In Part I of this four-part series, I introduced you to Aaron and his extreme anger. I ended that article with, “I must say that as I was describing this theory, Aaron’s mouth dropped open, his eyes grew wide and tears formed in his eyes as he moved closer in his chair. The only thing he could say was, “How did you know?” With that comment, Aaron and I started a remarkable relationship. With all the counselors he had been to over the years, Aaron said that no one really understood him. Here was the angry young man who didn’t want to be there, fully engaged and ready to work, ready to share his pain, ready to begin a trusting relationship.”
As promised, I’d like to share “the rest of the story,” which is extraordinary. The hour went very fast as Aaron and I got to know each other and as this remarkable young man became, for the first time, 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 were with his parents again, I asked Aaron’s father if he wanted to put the fee on his credit card as he had done the last session. Aaron roughly spoke up asking how much the fee was. I told Aaron the fee was a lot and his father would take 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 peeled off $100 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. In all my years of practicing, I had never seen this before. As Aaron and his father started to argue about the fee, I told Aaron I would take his money – but only on one condition – that when he and I finished our course of treatment together, he would take the money back as his own (I won’t take the time to explain this to my readers at this time). Of course, Aaron was shocked and answered “no.” I said I would not take his money and gave it all back to him. Then I asked him for $20, gave it to his father and suggested that they go out for ice cream together. The next day I received an amazing email from the 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.
I have been seeing Aaron in therapy for about eight months. I have truly enjoyed working with this young man. He has worked hard 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, we 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 or external when someone else is involved. External anger originates when one 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 victimization results.
Anger is an emotion, like so many others. We tell our clients that one need not rid themselves of any emotion but rather they must learn to control it. A basic belief that one must understand is what I refer to as the “anger circle” – an important concept to understand before learning to control one’s anger. Amazingly, anger is extremely contagious. In fact, look around you. Watch couples, children, and parents with children or teenagers. If one is perceived as being angry, the person you are with will automatically respond back with anger. We don’t know why, 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.
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, important” and so on. However, if you would tell your respondents that the number one feeling is “like a winner”, they would all agree, if they are honest. 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 to have the skills to be in control of oneself, is to feel like a winner.
There are several concrete beliefs one needs to understand when it comes to controlling emotions. Those beliefs we refer to as “secrets of anger,” though we talk about sharing these “secrets” with others. I will share these with my readers in Part III of this series.
Mr. Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Regesh runs many programs helping 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.regesh.com.