain, the primary negative emotion. Following injury, there are three secondary emotions. Sadness is a grieving of the injury, energy meant to validate and honor the experience. Fear is defensive energy the body generates to avoid further injury. Anger is the natural, healing energy that the body generates to attend to the injury.

Additionally, there is a spectrum of angry behaviors from which people choose. At the "hot" end of the spectrum is what we think of as aggressive behavior, which can be destructive. In the middle is assertive behavior. The "cold" end is passive-aggressive behavior, which can be just as destructive as aggressive behavior. There is a time and place where any of the behaviors on the anger spectrum may be functional and other times where the same behavior can become dysfunctional.

Unfortunately, there is a double bind people learn about anger when it is defined pejoratively as only "hot" end of the spectrum. The double bind is you can either express your anger as "hot" behavior and suffer rejection or not express your anger and not get the underlying injury attended to. The double bind can only be broken by finding functional uses for the energy of anger.

*In terms of treatment, the job of the therapist is to help clients to become more aware of their injuries and their secondary emotions, especially their anger. We also have to help clients to learn how to make good decisions about how to use the energy that their emotions generate. Anger, when defined with acceptance, becomes energy that is meant to be used to attend to your injuries. That means using it for either power or self-nurturance. Power is when anger is used to act on the world so that the world takes care of you. Self-nurturance implies acting directly to take care of your self.

Understanding and utilizing the client's injuries and resulting anger can help inform the treatment process. Once you have identified and accepted the anger that is there and helped the client to do so as well, it becomes a process of working on finding appropriate behaviors for the client in terms of transitioning the angry energy into self-nurturance and/or empowerment.

Anger and Good Parenting

Good parenting is composed of many things, and it is a challenging undertaking. This is especially true since there are no perfect parents. The best parents are the ones who are at least concerned with trying to be as good as they can.

Bad parenting is easier to define. Whenever we parent our children out of a place of emotional injury we are being bad parents. The reason for this is that when we are in a place of emotional injury, we need to be taken care of ourselves. We are, in effect, asking our children to take care of us. This is a reversal of the parent/child relationship, where the parent is available to take care of the child.

When this happens, we are eliciting a split that takes place in the child. There is an aspect of the child that knows that its parents, giants who have the power of life and death over them, that responds by taking care of their parent, so that they can survive. This is done out of fear. Simultaneously, there is another aspect of the child that knows intuitively that this is a reversal of the parent/child relationship, and is angry. This angry aspect feels rebellious. Whichever aspect becomes dominant, they are both likely present to some degree.

Parenting, even more so than life before parenting, is filled with injury. Children are dependent, and dependency is difficult to deal with. They start out completely and overwhelmingly dependent, and gradually gain more independence as they grow. As a result of all of the injuries that parents experience, from sleep deprivation to financial demands to the struggles of adolescence, parents also experience anger. Frequently the injuries intrinsic in parenting are compounded by the parents' own childhoods. Since there are no perfect parents, no one escapes childhood unscathed. It's only a question of how much damage you receive. When your own parents have been especially difficult, its inevitable that you may have some resentment for your own children, especially if you are making their lives better than your own was.

Injuries to parents, and, therefore, anger, are inevitable. The question becomes one of how to protect your children from your difficult feelings, given that you won't be perfect at trying to do this. It certainly helps if you made a conscious decision to have children, and didn't feel trapped into it or stuck with it.

One obvious piece is to try and give them as much positive love and caring as you can. Also, try and say "No!" to them as little as possible. That means it will only seem like you are saying it most of the time. Additionally, you'll need to be paying a lot of attention to your own emotional state when you're around them. If you notice that you're feeling injured, angry, or scared, then you have a chance to intervene and protect them from your own emotional needs.

It's a tremendously challenging yet rewarding experience. Good luck, and remember, when you do mess up and act out your own feelings, it's important to come back later and apologize!

