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