How To Deal With Deep Feelings of Anger and Explosive Rage
Our guest, Dr. George F. Rhoades , specializes in anger management. We discussed the effects that anger and rage can have on relationships, parenting and work. We talked about different types of anger: deep feelings of anger and resentment, unresolved anger, chronic anger, uncontrollable anger (anger that is out of control), explosive anger and explosive rage. Dr. Rhoades suggested techniques to manage anger, for anger control, and ways to release anger in a aealthy way, along with methods to deal with rage. And finally, we talked about forgiveness and closure (different than "forgive and forget"), as a meaningful way to significantly reduce high levels of anger.
David Roberts:HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
Beginning of Chat Transcript
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Anger Management." Our guest is psychotherapist and author, George Rhoades, Ph.D.
Do you have anger that is all-consuming? Do you harbor deep feelings of anger or resentment? Does your anger control you and your relationships? Dr. Rhoades is the Director of Ola Hou Clinic in Pearl City, Hawaii. He is also author of the book: "Controlling The Volcano Within: Anger Management Training."
Good evening, Dr. Rhoades and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. We appreciate you being our guest tonight. I'd like to start off by asking you what is the difference, in psychological terms, between normal anger and anger that is out of control, either in terms of the level of anger or how long it lasts?
Dr. Rhoades: We typically look at anger that is chronic, or that adversely affects our lives as being harmful. We also look at when anger becomes a problem, i.e. lasts too long, too intense, too frequent. Anger is also a problem when it affects our relationships with those we love or at work. We ask the question for each of us, how much has anger cost us in the past and are we still willing to pay that cost? Thus anger and when it is a problem will vary for each person, but we also try to point out that anger can be a normal part of all our lives.
David: Is long lasting anger primarily the result of simply an unresolved situation or does it stem from the person having a serious psychological problem?
Dr. Rhoades: Long lasting anger can be from both. Unresolved anger often leads to lack of closure and bitterness. Psychological problems can also manifest in anger, a deep depression may have anger at it's foundation. Anger can be expressed in a psychotic episode, either with schizophrenia and in a manic state (what is bipolar disorder and what is manic episode). It is important though to realize that anger that is not addressed tends to cause us a number of physical, psychological and relational problems.
David: What are some signs that let you know that your anger is out of control?
Dr. Rhoades: One clear sign is when you toss and turn at night, but the person that has angered you sleeps soundly. Anger often manifests itself in the ways expressed above, lasting too long, etc. This tells us that anger is extracting a heavy price in our lives.
I once knew a soldier that held his anger inside and he developed ulcers in his stomach, all the way to his mouth. The soldier could not express his anger, and it was, literally, eating him up alive. Anger is a problem when it's functions in your life are mainly negative, not positive. The negative aspects of anger include it disrupting your thinking, leading to aggression, defending yourself and being seen as an angry man or woman.
David: I'm sure you've heard the phrase: "he's an angry person." That generally means the person is angry all the time. Is that a personality or character flaw?
Dr. Rhoades: Any mother that has had more than one child will testify that each child is different from birth. The children tend to have different personalities from birth, different feeding patterns, different expressions of emotions, including anger. A child that tends to have a more irritable personality may thus be prone to anger and if not guided as a child, may not know how to deal with it in a healthy manner. An angry child becomes an angry teen, becomes an angry adult.
A character flaw would be hard to judge. I believe that we all can be helped with our anger and as such there is hope for each of us with an anger problem. The issue is that we need first to admit that we have an anger problem, as "the first step in breaking a habit is knowing that you have a habit." The issue of untreatable anger is rare, usually due to a medical problem such as a tumor, or medication reactions. The latter can be helped and the other area would need to be addressed medically and then assessed further in anger management and anger assessment. So there is hope, even with seemingly chronic anger.
David: What are some proven techniques to better cope with chronic anger?
Dr. Rhoades: The anger management program that I have developed utilizes ten techniques that have been shown to be effective. These techniques involve the areas of our thinking, our emotions and our behaviors. The cognitive or thinking coping skills include understanding your own anger, through an anger assessment and journaling. It is also important to look at understanding the anger of others, through empathy. The third way to deal cognitively with our anger is to look at our thinking or self-talk. The emotional area requires that we learn how to relax and to use time-out procedures effectively. We also need to learn how to have humor in our lives. The behavioral area requires that we learn how to communicate our feelings, be assertive and to problem-solve. The most powerful technique to control or to manage anger is that of closure, closing doors on the past and/or forgiveness.
