Anger Problem... Who Me?

Kathy Rogers, MSW LCSW

As a fledgling graduate student, I did a practicum working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. A woman in the shelter support group once shared that "The bruises heal…but the words go straight to your heart." The research is pretty pessimistic regarding the prognosis for persons addicted to rage and its verbal and/or physical expression. Newton Hightower, a therapist who can attest to two rage-related failed marriages, proposes an innovative approach, which has allowed him to be happily married for the last ten years. He reports that he had tried letting out his anger by yelling and pillow pounding. Then he tried learning to express his anger appropriately. Both of these approaches were based on the notion that anger was like a pressure cooker, that the lid needed to come off in therapy so that there would be no pressure building up to be released on others in everyday life.

When Hightower's third wife presented him with a list of ten behaviors to quit doing if he wanted to stay married, he was left with only one option---abstinence. He determined to follow a recovery model to deal with his anger and to see if he could remain in his marriage. He feared that all his bottled up anger might erupt like a volcano, but he was out of options. Instead he found that after three months of abstaining from outward expression of his anger that his feelings of anger had actually decreased. Like a real pressure cooker that was allowed to sit, the steam had turned into cool water. His wife was very specific and behavioral and over time added 10 additional behaviors to his list. His book, Anger Busting 101, contains the following list:

  1. Stop speaking when angry.
  2. Stop staying when angry.
  3. Stop staring when angry.
  4. Stop interrupting---no matter what.
  5. Stop cursing---completely stop no matter what.
  6. Stop name-calling, no matter what.
  7. Stop threatening.
  8. Stop pointing.
  9. Stop yelling, raising your voice, or talking in a mean tone.
  10. Stop being sarcastic. Stop mocking.
  11. Stop throwing things, slamming doors, or banging walls.
  12. Stop all non-affectionate touching.
  13. Stop telling "hero stories." {This means retelling the story with pride of how the angry individual lost his temper or made a sarcastic remark, as if standing up against somebody.}
  14. Stop sighing, clucking, or rolling your eyes.
  15. Stop criticizing. Stop lecturing.

Hightower proposes an additional measure for facilitating this behavioral abstinence. He calls it recovery driving.

  1. Drive within 5 m.p.h. of the speed limit.
  2. If you drive more than 5 m.p.h. over the speed limit, then drive under the speed limit for the next 10 minutes.
  3. No honking of the horn in anger.
  4. Once the other driver sees you, stop honking.
  5. Stop on yellow lights.
  6. If someone wants to get in front of you, let him or her in and smile. Avoid eye contact when another driver is angry with you.
  7. Make no critical comments about anyone else's driving.

If you have suspected (or someone you know has suggested) that you might have a problem with anger, you can try a simple experiment. Abstain from the listed behaviors for one week and see what you discover. Remember, awareness is the first step of change. If you need assistance to abstain successfully, help is available. Adding some new life skills to your tool bag, such as the skill of distress tolerance, might be just what you need to experience exciting relationship improvements. A person who habitually exhibits angry behaviors need not be resigned to being an angry person. You are not your behavior. If you, like Newton Hightower, have experienced repeated failure in this area, change is truly an option.