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Anger Management Isn't About Managing Anger

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

I like working with people who believe they need anger management. Sometimes, a family member tells them they need help managing anger and other times they’ve been court ordered to complete an anger management program. Regardless, I find individuals who need this type of counseling to have some things in common, which are quite treatable.


They Aren’t Usually Angry People


The first thing they have in common, is that they tend to not actually be angry people. Most people will say something like, “it’s actually hard to get me angry” or “it was really just that one time, otherwise I am pretty peaceful.” So, what is the deal, why anger management?


How Our Parents Shape How We Relate to Anger


Most people in need of anger management tend to keep a clear head, but there are certain moments that can be very triggering. In my experience, these triggers usually relate to how their parents talked and treated them during childhood. It doesn’t necessarily mean their parents displayed the same angry or aggressive behavior they did that led them to anger management. A lot of the time this looks like a parent(s) who demands answers from their child, does not give their child emotional or physical privacy, corners their child, doesn’t trust their child, or often dismisses their child’s needs.


Triggers


This leads to triggers that can bring people back to the same feelings they had during childhood. Many people describe these feelings as helplessness, feeling out of control, fear, or anxiety (quick nugget: did you know the same part of your brain that controls anxiety also controls anger and the feelings are often confused). When these triggers from childhood manifest in an adult, it often comes out in the form of anger or aggression. This tends to be a protection mechanism because a person’s brain links the helplessness or out of control feeling to when they were a child and someone much bigger than they were (a parent) was dictating demands.

Treatment


What I like about working with individuals who find themselves in these situations is that the past has real and serious consequences on the present. People in these situations tend to find themselves, at first, not understanding how the past affects the present but quickly realize its importance. Using EMDR, people often find quick relief from the cycle of anger or aggression and the results thus far have been very positive!


EMDR helps by de-coupling the link between childhood and the present. This way, when an event is unfolding in the present that has a similar “feel” to how they felt in the past, they are able to stay in adult self and not go back to the feelings they had as a child. Staying in your adult “form” helps people see clearly, choose their words and reactions, understand when they need to de-escalate their emotions, and ultimately, make better decisions.