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Explosive rage: Does anger management training help?

Everyone has heard of road rage incidents wherein usually calm and responsible people “snap” and commit an aggressive or violent act. Turns out, that “losing one’s temper” can occur in many different life situations and cause serious emotional or physical harm to others. It is a pattern in which tension builds until an explosion brings relief, followed later by regret, embarrassment, or guilt. Called “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” (IED), it is defined by attacks of impulsive rage that seem out of proportion to the immediate provocation and has serious consequences such as verbal abuse, threats, property damage, assaults, and injury.

How common is it?

As reported in the September, 2006 edition of Harvard Mental Health Letter recent research on IED is showing that this condition is more common and more destructive than anyone had supposed. One study showed that people with more severe cases (at least three rage attacks in one year) averaged 56 life-time attacks resulting in an average of $1600 worth of property damage and 23 incidents in which someone required medical attention.

Who is most likely to have these episodes?

According to research, the percentages suffering from this disorder are about the same for men and women, blacks and whites. Only age made a difference. Younger people were more likely than older people to show these uncontrolled rage episodes. As you might suspect, persons who suffer from IED are more at risk for other emotional problems because of the increased stress in their lives.

What causes the attacks?

Behavior patterns such as rage attacks are complex and often are a combination of what is going on in your brain chemistry, what is occurring in your life and also what emotions your thinking patterns are causing.

Scientists do not yet have the answers as to what triggers rage episodes but it may have to do with brain chemistry problems as well as the outlook that people have about life as well as attitudes about how to handle life frustrations and stress.

What treatments help?

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Anger management through a combination of cognitive restructuring, coping skills training and relaxation training look promising.” This means that to control rage, people need to learn how to think differently about life events, and to learn specific skills to deal with common anger “triggers.” One of the recommended skills is that of learning to deal with stress through relaxation training.

Other skills that we our anger management clients have found to be extremely useful include:

  • Developing empathy toward others (seeing the world as they see it)
  • Taking charge of how you respond to stress, rather than just reacting instinctively
  • Changing self-talk to create different emotions in response to anger triggers
  • Learning to communicate assertively rather than with anger
  • Letting go of resentments, grievances and grudges
  • Retreating to think things over and calming down before blowing up in rage

How can you find a program for you?

Anger management programs are becoming more common across the country. The following resources provide directories of qualified providers, some of which teach the specific skills listed above:

In addition, there are a variety of home-study and online programs appearing on the internet. The quality of these programs vary a great deal, so it is prudent and wise to pick one that is authored by credible mental health professionals and is approved or certified by state agencies (although unfortunately most states do not approve or disapprove anger management programs) or other professional bodies.

How to control anger by forgiving grievances

Thirty-two year old Elizabeth cried during her anger management class as she related how one year ago her 19-month-old girl was permanently brain-damaged as the result of medical error at the hospital in which she was delivered.

She definitely had a legitimate grievance toward the hospital and the medical staff and felt that she could never forgive them for what she saw as their incompetence. She clearly was not yet ready to forgive—and she needed her simmering anger to motivate her to do what she felt she needed to do legally and otherwise to deal with this horrific situation.

Yet, even in this tragic situation, at some point in the future—when she is ready—Elizabeth might elect to find a way to forgive. For her to be able to do this, after a certain amount of time, she will have to take the step of separating in her mind two things:

  1. blaming the hospital for what they did and
  2. blaming them for her resulting feelings about the situation

Elizabeth cannot change what was done to her daughter, but she can change her current feelings about it and she can change how she lives the rest of her life. If she continues to hold an intense grievance, she is giving all the power to what happened in the past to determine her present emotional well being—almost like being victimized again while remaining in her emotional prison.

Should you forgive?

The answer to this question always comes down to personal choices and decisions. Some people in our anger management classes feel that certain things cannot and shouldn’t be forgiven while other participants feel that ultimately anything can be forgiven.

As an example of what is possible, the staff of the Stanford Forgiveness Project successfully worked with Protestant and Catholic families of Northern Ireland whose children had been killed by each other. Using the techniques taught by the Stanford group, these grieving parents were able to forgive and get on with their lives.

On the other hand, Dr. Abrams-Spring who wrote a classic book called “After The Affair,” cautions that forgiving a cheating partner too quickly or too easily can be an indication of your low self-esteem. In her view, forgiveness must be earned by the offending partner and not given automatically.

As you struggle with your decision to forgive or not (and remember – it is a decision), keep in mind that recent studies show that there are measurable benefits to forgiveness.

Two reasons to forgive

Forgiving Is Good For Your Health. Studies show that people who forgive report fewer health problems while people who blame others for their troubles have a higher incidence of illness such as cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Forgiving is good for your peace of mind. Scientific research shows that Forgiveness often improves your peace of mind: One such study done in 1996 showed that the more people forgave those who deeply hurt them, the less angry they were. Two studies of divorced people show that those who forgave the former spouse were more emotionally healthy than those who chose not to forgive. The forgivers had a higher sense of well being and lower anxiety and depression.

Three tips to forgive

It is common for angry people to think, “I want to forgive and I know I should, but I don’t know how.”

Tip 1- Remember, forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience to complete. You must be ready. Realize that this is for you – not for anyone else.

Tip 2- Realize that forgiving does not mean you are condoning the actions of the offender or what they did to you. It does mean that you will blame less and find a way to think differently about what happened to you.

Tip 3- Refocus on the positives in your life. Remember that a lift well lived is the best revenge. People who find a way to see love, beauty and kindness around them are better able to forgive and get past their life grievances.

Sports parents who lose control

Pennsylvania — A parent body slammed a high school referee after he ordered the man’s wife out of the gym for allegedly yelling obscenities during a basketball game.

The referee was treated at a hospital for a concussion and released after the attack. Charged with simple assault, assault on a sports official, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct was a 47 year old father.

Kentucky – A father of a T-ball player was briefly jailed after an outburst against an umpire during a game involving 5- and 6- year-olds.

The accused threatened to beat the umpire moments before walking onto the field and starting a fight with an official., according to the criminal complaint. A girl who was playing in the game suffered a minor injury when she was struck in the face during the scuffle.

Every day in America and around the world, sports officials are physically and verbally harassed. Most incidents do not require police or medical assistance, but in some cases, the harassment turns violent.

The fact that such behavior occurs at sporting events involving youth participants is appalling in itself, but the frequency in which these reports now occur is even more disturbing.

NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) receives more than 100 reports annually that involve physical contact between coaches, players, fans and officials. The nearly 18,000 member organization is not the “clearinghouse for bad behavior,” says NASO President Barry Mano, but it is the belief by NASO that the reports it receives is only the “tip of the iceberg.”
Loss of control by parents has long-term negative effects on the lives of the children, the school, and the parents themselves, as the following story illustrates:

Florida—A Parent enters the soccer field to check on his son, who has been injured in a skirmish for the ball. Angry that a more severe penalty had not been levied on the opposing player, the parent confronts the referee and shoves him to the ground.

After the school had to forfeit the game, the parent was later banned from attending all extracurricular activities involving the school for at least one year and possibly through his son’s graduation.

What causes parents to lose control?

According to sports psychologist Darrell Burnett, Ph.D., often such parents are reliving unrealized dreams through their children. They somehow get caught up in the win-at-all cost frenzy.

The core problem comes from parents being too invested, emotionally and financially, in their children’s games. They sometimes have misplaced self esteem. Another factor, according to Dr. Burnett, is a general attitude in our society encouraging us to retaliate when frustrated rather than using negotiation skills: “somebody pushes their buttons and away they go.”

Can these parents change?

Yes, if they desire it. Learning to manage sports anger is a process of applying two of the eight core tools of anger control: (1) Adjust expectations of performance to realistic levels and (2) communicate displeasure you may have with assertive communication skills.

Specific tips for Sports Parents

  • Keep a moderate level of intensity – not completely detached, but not overly aggressive.
  • Adjust your expectations to a realistic level by putting the sporting event into proper perspective. Also:
  • Don’t yell at the coach or child. If you have an issue, discuss it assertively at the appropriate time.
  • Don’t try to coach from the sidelines. Again, if you have an issue with the coach, your child, or other children, discuss it privately.
  • Stay interested, supportive and positive.
  • Praise the effort and the progress as achievement, not just the outcome.
  • Model good sportsmanship.

