Monday, November 3, 2008

Anger Management

Everyone has heard of anger management. You may have seen all the wacky interaction between Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in the movie by the same name. Hollywood tends to make movies that people can identify with and the subject of anger is a common one. Anger problems are widespread. Check these examples:
  • 45% of us regularly lose our temper at work.

  • 64% of people working in an office have had office rage.

  • 27% of nurses have been attacked at work.

  • 33% of people are not on speaking terms with their neighbors.

  • 1 in 20 of us has had a fight with the person living next door.

  • Airlines reported 1,486 significant or serious acts of air rage in a year, a 59% increase over the previous year.

  • More than 80% of drivers say they have been involved in road rage incidents; 25% have committed an act of road rage themselves.

  • 71% of Internet users admit to having suffered net rage.

  • 50% of us have reacted to computer problems by hitting our PC, hurling parts of it around, screaming or abusing our colleagues.

The phrase, "anger management" is so common that it is generally accepted as an effective form of therapy for teaching people how to deal with their anger. Unfortunately, this assumption has never been tested scientifically. Anger management classes have been around since the 1980s and are instructional in nature. Some of the techniques use handouts, slogans, advice and sometimes role-playing. The big question here is whether anger management classes really help people.

Part of the problem in gauging effectiveness is that many people who attend anger management classes are ordered by courts to do so. Obviously, the motivation for change is externally imposed which does not bode well for lasting change.

Besides being forced to attend anger management classes, what are some of the other objections to current approaches to anger management? Some instructors tend to downplay the significance of inappropriate displays of anger rather than insisting that anger outbursts are seldom justified. Some of the skills taught don’t have any scientific validation that they are effective over the long run. An example of one such skill is redirecting anger to an inanimate object.

Perhaps one of the major shortcomings in anger management is not dealing with the issue of "behavior generalization." In other words, a person may do very well with his or her anger management skills during the classes. Unfortunately, this does not mean these skills will be effective in the real world as opposed to the virtual world of the classroom.

Some people in the legal system also have difficulty with anger management as a treatment. The National Institute of Justice has serious doubts about the effectiveness of anger management classes for men who batter their spouses. Their report claims that, in the case of spousal battering, anger management rarely addresses all the issues that underly the violent behavior. The legal system often sees how ineffective anger management can be.

One of the major problems facing the traditional anger management approach is the inability of the instructors to distinguish between anger and resentment. Both of these emotions are triggered from something outside of us that violates our sense of right and wrong. However, these emotions are very different from each other. Anger is healthy, resentment is not.

Problems occur when anger gets converted to or overtaken by resentment. Anger is healthy because it propels us to reasonably confront the source of any personal violation. On the other hand, resentment gets us to retaliate towards others. We think that revenge will correct or balance out what someone has done to us.

Anger and confrontation will allow the anger to eventually dissipate. Resentment and retaliation will most likely engage the other person’s resentment and retaliation so that the situation becomes an ongoing, never-ending feud. What most anger management programs don’t recognize is they are often not dealing with anger but rather with resentment. The most effective approach to managing resentment is to use the powerful tools of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

As we point in chapter three of The Worry Free Life, this distinction between anger and resentment is crucial for dealing with painful emotions. Knowing which emotion we are feeling can help us chose the correct tool for dealing with it.

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chrisandpina said...

Thank you Terry for this insight. You know, when I reflect on moments that seem like "anger" I can honestly admit that there is actual resentment going on. I have the Worry Free Life and reading this article will lead me to reread chapter 3.

So here is my question: What CBT tools can I use to deal with resentment?

Thanks again,

Pina Fraser

Dr. Terry Sandbek said...

Thank you for your comments and question. There are quite a few CBT tools you can use to deal with resentment. The first one you have already begun, namely separating anger from resentment. Once you have done that, you then need to listen carefully and identify the core belief that is causing the resentment. This can be done by being aware of the keyword – “worthless (them)” – that is the source of resentment. When you get pretty good at spotting it (you may find that the interrogation tool makes this easier), then you can begin tearing down this core lie/belief with Voice Fighting.

Let me know how you do. If you feel like it, tell others about this blog.

You can contact me if you have any other questions at