Anger and Stress Management Tips for Satisfying Relationships by Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
If your partner is threatening to leave if you don’t go to anger management therapy, then you are probably trying to be quiet and unassuming to avoid risking an angry outburst.
But ironically you are only making it more likely that you will have more angry explosions, more often and of a fiercer nature.
That’s what thirty-seven year old clothing importer Dorian discovered after he came to therapy. He was terrified that his wife Amelia, a thirty-three year old nurse would leave him and never let him see their child due to be born in a couple of months. He didn’t want to come to therapy. But he came to appease Amelia and reduce the risk of devastating loss.
Dorian was very quiet in therapy. It was hard to believe he could have angry outbursts and frighten Amelia to such an extent that she wanted to end the relationship and protect her unborn child. He spoke in a matter of fact manner, calmly, clearly and logically. He understood and owned his problem and he got why Amelia had presented him with an ultimatum. He was willing to do what I suggested and practice the skills that he wanted me to teach him.
The only problem was he didn’t show any emotion. He was like a machine saying all the right things to show his commitment except talk about the experience of being angry. He had ready answers for why he shouldn’t be angry, and how he knew that there were better ways of communicating. Dorian was in perfect control of himself during therapy and for most of the time when he went about his daily business. He successfully numbed himself to whatever triggers could have made him and most other regular folks angry, or so it seemed in the moment. What he didn’t realize was that he was building a massive pyre on which to burn and destroy himself and those around him when the fuse was eventually lit.
What he really wanted was to be seen and heard as a person with good intentions.
But he never felt the comfort of knowing that Amelia “got” him, so he would keep trying and when he reached breaking point he would explode in anger, misery, and terror that his efforts were useless. He would find his heart going like an express train when he felt misunderstood or not given credit for things he had thought of and carried out, like that time when he had got up at the crack of dawn to do the laundry and make breakfast when Amelia was resting during a nauseous phase in her pregnancy. All he got was a criticism for being noisy!
At first Dorian related these incidents as if he were reading the weather forecast. But then he started to relive them and he began to notice his body reacting with tension, breathing difficulty and rapid heart rate. The memories became real and alive. His voice choked up and he became agitated when he recalled countless incidents of this nature that accumulated into a tinder box of pain and hurt ready to ignite when the sore wound was poked again. That’s when I was able to witness, acknowledge and soothe his pain, shame and grief at his lack of success in getting through to Amelia except by angry outbursts.
As he shared more of his emotions by talking about them, Dorian noticed that he didn’t fear going home every day. His heart rate didn’t escalate to bursting point whenever he had to relate to Amelia. Things were calmer and the relationship settled down into a more stable and relaxed routine.
So what happened to make Dorian calmer and less likely to explode?
As the journal PLoS ONE reported in 2013, talking and reporting on strong feelings of anger reduce heart rate and stress. Dorian’s experience of reliving his painful experiences in therapy meant that he was reporting them as if they were happening in the moment. He expressed in words what he had been stuffing in an undigested manner that previously would have exploded when he got triggered by an accusation.
Dorian learned that expressing himself in words got him acknowledgement and understanding – in other words he got his message across.
That led to him feeling calmer and more able to have a discussion based on what the issues of the moment happened to be. Instead of fighting for entry into Amelia’s awareness, he was now showing her in a way that was relevant and not clouded by weeks and months of pent up pain and anger. Putting strong feelings, especially anger into words meant that Dorian was not reacting to raw and messy stuff inside him, but expressing the genuine impact that relating to Amelia evoked in him. It was not shameful or childish any more, once it was put into words. It was just real.
Yes, Dorian had to pay a price – he had to feel those feelings up front and deal with the pain and hurt, the wish to punish and retaliate and the sheer anguish and desperation of trying to get accepted and understood. He hated reliving these moments when the feelings came rushing in and he felt like he was drowning without a life jacket. He often avoided therapy to skip out on experiencing his feelings.
But as time went on and he got used to it he realized that the feelings got smaller and went away sooner.
They became tolerable and he was then able to share them in the moment with Amelia. It was a long hard road with many bumps but the threat of losing Amelia and their child was enough to encourage Dorian to sustain the course with clear and lasting benefits. He is no longer labeled as one who has explosive bursts of anger, but one who just like everyone else gets angry from time to time but expresses it in words and gets it attended to.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
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Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.