Help! I have anger management problems.

Photo by yuriyzhuravov/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by yuriyzhuravov/iStock / Getty Images

Does this sound familiar? Your wife or your friends or family are telling you that you have anger management issues, that you’re a scary person! Often times, men come in and say they have an anger issue and often times by the end of the first session I respond by saying, “you don’t have an anger issue, you have an outdated strategy for dealing with emotions”. What the heck does that mean, right!? Let me explain…

In my experience, most of the time people judge other people by how they make them feel, not by what it’s like in their shoes. Because of this, they don’t accurately judge the other person’s internal motives. So people who are quick to react with anger and anxiety (or who stuff until they blow up!) are seen as being overly aggressive (i.e. "they need to go to anger management"). Only, aggression is not the motivation, connection is. What!? I know, I know, bare with me for a second…

Growing up we are still developing, so we have not matured enough to be in control of our emotions. So, children often break down in tears, or throw tantrums or freak out and run away. These are moments where an infant, child or teen is attempting to deal with an adult sized emotional experience with kid sized tools. What they need is to be able to leverage their parent or guardian so they can manage dealing with the big emotions they’re experiencing. If that parent or guardian can, enough of the time, recognize and respond to the child in a way that acknowledges their emotion, validates it and supports the child through it without dismissing or attacking the child for collapsing under the weight of their emotions, the child will eventually master his/her emotions so they can be helpful. This means that emotions will become things that alert the child to their own emotional needs and therefore they will have a better chance of getting their needs met. When children don’t have attunement and validation of their emotions (especially during conflicts) they often learn to stop feeling their emotions because they feel they will be overwhelmed (instead of being able to master) their emotions. They split off the emotions (before they actually consciously feel them) and fill in the space with anxiety, aggression or passiveness – all of which block emotions from being felt and block the child from knowing their own needs, much less afford them an opportunity to get their needs met. The strategy of trading out emotions is a useful one when the environment can’t help you tame your emotions but a harmful one when you want to have a marriage or family.

What this all means is, you’re having experiences in which you feel an emotion (e-motions are designed to put us in motion towards another person to get our relational needs met) but instead of being able to consciously register that and let it move you towards vulnerably seeking out connection with your loved one, you are trading it for the safety of anxiety, anger or passiveness.