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Anger Management vs Emotional Resilience?

In this article we are exploring the differences between anger management or emotional resilience! We are looking at a CBT technique called ANGER MAPPING!

Anger Management is undoubtedly the most common area that I am asked to help parents and young people with. This is growing more and more and I feel that it is becoming more of a struggle for young people to cope with their emotions as well as for parents to understand just how they can help! However I do think that we have to look at anger in a different way. Historically anger has always been given a bad rap and is blamed for many things. When a young person “gets angry” they are often made to feel that this is somehow a bad thing!

For us to start to change the way we help our young people and to build some kind of long term emotional resilience, we need to look at anger in the same way that we look at other emotions like happiness. When young people say “I am really happy today” they are often smiled at, hugged and celebrated. When a young person says “I am feeling really angry” they are often asked a million questions, told things like “don’t be angry” or “what’s your problem now?” I hear this all the time in my therapy room!

We have to start to look at anger as a normal healthy emotion! It’s not the anger that is the problem, it’s the expression of anger that can sometimes be tricky!

Lets look at what triggers anger within us!

Anger emotions build up within us depending on how we are reading and interpreting a situation and everyone has unique triggers which are created within us in unique ways. Some of the most common triggers include;

Feeling like we are being treated unfairly

Feeling powerless

Feeling threatened

Feeling frustrated

Feeling attacked

We also have to add a persons general wellbeing into the mix when we look at triggers. If someone is feeling low in confidence, then this could be a trigger as they may feel as though they are being judged or have a core belief that “I am not good enough”. If someone has experienced a trauma then they may feel more triggered than others when it comes to feeling threatened.

Let’s explore the language: 

If your child came home today and said that they got into trouble at school because they felt threatened by another person and so pushed someone away from them, how would you feel about that? I know that I would feel protective and want to question the school over why my child was in trouble when they felt threatened and so did not know how to react in the moment. If your child came home and said I got angry and pushed someone, would this feel different for you? Exactly the same situation but different language. We have to start to explore language more! We have to make a difference in the emotional vocabulary that we teach our young people, otherwise we are teaching young people that it is “wrong” to feel anger! We need anger in our lives and this is another healthy emotion!

Our past must be included in our anger map:

There are other important factors to look at when we are exploring someones unique anger map.

A young person could be holding onto unresolved anger from past situations. If this is the case then any situation where a person feels unheard, invalidated or unimportant could be a trigger for expression. That anger is like a ticking volcano and is waiting for a chance to express! That anger is like a cornered puppy just waiting to be heard. Other factors include feeling accepted, how parents have modelled the expression of anger growing up in the house, how siblings model anger expression and what happens when they do and also how situations have been handled in the past. We have to look at the whole person, the whole past and the whole now to understand the what, the why and the how!

The what, the why and the how:

This is as simple as understanding what is causing anger, why it’s causing anger and how it’s being felt in the body!

The what?

This could be who such as a person, a situation like being made to stand last in line representing not being important enough to be at the front (remember interpretation plays a part here) or an environmental factor such as loud noise for someone who struggles with sensory sensitivities.

The why?

Why am I feeling triggered? Is this a thought or belief that is feeding into this like “they don’t like me” or am I Physically being triggered like “this person won’t stop poking my back in class” making me feel uncomfortable and this is unfair.

The how?

Where in my body am I now experiencing this? My hands are getting hot, my knees are shaking, my voice is getting rough, my stomach is sick, my head wants to explode, tears are coming and all the many other ways that we can physically experience anger. Some people become very quiet or can even become manipulative so that others will allow them the space that they need to process. Some may express with power to assert some control over the feeling of being powerless. This can often lead to eruptions and throwing chairs around a room or screaming at people. A natural inborn animal instinct to bring balance back to a situation!

How do we support young people to express anger in a way that builds emotional resilience?

Be a witness and really listen without judgement. Don’t try to fix their problem but rather just be there for a while and listen. Counsellors are trained for years in the best ways to listen without the need to fix and the results are powerful. Young people share that they love coming to see me as they feel like they can be themselves and that I “get it”. This is simply through the power of active listening!

Validate their feelings. “I am so sorry this happened to you today” and “this must have been so hard for you to feel like that at school”. “I am here for you” or “can I help you in any way?”

Give them space. They may need some time to process the day when he/she gets home. They may need some extra TLC to be able to unwind from the situation. Don’t try to talk about it or explore or before they are ready or you become another trigger!

Help a young person to find their own solution by using exploring language like; “how did that feel when he said that” and “what would you like to have said when they said that” and ensure that you are not judging or putting your own two cents in! You have to remember that you were not there and did not experience the situation in the same way that they did. You can’t know how you would’ve reacted in that situation!

Get creative with anger. Explore ways to support young people to explore their own anger so that you start to see and create a unique anger map full of triggers, the what, the why and the how! Keep a creative messy journal or worry monster. Create a beautiful jar and invite young people to write things that stress them out or trigger them and then burn these once its full. Have fun with it!

Talk positively about anger. Discuss anger in the same way that you discuss happiness! Be open and relaxed about it. You cant stop it as it’s a normal chemical, behavioural and human response to life. There is a term fro stopping it and this is called REPRESSED! This is dangerous and this will be like creating a volcano with feet!

EXPRESS, EXPRESS, EXPRESS! Create a safe space at home where you express emotions with fun. Beat the hell out of a massive stuffed toy. Scream into a pillow. Have paper that is just there for ripping up. Have a dark corner for lying in without any sensory input.

Build confidence. Tell them how well they are doing, how proud you are of them and how important they are in this world. Explore future goals without telling them “oh you don’t want to keep bees as there isn’t much money in this”. Bees change the world! Do lots of 1:1 activities which encourage confidence like swimming, arts and crafts and music. Start to be more creative and use loving and positive language!

Be an advocate for expressing anger and how normal and healthy this is! 

Would you like to learn how to coach young people to explore their emotions using Mindfulness?

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