Just about all of my interventions weave in some form of cognitive behavioral therapy somehow.
I like CBT for anger management especially. And I personally use it all of the time to control my emotions. But people who see red can't slow themselves down long enough to work the therapy. And they make friends and family very uncomfortable.
So something has to be done.
The rule is that if it's hard for a person to control an outburst then a med eval (medication evaluation) is a good idea. Once chilled a bit, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is pretty useful. Plus there's no harm in getting a med eval. Nobody can make a person take drugs.
I'm forever telling people, We have better drugs!
We do have some really good ones now, meds that take the edge off, and they're not all addicting, either. But you can develop quite a tolerance to some of them, so if that's a concern, check it out with your doc.
Anger's a totally different animal you know, than anxiety or depression. It's sometimes hard for a person to tell exactly what it is that's causing the bad feelings in anxiety and depression, but we know very well who or what is making us angry.
Like this morning. I had almost finished this post when FD asked me calmly, “Where are the car keys? They're not on the hook.” His stress was palpable.
Little One is home from yeshiva and he had the keys last night. FD was leaving. It was 6:30 a.m. He was late. “I’ll find them,” I said. "I'll wake him up."
The keys were in Little's pocket. I said thanks, never yelled. FD didn’t yell. We remained polite and calm throughout the whole drama. But it was tense.
Me empathizing with FD's frustration motivated me to jump and hurry up, wake up the kid. The kid jumped to find the keys.
Negative emotion motivates people like nothing else, for better of for worse.
But what if we'd lost it? What if FD had had a tantrum, then it could have become ugly! I would have been angry and defensive with FD for his tantrum and somehow my anger and defensiveness would have trickled down to Little and we'd all have had a nasty morning. And it was a beautiful morning.
So to me anger's the symptom that best exemplifies how emotions affect family systems. Anger isn't at all fuzzy. You know why you’re angry, you know who you're angry at. Or do you?
If we hold that irrational core beliefs about ourselves drive our emotions, and we have to rationally counter them to feel better, then we have to figure out the core belief. There has to be a little psychotherapy going on for CBT to work.
The emphasis in CBT is on rationality, which is not nearly as sexy as emotionality, like I've said before, which is why people resist being rational. Depression and anxiety make us look vulnerable. Angry people don't give off vulnerable vibes. So anger is not sexy.
Nobody wants to take an angry person in their arms and say, There, there, it'll all be fine, don't worry (although that's exactly what we need sometimes). Most of us wish that angry people would just go away.
I for one am allergic to them unless they're paying me to help them.
But even though I’ll deal with angry people all day long, if you're in my family you know that I won’t listen to you if you’re screaming and that I need about twenty degrees of separation. I can handle anger better on the telephone than in person, or in writing. Violent books are sometimes okay for me. But violent movies? Never.
Now. Most therapy docs will agree that a rational argument, meaning measured verbal expression without drama and screaming, slammed doors, fists and silverware flying is a good thing. The way to solve problems is to discuss, debate, present feelings, thoughts, new solutions—with relative calm.
Notice I didn't say dump your anger all over the house to get it out of your system. You can get it out of your system in some other way. If you were in the army you’d have to do a hundred push-ups. So you can do that rather than rant and rave. Push-ups. Or clean out the basement.
Or rearrange the furniture. Weed. You'll lose your rage.
But let's take a quick peak at the psychological/social system and CBT before the weekend begins and people start drinking and throwing things.
We'll use a new fake, fictional totally imaginary couple, Reg and Ranata (choose different genders if you like, gay or straight makes no difference).
Ranata is the identified patient, the one who chose to come to therapy for her issues. But I brought in Reg to get his point of view, of course, to rat out Ranata. After a couple of months of depression Ranata is just now getting in touch with some flammable anger that she says she’s always had.
"It's never bothered me," she says. "I don't hit anyone, I just . . . go off. It's Reg who's uncomfortable with it." He hates it.
This going off thing tends not to work in most relationships. In some cultures the exaggerated expression of emotion is totally expected and even encouraged. This is why sometimes it's best to date within your own tribe so your behavioral mores don't clash.
But I think that even within a cultural context that values the free expression of emotion, it's dangerous to express anger violently.
Your partner, even if he or she grew up in an emotionally expressive family still might not have developed a "tough skin." Sometimes having grown up in a very emotionally expressive family can make us even more sensitive.
"I have to stop for Reg,” she says. “I need to stop for him."
Actually, not only does Reg find anger a real drag, but he's very embarrassed and turned off when he sees Ranata behave angrily at people. She doesn’t get angry at him. She gets angry at others in front of him.
But she wants to change. This is true love, friends. If it's a problem for your partner, it's a problem for you. If it's a problem for you, it's a problem for your partner.
Quick history: Ranata
Despite this she has a survivor in your face personality and very successful in the business world. Aggressive successful.
But her core belief is that she's not good enough and that she’s powerless when it comes to changing people who are important to her, like her father. And she likes letting off steam, displacing her frustration on her office team, sales clerks, telephone solicitors, credit card company reps, etc.
When faced with a problem Ranata starts out rational, even intellectual. But as soon as she gets to the point of frustration she loses all civility, bangs on counters, says mean things. That's when her guy wants out of the relationship.
Let's look at the A-B-C in the table, AFFECT, BEHAVIOR, COGNITION. Remember that you can intervene ANYWHERE. You can change the affect. You can change the behavior. You can change the cognition.
So change the behavior or the cognition. Start by identifying the feeling.
Ranata, like most people, can tell when she’s getting angry. Because she went to therapy she knows that she learned to be angry from her father, as opposed to say, being sad. I mean, why do some people (like me) get sad whereas other people get angry?
One reason is that some families prescribe a preferred emotion. They give the kids permission to feel and act in certain ways. Like in my family there was permission to be sad, whereas in a lot of families crying is considered a weakness. But my mom said, Go ahead, cry. It feels really good to get it all out. (thanks Mom!)
So of course, people like me learned that it's okay to cry and that crying will generally evoke sympathetic loving responses in people.
You know about reinforcement from the other behavioral posts, I think.
Long story long in Ranata’s case we know that her anger is really about being frustrated and shut down, powerless with her father who gave permission to be angry. She’s aware that being frustrated in her relationships is dangerous and tends to culminate in verbal violence.
Since anger's an aversive stimulus, she loses friends. Her anger spells doom. It's like Voldemorth’s strength in the Harry Potter books, gains power with the host, the object.
So her job is to catch it when it's on the rise. The cognitive piece is recognizing the anger rising, sensing it, noticing the feeling as it becomes more and more uncomfortable. Then she has to ask herself:
What is this horrible feeling? Oh, it's anger. I know it well. Anger puts the "A" in AFFECT.
She recognizes the feeling, then THINKS. Thinking is the next step (COGNITION). She has to slow down the action to mentally evaluate what's going on, what is happening.
Then she has to challenge her knee jerk thinking on the subject and her automatic behavior (exploding) and think of an alternative response, a new BEHAVIOR.
Wow. All of this is so much work. So much easier to throw the dishes, no?
Have a nice weekend.