Ever since I was a kid, I've been known to lose my temper, and I'm
still prone to losing my composure when irritated. It's been
happening for years with some of my uncooperative criminal clients,
but frankly, what really got my attention was when I recently found
myself behaving that way with my young child (not to mention my
wife, who has learned to wait for it to blow over). I should
clarify that it never gets physical, but my volume goes up, and
some of my words can be quite hurtful. I have no interest in the
kind of anger management program that is mandated for guys who have
been assaultive; is there another way to deal with this?
It's true that anger management problems occur on a continuum, and
that while some individuals become physically aggressive, may harm
others and may not even be bothered by having done so, many more
are subject to reacting to frustration with a milder degree of
losing control, raising their voices, adversely affecting
relationships (professional, personal or both), and feeling guilty
or ashamed when all is said and done.
The roots of these patterns may lie in our personal histories,
our neurobiology or both. As a general rule, when our own
self-esteem is solid, we are much less likely to regress into an
uncontrolled, infuriated state.
Anger, of course, is a natural human feeling state, built into us
to help us survive, and we all have it. We are at our healthiest
when we are aware of our emotions, allowing us to respond to a
frustration, insult, etc., rather than reacting in a reflexive
manner. Quite often, but not always, it is appropriate to express
anger - but this is best done assertively (forthrightly expressed
in a way that does not harm or threaten anyone) rather than
Much like relapses of addictive behaviors, anger tends to follow
repetitive patterns. Many people can readily identify those events,
interactions, etc., that trigger angry reactions, and may also be
able to learn to notice early signs of building up toward an
Working with a therapist (in a dedicated way, over time), it is
possible to become very conscious of these patterns, insert more
time for thought before automatically reacting, and develop
strategies for responding in better ways that may leave you and
others feeling fine (or at least okay) afterward.
Reviewing the patterns as a sort of "slow-motion replay" can also
allow you to notice, examine and challenge some of the fleeting
thoughts and beliefs that elicit angry reactions.
If you come into LCL for a full assessment with one of our
clinicians, we should be able to help you zero in on key aspects of
your own pattern, and can refer you to an appropriate therapist for
the longer-term work that will probably be involved. (In some
cases, anger may also reflect a mood disorder or addictive
component, in which case those conditions would also warrant
Changing these behavior patterns will be well worth the effort,
allowing you to interact in more rewarding ways both at home and
with your clients, and to greatly reduce those painful moments of
shame and regret.
Questions quoted are either actual letters/e-mails or
paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking
assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.
Questions for LCL may be mailed to LCL, 31 Milk St., Suite 810,
Boston, MA 02109 or called in to (617)
482-9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in confidence.
Visit LCL online at www.lclma.org.