Friday, April 23, 2010

Anger Management and Asperger’s, Part III: Allowing Anger

Anger can be a scary emotion, and many people try to suppress it.  Kids may think they’re not allowed to get angry, parents may not want their kids to show their anger, and adults may think anger is, somehow, wrong.  The reality is that anger is a part of being human. Anger allows us to feel the injustice of situations, it helps us set healthy boundaries, and it can provide the power to make great changes.

Most small children start expressing anger when they don’t get something that they want. That’s still true of older kids and adults, but as children develop, they also will get angry when they perceive a situation as unfair. Our innate sense of justice gets triggered, especially when we’re the ones being mistreated.

The goal in anger management is not to get rid of or suppress anger, it’s to allow the emotion in a healthy and even a useful way. I often ask clients, “How are you allowed to express anger?” Frequently, the question is answered with a puzzled silence or, “But, I’m not allowed to get angry.” My suggestion, to everyone trying to manage anger, is to think in advance about what’s allowed.

Parents should discuss anger with their kids, during a calm time. What are the family rules about anger? Some families forbid the use of certain words, name-calling, breaking things, throwing things. Other families are more liberal. Whatever your family’s rules, there has to be some allowed form of anger expression. And remember, siblings get mad at each other. That doesn’t mean they hate each other, or that they will not get along in the future.

For adults, just acknowledging your own anger may make you feel better. Writing in a journal, or writing (not mailing!) a letter can get the thoughts out of your head. Physical activity, like running or dancing, may help use that energy up. Others feel better if they put their emotions into creative activities. Music can be either expressive or soothing. Focusing on change may make anger easier to manage, whether it’s starting a neighborhood watch, or thinking about what you can control in your marriage.

It’s important to pay attention to how the emotion of anger feels, physically in your body. So many people tend to be head oriented, they forget about the body. And, the body is where emotions live. Being more body focused can help you manage your feelings and move on.

For more on this topic, be sure to check out my earlier blog posts on anger management. Anger Management and Asperger's, Part I: Understanding Anger and Anger Management and Asperger's, Part II The Feeling of Anger.