Anger Management Classes? Me? Oh I’m not angry.
People who are considered “codependent” have a difficult time expressing anger. The term “codependence” originates in the field of addiction. Those who are codependent have a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life. It also often involves putting one’s needs at a lower priority than others while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.. They base their thoughts and feelings on what other people think or feel or on how others will respond to them.
There are many who have been helped and become self-empowered and no longer look to others for validation. They are much less angry because they are no longer parceling their power away to others. While facilitating a codependency class, I told the group that we were going to talk about “anger”. Most of the group members were anxious to see what would follow. One woman (Elaine) announced: “I don’t get angry”, so I won’t have much to contribute tonight.
Knowing that “everyone” gets angry, I was intrigued by her response. I asked her what she meant. She said that she is a very kind and peaceful woman who stays away from argument or controversy. She said she just “goes with the flow”. She felt that those who could not manage anger were immature or out of control.
We continued the group with lively discussion and insight. True to her word, Elaine just listened.
A month went by and she came to the group. All the students were surprised by her expression and body language. Her face was flush and she began to cry. The group commenced and Elaine shared what had happened to her.
Her story was riveting. She said (through her tears): “ I was in jail for 3 days. I hit my mother and was charged with elder-abuse. I am horrified at my behavior and so ashamed”. She was also astounded at the level of rage she experienced.
After she calmed down, the group members were very supportive and asked how such a “passive” (kind and peaceful in her words) person could explode like she did.
When Elaine said she doesn’t get angry she really was saying that she was a “people-pleaser” . To keep the peace. She swallows her anger and pretends that things are OK, when they really are not. We learned that she was physically abused by her mother as a child and had never dealt with her pain and anger. She withheld her rage and it didn’t go anywhere, rather it built up over the years and then exploded in one single moment.
It is not difficult to understand Elaine’s “shocking” behavior when one realizes that she was unleashing 40 years of unexpressed fury.
The group experience was an epiphany for Elaine and a cautionary tale for other group members.
Our feelings want and need expression. An anger management class teach us how to express our anger in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves or others. It also teaches us the dangers of holding anger in. As the result of her being able to be honest with the group, Elaine started therapy and finally dealt with her years of resentment. She started to heal. She called me a couple years later and was happy to tell me that she was successfully managing her anger. She had found a way to forgive her mother. She said she no longer had headaches or ulcers. She also was able to lose about 50 pounds. Elaine said that now when she gets angry she “tells the truth faster”.
Daybreak Counseling Service