Throughout my career as a Psychotherapist, particularly when working with statutory services, I have often been asked to provide, ‘Anger Management’. Now I do understand that some people desperately need help with their anger and that it often has destructive effects on them and their relationships. However, what was, (its much less heard of these days), called anger management often consisted of cognitive techniques to control anger, breathing exercises, counting backwards etc, and while these may help a few people they don’t really touch the surface for most. The appeal is in a simplistic idea of control, the idea that we can simply choose which emotions to feel.
Once a certain point of anger has been reached rational thought has gone and telling someone to just control their anger is a bit like saying to someone with depression, “hey bud, don’t be sad’.
The psychodynamic approach along with all exploratory therapeutic approaches, seeks to understand the hurt behind the anger, attempting to address the root rather than the surface ‘symptom’.
The root of anger is very individual, each person has their reason to be angry and an analytic approach seeks to understand the reasons, meaning and purpose of an individual’s anger, helping them feel understood.
Anger and Depression
Anger is often part of a complex set of internal feelings and conflicts and is felt to be a bad feeling and sought to be repressed, setting up feelings of guilt and self-criticism. The hurt behind the anger often relates to a personal sense of wounding, rejection and loss. Anger is sometimes directed inwardly towards the self and this is causal factor in depression.
This sense of internal rejection, which of course can come from very real experiences of feeling let down or rejected and while sometimes may be due to genuinely abusive experiences can also be due to a care givers unavoidable unavailability. For instance, if a caregiver themselves suffers a depression, the feeling of the child can be one of personal hurt and rejection, leading to a painful feeling of unwanted-ness, self-loathing and externalised or internalised anger.
However, it can be very hard to be angry at someone one needs or is dependent on, powerful guilt and/or anxiety can be stirred up about these aggressive feelings towards someone loved, with a feeling that these feelings may damage the loved person and therefore the anger has to be split off and directed elsewhere. Splitting is an age old defence mechanism, alive and well in todays world, whichever side of any given debate you can be sure that many on either side will be using that debate to project their bad feelings onto the others over theirs.
The ability to tolerate both angry and loving feelings (ambivalence) towards a loved person is hard and Psychotherapy aims to create a safe non-judgmental space where these feelings and conflicts can be expressed through words, easing the need to either split them off or act them out.
Paul Salvage is Psychodynamic Psychotherapist trained to work with adolescents from 16-25 and adults across a wide range of specialisms including depression, anxiety, family issues, self awareness and relationship difficulties. He currently works with individuals in our private practice in Hove.
Further reading by Paul Salvage –
What makes Psychotherapy Different?