Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Comments on Anger Management and Emotional Abuse

View Julie Christiansen's profile on LinkedIn

Here are some interesting comments from Dr. Steven Stosny about why traditional anger management programs don't work for perpetrators of emotional abuse. I have highlighted and bolded the comments that I think are spot on as it relates to Anger Solutions philosophy.

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., is the founder of CompassionPower in suburban Washington, DC. Dr. Steven Stosny's most recent books are, How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It: Finding Love Beyond Words , and Love Without Hurt: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One .You can check out his blog: Anger in the Age of Entitlement.

Emotional Abuse: Why Anger Management Didn't Work

By Steven Stosny on May 12, 2009 - 8:03pm in Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Anger management programs for emotional or verbal abusers sometimes produce short-term gains that disappear when follow-up is done a year or so later. That was probably your experience if your partner took an anger management class. If you're lucky, you may have seen a lower tone to the chronic blame - anger management classes sometimes turn a yeller into a stonewaller.

The worst kind of anger management class teaches men to "get in touch with their anger" and to "express it" or "get it out." The assumption is that emotions are like 19th century steam engines that need to "let off steam" on a regular basis. These kinds of classes include things like punching bags and using foam baseball bats to club imaginary adversaries. (Guess who would be the imaginary victim of your partner's foam-softened clubbing?) Studies have shown that this approach actually makes people angrier and more hostile, not to mention more entitled to act out their anger. Participants are training their brains to associate controlled aggression rather than compassion and reconciliation with anger.

Hopefully, your partner did not attend one of these discredited classes on anger expression. But you might not have been so lucky when it came to the second worse form of anger management: "desensitization." In that kind of class your husband would identify your behaviors that "push his buttons," things like you "nagging" him or asking too much of him. The instructor would then work to make those behaviors seem less "provocative" to him. The techniques include things like ignoring it, avoiding it, or pretending it's funny. Didn't you always dream that one day your husband would learn to be less angry by ignoring you and avoiding you or thinking that you're funny when you ask him about something serious?His feelings of inadequacy and sense of entitlement -- not specific behaviors -- trigger his anger. Even if the class succeeds in making him less sensitive to your "nagging," he will nevertheless get irritable when you tell him you love him, as that will stir his guilt and sense of inadequacy.

Desensitizing doesn't work at all on resentment, which is the precursor to most angry and abusive behavior. Resentment is not simply a reflexive response to a specific thing you say or do; it works like a defensive system in itself. That's why you don't resent just one or two or two hundred things. When you're resentful, you are constantly scanning the environment for any possible bad news, lest it sneak up on you.

Anger-management classes try to deal with this constant level of arousal with techniques to manage it, that is, to keep your husband from getting so upset that he feels compelled to act out his anger. "Don't make it worse," is the motto of most anger management classes. If he was aggressive, they taught him to withdraw. If he shut down, they taught him to be more assertive.

What they didn't teach him was how to act according to his deeper values, which would make him stop blaming his vulnerable feelings on you. If attempts to manage anger don't appeal to core values, resentful men begin to feel like they're "swallowing it," or "going along to avoid an argument." This erodes their self-esteem and justifies, in their minds, occasional blow ups: "I am sick and tired of putting up with your crap!" Then they can feel self-righteous: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

In a love relationship, managing anger is not the point. You need to promote compassion, which is the only reliable prevention of resentment, anger, and abuse.

MY COMMENTS: I have to agree with most of this article - although in Anger Solutions we do use techniques identified above like pillow punching, these techniques are not used to replace effective expression of anger, but to help release residual anger after the participants have completed all the other more valuable steps of challenging their beliefs, identifying their emotional state, using the TSA model to express anger, and seeking resolution.

We also make sure that people understand the context in which releasing residual anger is appropriate - where, why, and how we should do it. I agree that without effective controls in place when teaching this component, participants could take it wrong and believe that they can re-direct their feelings of aggression into inanimate objects while holding on to the negative feelings of anger or resentment.

