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                                           “Anger:  The Cost” (Part 1 of 4)
    
                         
        “I just didn’t control my anger.”
 

The Anger Beast had scored another major victory, verified by the man’s confession that he had failed to control his anger.  The fellow’s sad and worried countenance reflected the loss that prompted his presence in my office. His wife had reached the end of her patience with him. After years of emotional abuse and broken promises she chose an exit strategy and left the relationship. His insight was tragically late but truthfully related:  “Who would want to live with an angry man like me?” Like many other men he had never learned how to manage his inner Anger Beast. The uncontrolled Beast had dismantled and devoured the relationship that the man said was most precious to him.
 
 
The man’s story was not a new one to me. I’ve heard the same theme song before, although there are many variations on the theme. The “anger and loss” song has been sadly sung by countless men and women who are paying the high cost of uncontrolled anger.
 
 
The loss of a spouse.  Who would want to live with a hot-tempered, short-fused, highly-explosive, out-of-control husband or wife?
 
 
The loss of a job. What manager would want to maintain an employee who continued to commit inappropriate outbursts of anger toward colleagues and supervisors?
 
 
The loss of freedom. What judge would not incarcerate the man who through uncontrolled anger continued to physically assault and abuse innocent people?
 
 
The loss of health. What physician would not warn the high-anger man that his lack of self-control was placing him at high-risk for serious health problems?
 
 
Yes, the verses may vary, but the chorus does not change. In the genre of a country song the man loses his wife, his truck, and his dog. Right, even his dog! What dog would want to stay with an angry, abusive owner? For the sake of justice, perhaps the truck and the dog are both awarded to the wife as partial compensation for the abuse she has suffered from the husband and his Anger Beast.
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The man or woman who struggles with out-of-control anger is facing and fighting an enemy within, the Anger Beast that gains strength and power with every uncontrolled anger experience. The Beast seeks ultimate control, even the throne of a person’s life from which it would reign impulsively and rule explosively.  To usurp the throne the Beast deceives a man into believing that anger is inherently a masculine, macho, and manly right that every male should exercise, regardless of the negative impact on other people or property. Once upon the throne the Beast travels the highway of life with his host, urging the man to force his way through life’s traffic regardless of consequence or cost. His message is on a repeat cycle:  “You deserve whatever you want. If you can’t get what you want, then life is treating you unfairly and you have every right to get angry and aggressive. Use your anger to force your way!” The Anger Beast does not practice gender discrimination; women are also targeted by the control-hungry enemy. The same deception, the same old line:  “They’re pushing your buttons. You can’t help it. They’re unfair. Don’t let them get away with it. Use your anger—strike back!”
 

Is anger always a sign that the Anger Beast is working? No, not always—but usually.  Anger that is managed effectively is not the work of the inner Beast. Sometimes managed anger can be an appropriate response to the kind of injustice and unfairness that causes unnecessary human suffering.  In a discussion about anger one man referred to the Biblical example of Jesus’ anger in Mark 3:5 directed toward the unscrupulous, unfair Jewish leaders who were abusing the common people. The man also pointed out that Jesus, motivated by a zeal for God’s house, cleansed the temple by driving out the self-serving merchants (Matthew 21:12-13). However, this type of “righteous anger” is quite rare, representing the exception rather than the rule. How quickly do we yell “righteous anger” when we are called to account for our outburst? Truthfully, we have no excuse for our explosions. We must resist the temptation to declare “righteous anger” simply because someone’s response is different from what we prefer or that they disagree with our point of view. My failure to fulfill my selfish desire does not qualify me to use the “righteous anger” argument to justify my anger outburst and my aggressive behavior.
AngerIED
 
In my work I use the DSM-IV on a daily basis. This book, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association, contains the criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. One relevant disorder listed in the DSM-IV is “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” (or IED, Code 312.24). This disorder falls under the category of Impulse-Control Disorders and describes a person who fails to “resist aggressive impulses that result in serious assaultive acts or destruction of property.” The degree of aggressiveness the person expresses is grossly out of proportion to the precipitating event or circumstance. Not all anger would fit this description, but unmanaged or uncontrolled anger can certainly escalate into an IED pattern, at which point the Anger Beast is full-grown and fiercely dangerous. People with IED clearly do not make good relationship partners. They remind me of the military term with the same acronym, IED, meaning Improvised Explosive Device, also referred to as a roadside bomb. These anger-saturated people are actually homemade bombs waiting to detonate.  People with IED are IED’s looking for a time and place to explode. These human bombs are self-constructed to wreak havoc, rob health, and ruin homes. Additionally, just as military IED’s often explode prematurely and injure and/or kill the bomb maker, out-of-control anger IED’s always harm the person experiencing and expressing the anger, perhaps giving renewed meaning to the old adage, “shooting oneself in the foot.” In view of the impact of uncontrolled anger upon the angry person and the recipients of the anger, one conclusion soon becomes clear:  with inappropriate anger, NO ONE WINS! Everyone involved loses!
 
