Let’s face it… we all get angry from time to time. After all, we are human beings, first and foremost. In dealing with the many elements of recovery from a substance use disorder, we are often overwhelmed with a flood of emotions that have, in the past, been suppressed through the use of drugs or alcohol. Anger is often a feeling that doesn’t subside when we stop ‘using.’ In fact, sometimes anger becomes predominant.
Anger Defined: In the most general sense, anger is a feeling or emotion that ranges from mild irritation to intense fury and/or rage. This may also lead to hostile and violent behaviors. Hostility is seen as a form of emotionally charged, angry behavior. Many people often confuse anger with aggression. Aggression is a behavior that is intended to cause harm or injury to another person or damage property. Hostility, on the other hand, refers to a set of attitudes and judgments that motivate aggressive behaviors.
When does Anger Become a Problem?: Anger becomes a problem when it is felt too intensely, felt too frequently, or is expressed inappropriately. Feeling anger too intensely or frequently places extreme physical strain on the body. The inappropriate expression of anger initially has apparent payoffs (e.g. releasing tension, controlling people). In the long-term, however, these payoffs lead to negative consequences. That is why they are called “apparent” payoffs: the long-term negative consequences far outweigh the short-term gains.
Myths about Anger: There are many myths surrounding anger. I will attempt to dispel four of these beliefs, as follows:
Myth #1: Anger is inherited. FALSE! One misconception or myth about anger is that the way people express anger is inherited and cannot be changed. Evidence from research studies, however, indicates that people are not born with set and specific ways to express anger. Rather, these studies show that the expression of anger is learned behavior and that more appropriate ways of expressing anger can also be learned. In other words, “Stinking thinking leads to drinking.”
Myth #2: Anger Automatically Leads to Aggression. FALSE! A related myth involves the misconception that the only effective way to express anger is through aggression. There are other, more constructive and assertive ways, however, to express anger. Effective anger management involves controlling the escalation of anger by learning assertiveness skills, changing negative and hostile ‘self-talk,’ challenging irrational beliefs, and empowering a variety of behavioral strategies. These skills, techniques and strategies are acquired through a learning process, which when developed over time, will replace aggressive behaviors.
Myth #3: You must Be Aggressive to Get What You Want: Many people confuse assertiveness with aggression. The goal of aggression is to dominate, intimidate, humiliate, harm, or injure another person—to win at any cost. Conversely, the goal of assertiveness is to express feelings of anger in a way that is respectful of other people. Expressing yourself in an assertive manner does not blame or threaten other people and minimizes the chance of emotional harm.
Myth #4: Venting Anger is Always Desirable. FALSE! For many years, there was a popular belief that the aggressive expression of anger, such as screaming into or beating on pillows was therapeutic and a healthy outlet… and in comparison to screaming at or beating another person, this certainly holds true. Research shows, however, that people who vent their anger aggressively simply get better at being more aggressive. In other words, venting anger in an aggressive manner reinforces aggressive behavior.
Anger is a Habit… Time to Break the Habit. Anger often becomes a routine, familiar and predictable response to a variety of situations. When anger is displayed frequently and aggressively, it can become a maladaptive habit. A habit, by definition, means performing behaviors automatically, over and over again, without thinking. The frequent and aggressive expression of anger can be viewed as a maladaptive behavior because it results in negative consequences. One of the consequences is that we develop resentments, which result in a repetitive cycle of anger and sometimes hostility. This behavior, unchecked, can often lead to relapse or ‘picking up’ as a coping mechanism. Returning to substance use just furthers the dilemma and makes matters much worse.
You can break the anger habit by becoming aware of the events and circumstances that trigger your anger and the negative consequences that are associated with it. In addition, you need to develop a set of strategies to effectively manage your anger.
Debunking the myths! The good news is that all of these myths can be effectively dispelled through the development of strategies, skills, and techniques that focus on assertiveness, not aggression. I hope I have given you some ideas and tools you can use in addressing anger issues when confronted with these recurring feelings. The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania has developed an Anger Management Program to assist with this process.
The program is designed specifically for people with substance use disorders and is presented in multiple week formats, ranging from 6 – 12 sessions. Successful completion of this program will equip you with the ability to be aware of Events and Cues that trigger situational anger; and how to develop and utilize an Anger Control plan, as part of an overall Recovery Plan. The Aggression Cycle is exposed and replaced with Assertiveness Training as a means of Conflict Resolution.
The program will help you identify relationships in which anger is used to manipulate and control others, including spouse, family, friends and co-workers. All-in-all, this program will not only help you control and address anger issues, but help you create balance and synergy in many aspects of your daily life. For more information about The Council’s Anger Management Program, please contact Stephen Osborne at 215-345-6644 x3113 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen F. Osborne, CRS
Survey Coordinator for Montgomery County
The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania/PRO-ACT