Aside from this singular point of clarification, I think Dr. Stosny is right on - anger management is just a band aid - one that may actually make the wound that it was trying to heal worse.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

If you’re still not sure we need Anger Solutions in sport, read this…

View Julie Christiansen's profile on LinkedIn(as reported by the Toronto Star – May 5, 2009)

High school player accused of manslaughter swore at referee who called penalty, court hears
May 05, 2009 04:30 AM
A Mississauga high school rugby player drove an opponent into the ground with a "spear tackle," a witness testified yesterday at the teen's manslaughter trial in Brampton.

Craig Inward, a parent watching the fatal game, said the Erindale Secondary School player went berserk after being called for an infraction against 15-year-old Manny Castillo.

The accused "was stamping his feet and swearing and berating the referee" before it became apparent Manny had been badly hurt in the game at Lorne Park on May 7, 2007. He went into convulsions and died a few days later in hospital.

The Erindale player, now 18, whose name is protected by law, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in his non-jury trial before Justice Bruce Duncan.

It would be manslaughter if the two agreed to fight on the street and Manny was "slammed" to the ground and died, prosecutor John Raftery said in his opening.

"There is nothing magical because it happened on a rugby pitch."
Inward said there appeared to be no reason for the scuffle after the ball came out of a scrum 20 to 30 metres away. The Erindale player's conduct stood out even before the tragic incident, Inward said.

"He was fairly aggressive," Inward said. "He was playing contrary to the laws of the game."
Inward admitted under cross-examination by defence lawyer Calvin Barry that he missed most of the game, but said he had a "clear and unobstructed view" of the confrontation.

Inward, also a rugby coach, was at the park to watch his children in other games. He said players are allowed to tackle or make contact only with players who have the ball or are going after it. "It's not acceptable to tackle somebody who doesn't have the ball."

His attention was drawn to two players from opposing teams near the end of the game. Inward said he saw the Erindale player pick up Manny and throw him over his back. The Erindale player then "drove him into the ground," Inward testified.

When the referee blew his whistle to call a penalty, Inward said, the Erindale player went berserk. "Usually, you take your punishment and move on quietly, but his was strange behaviour," he testified. "He was screaming and swearing. He exploded."

Another Crown witness, Lorne Park player Andrew Forth, agreed with Barry that the accused said something like, "You had me in a headlock," after Manny was "picked up by his waist" and thrown to the ground.

"He (Manny) was dump tackled, but that usually only happens when you have the ball, and he didn't," Forth said. When Manny landed on his back, his head "snapped" back, Forth said. It soon became apparent he was injured.

"He was on his back ... He was gurgling and making unearthly sounds," Inward said. "He was in convulsions and there was foam coming from his mouth ..."
There is more to this story - check it out at the Toronto Star website. Here are my thoughts...

From all reports that I have read of this incident, it sounds as if the accused had recurring behavioural problems and did not have the skills necessary to manage his aggression or to effectively release his anger. It would appear that he believed that his behavior was justified as is described by the “in your face” gesture he made towards Manny after the attack, as well as his response to the referee awarding him a penalty for his behavior.

I wonder where was the coach in this? Was he encouraging his players to be aggressive, play hard – don’t let the other team intimidate? Was he counting on the players to know what that meant (play the game with more passion – stay focused – stick to the plays - don’t back down when they try to intimidate you… as opposed to “get out there and beat the snot out of them”)? I’m not making an accusation, I’m just curious.

What it comes down to is that the accused made a decision based on how he was feeling at the time. He was angry. He was frustrated. He wanted satisfaction. He wanted immediate release for all that negative energy. He chose to do something that will (if he has a conscience) probably haunt him for the rest of his life – probably not the outcome he was hoping for.

What if athletes could learn how to manage their emotions even in the height of an intense game? What if they could maintain their focus and keep a positive outlook even when the game isn’t going their way? What if they could – at the peak of passion – make clear choices based on the outcomes they want rather than a short-term feeling of satisfaction?

What if your teenager could just play without the risk of going to jail or ending up dead on the field, court, or ice?

What if that were possible by introducing the principles of Anger Solutions into the mental conditioning of athletes? Would the outcomes be worth it? Something for us to think about - and then take action on.