Anger management of your child’s tantrums at home during Covid Pandemic

The Science of a Child’s Tantrums – How to manage before it starts

LeAnne Simpson’s 6-year-old daughter had thrown plenty of tantrums before the pandemic. But after a few weeks of lockdown, minor frustrations that used to lead to short-lived outbursts were now setting off writhing-on-the-floor freakouts.

“First, she’d get so frustrated she couldn’t talk,” Simpson said. “Then she would start screaming, drop to the floor and roll around flailing her arms, often kicking or hitting me if I came close to her.”

Simpson tried every tantrum-defusing strategy she could muster, from playing soft music and offering a snack to squeezing her daughter between couch cushions (a calming technique recommended by an occupational therapist).

But nothing worked except sitting quietly nearby, and occasionally consoling her with words or touch. In the aftermath, Simpson would often ask her daughter what had made her so mad. “She’d always say she didn’t know,” Simpson said.

Meltdowns, common as they are among young children, are a complicated physiological response related to the brain’s threat detection system. Mid-freakout, it’s helpful for parents to understand what’s going on beneath the surface, then to mitigate the “threat” by establishing a sense of safety.

The physiology of a meltdown

According to R. Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist and author of “Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain,” a temper tantrum involves two parts of the brain: the amygdala, which is primarily responsible for processing emotions like fear or anger; and the hypothalamus, which in part controls unconscious functions like heart rate or temperature. Think of the amygdala as the brain’s smoke detector and the hypothalamus as someone deciding whether to put gasoline or water on the fire — with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

When your daughter suddenly starts wailing about sleeping alone in her bed at night, she’s probably not consciously being difficult — her amygdala detected a threat and her hypothalamus caused her to snap. During the stress response, your child might experience a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and tense muscles (or just an overwhelming urge to punch you). As much as you may want to reason with your writhing child, don’t expect her to listen. For one thing, the stress response can dampen a child’s already-limited capacity for self-control, a function generally associated with the prefrontal cortex, or PFC.

“When you have a fire burning in your house, you don’t want to sit and ponder, you want your body to fire on all cylinders so you can escape,” said Dr. Carol Weitzman, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and co-director of the Autism Spectrum Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

With a bit of logical self-reflection, adults can hit the brakes on a stress response. “When a driver cuts you off on the highway and your blood begins to boil, it’s your prefrontal cortex that allows you to think, ?Wait a minute, I don’t have to act this way,’” said Dr. Weitzman.

But the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until adulthood and, according to Dr. Fields, inhibition and impulse control are among the PFC’s most complicated functions. “So when you try to reason with a child, you’re appealing to a part of the brain that isn’t fully functioning.”

Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Virginia and a consultant at Tulane University, likens child meltdowns to a pot of boiling water, with the PFC acting as its lid. “In these moments, the intensity of the feeling overwhelms the child’s ability to organize it, so the feelings get stronger than the lid,” she said.

Fortunately, with your own developed brain, you can help your kid replace the lid on the pot during a meltdown moment by using your prefrontal cortex as a surrogate.

First, manage your own emotions

Before engaging with your upset child, it’s helpful to first regulate your own stress response, said Lisa Dion, a play therapist and founder of the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute in Boulder, Colo.

If your child is safe, leave the room to take a few deep breaths or confide in a partner — whatever you need to deescalate your own frustration. This, according to Katie Rosanbalm, a senior research scientist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, allows you to use your own calm state to calm your child.

It’s not completely clear how this works. There are likely several physiological components, but one might involve mirror neurons, brain cells that fire in response to your own and other people’s behaviors. Watching someone run, for instance, seems to activate a similar brain region as when you run yourself.

Mirror neuron research on children is scant, and there’s still a lot to learn. But what scientists do know about this group of brain cells may help parents understand how their reactions affect their kids (and maybe even their newborn babies).

For example, mirror neurons have been found not only in the motor areas of the brain, but also in the areas that deal with emotion. The same part of your brain that lights up when you’re feeling happy may also light up when you observe happiness in others. “So your child may not just do what you’re doing, but feel what you’re feeling,” said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Next, manage your kid’s reaction

It’s also important to pair your calmness with warm and empathic cues, which can signal to the amygdala that there’s no danger, Dr. Rosanbalm said. “The amygdala stops sending out the alarm, which causes the stress response cascade to cease.”

In the calm-down process, focus more on your actions rather than your words: Your child can mirror your emotions just by looking at your nonverbal communication, like your body posture, vocal tone and facial expressions.

Dr. Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, suggested crouching down and making eye contact with your child during the tantrum, which shows you’re listening and engaged. While some upset kids might like physical touch from a parent, others might find it overwhelming.

You can also encourage your child to self-soothe with other types of calming sensory inputs. Offer her a fidget spinner or Silly Putty, have her push on a wall, or simply encourage her to take some slow, deep breaths. But try to introduce these coping skills before a meltdown hits, so they can manage a tantrum on their own once it happens.

Finally, validate your child’s feelings

As much as you might want to try explaining to your kid why they should calm down, behavior correction rarely works when stress is high.

Once your child’s partially-developed prefrontal cortex is back online, take the opportunity to help her form a story about the meltdown. Shanna Donhauser, a child and family therapist, suggested validating how hard the moment was and repeating back what happened. “Then remind your child that you’re both OK and that you can still be close. You’re still there,” she said.

After exhausting all of the behavioral techniques she knew, Simpson tried focusing on connecting with her daughter during meltdowns instead of trying to change her behavior. Back in the spring, when her daughter had a meltdown about the number of strawberries in her bowl just before she needed to log on to a virtual class meeting, Simpson held her 6-year-old close as she tried to stay calm herself.

It was then that her daughter managed to articulate what was really upsetting her — it wasn’t the fruit, she said; deep down, she was sad she couldn’t hug her teacher. The two shared tears and some snuggles, then moved on with their day.

“My daughter’s tantrums sucked every ounce of life out of me,” Simpson said. “But in the end, we understood each other better and grew closer.”

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minn. 

This article reproduced with permission from NAMA (National Anger Management Association) of which Dr Fiore is a Diplomate Member.

Three ways to deal with a passive-aggressive person

Thirty-three year old Roberto had promised his wife Tina that he would be home after work in time for her to attend her weekly “women’s group” at her church. Having only one automobile, Tina was completely at the mercy of Roberto’s promise.

You guessed it! Roberto did not show up until 8:45 PM—way too late for Tina to attend her meeting. Rather than being apologetic, however, Roberto explained to Tina (who was outraged at this point) that he “couldn’t help it” because “I had to help a friend out who’s car had broken down”. He lamented “How could I let Michael down? He was best man at our wedding”.

Was Tina being unreasonable in her anger? After all, Roberto was helping out a mutual friend. Yet, looking deeper into this situation, turns out that Roberto really didn’t want Tina to attend those meetings because it was “putting ideas into her head”.

Yet, he couldn’t just forbid Tina from attending, so he handled the situation in an underhanded way—sabotaging her attendance in a way that would still make him look good. After all, he could argue, what reasonable person would get mad at someone who was late because he was helping out a friend?

The anatomy of passive-aggression

Passive-Aggression is a psychological mechanism for handling hostility or anger in an underhanded or devious way that is hard for others to prove. Sometimes the passive-aggressive is aware of what he or she is doing, and other times not.

Yet, the result is the same—things are sabotaged by the passive-aggressive and it somehow is never their fault. A really good passive aggressive is very slippery with excuses, justifications, or alternative reasons for why things go awry.

Passive-Aggression may not be expressed directly in behavior—but in words or humor. Sarcasm which communicates hostility is often a tool of the passive-aggressive person, as are jokes made at your expense.

Some common examples of passive-aggressive behavior:

  • When conversing with someone who is angry at you, they leave out important information which gives you the wrong impression.
  • Talking behind the back of a co-worker in a harmful way—gossiping.
  • Exaggerating the faults of your spouse (behind his or her back) to your parents while maintaining “sweetness” toward your spouse.
  • Playing dumb or inadequate to frustrate someone or gain advantage.
  • Upset with your wife’s weight, you “affectionately” call her “pork chop” in public in a way that appears playful on the surface.

Three tips to cope with passive-aggressive behavior:

  • Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior is extremely challenging because a really good passive aggressive is very slippery.
  • Often, too, you may not be sure if you have been the victim of passive-aggressive behavior—or not. You may be feeling angry and upset, but not sure why or if it is justified.
  • How do you tell? One way to identify it is to look for patterns in someone’s behavior— not just isolated incidents. For instance, if Roberto generally is dependable and is home on time for Tina to attend her meetings, the one “miss” may not be motivated by passive-aggression. However, if he often sabotages Tina’s attendance while denying he is doing so, a behavior pattern is evident.

