Anger counseling is a many splendored beast. Ever heard that old AA phrase or acronym HALT, for example? The acronym means that we are at greater risk for relapse when we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.
Hunger, lonliness, fatigue, closed head injury, ADD, ADHD, family of origin, addiction and recovery, grief, forgiveness and reconciliation, automatic negative thoughts, stress, our response to facial expressions, all can play a part in the emotional experience of anger.
We are supposed to have anger by the way, it is the energy we use to solve problems. And it is also a secondary emotion, usually following another emotion like hurt or shame.
However, if we use anger to justify violence I think we subvert the purpose of our emotions.
The one thing that no other anger management program that I am aware of talks about is the speed of the Central Nervous System (CNS).
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi,Ph.D., author to the book FLOW written in 1993, estimates that the CNS processes packets of non-verbal communication consisting of seven bits of data per package every 1/18th second.
That is 2x as fast as I can blink my eyes, which takes 1/10th second.
So you have to have your anger counseling tools in a place where they can be recalled very quickly.
Paul Ekman,Ph.D. who has worked for decades to develop a systematic catalog of human facial expressions says that all humans no matter what culture they are from, respond to a look of contempt in 1/25th second, and what that means is usually first hurt, then anger.
Any of you who are parents can remember how you felt when your children looked at you with a look of contempt. Even the memory of that look can bring back the hurt/anger emotions.
Michael Merzenich,Ph.D. of the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program says that Senior drivers need to prepare for changing road conditions in 1/45th second, which is about 4.5 times as fast as I can blink my eyes.
I also like to help folks in anger counseling understand that their internal chemistry or hormones change with each thought they have, and that we as human beings have on average about 200 thoughts per day which change our chemistry toward irritation and that we need to be prepared to name our feelings, their intensity, and to make some decisions about changing them much more frequently and much faster than perhaps we thought we did.
Sounds like mindfulness, doesn't it?
Mindfulness, or awareness of what I am feeling coupled with deep breathing gives me a powerful tool to calm down if I am getting to hot.
John Gottman,Ph.D. and his wife, Julie Schwartze-Gottman talk about something they call Diffuse Physiological Arousal, or PDA, in their excellent workshop called The Art and Science of Love, which is for couples.
Their antidote for the awareness or mindfulness issue around strong feelings?
Take your pulse, and if it is over 100 beats per minute, take at least 20 minutes, especially for men, to calm down. Repeat that process as often as necessary.
Another tool that I teach for the awareness and mindfulness aspect of anger counseling in a biofeedback tool, called HeartMath, which trains the ability to regulate the time between heart beats.
When you learn Heartmath, you can feel good on demand, on any given heart beat. Your heart beat is actually a little slower than your CNS, but it is a much shorter intervention time than most of us are used to.
Heartmath is based on research in the recently discovered field of neurocardiology, which is the study of the heart's own nervous system. The heart sends a great deal of data to the brain about how we are feeling, much more than the brain sends to the heart, and the heart's brain is an affiliative and cooperative brain, which is good brain to use in dealing stress.
Anger counseling involving Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) will involve recognition of automatic negative thoughts and disputing them in the case of REBT or creating a flow chart of evidence supporting your hot thought and evidence contradicting your hot thought in the case of CBT.
Once again, awareness will be a key piece of the anger counseling puzzle, but this time of thoughts, not just physiology or pulse.
When I do my anger management workshops, I frequently teach the Karpman drama triangle, or victim-rescuer-persecutor tool, and I teach about the grieving process using the Kubler-Ross model of grieving which includes a frequent movement between sadness and anger during the non-linear grieving process.
It is amazing to me that our culture teaches the grief process so poorly.
So many of my clients have a life time of ungrieved losses and pervceived abandonments which impact their ability to trust, and if their CNS is overwhelmed by the physsiology associated with a memory, their body may be moving before they can think about taking a pulse.
PTSD fits in this category, along with family of origin issues like physical abuse or child abuse or even witnessing violence.
Anger counseling always involves accountability, and to teach that I routinely ask my clients where they see me, and most of them are flummoxed by my question until I explain that they see me in their visual cortex, hear me in Broca's area, feel the chair they are sitting on in the sensory motor cortex, smell in the limbic brain, ect.
In other words, their entire experience of life is inside their head, and their thought about that sensory experience is what brings the feelings, and we know that thought happens really fast.
No one can make me mad, my thought about things is what makes me mad.
Most of my clients have a hot spot when I call them on this over the course of the workshop, because being accountable moves them out of the very powerful victim spot.
Are their any tools that make your brain more effective for this awareness and choice process?
Funny you should ask, because there are some computerized brain fitness tools that work with our brains to make them have a higher IQ, or a faster processing speed.
Here are links to three I like and have used myself in conjunction with my Heartmath. Let me know what you think.
Would You Share Something That You Are Grateful For?
When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.