Expressing Anger

Most people don't think about anger when they swat a mosquito. Most people wouldn't think that calling a friend when they are lonely or needing company as a use of their anger. They wouldn't consider that looking for a new job when they are unhappy with their current job as being an act of power. And how many people think that taking a bath to relax when they are stressed out is an angry behavior? All of these behaviors, and countless others, which seem innocuous, are actually effective expressions of anger when you look at anger as being the energy your body generates to fix what is hurting you. When you use that energy to act on the world, so that the world brings you the nurturing that you need, that is using the anger for personal power. When you use it directly to nurture yourself, that is self-nurturance. Either way, these are functional ways of expressing anger.

Most people think that expressing anger means yelling at someone, threatening them, or actually performing some violent act. While these kinds of behaviors are certainly angry behaviors, the reality is that anger is really much bigger than that. There is a spectrum to anger that ranges from the aggressive, red hot end which we normally associate with anger, through the middle part of what we consider to be healthy, assertive behavior, and moving eventually into the cold end of the spectrum. This cold end of the spectrum is called passive-aggressive behavior. It's called this because cold anger is actually expressed by not doing things that we've agreed to do. This kind of angry behavior actually draws the anger of others towards us. It's very important to be aware of your anger. If you aren't aware of it, it will likely go into some dysfunction expression. That can mean inappropriately explosive anger, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc.

If you are aware of your anger, you have the chance to choose how to express it. You may use it directly to address the injury that is hurting you. You have to make decisions about the appropriate use of your anger in any particular situation. There are times to be aggressive or passive-aggressive; however, usually the appropriate choice will be some assertive behavior.

There are also times when you can't use the anger to directly address what is hurting you. A possible example of this would be when you have a bad boss at work, but you still need the job. There may be many indirect things you can do with your anger to take care of yourself in a situation like this, but you may also want to direct it for self-nurturance. That might mean taking a bike ride and using the angry energy to crank up a hill you haven't climbed before. Whatever you choose to do with the energy of your anger, you want to make sure it is working to make your life better!

Living with Aggressively Angry People

Living with Aggressively Angry People The most important consideration in living with someone who is aggressively angry is safety. You need to be able to feel safe in your home. If the person you are living with has a tendency to be aggressive in ways that are threatening, you need to set clear boundaries about these behaviors. If those boundaries are broken, you need to call the police. It is important to note that calling the police is a significant intervention. I do NOT recommend doing this as a threat, doing it to have the upper hand, doing it to embarrass the person or doing it as payback. If you call the police, it will have serious consequences. It is likely someone will be arrested and go to jail. There will likely be significant financial and legal complications. It is frequently the beginning of the end (or the end of the end) of a relationship. However, if your safety is truly in jeopardy, do not hesitate!

Living with angry people is difficult. Since all of us are angry in some way, this means that relationships are usually difficult. The reason I mention this here is to emphasize the importance of getting away from blaming the person who is aggressively angry. The reality is that they are in a great deal of pain, and need help to deal with their pain and their anger as well.

One of the standard interventions I recommend for people dealing with a partner who is angry is to try saying the following six words: "What do you need right now?" In order to be able to do this, you have to be able to not be overwhelmed with your own injury. That's not always easy to do.

This question is especially effective because, in addressing the needs of the person who is aggressively angry, it goes underneath the anger. When this question works, you are saying, in effect, "I know that you are angry, and that is ok. I know that there is a reason that you are angry, and I know that it is because something is hurting you. I am concerned about your injury, and I would like to help attend to it." Isn't it amazing that you can condense all of that into just six words?

Now, sometimes an aggressively angry person will try and hold on to their anger for a while. They may have learned that they are safe when they are angry. It may take two or three times of repeating the question. If the anger doesn't start to get diffused when this is happening, then something else is going on. It may be using anger as manipulation, or they may just be unavailable.

Either way, this would be a good time to call time-out. In order to be effective, time-outs need to be time-limited and honored. Honored means that the time-ins happen as well.

Living with someone who suffers from aggressive anger isn't easy, but if you don't blame them, eventually that anger should dissipate. If it doesn't, seek professional help.