What should you do to deal with passive-aggression once you have identified it?

  • Tip #1- Directly confront the behavior and ask if the person is angry at you. For instance, ask “You called me pork chop tonight. Do you have issues with my weight?”
  • Tip #2. Be on guard and don’t trust what the person says or commits to. Develop a Plan B. For instance, Tina could have arranged for someone else to pick her up for the meeting in case Roberto didn’t make it home on time.
  • Tip #3. Use assertive communication skills to let a person know how what they do affects you and makes you feel. Try something like “I heard you repeat something that I told you in confidence. That really hurt me; please don’t do it again because I would like to trust you”.

How do virtual (Telehealth) anger management classes work?

Responding to the current Covid-19 crisis and the need for social distancing, The Anger Coach continues to offer live anger managment classes- but online instead of in person.

As far as we know, this option is also accepted by courts as an alternative to in-person classes.

When are our classes held?

Virtual classes are held on Tuesday nights from 7:30-8:30pm (Pacific Time).

How many sessions are in the program and what is covered?

The core program consists of 10 structured classes in which you learn the 8 basic tools of anger control. Each class is self-contained so you can join at any time, no matter what tool we are on in the sequence. The anger management tools you will learn are:

Tool 1– How to better deal with stress to be less angry

Tool 2- How to be more Empathetic to Reduce Anger

Tool 3– Learn how to Respond Instead of React to Anger Triggers. Learn how to “re-wire” your brain to better control anger.

Tool 4- Learn how changing your attitude and thinking patterns will decrease your anger.

Tool 5– Improve Communication skills and learn how to assert yourself to get what you need and deserve without getting so angry.

Tool 6- Examine and adjust your expectations to be more accepting and tolerant of others instead of irritable, verbally abusive and angry.

Tool 7– Be less angry by develop the skill of forgiving or letting go of hurts and injustices instead of holding grudges and needing to get even.

Tool 8- Learn the skill of immediately shutting down that part of your brain that creates your anger(your amygdala) when you are triggered- before it gets out of hand.

How Do You Enroll and how much does it cost?

Send an email to drtony@angercoach.com requesting enrollment. The start-up cost is $130 which includes registration, ebook used in class and the fee for the first night’s class. You will receive an invoice for this amount from Paypay which you can pay online with your card even if you don’t belong to PayPay.

Subsequent classes cost $35 each. After each class attendance, you will receive an invoice from Paypal for online payment of that class.

There is a special rate for couples: $150 initially for both; $50 for 2 ebooks and $50 combined class fee.

What happens next?

There are usually between 5 and 12 people in the class. Before each class you will receive an invitation from me to join the class through the online platform of zoom. You will need to download a zoom app to participate, but that is easy and you will receive instructions on how to do that. You can participate from any computer that has internet access. Or, you can participate through your smartphone (most participants have an iphone).

You do not have to reveal personal information in the class, although we do ask you to share from week to week how you are proigressing with your anger management.

Remember, this is a class–not therapy. The focus is on learning the anger management material and skills and how to apply these skills to your life. We take turns reading from the book and then learning from Dr Fiore about the topic at hand.

After completion you will receive a certificate of completion at no extra cost.

Anger Management Home-Study course during Covid-19

The Anger Coach now offers its acclaimed and widely-accepted anger management program online. Dr. Fiore, a Ph.D. psychologist with over 45 years experience, developed this completely web-based program with the same content as in his local person anger management classes. 

Typical Participant Comments FROM OUR CLASS PARTICIPANTS:

  • “I can really control myself!”
  • “Now, I think before I speak.”
  • “I now know it’s OK to be angry, as long as its the right way.”
  • “I’m more patient than I thought.”
  • “I’m happier, not so stressed.”
  • “My employees often tell me how level-headed I’ve become.”
  • “I’m now able to think with greater clarity.”
  • “I am more calm in tough situations.”
  • “My kids tell me I’m a calmer, happier parent.”
  • “I should have done this years earlier.”
  • “They should teach this stuff to grade school kids.”

But, many clients are unable to attend in-person classes due to busy schedules, or cannot find classes that are conveniently located near their work or home. Now, of course, it is almost impossible to find in-person classes because if the Covid-19 restrictions on group gatherings.

Anger Coach Online is perfect for anyone who needs an anger management program for personal development, to satisfy a court requirement, or to comply with workplace requirement. Couples can also take the course together and apply the eight tools of anger control to their relationship or marriage – and not have to worry about the health dangers of group meetings.

Based on the popular ebook “Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century,” written by Dr Tony Fiore and Dr. Ari Novick, our innovative program teaches you the eight tools of anger control — and how to apply them to your life — from the convenience of your home or office computer. 

Anger Coach Online is an accepted, comprehensive, affordable and proactive way to gain skills in anger management. We have two home-study online classes to choose from: Our core course is a 10-hour class and our newly developed 16-hour class. Both are completely internet based with no downloads needed to take either class.

The Core 10-hour Class includes:

  • Detailed instructions
  • Comprehensive class based on “Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century” by Dr Tony Fiore and Dr. Ari Novick
  • New Videos recently added to explain concepts and enhance your online learning experience
  • Downloadable Survival Guide for dealing with angry people
  • Online examination
  • Downloadable proof of enrollment
  • Many short and fun quizzes to give you feedback on your progress in learning the material
  • Certificate of Completion mailed to you FREE
  • Free Ebook of material after course completion (a $24.95 value)
  • Satisfaction guaranteed*
  • During Covid both home study courses offered at a reduced price

The 16-hour Class includes:

  • All the material and bonuses in the 10-hour core program including videos.
  • Fifty additional skill builders teaching you how to apply the eight tools of anger control to your relationship, your workplace, your family and on the road.
  • Six hours of additional content to satisfy court requirements
  • Certificate of completion for 16 hours of anger management

The Eight Tools of Anger Control

It seems that anger is everywhere in our society. One just has to read the newspaper daily or watch the evening news to conclude that controlling one’s angry feelings is a major challenge for many adults, teens, and children.

Uncontrolled anger is a major factor in domestic violence and spousal abuse, in aggressive driving violations, in workplace rudeness and disruption, and in marital conflicts and family fights. Several large and respected studies have shown that one-third of couples studied at least one incident of domestic violence during the course of their marriage. The same study found that about 1, 500,000 children per year are severely assaulted (kicked, punched, beaten up, burned) in their homes.

Managing angry feelings requires mastering specific thought and action skills and then practicing these skills on a daily basis. The costs to persons who do not learn how to regulate their negative emotions are high and include increased risk of relapse, loss of relationships, conflicts at work, loss of respect in the eyes of loved ones, and lowering of self-esteem.

A particularly high cost of anger is on your children. The effect of children witnessing extreme conflict in the home can be devastating—more harmful most of the time than a parental divorce. It is estimated that between 2.3 million and 10 million children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year in the United States alone.

Although many adults believe that they have protected their children from exposure to domestic violence, 80-90% of children in those homes can give detailed descriptions of the violence experienced in their families.

What is Anger?

We view angry feelings as a normal emotional reaction to frustration in our everyday world. It is natural to become angry when we have a goal and this goal is blocked in some way. Anger isn’t just one emotion, but a family of emotions that are related to each other both in our brains and in our behavior. People often give a variety of names to their angry feelings, which range from mild irritation to rage.

Once anger begins, it generates changes in our expressions, our faces, our voice, and changes in the way we think. It also creates impulses to action. In fact, the purpose of emotions such as anger is to organize and mobilize all of our bodily systems to respond to our environment in some way.

Anger, like all emotions, is regulated by that section of our brain called the “limbic system” (located in our mid brains beyond our inner ear) Emotional memories are stored in the “amygdala” and other structures which are located in this limbic system.

You may experience anger now in your life which may actually be caused by a mixture of what is triggering it now and experiences you have had in the past—even if you don’t remember them. This “old anger” is activated by your brain in its attempt to protect you— even though the original danger is no longer present.

It is up to the thinking part of the brain, our frontal lobes, to find a way to deal with the angry feelings the amygdala and other brain structures have set in motion. Fortunately, as thinking human beings we have the unique ability among mammals to have choices regarding how we will deal with our feelings.

My Model of Anger Management

In our view, anger management is NOT about never getting angry—that would be an impossible and ridiculous goal because angry feelings are “hard-wired” in your brain and probably serve a protective and survival function.

