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Whatever Happened to Anger Management?

Recently, my husband and I were watching an old episode of The New Detectives, a crime show that investigated actual cases, on Netflix. During a particular episode in which a guy was found to have killed an ex-girlfriend, it was revealed that he had been referred for anger management classes.

Upon hearing that term, I realized that it seems to have faded away from public consciousness. It was a term that was used a lot in the 1990s, maybe early 2000s. What caused it to all but disappear from our daily language?

I surmise a couple of reasons. One is the realization that most people who were referred for anger management counseling were actually pretty darn good at controlling their anger when they felt like it. If they wanted to charm someone, they could. Then they unleashed their anger once a person was under their control. I’ve observed people like this and I can’t imagine anger management courses or counseling would have done them much good. They would have manipulated the situation to make it appear their anger was under control and then reverted to their usual angry behavior afterwards.

Another thing that has changed is the general political milieu, which can be summed up with the sentiment, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Due to the angry propaganda and the bald-faced attempts of the radical right to dismantle democracy, everyone else is on edge and feels justified in their anger. The pandemic and fight for equity also feed our anger.

It feels good to be mad, to snap and grouse and snarl, to uncontrollably let our anger fly.

Some adults even go so far as to have full-on temper tantrums in stores, just like a two-year-old, as this woman did in a Victoria’s Secret store after trying to hit another woman. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBfmmWZa4mk]

The problem is that it’s very difficult to pick up an adult and remove them from a store, like caregivers do with toddlers.

I would be mortified if I behaved this way in public. When I feel rageful, I find a private place to escape to and rant to myself, the only witnesses being the furnishings in the room.

As I was writing this post, I came to a realization. I have always thought of myself as being really bad at handling conflict. When someone is angry at me or I am angry at someone else, I freeze, unsure of what to say or do. I get quiet, but my mind is spinning, trying to process what is happening. I usually want to be alone to figure the situation out before saying anything.

The fact that I can’t think fast or verbally respond when emotions are running high seems like a sign that I can’t deal properly with conflict. I ought to be able to say something now.

However, after looking up anger management methods on the Mayo Clinic’s website, it appears that my response to an angry situation is precisely what is prescribed for those who have uncontrollable anger.

Of the Mayo’s ten suggestions for managing anger, I’m already practicing several of them, like taking a timeout, thinking before I speak, waiting until I’m calm before expressing my anger, and, if the situation allows, getting some exercise by going for a quick walk. As I process my mad, I also look for potential solutions to the situation.

There are certainly things I could improve in conflict resolution, but it’s a relief to know I’m better at handling conflict and anger than I ever thought I was.

If only we could get everyone to simmer down, we might make some progress on saving democracy and creating a world that is more supportive of humanity and the environment, allowing all individuals to live their best lives.

According to Srdja Popovic’s book “Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World,” resorting to anger and violence is not an effective way to make positive change because anger and violence turn most ordinary people off if they don’t understand your cause. Better to use humor to change their minds and get them on your side.

If we return to the Mayo Clinic’s list of anger management techniques, we find “Use humor to release tension” at number 8. I’d say we could do with more humor in the world right now in order to help us all calm our incessant outrage.