Anger – A Relational Approach

help with anger in brightonIf you were to approach me for help with the way you express your anger, I would assume you already know that your relationships and career are suffering – and that if the solution were as simple as learning to limit your anger you would have done so already. I work in a relational way. This means that rather than trying to make troublesome feelings go away, I focus on helping people change the way they respond – or relate – to those feelings.
Some short-term strategies for managing problematic anger might well be useful to start with, however I work by looking beyond trying to limit the expression of feelings and concern myself with finding out about what anger means to you.
How do you view anger?
Has it always been this way?
From here it is possible to re-frame your relationship with anger to something altogether less damaging to yourself and to the people around you. In other words, I see trying to control problematic anger as an example of first order change (i.e. change within the existing way of relating to anger) when what is actually needed is a shift to an altogether different way of relating to that anger (i.e. second order change). For a more in-depth explanation of first and second order change see my posts ‘What’s The Difference Between Counselling and Psychotherapy?’ (5th October 2012) and ‘Resolving Our Differences – More of the Same or Something Different?’ (2nd May 2013).
In order for us both to understand how you relate to anger I would need to know something of your life, your relationships and what has happened to you over the years. Often, we will discover together that the expression of feelings such as anger or anxiety are (or were) serving a useful purpose in your life. Indeed, anger can prove to be a valuable resource; it can spur us on to take action to keep ourselves or others out of danger. By exploring your history with regard to your relationship with anger, we are then able to think about whether that relationship is relevant to the life you are living now. A new way of relating to anger can then emerge.
Working in a relational way with a therapist can be challenging. Not everyone is immediately comfortable telling a stranger about their feelings or painful events in their lives. Indeed, it can take a little time to build up a trusting relationship with a therapist where it feels safe enough to talk about what I commonly refer to as ‘difficult stuff’. It would be much easier if the therapist would just make the angry feelings go away! Sadly, I don’t claim to be able to do this – but I do offer an alternative to trying to control or limit expressing anger and finding that not only is this unsustainable, but also that failure to do so can sometimes add to the problem when we are not able to make ourselves ‘do it right’.
The main focus of this post is about dealing with anger that appears out of control, i.e. the way the angry feelings are expressed is out of proportion to the current situation; a minor irritation produces a major response. For some of us the opposite is true. We have learnt to suppress our feelings of anger and this, too, can cause problems. Again, counselling or psychotherapy can be helpful. It might be that at some point in our lives we needed to swallow our anger in order to keep ourselves feeling emotionally safe. Bringing the way we relate to our anger into awareness can show us that circumstances have changed and that by keeping our anger in we might be confusing others and hurting ourselves.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and Counsellor
Image courtesy of franky242 /

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