Rather, anger management is about learning how to regulate and express those natural angry feelings in a way that makes you a more effective human being. Persons who manage their anger well have better relationships, better health, and more occupational success than those who manage their anger poorly. They also get more of their needs met without antagonizing loved ones or colleagues.

Learning to manage anger involves mastering the eight tools of anger control that we have found to be highly effective in our local anger management classes. This model of anger management is not therapy and does not dwell on the past or the underlying reasons for anger. Rather, our approach is psycho-educational, skill-building, and practical drawing on recent research and findings in neuroscience, marriage/relationships, stress management, and the emerging science of happiness and optimism.

The Eight Tools of Anger Control

Tool 1 – Recognize Stress
Stress and anger tend to go hand and hand. The higher one’s stress level, the easier it is to allow our anger to get out of control. It is a challenge for most of us to manage our stress levels in a complex world with many demands and expectations. Learning stress management techniques us an effective way to reduce the physical, behavioral, and emotional problems caused by too much stress.

Stress is often the trigger that takes us from feeling peaceful to experiencing uncomfortable angry feelings in many common life situations. Whether the stressor is external or internal, scientists have discovered that the major systems of the body work together to provide one of the human organism’s most powerful and sophisticated defenses; the stress response which you may know better as “fight-or-flight”. Before your stress response turns into anger or aggression, use stress management strategies to get it under control.

Tool 2 – Develop Empathy
Have you ever been in a restaurant and noticed that the customers at the table next to you were speaking louder than anyone else? It was as if they had no idea that they were being so loud and intrusive to the rest of the patrons. This lack of awareness is often a sign of not being emotionally or socially alert. Or, have you ever been in a situation where you tried to express your feelings and it backfired in some way?

Some of us are very good at knowing how we feel and expressing it, while others struggle to do so. It is crucial to express emotion in order to relate to those around us. Our ability to know how we are feeling as well as our ability to accurately sense the feelings of those around us help us make positive connections with others. This characteristic is often called “empathy.”

To empathize is to see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, and to feel with the heart of another. Lack of empathy leads to poor communication and a failing to understand others. To manage anger, it often helps to see our anger as a combination of other people’s behavior and our lack of empathy toward them or their situation.

Tool 3 – Respond Instead of React
Many times we become angry because we find people and situations that literally “push our buttons”, and we react just like a juke box that automatically pulls down a record and starts playing when you make a selection. Rather than reacting to anger triggers in this fashion, you can learn to choose how to deal with frustrating situations — to respond rather than automatically react like that juke box.

There are many advantages to learning to how be more flexible in dealing with the stresses and frustrations of life. At the top of the list is a sense of empowerment. It just feels good and powerful to know that you are in charge of your response, rather than being controlled by other people or circumstances. Many people notice their anger level going down as their feeling of empowerment goes up.

Tool 4 – Change That Conversation With Yourself
“For some reason whenever I get upset I am always putting myself down” said one woman in an anger management class. “Even my friends tell me I am just too hard on myself”, she said. When I get upset, I will often say things like, “I’m such a loser”, or, “if I don’t make it on time, everyone will think I’m a jerk”, the woman explained. “Sometimes I even tell myself that I am worthless and stupid when I make mistakes.”

A crucial tool in dealing with angry feelings is that of challenging that conversation with yourself. Like the woman described above, you are constantly telling yourself all kinds of things which cause you to have certain feelings or emotions—even though you may not realize it. Learning to change that “self-talk” empowers you to deal with anger more effectively in terms of how strongly you feel the anger, how long you hold onto your anger, and how you express your anger.

Tool 5 – Communicate Assertively
Good communication skills are an essential ingredient to anger management because poor communication causes untold emotional hurt, misunderstandings, and conflict. Words are powerful, but the message we convey to others is even more powerful and often determines how people respond to us and how we feel toward them.

Anger expressed toward others is often a misguided way of communicating a feeling we have or a need that is not being satisfied by other people or situations. Assertive communication—as distinct from aggressive communication— is a set of skills to honestly and effectively communicate how you feel and how you are responding to things—without getting angry or hostile about it. 

Tool 6 – Adjust Expectations
Have you ever been told your expectations are too high? Anger and stress can often be caused when our expectations are too far apart from what is realistic to achieve. In other words, anger is often trigg

ered by a discrepancy between what we expect and what we get.Learning to adjust those expectations—sometimes upward and other times downward—can help us cope with difficult situations or people, or even cope with ourselves. In marriage, research shows that much anger is caused by trying to solve problems which are unsolvable and perpetual. Successful couples learn to live with each other around these issues rather than getting angry about them.

Tool 7 – Forgive But Don’t Forget!
Anger is often the result of grievances we hold toward other people or situations, usually because of our perception and feeling of having been wronged by them in some way. Resentment is a form of anger that does more damage to the holder than the offender. Holding a grudge is letting the offender live rent free in your head.   Making the decision to “let go” (while still protecting ourselves) is often a process of forgiveness – or at least acceptance – and is a major step toward anger control.

Tool 8 – Retreat and Think Things Over!
Jim and Mary Jones loved each other deeply, but often went into horrific verbal battles over any number of issues. However, they were unable to give each other “space” during an argument insisting they solve the issue immediately. Even worse, Mary often physically blocked Jim from leaving and would follow him from room to room demanding discussion. Needless to say, this is a dangerous practice as it can escalate levels of anger even further and cause partners to do and say things they don’t really mean and may later regret!

Research shows that we are pretty much incapable of resolving conflicts or thinking rationally in an argument when our stress level reaches a certain point. To avoid losing control either physically or verbally, it is often best to take a temporary “time-out” – and leave.  This tool of anger management works much better if (a) you commit to return within a reasonable amount of time to work things out, and (2) you work on your “self-talk” while trying to cool down.

Poor Sleep contributes to Anger

Lack of sleep intensifies anger, impairs adaptation to frustrating circumstances

Losing just a couple hours of sleep at night makes you angrier, especially in frustrating situations, according to new Iowa State University research. While the results may seem intuitive, the study is one of the first to provide evidence that sleep loss causes anger.

Other studies have shown a link between sleep and anger, but questions remained about whether sleep loss was to blame or if anger was responsible for disrupted sleep, said Zlatan Krizan, professor of psychology at Iowa State. The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, answers those questions and provides new insight on our ability to adjust to irritating conditions when tired.

“Despite typical tendencies to get somewhat used to irritating conditions — an uncomfortable shirt or a barking dog — sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress, essentially reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time. No one has shown this before,” Krizan said.

Eight things you can do to improve sleep:

  1. Avoid alcohol, large meals, exercise and smoking at least two to three hours before bed.
  2. Turn off from work and technology at least an hour before bed.
  3. Go to bed as soon as you feel tired. If you wait too long, it will be harder to fall asleep.
  4. Avoid watching TV or reading an exciting page-turner in bed.
  5. Go to bed at around the same time each night. Ideally this should be before midnight.
  6. Sleep in a dark, well ventilated room.
  7. Deep sleep is the phase of sleep where you benefit most. It happens in the first third of your sleep. Avoid environments where you could be disturbed during this phase.
  8. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night

Read the original article from the Iowa State University website here.

The Anger-Damage effect on your heart: Guest blog from Dr Alan Levy

THE ANGER-DAMAGE EFFECT ON YOUR HEART

Guest Article by By Alan Levy, Ph.D.

How does anger do its damage and contribute to heart trouble? In this brief article, I explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms that are problematic ways of handling frustration and anger. I also present 8 helpful hints to better manage negative emotions and protect your physical and mental health.

How does Anger Affect our Bodies?

First, here’s how the physiological mechanism of anger works, according to the nation’s top heart-brain research centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic: Emotions like anger and hostility stimulate the “fight or flight” response of your sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.

These chemicals significantly speed your heart rate and your respiration. Your blood pressure goes up, and your body is hit with a burst of fight-flight energy. That’s often what triggers someone to fly into a rage, to
begin yelling and even throwing things.

This heightened state of physiological activation is designed to mobilize you for real emergencies, but can become habitual. Chronically high levels of stress hormones cause extra wear on your cardiovascular system.

Even the walls of your arteries can be damaged by the frequent anger response, because of the extra load of glucose and fat globules secreted into the blood stream.

The Good News

The good news is that anger and hostility as a risk factor can be changed for the better, just as blood pressure or cholesterol can be modified. Of course, stress can’t be measured as easily as cholesterol, but you can learn to take responsibility for your emotional responses and modify them for the better. Here are a few tips to interrupt storms of explosive anger or relieve yourself of self-damaging, imploded anger.

