By David Joel Miller.
How do you know what you know about anger?
Long before you went to school and learned to read and write you learned a bunch of lessons about how the world was. Some of those lessons were about feelings, anger in particular. Did you have good feelings teachers? Did you get those lessons right?
Thinking back to your childhood and how you came to think and believe the things you do can be a happy experience for some people. Others feel that those early life lessons left scars. What you learned about anger at a young age is one lesson you may want to take another look at. If thinking about your early life experiences is painful and difficult, then you are a candidate for counselling or some other personal growth experience.
What are your earliest life memories of anger?
Early life experiences shape personality development. Many of these memories are pictures of what happened or feelings about these happenings rather than the sort of stories we older people tell about these memories.
Do you have strong gut reactions to seeing others angry? How does experiencing others anger effect you now? Are you “freaked out” if someone is angry? Some people learned to avoid anger and feeling angry, others learned that when angry they should “let it all hang out.”
As a child do you remember being angry? What happened when you got angry? Did your needs get met or did you learn to hide that anger?
Infants and young children develop anger spontaneously when their needs are not met or they are frustrated. They quickly learn how they must express these needs to get what they require. Some people learn that others may express anger but they are not allowed to do so. If you learned rules about anger and how to express it as a young child this may be affecting your ability to cope productively with those feelings.
How did those you grew up around express their Anger?
Some families had the unwritten rule that anger or other strong emotions was not to be expressed, ever, under any circumstance. Other families were constantly acting out anger in a variety of ways.
For some people anger was expressed by cursing or vulgar gestures. Did you adopt those ways of expressing anger and those expressions have become for you automatic? You may find yourself saying things and doing things when upset or angry that you had not planned to do.
Who was allowed to express anger, who could not?
Was one person allowed to express their anger and others were not? Some families have one person who carries the anger for the whole family. The rest of the family members lives revolve around not making the angry person angry.
If you had a family culture where one person was the angry one you may have perpetuated that system in your relationships or the family you have created. Is that working for you or would you like to change the way anger is allowed to be a member of your family?
How did they express anger?
Families develop rules for how and when anger can be expressed. We often hold on to those rules when we leave out family of origin and then try to make those behavior patterns fit our new relationships. For some anger can be expressed directly, this is what is making me mad. Or it may be expressed more indirectly. There could be yelling and screaming or the silent treatment and stonewalling.
If your life is full of throwing and breaking things it is time for a change. If you or someone in your household has a pattern of leaving when angry this may be keeping you from every finding solutions to the conflicts.
Productive anger management may require time outs when one person becomes over heated but those exchanges also require setting a time to reconnect and work on solving those problems.
Did you learn gender roles in anger expression?
Many people arrive at therapy with a set of rules in their head about how people should fill their life roles. Do you think there are ways men express anger? Are those “male” anger behaviors different from those of women? Should the two sexes express their emotions differently?
Do your expect men and women to express their anger differently?
Are your disagreements win-lose situations or can people disagree?
Healthy families have some rules that are must-haves. The parents must set boundaries that are firm. As a parent you probably should tell your kids that drugs are not allowed. But there are other things, politics and religion where an absolute need for everyone to agree might be more optional.
Ask yourself can you allow other family members to disagree about things? Do you feel threatened when they don’t agree with you? Are there things you learned early in life that may not be working for you anymore?
Reexamine how and what you have learned about anger and decide for yourself if there are things about anger and your relationship to that anger that need changing.
For more on anger and anger management check out the other Anger Posts on counselorssoapbox.com.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books