 
COUNTING THE COST . . .
 
AngerCostLossThe material already presented implies clearly that the price tag for anger is huge, related no doubt to the multiple impact points of the anger upon physical, emotional, and relationship health. Unfortunately, most men and women do not count the cost of anger until significant damage has already been done. Like poor Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall, the resulting “pieces of life” are not easily put back together again.
 
Physically, excessive and repetitive anger is associated with increased stress hormones, elevated blood pressure, diminished immune system, digestive problems, headaches, and other problematic medical conditions. Anger uses up the body’s energy and causes unnecessary wear-and-tear on the body’s vital organs, resulting in a decreased quality of life and a shortened life span. People are dying daily from anger-related heart attacks, strokes, and accidents. Countless highway deaths are caused by enraged drivers who fail to practice anger management skills. Innocent employees suffer physically from the ongoing verbal and even violent assaults from anger-driven co-workers. Families are disrupted and destroyed when domestic violence becomes the predictable consequence of uncontrolled anger.
 
The emotional cost of anger is staggering. Joy and peace are quickly replaced by fear and conflict when anger goes unchecked. Who enjoys the “walking-on-eggshells” lifestyle that results from a family member or co-worker who is an emotional bomb waiting to explode? Our emotional system is not designed to remain on constant alert status and in continuous readiness to cope with someone’s anger outbursts. Unmanaged anger is actually an emotional wreck looking for a place to happen. Unfortunately, unsuspecting people are often caught up in the same wreck experience.
 
The price tag of unmanaged anger for relationships is extremely high.  Friendships are distanced, co-worker relationships are damaged, and family connections are destroyed. Most marital conflicts are resolvable, but the Anger Beast jumps into the situation and resolution is replaced by rejection and retaliation. The current divorce rate attests clearly to the power of anger and the resulting costs in terms of family failure and relationship death.  I’ve personally witnessed the destructive force of anger as therapy clients report the damage done and their decision to end their relationship. I recall one young man who came to therapy to learn anger management because, in his words, “I’m tired of losing every woman I want to have a relationship with.” I’ve seen couples struggle in therapy as they continue to “spin their wheels” in the mud produced by an unmanaged anger pattern.  Many couples are described by a simple poem.
 
               “Theirs was a beef-stew marriage
               Their case was somewhat crude;
               The wife was always beefing
               And the husband always stewed.”
                                             (Author Unknown)
 
Space does not allow for other types of anger costs to be explored fully. Teenagers who have yielded control to the Anger AngerCostPriceTagBeast engage in misbehavior at home that leads to personal grounding; the loss of privileges and the reduced standard of living are an unwelcomed reminder of the cost of anger. The same teenagers express anger inappropriately at school and incur the problems associated with suspensions, alternative school, and expulsions. A father gets angry with a teenager and in a fit of anger throws the kid’s video unit against a nearby wall, shattering the device and creating a hole in the wall to be repaired later. The unmanaged anger means the loss of property, financial expense, and time and effort for a repair job. For many people the Anger Beast causes financial indebtedness and hardships often leading to the loss of a home and perhaps even bankruptcy.  For others the Beast causes legal problems that often result in the loss of personal freedom due to incarceration. Anger-driven parents are stuck with restraining orders by a court of law, resulting in the requirement of supervised visitation with their children or else the total loss of parental privileges. This list of cost factors could go on and on, but by now you’ve hopefully seen the big picture:  unmanaged anger carries a high price tag! 
 
Without a doubt the Anger Beast is a high-maintenance member of our inner household. The energy he consumes and the messes he makes are more than enough to get our attention. Let’s assume that he now has our attention, and we make a personal decision to work on our anger pattern. Our goal is to manage (or tame) the inner Anger Beast. But is it even possible? For us to learn to manage our anger we must ask and answer a vital question:  “Is anger a personal choice?” That question will be explored in Part 2 of this material.
 
I appreciate your interest in this important topic. And I wish you the best in all of your relationship journeys.


 
Note:  There are other resources about Anger Management available on this website. One related blog published during 2010 is entitled “Traveling the Tension Highway.” Our ability to manage our personal tension will help us grow in our effectiveness to manage our anger. This blog can be located in the Blogs section or just click here.
 
Also, if you’re looking for good books that deal with anger, check out the list of books under Home/Resources/ListofCategories/AngerManagement, or just click here.   


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VIDEO:  To see a three-minute television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses the taming of the Anger Beast, please click on the image to the right, or simply click here.
 
                                                                                                                    
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                                              
 
 





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