David:I want to get to that last one about closure, but first, we have a lot of audience questions, Dr. Rhoades, so let's get started. Here's the first one:
Ticket33: I have a problem with letting things go for too long and then getting to the point that I am so angry that I start crying. What do you suggest for that?
Dr. Rhoades: Here, in Hawaii, it is very common for us to not address issues directly, but this usually comes back to haunt us as you have noted. The issue is that if we hold on to our anger, we suffer as the energy of the anger effects our health and emotions. Anger that is held in often can lead to health problems in the weak or vulnerable areas of our lives. You may wish to journal your feelings rather than hold them in or allowing things to continue. If you are unable to address the issue directly, you may wish to talk it out with a friend or trusted counselor. It would be important to watch how your body reacts to anger situations and when you notice that you are getting angry, try to address the issues sooner.
flyier: How does one learn to release anger in a healthy way instead of turning it inwards?
Dr. Rhoades: Good question. We used to think that the expression of anger was the best way to get it out. The expression of anger was perhaps yelling in a group format, hitting pillows or even using a rubber bat to "beat out one's anger." In reality, this only lead people to link anger with hitting or yelling behavior, rather than actual anger management. We want to encourage individuals to get to the root of the anger, that which produces that anger and thus have a more long lasting solution. We do, of course, sometimes have a person hit a pillow. This may be in a situation wherein the patient has never been in touch with his/her anger and the pillow hitting is an intermediate step in the healing process. We would want the patient to quickly move to more of a resolution of the issues leading to the anger in the first place. The healthy expression of anger involves using the energy of anger to do constructive things, to problem-solve, take charge of a situation and to communicate their feelings.
bellissima: How do you control your temper with your children when you need to get them to be responsible? I harbor deep feelings of anger and resentment.
Dr. Rhoades: Children are a special test of our ability to control our anger. One of our challenges as parents (I have three children) is to continually guide them toward responsibility while realizing that they are still children. We often need to set clear expectations that are age appropriate and then have to stand firm with love in training our children. It is important for all parents to have ways to lower your stress and to re-gain control of ourselves when we are stressed out at work or even at home with our children and/or our spouses. No easy answers, but discipline that is applied consistently and fairly will eventually produce results with our children. We often need support and relief so that we can maintain our consistency in parenting.
David: Just a couple of site notes here and then we'll continue with the questions. We have many things going on at HealthyPlace.com. If you'd like to know what's happening, register for our weekly email newsletter.
Dr. Rhoades website is here.
Here's the next question:
queenofmyuniverse: How is the best way to deal with a child that has ADHD and an anger problem?
Dr. Rhoades: The ADHD child can have anger and frustration, as it is difficult for that child to focus and it is frustrating for us also to help our children with ADHD. It is critical to provide structure and to help the child to better organize his/her world. Medication is often helpful, although as a parent I have long resisted using medication for ADHD children. I used to create incredible complex programs for parents and teachers to help the ADHD child. I watched as the parents and teachers became more frustrated and learned that medication can be helpful for the child to focus at school, a critical time for he or she to develop better self-esteem. It is also important for the parent to be disciplined as well. It is common for one of the parents to also have ADHD. The parents can work with the entire family to develop better structure and to help the child learn to safely and respectfully express their anger. I believe that all children need to learn how to express their anger in the home, and with respect for siblings and parents. We don't want to make the mistake of trying to stop the expression of anger, as this may lead the child then to express it inappropriately outside of the home.
David: We have several similar questions on explosive anger or rage:
tender ice: I get so angry that I want to punch a wall or throw the phone across the room. I can't do this because others are here and that would freak them out, so I just shove it in and my insides feel like exploding. How do I deal with that and learn to let go?
Dr. Rhoades: It would be important to better identify the triggers or what leads to the explosive anger inside. As you learn the triggers, you can then develop better ways to deal or to cope with the triggers that may lead to rage. You do need a way to lower the rage inside. This may be done through journaling, talking to a non-involved party or even vigorous exercise. It is important though to eventually address the causes of the triggers in your life. You may do relaxation, journaling, exercise and things like this to be able to take the energy or edge off the rage, but then you need to address the reasons for the rage. You are wise to not express the anger as rage, however you may want to take a period of time to cool down and then revisit the issue. The issues that led to the rage are still important. The problem with rage or explosive anger is that others may see you as out of control and thus minimize the reasons that you got angry, even if they were legitimate.
pmncmn2ooo: How come when I get the slightest bit angry it automatically turns to rage?
