Thursday, July 12, 2007

Getting a grip through Anger Management

By Jodi Hawkins, Southern Health Contributor

Will Rogers once said, "People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing." Haven't we all been there at some point? It's human nature to make mistakes and who would be truly living without making their share?

But for many, living with excessive anger is one mistake that repeats itself constantly whether it's justified or not. If that anger isn't managed properly it can lead to declining health, the ending of relationships, and even legal disasters.

Fortunately, those who see red a little too often, can clear up their fuming outlook through anger management. It can literally calm that inner storm and help people live more peacefully in spite of circumstances, beliefs, or learned behaviors.

Lucas Parrish of Marion understands the importance of anger management first hand. With the help of the Franklin-Williamson Human Services Family Violence Intervention Program (FVIP), he's made some great strides in keeping his anger in check.

Parrish, 24, completed the FVIP last year after being court-ordered to attend. Though he didn't really want to be involved in the 26-week program at first, his view of the experience changed as time passed.

"In the beginning, I felt like I was jumping through hoops just to get it over with," Parrish says. "Then, as I kept going, I actually started taking things from it and learning. I learned how to deal with certain situations that angered or upset me. It taught me how to walk away."

He admits that his anger stemmed mainly from having a problem with authority figures. "I tend to stand firm. I'll stand my ground whether I'm wrong or right. Most of the time, I was wrong. But, to me, I was always right no matter what."

Parish says there are often misconceptions about why people are forced into anger management. "Everybody always thinks you beat up your girlfriend or something like that. But not everybody's in there for that reason. It's a lot of different things."

Parrish recalls seeing other people come to one or two sessions and never returning, even though they were also required to complete the program. But by staying in it for the long haul, he's found that talking things out in the group sessions really helps.

"I had a counselor once who called it 'collecting stamps.' If you collect stamps and keep putting them in a bag, eventually the bag gets full and bursts open," Parrish says. "That's the way I always was. I would bottle everything up and then finally blow up. Now I just talk about it."

How angry is too angry?

Since anger is a natural emotion, some may wonder how to decide if they even need anger management. "It's hard to differentiate how much anger is going to be problematic and how much is okay," says Beth Morrison, adult counseling services therapist from Southern Illinois Regional Social Services (SIRSS) in Carbondale.

It all boils down to whether or not the anger gets in the way of their everyday lives, Morrison says. For example, has it impacted their jobs or caused problems in their relationships? If so, then it may be time to seek help.

Joyce A. Griffin, PhD, LCPC, NCC, has taught anger management classes at Rend Lake College in Ina. Griffin, who also provides counseling though her private practice in West Frankfort, says it's not always a particular trigger that causes people to easily lose their tempers, but possibly an impulse control problem.

There are certain things to look for when assessing someone's anger issues. "You want to know if this is a life circumstance that they're going through like the breakup of a marriage, the infidelity of a mate, or if there's a clinically significant diagnosis related to it, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Bi-polar disorder," Griffin says.

Anger induced health problems

Research has linked chronic (long-term) anger to health issues such as high blood pressure, headaches, skin disorders and digestive problems. Anger can also be associated with problems like crime, emotional and physical abuse, and other violent behavior.

"Doctors have reported that one of the highest risk factors for heart disease is having a chronic, ongoing anger or irritability type of syndrome where the person is mad about everything almost all of the time," says Larry Knopp, clinical therapist from Jefferson County Comprehensive Services in Mt. Vernon. "That leads to a lot of adrenaline in your system."

In fact, numerous studies suggest that it's those same fluctuations of adrenaline that lead to most anger-induced health problems.

Self harmers

Research indicates that many teenagers who begin to feel extreme anger will turn to self harm as a way to relieve tension. There are some common things that self harmers do, such as chewing on the insides of their mouths, burning themselves with cigarettes, and especially, cutting themselves.

While many people assume that self harmers are actually trying to commit suicide, that's not necessarily true. "Self harming is not a suicide gesture," says Mike Rohling, youth & family intervention manager at SIRSS. "It's really an inadequate coping mechanism."

Rohling notes that many of the kids he counsels for anger issues tend to take a lot of risks, which can put them into even more dangerous physical situations.

Types of treatment

Anger management is conducted in sessions for individuals and/or groups. Many participants will experience both throughout the course of their treatment.