  1. Recognize, as early as possible, when you’re beginning to feel angry.
  2. Pause, before saying something or doing something impulsively. The time-worn advice– “count to ten”– is still wise.
  3. Put the situation into perspective. Ask yourself if this issue will matter 5 years from now.
  4. Say to yourself: “If this is as big a deal tomorrow as it is now, I’ll deal with it then, when I’ve cooled off a bit.
  5. Realize that, even though someone else’s behavior might have triggered your upset, blaming them for it won’t help you take responsibility for handling it well enough to regain your emotional balance.
  6. Understand that acting angry is not the way to show that you really care about something or someone.
  7. You may understand the nature of your problems with anger, but if you can’t put your insight into practice, it’s time to consult with an experienced therapist. Even a brief investment in counseling can
    produce remarkable results.
  8. Finally, remember to take this to heart: a change of heart comes from a change of mind about how you handle frustrating situations.

To sum it up, stressful reactions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, or mood instability can add up to increased risk for all kinds of medical problems, including heart trouble. Taking care of your emotional health will pay off with big dividends in maintaining your physical health and well-being.

Dr Alan Levy is an seasoned psychologist who practices in Costa Mesa, California. His website: alanlevyphd.com

Downloads

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

ANGRY AT YOUR PARTNER? Think Again!

Literally, think again. And then think about what you are thinking about- especially around anger issues.

As famous psychologist William James said over 100 years ago:

“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.”

The case of Sally and Jim

Sally and Jim sat in my office glaring at each other. Sally told a story around an angry conflict they had had eariler in the week.

I found Sally to be quite humorous and entertaining. But Jim had an entirely different perception. Getting more and more agitated and angry as he listened to his wife, he looked at me and said “see what I mean, doc? Isn’t she irritating?

“I don’t find her irritating,” I replied. I then went on to explain that “irritation” (or most other traits or ways of relating) isn’t as much in the partner as in your perception of it- or how you think about it- or the general attitude you have toward your partner to begin with.

In other words,your mental set or mental framework you have toward your partner influences how you interpret what they do or how they are.

Negative and positive sentiment override

There is much marital research at the Gottman institute to back this up. There, researchers discovered something called “negative sentiment override” vs positive sentiment override.”

In Gottman’s theory, when negative sentiment override (NSO) is present, there is a discrepancy between the perceptions of the receiver and the sender of an interaction.  Just like Jim, we can distort and see a communication through a negative lens, even when their partner did not intend it to be negative.  In fact, objective observers may not perceive the interaction to be negative, at all. (just as I didn’t see Sally as irritating, like Jim did).

 It is in the “eyes of the beholder” so to speak, that he or she are on the receiving end of something negative. By contrast, In positive sentiment override (PSO), negative interactions are not seen as particularly negative, or at least they are not taken personally.  When there is PSO between a couple, the partners give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Even if one partner IS conveying negativity in content or tone, the other does not personalize, react to, match, or “store away for a rainy day” their partner’s bad mood, negativity, etc.

Getting from negative to more positive sentiment overide: Two Steps

Sounds good, but how does a couple shift from negative to positive sentiment override? Try these two steps as a startup strategy:

Step 1- Try to become friends again by doing things you enjoy together -like when you were dating. I know there are any obstacles to this: children, Covid-19 pandemic, money ,etc but try a little harder to re-connect.
See the attached worksheet to give you some more ideas.

Step 2- Consciously alter you thought patterns about your partner by looking at what you are telling yourself about what they do that makes you angry or upset toward then.

Here are some “self-talk” thoughts I teach people in my anger management classes to teach themselves to be less angry at whatever their partner does. These changes in thought patterns have helped many hundreds of partners be less angry toward their partner- even if their partners doesn’t change their behavior.

Change Angry Thoughts to 4 Corrective Thoughts

Angry Thought #1- My partner should think like I do. If they don’t, its my duty to work on them until they do think like me- or at least admit they are wrong.

Corrective thought #1: My partner and I don’t have to think alike: to get along we just have to be tolerant of how the other one thinks.

Angry Thought #2-My partner does things I consider stupid or wrong. Because they are stupid or wrong, they shouldn’t do these things.

Corrective thought #2: Within limits, they have a right to do what they want to- but I also have a right not to want to live with a person who does those things and I will communicate that to them calmly.

Angry Thought #3- I know I am right about the issue we often fight about.

Corrective thought #3: I am not 100% right nor are they 100% wrong on any matter of dispute. Fact is, usually “the truth” is in the middle. In marriage, there is more than one “truth” so it is possible you are both “right” but you are each looking at the conflict or issue from a different point of view.

Angry Thought #4– Things should go my way- because I deserve it and because I want it that way.

Corrective thought #4: I am not the center of the universe, or even the center of our relationship. It is irrational to think that things MUST go my way- even though I would like them to. Rather than getting angry, I need to work on my skill of accepting what is instead of what I self-centeredly want it to be. I also need to practice thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.”

Downloads

Download a FREE PDF file called “Sharing Things as a Couple Worksheet” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

Men: How to disarm an angry parter

According to famed therapist Terry Real, the short answer is:

“To disarm an angry woman, give her what she needs.”

To illustrate this point, let me introduce to 55 year-old Jerry who came to see me because his very angry (Linda) gave him the ultimatum of seeing a therapist or a divorce lawyer. (He had to think about this for awhile, but decided a therapist was the lessor of the evils)

The Case Of Jerry
Jerry, a successful real estate developer, wasn’t a bad guy – he just didn’t have a clue as to why his wife of 10 years was always angry at him. If she wasn’t yelling, (even raging), or criticizing, she talked to him with absolute contempt. This, despite the fact that he was an excellent provider, he was a great father to their children, and he was well thought of in their social circles and their community. He did not drink excessively and he was not unfaithful to her.

He felt he could do nothing right in her eyes – but honestly couldn’t see anything he was doing wrong either. Again, her constant anger and dissatisfaction mystified him.

At first, he became defensive to ward off her attacks and protect himself. Jerry often argued with her by offering all kinds of logical reasons why he did what he did that upset her, trying to convince her that she was mistaken, that she was wrong, that she was exaggerating, or worse, that she was crazy.

Her response? More angry. In fact, now the anger included not only the original complaints, but the fact that he was so emotionally unaware that he didn’t understand at all what she was really upset about.

Jerry tried to stay out of trouble
To stay out of trouble, he started avoiding his wife more and more both physically (including sexually) and emotionally. After all, he reasoned, why stand in the path of gunfire when someone is shooting at you?

Like many beleaguered husbands, he mistakenly attributed his wife’s mood swings and anger to menopause or other medical explanations for her behavior.

When he mentioned this to her, again her level of anger increased because she saw it as a way to disavow his contribution to what she saw as her justifiable anger toward him.

Underneath, Linda saw herself as being emotionally victimized by her husband. Consequently, she felt justified in her anger and justified in her need to protect herself by attacking him.

Jerry saw himself as a good husband
Jerry, for his part, certainly didn’t see himself as victimizing his wife in any way. His motive was to please her, so he would have a peaceful life, but he just didn’t have the skills needed to deal with Linda and her emotional needs.

He grew up in a home and at a time period in our history where no one taught him how to deal with the emotional needs and raised expectations of modern women who demand much more out of their relationships than did many women of an older generation.

So, what are these skills exactly, that Jerry and thousands of other men in our society need to learn and acquire to disarm an angry wife?

(Note – I had to learn them too. The rules have just changed over the years.)

Are you ready for the shocking answer?

3 disarming skills to use on a daily basis

Skill #1: Learn better “Empathy. “ To do this, start actually listening more to her. Seriously, listen more to your wife- not only the facts and information she talks about, but how she feels about what she is telling you- and the underlying meaning to what she is saying.

Remember, “hearing” your wife is not the same thing as “listening” to her. Developing better empathy skills requires getting out of yourself and practice seeing the world as your wife does, even if you don’t agree with her. Then acknowledge to her that you understand how she sees the issue.

Skill #2: Find ways to emotionally connect on a daily basis, even if it is only for a few minutes. Think of your marriage as a plant sitting out on your back patio. To survive, both must have daily watering and sunshine. Respond to her “bids for affection.”(ways she is trying to connect with you) Ignoring or blowing off such bids is not a good idea.