Anger Styles: Red Hot or Aggressive Anger

While all forms of anger are appropriate to use in some circumstances, the more extreme kinds can be problematic if they form a style, or a typical kind of response to injury. Mental health is about having a full range of options, knowing when particular type of response is likely to be most effective and being able to use your anger appropriately.

Aggressive anger is one of the more destructive interpersonal styles. This is what people think about when they normally use the word anger. Aggressive anger is characterized by angry outbursts and what is known as having a bad temper. People who have difficulty containing their anger get into trouble, in their marriages, at work and out in the world as well. It is destructive to intimate relationships, since partners of people who have aggressive anger as their style, intimidate others. Frequently you will intimidate others even when you don't mean to. It's hard for the people who love you to feel safe. If you have children, you are probably in danger of damaging them through your angry style.

The good news is that there's nothing wrong with your anger. The problem is what you are doing with it. Anger is meant to fix what is hurting you, and if you are overwhelmed by your anger, you probably don't understand that it is likely that you have an accumulation of injuries. If your response to a relatively minor injury results in an outburst, likely you've got old injuries from the past, adding to the pain you experience from the more minor upsetting events day to day.

Another possibility is that you may be suffering from a mood disorder. Both Major Depression and Bipolar Disorder can cause irritability. Also, another problem to be aware of is alcohol. If you have a problem with alcohol, it can cause irritability as well. If you think you are suffering from any of these problems, I recommend that you seek professional help as soon as possible.

Lets go back to the good news, which is that nothing is wrong with your anger. You will need to learn to be able to work to bring it under control. You need to learn what is hurting you and causing you to have so much anger. There are ways to release and ventilate anger that will not hurt you, or anyone else. The more you can learn to use the energy from you anger to empower you, to nurture you and attend to the injuries that are causing it, the more the angry outbursts will recede. The pressure will come off, but it may take a concerted effort. Don't give up. It's difficult to change your anger style, but the energy of your anger is meant to fix what is hurting you. Keep trying!

Anger Styles: Ice Cold or Passive-Aggressive Anger

While all forms of anger are appropriate to use in some circumstances, the more extreme kinds can be problematic if they form a style, or a typical kind of response to injury. Mental health is about having a full range of options, knowing when particular type of response is likely to be most effective and being able to use your anger appropriately.

Passive-Aggressive anger is one of the more destructive interpersonal styles. It is a behavior characterized by the phrase, "You can't make me!" The statement is undeniably true. We can hurt people; we can threaten them, or lock them up. But we cannot make people perform. People only perform out of a willingness to do so. Since relationships are built on agreements, if someone makes an agreement and then doesn't follow through, this is angry behavior that is based on not doing something. That aspect of "not doing" is what makes this kind of behavior passive-aggressive.

As a style of anger use, passive-aggressive behavior is incredibly destructive to relationships. It destroys trust, and the people on the other side of this behavior experience it as crazy making. They hear the words of agreement spoken, and continue to hope that agreements will be kept, only to experience escalating levels of injury, frustration and anger.

In this way, passive-aggressive behavior draws anger towards the person behaving that way. The partner, often called the "Hostile-Dependent," makes more and more accusations, all true, about the passive-aggressive partner's betrayal of trust though breaking agreements.

One of the main difficulties for someone who has a passive-aggressive style is that they are frequently out of touch with their feelings. They don't know that what they're doing is angry. Frequently they are puzzled and resentful of their partner's constant anger and disapproval.

Another problem in changing passive-aggressive behavior is that it has some of the dynamics of addiction associated with it. Doing what you want instead of what you've agreed to do feels good every time in the short term, even if it's destroying your relationship.

If you've identified that you have a passive-aggressive style, and you want to begin to change it, you'll need to do several things. First, you'll need to work hard to get in touch with your emotions. Second, you'll need to realize that no one is really trying to "make you" do the things that you agree to. Your partner wants your participation to be voluntary. Third, since fear of rejection often plays a major role in making agreements that you really don't want to keep, you'll need to find your courage to say "no" when you don't agree. Finally, don't give up. It's difficult to change your anger style. Keep trying!