"I think group actually works quite well," Knopp says. "That's what the members tell me too, because they can hear the stories of other people and what they've gone through. In the group, they're also encouraged to help each other with problem solving."

Most anger management programs will initially assess each participant to determine the magnitude and root cause of his or her anger. That's especially important when unmanaged anger has led one to become physically aggressive.

April Scales is the co-facilitator of the Alternatives to Violence (ATV) Program, designed for male perpetrators who have had an encounter of domestic violence against an intimate partner and have been referred to the program either by a court system, through orders of protection, or any other social service agency.

"You have to break down your understanding of where the abuse was derived from," Scales says. She also looks for specific things during her assessments. Was it something that they witnessed as children? Was it something that they felt was necessary to keep their partners obedient? What was the purpose of the abuse? Because abuse is usually a way of getting an immediate response, she says.

The ATV program is held in Marion and Harrisburg. Putting emphasis on the abuser's accountability and responsibility, it prohibits group members from blaming the victims of their abusive episodes.

Members are charged a sliding scale fee to attend the 26-week program. However, once they've completed the course they are allowed and encouraged to return as often as they feel is necessary, free of charge. This "maintenance" practice includes group or individual counseling sessions much like the original program.

Support is everyone's business

With so many damaging effects of unmanaged anger it should be easy to see why having strong support systems available is so important, especially to younger generations. Yet, many of the people in favor of supporting this cause aren't always willing or able to take action.

"As much as our society and our government say 'kids are our future,' I really don't think we back that up," notes Megan Devenport, youth and family counselor at SIRSS.

In a world of increasing deficits and decreasing state and federal funding, it's far from easy to accommodate the needs of programs such as these. However, those needs continue to grow whether help comes or not.

That's why Rohling hopes that people will contact their legislators and remind them how much this affects everyone. He explains that not helping kids with such severe problems could cause them to end up unemployable.

"These are people that are going to suck up tax dollars," he says. "If we take tax users and turn them into tax payers, it's worth the money."

Tips to control your temper

When your anger has a negative impact on your relationships, it may be time to find a better way of expressing it. The Mayo Clinic offers the following advice to get your anger under control:

• Take a "time out." Count to 10 before reacting or leave the situation altogether.

• Do something physically exerting. Physical activity can provide an outlet for your emotions, especially if you're about to erupt. Go for a walk or a run, swim, lift weights or shoot baskets, for example.

• Find ways to calm and soothe yourself. Practice deep-breathing exercises, visualize a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase to yourself, such as "take it easy." You can also listen to music, paint, write in your journal or do yoga.

• Express your anger as soon as possible so that you aren't left stewing. If you can't express your anger in a controlled manner to the person who angered you, try talking to a family member, friend, counselor or another trusted person.

• Think carefully before you say anything so that you don't end up saying something you'll regret.

• Work with the person who angered you to identify solutions to the situation.

• Use "I" statements when describing the problem to avoid criticizing or placing blame. For instance, say "I'm upset you didn't help with the housework this evening," instead of, "You should have helped with the housework." To do otherwise will likely upset the other person and escalate tensions.

• Don't hold a grudge. Forgive the other person. It's unrealistic to expect everyone to behave exactly as you want.

• Use humor to defuse your anger, such as imagining yourself or the other person in silly situations. Don't use sarcasm, though - it's just another form of unhealthy expression.

• Keep an anger log to identify the kinds of situations that set you off and to monitor your reactions.

You can practice many of these strategies on your own. But if your anger seems out of control, is hurting your relationships or has escalated into violence, you may benefit from seeing a psychotherapist or an anger management professional. Role playing in controlled situations, such as anger management classes, can help you practice your techniques.

Excerpt of success

Learning to manage anger that was once out of control is certainly impressive. Nothing demonstrates that kind of success better than the words and actions of those who continue to apply what they learn through anger management.

In a program release statement excerpt written by a prior Alternatives to Violence (ATV) participant, co-facilitator, April Scales reads, "One very important thing I have learned is to recognize the warning signs of my anger building towards a potentially violent episode."

"By being able to identify these things, I'm better able to deal with conflict and react in a calm, non-violent way. I'm able to prepare myself ahead of time for high stress situations and avoid any potential conflict."

"Another important thing I've learned is that control is an unhealthy behavior. I know I cannot and should not control another person. Control creates stress, which leads to conflict and, in turn, can end in violence. Not trying to control someone else or allowing myself to be controlled makes for a much happier, healthier relationship."

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