PSYCHOTHERAPY BLOG

Having trained as a yoga teacher and as a psychotherapist and counsellor, I’ve been particularly interested in the growing […] Read more...

Anger Management

 

“I was angry with my friend;

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I hid my wrath, my wrath did grow.”

William Blake

 

According to a 2006 survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation and a Sunday Times report about anger in the UK, 64% agreed or strongly agreed that anger was on the increase.  64% of Britons also said they had experienced an outburst of rage in their work place, 80% of drivers said they’d been involved in road rage incidents and airlines reported a 400% increase in air rage incidents between 1997 and 2000.

The report also highlighted the mounting evidence that links rage with a range of illnesses including heart disease, stroke, cancer and common problems such as colds and flu. Anger is also linked to issues such as depression and self-harm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people in the survey also described anger as having a likely negative effect on relationships.

Yet importantly, there is a great deal of support for the view that anger itself is not the problem and is largely misunderstood. Indeed, anger is one of our most powerful and vital tools. It is a natural response to hurt, threat, fear, jealousy, frustration, emotional or physical pain, failed communication. It is the emotional vehicle whereby we individuate from our parents, become autonomous, independent and self-reliant. Crucially, as the Transactional Analyst Sue Parker Hall, author of a key book on anger and rage states, ‘it provides the energy and motivation for the sacred task of self-care’.

Generally people in the psychotherapy profession think of anger and rage as being on a continuum with light feelings of irritation or frustration at one end of an imagined line, and hot, explosive rage at the other. Parker Hall takes the ground-breaking view that anger and rage are in fact completely different processes – and that part of the issue in their treatment is that they are insufficiently differentiated. In her view anger is a ‘pure emotion,’ which is only ever constructive. She argues that it is central to our development, autonomy and the protection of our integrity as individuals. It follows from this that to be able to be angry creates the possibility of congruence and authenticity in our relationships. By contrast, she argues that rage is a much earlier emotion developmentally. Moreover, it is only ever a defence mechanism. It can be differentiated into ‘hot rage’, which is expressed in earliest infancy when a baby’s needs are not met and ‘cold rage’ which is experienced as a means to cope with overwhelming feelings when help does not arrive. Rage is activated when we experience a situation, which mainlines into an un-integrated emotional body-mind structure, which previously was impossible for us to process effectively. In other words, rage arises from an experience of being overwhelmed and incapable of processing the situation that confronts us.

While I don’t feel Parker Hall’s position is definitive, what I find particularly useful about her view is that she very convincingly takes potentially pathologising, negative judgements about anger and rage out of anger management therapy. Indeed, in my experience both as someone who has worked on my own anger in psychotherapy and as a practitioner working with people sometimes with very severe rage issues, that the rage we experience is never a pure emotion and often has roots in traumatic experience. Leading from this, as Parker Hall suggests, rage should not be framed as a personal deficit. Rather it should be seen as an issue arising from relationship. There is invariably deeper, more painful and often unconscious emotions and experiences accompanying it.

From another perspective, there are many of us who struggle to express our anger. We may suffer from deep, unconscious ‘cold rage’ or feel that we simply never get angry. This makes us vulnerable to the terrible pain and devastation of turning the rage against ourselves. This can manifest as depression, self-harm and suicide. In turn, by not being in touch with our anger we become vulnerable to oppression and exploitation in all our relationships – whether friends, colleagues, or relatives or institutions, organisations and governing bodies.

As the statistics bear out, rage is a major issue in our present day culture. I feel passionately that finding ways to articulate and be with these feelings effectively has tremendous creative potential, makes for the possibility of a better life and in turn a better society. Please contact me if you would like to explore how anger management counselling could work for you.

 

 

1. PARKER HALL, SUE 2009.  Anger, Rage and Relationship – an Empathic Approach to Anger Management  London: Routledge