Skill #3: Show More emotional vulnerability. Don’t double down on issues of disagreement. For many women, male vulnerability is the pathway to her feeling close to you.

Enlightened men who trust their partner enough to show vulnerability are able to drop their defensiveness, to share feelings with their wife, and be brave enough to risk allowing your wife to see you for who you really are.

Downloads

Download a FREE PDF file called “The Active Listening Worksheet” that will help you develop listening techniques discussed in this article.

Audio version

Click here to listen to an audio version of this post.

16-hour online anger management course only $69.95!

The AngerCoach now offers its acclaimed and widely-accepted anger management program online. Dr. Fiore, a Ph.D. psychologist with over 35 years experience, developed this completely web-based program with the same content as in his local person anger management classes. 

Many clients are unable to attend in-person classes due to busy schedules, or cannot find classes that are conveniently located near their work or home. AngerCoach Online is perfect for anyone who needs an anger management program for personal development, to satisfy a court requirement, or to comply with workplace requirement. Couples can also take the course together and apply the eight tools of anger control to their relationship or marriage.

Use the code: homestudy16 when registering

The 16-hour Class includes:

  • Detailed instructions
  • Comprehensive class based on “Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century”by Dr Tony Fiore and Dr. Ari Novick
  • New Videos recently added to explain concepts and enhance your online learning experience
  • Downloadable Survival Guide for dealing with angry people
  • Online examination
  • Downloadable proof of enrollment
  • Many short and fun quizzes to give you feedback on your progress in learning the material
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  • Certificate of completion for 16 hours of anger management
  • Free download of a very useful and practical 100-page ebook: “Anger Management Student Manual- Practical Life Skills for All Age”(A $29.95 value)
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Controlled separation – How to give your troubled marriage oxygen without divorce

Many couples in a troubled marriage or relationship don’t really want to get a divorce, and they don’t want to go through marriage counseling right now (or they tried it and it didn’t help), so what are they to do?

The answer is an option that many couples find appealing – something called a “Controlled Separation,”- a concept explained in a 20 year old book titled “Should I Stay or Should I go?”

Controlled separation is a path to take that allows you to time to breathe and give the relationship emotional space so that you can can better make a wise decision with more confidence about the future of your marriage.

In fact, research shows that in a Minnesota sampling of couples that applied for a process called “Discernment Counseling,” 12% of the couples chose this path versus getting a divorce or starting marriage counseling.

It is not a path that most couples take when their marriage is in trouble, but it is an option for certain couples – and may be the best option for you. But for it to work, the separation must have a structure to it. Its purpose is to constructively break the marital impasse and allow for a sane decision whether to stay or go.

What structure is needed, you may ask?

There are 12 items that must be negotiated either by the couple themselves or with the help of a discernment counselor. Many couples prefer an actual written agreement containing this structure, and laying out things like how long the separation will last, how money will be divided during the separation period, how to deal with your children, etc.


Featured photo by engin akyurton Unsplash

Angry because your partner just won’t change? Try a fresh approach.

Aaron and Mary
Aaron and Mary have been married 23 years. She is often angry. He is a very gentle soul who has a lifestyle admired by many. He has a lot of money, he “works” by playing golf 2-3 times a week while courting new clients, he has a gorgeous loyal wife and two beautiful children who are doing well in life.He is rarely angry. So, what’s the problem? Aaron drinks a little too much some times at his watering hole with his buddies but tells his wife he is somewhere else if she calls. He does this because he want to avoid being yelled at and criticized. He feels he is a grown man and shouldn’t have to “report” to his wife every time he has “a few beers- even if she had made family plans around his being home as promised. His attitude triggers Mary’s underlying anxiety and anger.

How does Mary React to this behavior? To put it in simple term, she becomes angry, ballistic, yelling, screaming and criticizing. She angrily threatens to leave the marriage. He quietly sits there and takes her criticism, promises to do better, but then several weeks later does the same thing, with another excuse as to why he didn’t notify her of his change of plans.

Mary sees the problem as quite simple: Aaron needs to control his drinking and become more transparent as to where he is when she asks him. She truly believes that he is much more to blame for the problem than she could possibly be. She blames him and sees him as needing to change his behavior in order to fix the problem.She even goes to a therapist who tells her that his drinking isn’t really a marital problem…. it is a personal problem. Neither think that Aaron is an actual alcoholic. Alcohol is not the problem as much as her not trusting where he is because he has a history of lying about it.

So why doesn’t he just change to please her and keep peace? Because, as noted above, he does not see himself as an alcoholic; rather, he sees himself as just someone who drinks too much sometimes and then lies about it to his wife,in order to avoid trouble. He argues that he only does this once every two months. She says it is biweekly. Besides, in his mind he has “earned” the right to have the life style he wants….including the merriment, as long as he is not hurting anybody, he is responsible, he is not unfaithful, and he also spends sufficient time with wife and kids. He reasons that she should be more flexible considering the great lifestyle that he gives her.

So, they are gridlocked. The issue they are struggling with is called a perpetual issue because it appears to be unsolvable. Her reaction to it isn’t getting the result that either one of them wants. He wants more leeway. She wants more reliability and trust.

So, how exactly should Mary react differently that might deal with this perpetual problem so that both an get more loving behavior from each other?

Here are some steps I would suggest to Mary:

Step 1– Stop criticizing /blaming if he drinks too much or he is going to miss family dinner to be with his friends/business associates. Accept that he is passive-aggressive and/or locked into a lifestyle and figure out a new reaction to it.Try to broaden your scope and diminish the importance of this specific behavior in your mind, in the context of many other good things he might do for you or your family.

Step 2– Sit down and have a “heart to heart” talk with him pointing out how you FEEL when he does what he does..mainly disrespected and not prioritized by him.Let him know that it causes resentment and anger in you which makes you want to pull away from him. The marriage may be at stake if his behavior continues. Point out that it is the NOT LETTING HER KNOW THAT CAUSES MORE OF THE PROBLEM THAN HIS NOT BEING THERE.

Step 3- Stand up for yourself regarding how you are going to handle it in the future….BUT do not threaten. Simply tell him how things are going to change if he continues….such as

-stop planning family activities around him…do not count on him being home at certain times. Do not schedule your events around his having to be home. Accept that this is the way he is sometimes and focus on his positive characteristics. Reward him when he is on time or when he does call.

-distance yourself emotionally from him and tell him that you cannot have a secure love for a man who treats you this way,because it is not fair, it is disrespectful, and it is very upsetting to you.

-start building your own life around things you like to do as a person. Be with your friends more, try not to make your husband the center of the world so much and stop feeling guilty about “me time” you need.

The idea here is that chances are very good he will change if you changes how you deal with the situation. By standing up for yourself, it now puts the ball in your husband”s court….it is now his decision what he is going to do.

Remember, you cannot control another person. But you can control how you react to the other person which often greatly influences what they do decide to do in the future.

10-hour local anger management classes

How To Deal With a Passive-Aggressive Partner

HOW TO DEAL WITH A PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

Husband- When I got mad at you, you never fight back, How do you control your anger?
Wife- I clean the toilet.
Husband-How does that help?
Wife- I use your toothbrush

As this little vignette illustrates, passive-aggression is a way to get even at someone behind their back, often without their even knowing that you are doing it. It is sneaky revenge to get your own way, to serve a “pay-back,” or to sabotage the efforts of your partner when appearing to want to help, cooperate, or solve the problem.

Common passive-aggressive behavior in relationships:

Agreeing to do something and then either not doing it at all, doing it poorly, doing it grudgingly.

Keeping score and then doing small things to your partner to balance the score card.

Constantly being late- but only with partner and always with a good excuse.

Violating marital agreements behind partner’s back…e.g. Revealing details of relationship that partner thinks should be kept private.

Withholding things (money, sex, affection, support)that they need to purposely frustrate your partner or to even a score.

Hiding hostility in jokes or sarcasm, then denying that is what you are doing when confronted. For instance, disparaging your partner’s cooking ability to cause hurt, then saying “I was just kidding”.

Allowing your child to do something or buying something for your child behind your partner’s back which violates an agreement or understanding you had..

Not sticking to the budget behind your partner’s back, or not even having a budget when budgeting is important to your partner.

Does your partner know they are doing these things?
Sometimes your passive aggressive partner knows what they are doing- that is, they are doing it on purpose. They are snakes in sheep’s clothing. They want to get even with you so they smile while stabbing you in the back. Or they become catty or sarcastic, sending you double-meaning messages that you can’t comply with or make you feel helpless to deal with. You can read more about this on Airportkiss.com

Other times, however, they may not be aware themselves what they are doing. For instance, as a little girl Sue felt defiant toward her parents who always pushed her to “do it faster”. At eight years old, the more her parents “pushed” her, the more she slowed down. This pattern became “etched” in her brain circuits.

