How many of you have seen the classic Anger Management with Adam Sandler (Dave) and Jack Nicholson (as Buddy)? One of the funny things that happens is that the “psycho” techniques that Buddy use actually work. Dave’s just a nice guy, who keeps his anger to himself, as much as what he avoids making clear statements about what he thinks or feels until he gets setup by his girlfriend Linda and the therapist. You start laughing when Dave begins saying what he really thinks to Buddy. When he is being himself, at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings or going to jail, he feels free. How can you deal with anger productively?
When you continue to give in and go along, your anger builds. How does that make you feel? I feel pretty, I feel witty, oh so witty and pretty and gay!!! Singing, dancing and diverting your thoughts to something silly and completely different than your current focus can be a safe release. Not taking yourself so seriously creates the same effect. All these engaging ways of putting yourself out there are steps towards taking life less seriously.
How does this all fit in with therapy? Part of solution-focused brief therapy is taking a simple, measurable, achievable step towards your goal of managing your anger. Watching a comedian like Brian Regan is one way to dissipate the angry energy. Group experience with a skilled counselor can be a place to understand your effect on other people and try out new ways to receive and express anger. Confronting your childhood nemesis whether it is through talking to an empty chair or writing a letter, rather than provoking or shaming that person, is another path to releasing anger and the beginning of authentic forgiveness.
As I was headed towards divorce, my therapist suggested a book on anger management, The Dance of Anger (Lerner 1985). Sometimes a serious loss is what it takes to make a U-turn from blaming your anger on those closest to you. In Dr. Lerner’s words, to try and change another person is usually “a self-defeating move.” Instead of seething silently, emotionally distancing, or blowing up, start using the energy of your anger for reshaping your life. You don’t have to feel frustrated, victimized and depressed. You can learn to do something different with your anger. Simply start by saying what you are feeling in response to a specific event. Clarify your statements and avoid making assumptions about the statements and intentions of the other person. Complete the dialog about that one event. Discover new options for your own behavior.
Realize that the true source of your anger is probably not that event and the person you are needing a conversation with is God. It may require digging into the past and discovering that this specific argument was actually about your need for love, respect, and acceptance. Ultimately the need for intimate relationships is what can drive you to casting all your concerns and needs on the Lord or substituting with an addiction to either a behavior or an emotion. The temporary sense of relief will be followed by a hangover. What if instead, you take one small step and try talking to the Lord, the one who wants to comfort, guide and counsel you. Each time you are at the end of yourself, make a commitment to even just say one word, “Help!” He knows you, your every thought, and is for you. Become aware that He is working on things because He is love.
Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Cor 13.13).