Dr. Rhoades: This would probably be due to your past link with anger---> rage or more violent anger. The issue is what you think about before you get angry. Those thoughts typically lead to the rage or actions when you are then angry. We think about what we want to do and then when we are angry we go into automatic mode. It would be important to give yourself time between your anger and rage, perhaps a time-out. One helpful technique is to talk with those important to you to establish that when you are getting angry, that you will give an agreed upon signal and then you will take a time-out. If you utilize time-out, let the other person know that you will return to address the issue in a specified period of time. This way the other person will not try to hold you back to "deal with the situation."
C.U.:How do mood swings affect anger? It seems like just about most things trigger me off. Why would things that are not normally triggered off by a calm person trigger me off in an instant, but the next day it might not trigger my anger?
Dr. Rhoades: Mood swings are going to effect the level of tension within us and thus the energy behind the emotions that we express. You can have intense joy and anger due to mood swings.
Hannah Cohen: I have been programmed to not show any emotion without negative consequences. I still don't show anger, but Dr. Rhoades my hubby and I have 5 children and each is allowed to express their anger as long as they don' t hurt themselves or anyone else. I, on the other hand, most of the time, feel numb. This is not good for me either, I don't think. However, I have been numb so long that I don't know where to begin to feel anything. Any suggestions?
Dr. Rhoades: It is good that your family is able to express their emotions and not harm themselves or each other. I hope that you will start to give yourself the same privilege of expressing your anger. A helpful way to start would be to journal how you are feeling, perhaps what you would like to say if you were not numb. You may have been taught as a young child to not express your anger, as an adult it is hard, but you will be able to learn how to express it without damaging yourself or others.
cranky: How would you handle the person who makes you angry all the time, doesn't care and doesn't think he has a problem? I don't live with him but he is my father so he likes to play the control game. In fact, he has made it clear that if I don't play he will never do anything for me again... and I mean anything.
Dr. Rhoades: You have to count the cost in abusive relationships. It usually isn't true that a parent or sibling will forever cut you off, even if they threaten you that they will do so. The very fact that he has to threaten you implies that he lacks control of you and has to threaten you to maintain that control. I would tend to encourage you to give honor to your father, but not to allow him to hurt you as he has in the past. It would be important to set more healthy boundaries with your father and others that would tend to harm you. You may need to let your dad know that you want a relationship with him, but one that is mutually beneficial, not damaging.
MissPeabody: Yes that's the kind of person I want to know about. Is it uncontrollable rage when a person who is sick and twisted gets off on toying with you and no matter how you address it, they act like you are the problem?
Dr. Rhoades: It is typically a person that does not like to take personal responsibility for problems in their lives and/or the problems that they cause in other's lives. Anger is often used as a shield to cover fear underneath. Show me an angry person and you will often show me a fearful person. The anger is used as a shield to keep people at a distance. If I let you in too close, you will see my insecurities and weaknesses. It does not take a strong person to control others with anger, but a fearful person that uses anger to manipulate others. This is not always the case, but I have seen it quite often. The challenge is to not allow the angry controlling person push us to react in similar ways, leading us to react in similar manners.
Zippity: Is there another alternative to the previously mentioned methods to deal with the rage when those have been already tried, and it still doesn't decrease the level of rage? I've been taking time-outs from my anger all my life, and that has led to increased rage. So how do time-outs ultimately help? Is it possible this way doesn't work for everyone?
Dr. Rhoades: You may need to find other ways to decrease the energy of your rages or anger, so that you can think more clearly. Rage often overwhelms us to the point that we say and do things that we later regret. Some have used tranquilizers to lower their tension levels to help control anger. I see this as only a temporary solution. You may need to find the areas in your life that increase tension, and then work on lowering tension to gain more self-control. Anger is seen as bodily tension plus a view of the world as either frustrating, irritating, insulting, assaulting and/or unfair. Should our lives be stress-filled, we are already primed for anger. When this is apparent, we need to lower the stress in our lives.
