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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Hartney, LPC NCC

Anger: a bit of it can be good, but unmanaged, it can be very bad.

Each of our emotions plays a useful role in our survival. And even though there are no "good" or "bad" emotions - we often think of happy and joyful as good emotions, and sad and mad as bad emotions. Certainly, some emotions feel better than others to experience, but each has an important role to play in our daily lives.

Parents often encourage children to express gratitude, pride, happiness, and other feel good emotions, while discouraging the expression of other emotions such as frustration, or disappointment.

 In this way we learn that some emotions are acceptable (good!) while others are unacceptable (bad). The expression of frustration or anger are sometimes discouraged because they can seem impolite, or be inconvenient. Who wants to be the mom with the kid throwing a tantrum? But rather than teach emotional management or regulation, many parents shortcut to discipline to just get the screaming to stop! It makes sense given today's fast paced socially connected world. But sadly, because of this lot's of people missed out on really important lessons about regulating really useful emotions.

So, how can anger be useful? Emotions like anger can signal whether others are observing our boundaries, respecting our feelings, or treating us justly. Ideally, well regulated anger can alert us and protect us in hostile situations, and motivate us to defend ourselves. Imagine if nothing ever angered a person. The likelihood of manipulation or endangerment is greatly increased! Each of us will fall along a spectrum of low tolerance/easily angered to higher tolerance/not easily angered. Several factors will influence where on the spectrum you fall. Genetics, interpersonal strife, family culture, socio-economic status, and sense of self determination are just a few of the forces that impact this. So, anger can be a useful emotion as long as we can manage our tolerance level, regulation, and expression of our angry feelings.

And this is where we return to the question: How was anger treated in your childhood? Were you allowed to feel angry? Was your anger empathized with, or discouraged by being met with overpowering force?  How did your role models handle their anger? The answers to these types of questions will give you solid clues to how your ability to manage your emotions were formed. Here is some more good news! Learned behaviors can be unlearned. 

Here is an example that I often use with clients: Imagine you are driving on the highway and a car comes speeding up behind you. He changes lanes and speeds around you, nearly clipping your front end before speeding off. You have some choices to make here: React or respond? This is where the mental control and slowing down of your thoughts is helpful-Sure, you can think the guy is a moron, and an awful human being, and you can react with rage and speed up on him and flip him off, etc... Or, you can respond by recognizing that his driving has nothing to do with you as a person. Be happy that he didn't hit you. Remember your goal is to get to your destination. Maybe he was rushing a choking child to the hospital. Who the hell knows? Given this example, the anger may flair, but through learnable cognitive strategies, you may avoid one of those troubling rage incidents that come with anger management issues.

**Anger Management can be mastered in as few as 8-12 sessions. At NAM Counseling I use two basic approaches, I typically use CBT for Assertiveness Training, and Anger Management. There are a number of self-help resources available for teens and adults. I prefer working with work books where you are asked to complete exercises to gain insight and encourage new behaviors over "guru" type books, which rarely translate from knowledge to action.

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