Fast forward twenty years…

At age 28 her husband says “honey, hurry up, we will be late for the dinner reservation”. Inside her brain, an alarm goes off reminding her of someone trying to control her again.As was the case before with her parents, she did not openly defy her husband or even admit she is angry toward him for his demands, so her mind goes into passive-aggressive mode without her realizing it. She finds herself running late while telling to her husband to deal with it because she is doing the best she can.

Patterns of passive-aggression
Your passive aggressive partner will often deny that they are doing what they are plainly doing right before you, or they twist the reality of what they are doing by justifying it, or minimizing it. Often they may attack you as a defense, convincing you there is something wrong with YOU for being so upset over what they are doing.

Passive-aggressive partners are not emotionally honest people- at least not with their partners. They often are conflict-avoidant and will do anything to avoid a fight or confrontation. So, they do things behind their partner’s back as a way of coping with their partners- and staying out of trouble. Or sometimes, they are passive-aggressive as a learned method to get what they want with the least amount of hassle or conflict.

Like most personality traits, passive aggression is not either/or but on a continuum. Your partner may just have tendencies to be passive-aggressive or may be full- blown. They may be passive-aggressive with everybody, or just with you. Sometimes a small amount of passive-aggression is a good thing, but done routinely it causes major problems in relationships because it is not honest communication and is manipulative by nature.

FIVE STEPS TO DEAL WITH THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

Step 1- Could you be the problem?
The first step in dealing with the passive-aggressive partner is to ask yourself if you are unknowingly somehow part of the problem. Do you maybe create an atmosphere wherein it is easier for him/her to NOT be candid with you to avoid emotional pain or hassle? If so, the obvious solution is to find a way to have open communication with each other where you can both openly express opinions, feelings and thoughts without so much judgment, conflict or demands for change. Don’t turn you partner into a liar.

Step 2- Don’t be a victim of their passive-aggression
Once you have identified your partner as a passive-aggressive, don’t plan your life around their promises or commitments if they don’t keep them. If it isn’t too bad, (but irritating) just accept that they are passive-aggressive, instead of getting angry about it. BUT, then ALWAYS have a plan B when dealing with them, until trust rebuilds. If they don’t show up on time at important events, go separately and meet them there.Make the bank deposits yourself is they are unreliable in this regard. In public, don’t set yourself up so they can ridicule, denigrate, or make fun of you.

Step 3- Write things down on paper, as in agreements.
Couples aren’t used to writing down agreements they reach, but these can go a long way toward avoiding later conflicts in relationships, especially with passive-aggressives. This works especially well with things like home chore responsibilities, spending habits, and other family rituals such as meal preparation days, time spent daily to connect with each other, and understandings about what information about your relationship is “private” vs being shared with relatives or close friends.

Step 4- Share feelings when you suspect your partner is being passive-aggressive
Let your partner know how you feel when they do something that bothers you or hurts you, instead of suppressing it or shoving it under the proverbial rug. They may not realize the effect their passive-aggressiveness is having on you. Be honest with them, so they have an opportunity to change their behavior if they elect to.

Say things like “I feel really hurt and unloved when you…”

Or, “I was humiliated and embarrassed when you got drunk and told everybody at the party about our sex life, like it was a joke”

Or, “I feel violated and untrusting toward you when you tell your parents personal stuff that I tell you, expecting that it will be held in confidence”.

Step 5 – Assertively consequences if they continue their behavior – then follow through.
If their passive-aggressive behavior is truly something you cannot accept, and you elect not to tolerate it, the next step is to make clear the consequences of their continued passive-aggressiveness. As an example, if your partner continues to overspend to the extent that they are ruining the FICO scores of both of you and propelling the family toward bankruptcy, you can insist on separate bank accounts, credit cards etc. Don’t just threaten, however – you must follow through in order to survive.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSON

What should you do if you are the passive-aggressive person and your behavior is threatening to destroy a relationship?
Acknowledgement of a problem is the first step toward solving it. Start by looking at your behavior. If indeed you have tendencies in the PA direction, vow to yourself to start being more honest in your communication with loved ones, even if there might be some painful consequences for you. If something bothers you about your partner or the relationship, deal with it up front instead of letting it fester and grow for a long period of time.

Instead of “getting even” with your partner because of the issue, try dealing with it in a mature loving way- start by talking about it. The strategy of “peace at any price” isn’t a good one because putting off “the talk” often just makes things much worse in the long run.

Giving up passive-aggression is often an issue in your character development. Like any character trait, you need to decide to change for anything to happen. Often this change is motivated by fear of losing something or someone you love – .like your partner or your family. Keeping this fear in mind often can propel you to communicate differently- less passive-aggressively and more real, genuine, and honest.

Remember, it is Ok to FEEL anger and hostility. All people in relationships do. The issue is how you deal with and communicate this natural anger. As a matter of personal growth, you will be much less passive-aggressive (and much less angry generally) if you acknowledge your anger and express it in healthy ways to feel better and to resolve conflicts.

10-hour local anger management classes

New Discernment Counseling for Couples On the Brink

family fighting

Up to 40% of people who divorce wish they hadn’t done so. Yet, many of these people say they tried “everything”,including couples therapy, but to no avail. Why doesn’t couples therapy,even done by experienced and competent therapists prevent breakup more of the time?

One reason is that both partners and the therapist often don’t have the same agenda. Recent research in Minnesota by Dr. William Doherty shows that up to 30% of couples coming to therapy are “mixed-agenda” couples where one is leaning out of the relationship and is reluctant to work on it, and the other wants to save the relationship

That means that only two people in the therapy room really are willing to work hard to save the marriage or relationship: the therapist and the “leaning in” partner. This is known as a “mixed-agenda”; in other words, everybody is not on the same page as it may appear on the surface. So, therapy starts with one of the therapist’s hands tied behind his/her back. If the therapist tries to persuade the “leaning out” partner to to stay in the marriage, they are immediately at odds with each other.

As an alternative, Dr. Doherty has developed a protocol called “Discernment Counseling” (http://www,discernmentcounseling.com)as a precursor to either divorce or couples therapy. You can get a family mediation lawyer, to have it court order to go through family counceling. Its goal is NOT to fix the marriage but to discern if the marriage can be fixed. Its like receiving a medical diagnosis that requires extensive treatment. Before taking the treatment you have to decide if you want to or not, considering effort involved, side-effects of the treatment, cost, etc.

Discernment Counseling provides different services to the mixed-agenda partners who have different needs. For the “leaning out” partner, discernment counseling helps them make a decision based on deeper understanding of the relationship and their role in its problems and potential future. Even if they leave the marriage, this understanding will help them in future relationships.
For the “leaning in” partner, discernment counseling helps them bring their best self to the relationship and to learn to relate differently so as not to continue to make things worse by well meaning but futile attempts to save the marriage.

Discernment counseling is time limited from a minimum of one two-hour session to a maximum of five sessions. At the end of the process, the couple will decide on one of three paths they are going to take:
Path 1- Continue as things are now
Path 2- Pursue divorce or separation
Path 3- Fully participate in couples therapy and other interventions for a period of six months with divorce or separation off the table.

Having a clear decision as to what path you are both on will give both partners much more clarity and confidence in a decision about the future of your relationship,based on a deeper understanding of what’s happened to your relationship and each of your contributions.

For more information, first review Dr. Doherty’s website at http://www.discernmentcounseling.com), then call Dr Fiore (714-745-1393) for local services in either Long Beach or Newport Beach, CA.

Can Personal Values Differences Destroy a Relationship?

You bet they do. Often the seeds of destruction are in the relationship the moment you meet even though it my take many years for it to actually die. Famous marital researcher Dr John Gottman teaches and trains therapists as follows:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Often that is often because partners have different values about life, relationships,money, parenting, orderliness, in-laws, or sex.

Take Cliff and Mary, for example. Cliff is a very successful 42 year old restaurateur in a local beach community. He literally works 18 hours a day. He almost can compete with Jay Leno in terms of the number of luxury automobiles he has in his garage. Every year he treats his extended family from Eastern Europe to a two week vacation at Disneyland, then gives each one (about 20 people) $25,000 to return home with. Yet, his marriage is falling apart as he opens up yet another restaurant.