David: Here are a few audience comments about what's been said tonight, then I want to address the issue of forgiveness and closure.
bellissima: I have a boss who is trying to manipulate me and controlling me so I don't express my ideas or opinions to her boss. I am tired of her games and I want people to hear my ideas because they are good, she is afraid I will take her job.
nkr: I have always handled myself well until my husband and I get into such a rage. I just want to die.
Chunky: I let things build up too long, then when I try to approach problem solving, I am afraid of "losing control".
suncletewoof: At times, I feel like I'll explode and kill everyone around me, though I've kept my rage intact. I have explosive rage that never comes out except when I am in the hospital.
David: Earlier, Dr. Rhoades, you said that forgiveness and closure were key to resolving or lowering your anger level. If only it were that easy to "forgive and forget." I'd like to know how do you get to that point?
Dr. Rhoades: "Forgive and forget" is a popular phrase, but we humans don't typically forget. The issues can fade though when we have done our parts to find closure on issues. The steps to forgive are about five and are a mirror image of saying that we are sorry as well. It is important to first note that forgiveness does not mean that what the other person did was okay. Forgiveness or closure is a letting go of or a not allowing the situation or the person to hurt us any longer. Forgiveness also does not imply that we have the same level of trust with the person that harmed us. Forgiveness happens one moment in time, trust has to be earned. Thus closure or forgiveness involves a letting go that basically benefits the giver of the forgiveness. The steps for forgiveness are:
- Determine what hurt you.
- Determine what you need to close the door or to let go of the anger and hurt.
- A confrontation with the situation or person that hurt you. It is important though to look at the costs and benefits of a confrontation. Sometimes a confrontation may not be beneficial as the person may deny the hurt or even re-abuse us. You may want to write out your confrontation, mail it, not mail it, burn it, but get it out of yourself. Another way perhaps is to talk it out with another trusted person, should the actual person of the hurt be too risky.
- Determine to forgive or let go of the situation.
- Maintain the decision to let go of the hurt and anger. Relationships are made or broken on the ability to forgive and to say that we are sorry. This is why forgiveness or closure is so important to those relationships that we want to maintain.
David: I'm getting a lot of audience responses about forgiveness, essentially saying they keep forgiving because the offending person keeps offending. But what you said above was forgiveness or closure doesn't mean you have to KEEP ALLOWING the other person to keep hurting you.
megan s: You can only say and hear you're sorry so many times through. The person keeps doing it and I keep letting them even though I tell my husband over-and-over again not to. I tell him that it hurts me when he does this or that and so I should leave-- but I have four kids and have been a stay at home mother for 10 years. I confront my husband on it all and he continues his behavior. You make it sound so easy but it's not when there are children involved.
Dr. Rhoades: That is correct, to forgive is to not say their behavior was okay or that you trust them. You may need to do what is necessary for your safety and that of others dependent on you. What we are addressing is a letting go so that you are not trapped by your own hurt and anger. Sometimes we hold on to our anger as we are so hurt by the other's actions. We have to be careful that in holding on to our anger, we may in fact be further harming ourselves and our children. I am not trying to imply that it is easy, but it is necessary to not be trapped by the past. The issue is to address the issues that we can, and at some point we need to move on and not be trapped by the past. This does not mean that person that harmed us should have no consequences. You may still chose to not be around an abusive person, but don't allow that abusive person to still control you long distance, though held one-to anger within us for past hurts.
Zippity: Does that include breaking relations permanently with those who have harmed us, if that is the only way to achieve closure?
Dr. Rhoades: I would never recommend that a person break off a relationship permanently. That would be the individual choice of persons involved. It is important to personally look at what cost or consequences of maintaining the relationship will have on you and your loved ones.
David: Thank you, Dr. Rhoades, for being our guest tonight and for sharing this information with us. And to those in the audience, thank you for coming and participating. I hope you found it helpful. We have a very large and active community here at HealthyPlace.com. Also, if you found our site beneficial, I hope you'll pass our URL around to your friends, mail list buddies, and others. http://www.healthyplace.com. Dr. Rhoades website is here. Thank you, again, Dr. Rhoades for coming and staying late tonight. We appreciate it.
Dr. Rhoades: Good night to all the participants in the chat on anger management. I enjoyed interacting with all of you. Aloha from Hawaii!
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Last Updated: 30 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD