Therapy & Medication for Anger Management
Although sometimes unpleasant and difficult to manage, anger and frustration are universal feelings experienced by all. Individuals often try to control these emotions, maintaining the belief that they are “bad” and should be avoided. Ironically, when we avoid an emotion, it increases in strength and potency. When we do not express anger and frustration in a healthy way, the emotions fester and can emerge in an explosive manner. This leads us to misdirect our feelings towards people or events that are not the source of our discontent or rage, or to express our anger in a completely disproportionate manner. After breaking through our defenses, pent up anger and frustration fracture relationships, spoil opportunities, and cause us to behave in ways we later regret.
What is anger?
Anger is actually a feeling that serves a protective purpose. When we perceive that we are being threatened, our nervous system becomes activated and our bodies become tense. From an evolutionary perspective, anger is meant to help us fight for self-preservation. In other words, we are genetically programmed to have this visceral emotional response when we believe our safety is in jeopardy. This is exactly what kept our ancestors alive. However, these emotional instincts become problematic in the modern world. Our ancient reflexes become activated and we overreact when confronted with conflicts or challenges that are not life threatening, but rather require complicated thought. When our emotions take over, that can prevent us from sophisticated problem solving and impulse control. Unfortunately, since many of us do not know how to manage our anger, we act in ways that further complicate challenging situations.
Why do we struggle with anger?
Many of us have a history of witnessing or experiencing violence in early life. This can occur from parental physical punishment or witnessing someone being severely hurt by others. Our neurochemistry may be permanently altered during such early life experiences. Specifically, the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for the “fight, flight or freeze” response becomes more sensitive and responsive to perceived threats, even incidents that many would see as innocuous. When this happens, we experience an increase in heart rate and breathing, tightness in the upper-body, clenched fists, cold hands, sweaty palms, and bladder urgency. Our brain tells our body: get ready, you are in jeopardy, and you need to survive, although in our modern world, most threats we encounter are not life threatening. With most challenges, we do not need our bodies to respond the way our ancestors did. Rather we need to learn to calm ourselves so we can think critically and problem solve.
A second variable leading to poor anger management is when our past makes us perceive the world as a physically insecure place, and we then develop deeply held beliefs that shape our responses. The most common of these beliefs are a variation of “it’s a dog-eat-dog world,” “nice guys finish last,” or “if I’m too nice everyone will walk all over me.” These automatic thoughts trigger the cascade of physiological responses described above leading to poor impulse control. Once we lose control of ourselves, shame and humiliation often follow.
Another pattern of poor anger management emerges if we were raised in a home environment where manipulation was common. The silent treatment, sarcasm, angry body language and tone are just a few very common indirect forms of poor anger management that can result from this and can be just as dangerous to relationships as yelling and hitting. Manipulation does not create a trusting relationship with open and honest communication but fosters emotional distance and distrust.
Healthy anger management
There are many communication tools that focus on calming ourselves until we can express our feelings in a way that can be heard and understood. It is often hard to say to someone that we feel hurt, angry, ashamed, or disappointed. When we exercise anger management we learn to moderate our emotions rather than explode. At The Midtown Practice, we use an eclectic approach, combining tools from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), in group and individual sessions. Working together with you, we tackle our innate judgements and responses, and learn to accept our feelings and have control over their expression. Ultimately, this proves to be a more effective way to deal with challenging situations.