His wife Mary begs him to be home more of the time, but he sees that as nagging. He values only occupational success, everything else in life is secondary- even sex. He could care less. When he needs it, it is available all around him. He says women have been throwing themselves at him since he was 12 years old. Why does he need a wife for sex or emotional comfort? If she is unhappy, then she should move on, he says.

He does agree to therapy but almost falls asleep during the session because he has been up most of the night. In the session, while his wife is in anguish, he yawns. He wants her to just return home and enjoy the affluent life he can give her; why should she complain, he reasons, when she can have almost anything she wants? What other man could give her such a life?

Value differences are hard to reconcile even in marriage therapy, because neither partner is right or wrong. There are many ways to live life. Demanding that your partner change their values because they differ from yours is a sure path toward relationship conflict and ultimately destruction.

In our example, Cliff lives his life by the values of success, money,hard work, and complete devotion to what one does to succeed. Mary values relationship, love, family life, and emotional connection to one’s spouse.

The only hope for this marriage to survive with any kind of harmony is for her to surrender to the reality that neither she nor her husband is capable of changing their very different but deeply ingrained values. Cliff has already mentally surrendered and has no intention of changing himself. Mary, however, is in anguish daily, still trying to reform her husband.

Mary can certainly make the decision that these value differences are deal breakers and that this type of marriage is not for her. Who would blame her?

But she could also make the decision to accept what is and find a way to create her own life around this reality. This would work because Cliff has basically told her he doesn’t care what kind of life she builds, as long as it doesn’t require more time or emotional involvement from him. Some wives would relish this freedom while enjoying the fruits of a very affluent lifestyle.

Value conflicts such as this one require us to look deeply into ourselves to discover what we really believe and what is important to us. When we make decisions based on values instead of emotions, our lives work better with much less turmoil.

As I often tell my clients, if you can’t change the direction of the wind, you must adjust the sails to get to your destination.

10-hour local anger management classes

Successful Couples Repair Conflict

Let’s face it. All couples fight. In successful relationships as well as others. Having fights is not necessarily a sign that your relationship is doomed to failure.

If all couples fight, What then makes the difference between successful vs unsuccessful relationships?

Simply put, one major difference is having the skills and ability to repair the emotional damage done during the fight. Some couples simply can’t get past it and simmer for days, weeks, even months. I know of one couple that kept a resentment for years. They didn’t divorce – they simply built a wall between them and added a few more bricks every month until there basically was no hope of reconnecting.This couple slept in separate bedrooms, rarely talked to each other, ate meals separately and kept separate financial resources. They basically were roommates.

Other couples fortunately have better skills and can bounce back from a conflict, a bad behavior on the part of one or the other, or from the pain of a grievance. Some couples just know how to do it. Mary and Jim were such a couple. They were a young professional couple with no children but strong personalities and a strong need for autonomy. She often wanted to do something that he considered irresponsible or not practical (she was an artist). He would “question” her on it (which she heard as a challenge). Her response? Anger, saying to herself “he is not going to tell ME what to do.” He replied that he was not trying to tell her what to do, he was just inquiring as to what was going on.

This led to an escalating fight with each “pushing the buttons” of the other until they no longer could stand to be in the same room. In effect, they had activated each other’s psychological alarm system so both their brains were now in a “fight and protect” mode. So they sulked for a while, until their nervous systems calmed down to normal levels. This allowed one of them (Mary)to quietly say “I’m sorry.” Then came, “I really love you and can’t imagine life without you.” Jim then said, “Let’s get on the same team and figure out a solution to the issue.”

More generally, partners with good repair skills do with following:

  • They keep the relationship itself in mind when arguing over an issue. It’s not only about “winning” – certainly not at the cost of rupturing the relationship. They WANT the relationship to work. They strive for emotional connection and harmony.
  • They realize that not all couples problems are fixable – some issues will always be there. The trick to repair is to learn how to live with each other around the issues rather than trying to change the other person to make them less irritating to you. The challenge is to cope (within reason and without losing your “self” in the process) better while finding ways to satisfy each other’s needs.
  • They are mature enough to realize that their partners have a perfect right to their own opinions and ways of doing things. They try to drop judgment and instead strive to understand their partner better.
  • Finally, couples with good repair skill do not bring up the past to use as a weapon. They stick to the current issue without slamming their partner with insults, name-calling, accusations, or “dead cow” issues.
AngerCoach Online

Anger Management In Action: Stop yelling At Your Kids

Screaming accomplishes Little
Screaming accomplishes Little

I hate to hear parents screaming at their kids. Why? Because it doesn’t work! It creates a bad feeling between parent and child! It makes the “yeller” look very bad socially (if done in public). It encourages “push back” from the yelled-at child. Did I mention that it doesn’t work? Anger Management is an important parenting skill.

When I was growing up on Cleveland, Ohio, I had a mother could have used anger management. She yelled a lot. Out of love and concern, mind you, but it was still yelling. Sometimes it was over minor things, other times over safety issues and other times over character development. She did it so much that my brother and I became immune to it, especially as we got older.

Truthfully, much of the time it went in one ear and out the other.

Our response to a yelling request was usually something like “yea…mom…right away.” as we went on with our lives. AS I write this now, I feel a little guilty about it, because she was right about what she was yelling about, but horribly ineffective in changing some of our behavior. Like picking up after ourselves. Or, doing chores. Or, coming in for dinner on time while out playing. Or,- and this was a big one- us two brothers not fighting with each other.

When we became adolescents, she got desperate to get us to do things – now more serious things like having my brother not play tennis or baseball because he had osteoporosis in his arm. Or, insisting loudly that he practice the clarinet because lessons were being paid for. She pleaded, she harangued, she threatened, she yelled. nothing seem to work. My brother and I could easily persuade her to change her mind about things, to feel sorry for us, and….I must confess…manipulate her.

Except at some point she caught on and would utter those dreaded words in a threatening tone:
“Wait until your father gets home.”

Now that usually worked because my dad was….let us say charitably..a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Once he made up his mind about something, he never changed it, especially in terms of his parenting principals (like: “children should be seen and not heard;” “all teenagers are irresponsible,” and “get that mad look off your face, or I’ll give you something to be mad about.”

We were very well behaved in school because of my Dad’s edict that “if you get in trouble in school, you will get in twice that amount of trouble when you get home.”

But, at least he followed through on his “consequences” when we behaved badly, whereas mom often would not.Unfortunately, his rigid and unbending rules caused much frustration and stifled creativity. It also unfortunately taught us that there was no negotiating with an authority figure.. your only choice was to succumb/comply or suffer pain.If you have dogs buy retractable dog leashes review and make you kids walk the dog.

On a scale of 1-10, we would do what dad said at a 10. He only needed to say it once (most of the time).

Fair or not, at least we knew what the deal was and what the rules were. Break them at your own peril.

The “cost” of that approach to parenting was that there was little or no closeness between my father and his male children. We “listened” to him, but did not have a close emotional connection with him.

So, how do you get your kids to change their behavior without yelling or without losing emotional connection with them? In short, how can you be an effective parent?

First of all, don’t yell; it is useless most of the time, and in most circumstances. In fact, it makes things worse because as they get older kids start seeing you as emotionally unstable, and they mighy lose respect for you, which is not a good thing at all.Read more about this on www.portableacnerd.com.

There are many other ways to deal with your children.Being mindful of alternatives will make you a more effective parent.Following are some tips that should be helpful:

*Be consistent with your house rules. Write the rules out and stick them on your refrigerator. Then if your kids act out, it is against the rules, not you personally. It puts a degree of separation between you and the bad behavior or your kids.

* You and their other parent must agree on the rules and standards and back each other up (within reason), even if you don’t agree with each other 100%.

*Tell your children how you feel when they do such and such. Rather than telling them how stupid, wrong, or immoral they are, tell them how disappointed you are in their behavior.

* Before yelling, take a time out and cool down. Come back later to deal with it. it only takes a few seconds of rage to cause a lot of damage in your relationship with your children.

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Promotional Video for Marriage and Couples Therapy in Newport Beach

I just posted a new promotional video that I had created announcing my new location in Newport Beach California. In addition to providing marriage and couples therapy at this new location, I can also provide my services to people all over the world with Skypeâ„¢. It is my hope that I can help improve the lives of people all over by teaching them valuable techniques for anger and stress management.

If you would like to contact me, please feel free to call me at 714-745-1393.

I hope you enjoy the video below!