Part two of the anger series written by Regesh Executive Director, Edwin Schild, B.S., M.Sc.
In Part I of this four-part series, I introduced you to Aaron and his extreme anger. As promised, I would share with you “the rest of the story”, which is extraordinary.
Building a Trusting Relationship with Your Therapist
The hour went very fast as Aaron and I got to know each other and as this remarkable, but extremely angry, young man became, for the first time in any of his previous therapy experiences, fully engaged in only the first session. When told the time was up and we would meet with his parents, he quickly and harshly said, “they need to buy me ice cream”. As we were leaving the office we began speaking of our favorite ice cream flavors.
When we joined his parents again, Aaron roughly spoke up and asked how much the fee was. I have a policy of not discussing fees with youth. Aaron and his father were about to get into a conflict over the fees. I told Aaron the fee was a lot and his father would take care of it, his father then told him the fee and said he was taking care of it. At that moment, Aaron, who had not initially wanted to come to the session, reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of twenty dollar bills.
I knew better than to ask where the money came from. Aaron had $200 with him and peeled off $180 and handed it to me. Aaron, who refused to come to the first session and really did not want to be at the second session, was now insisting that he pay me for the session. In all my years of practicing, I had never seen this before. I told Aaron I would not take his money and gave it all back to him. I then asked him to use $20 of his own to go out for ice cream together with his family.
An Emotionally Healthy Child Leads to a Happier Family
The next day I received an amazing email from Aaron’s father asking what I had done to their son. He was pleasant for the rest of the night (very unusual) and spoke of how much he enjoyed the session. Aaron had truly engaged with me.
How Self-Esteem can Help Manage Anger
I have now been seeing Aaron in therapy for about eight months and have truly enjoyed working with him. He has worked hard in therapy and has made a remarkable change in his angry behavior.
In fact, two months ago I asked Aaron to join me as a co-leader in a new anger management group. Needless to say, he has taken great pride in this role and has been an asset to the group.
In my anger management program, referred to as “personal control management”, we often talk about the source of anger, where we get our strategies for dealing with anger, and the relationship between anger and self-esteem. In fact, paticipants learn to recognize that the higher the self-esteem, the higher the ability to control one’s anger. Conversely, we know that the lower the self-esteem the less ability one has to control one’s emotions. We also discuss self-esteem and confidence as factors in one’s ability to control emotions. Anger can be internal, meaning no other person is involved with a reaction to something internal or external when someone else is involved. External anger originates when someone feels victimized by someone else. That is, someone has done something to me that feels “unfair”, taken something or says something unjust to me. In any case, a feeling of personalizing and victimization results from this.
Controlling Anger with Therapy
Anger is an emotion, like so many others. Therefore, rather than getting rid of this emotion, we tell our clients that one need not rid themselves of any emotion but rather must learn to control it. As much as anger is normal, the differentiation between normal anger and problematic anger is such: “Are you in control of your anger or is your anger in control of you?”
The Anger Circle
Amazingly, anger is extremely contagious. In fact, look around you. Watch couples, children, parents with children or youth. If one is perceived as angry, amazingly the other person automatically reacts back angrily. It’s hard to understand why this is so, but it’s the way we are. This is important because the anger circle is a reaction that takes on a life of its own. It grows and the reaction goes faster and faster until someone has the strength and skill to stop it. Uncontrolled and growing on its own, anger leads to troubles with often dangerous consequences and never resolves a problem.
Self Control in Moments of Anger
A good intellectual survey for a researcher or student would be to ask people how, if given the opportunity, they would best like to feel. You could get all kinds of answers, including “loved, happy, rich, and important” and so on.
However, if you would tell your respondents that the number one feeling is “to feel like a winner”, they would all agree, if they are honest with you. Everyone wants to feel like they are a winner. It’s what we all strive for. Not to get caught up in someone else’s anger circle and have the skills to be in control of oneself is to feel like a winner.
Secrets to Anger Management
There are several concrete beliefs one needs to understand when it comes to controlling emotions. These beliefs we refer to as “secrets of anger”, although, we can learn to share these “secrets” with others. I will share these with my readers in Part III of this series.
Edwin Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto. Regesh runs many programs helping individuals, families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. He is currently open to speaking engagements and train-the train workshops. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or