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  1. 1. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training Copyright 2004 by the Educational Publishing Foundation2004, Vol. 41, No. 2, 161–171 0033-3204/04/$12.00 DOI 10.1037/0033-3204.41.2.161 IS ANGER A THING-TO-BE-MANAGED? ANDREW E. ROFFMAN New York University School of MedicineThis article examines the theoretical of the gods, shows up, quickly assesses the prob-and clinical implications of rejecting lem, bows to the demon, and incants repeatedly, “Sir, your obedient servant, Sakka, leader of thethe idea that anger is a gods!” As he relates to the demon in this rever-thing-to-be-managed. The concept of ential, respectful way, the demon returns to hisanger is constructed from metaphors previous form, loses his inflated power, andgrounded in people’s bodily experience disappears.and folk psychology. These There is a lot to be said for anger-managementconstructions promote a version of therapies. By and large, they seem to be an ef-anger as a thing-to-be-managed, fective means of helping people do something different in relation to the experience defined bylending support to the these models as anger (Beck & Fernandez, 1998;anger-management paradigm. This DiGuiseppe & Tafrate, 2001; Tafrate, 1995).article offers a critique of these ways of These are cognitive–behavioral therapies that aimconstruing anger, presenting, instead, a to build competencies in clients, skills and toolsmodel of anger as an in-relation-to for managing anger that will enable clients tophenomenon that fits with a function better in relationship to others. Many people are helped directly, and many are helpednondualistic version of human indirectly by virtue of being in relationship withexperience. The clinical principles of individuals less likely to become violent andunpacking, framing anger as a rageful. My intention in writing this article is notresource, and coordinating are to argue against anger management per se butpresented as alternatives to the rather to offer an alternative description, an alter-management paradigm. native way of thinking about the experience of anger, and suggestions for a therapy that is ori- ented toward helping those who struggle with an- In the Buddhist story “The Anger-Eating De- ger. My basic position is that anger is not amon” (Warren, 1979), a “sickly-looking and de- “thing-to-be-managed.” I will offer an unpackingcrepit demon” places himself on the throne of of the notion of anger as thing-to-be-managedSakka, leader of the gods. When the other gods and an alternative framing of the therapeutic en-see this, they become enraged, and the more an- terprise of reorienting one’s relationship to thisger they display, the more handsome and resplen- experience that individuals concretize as anger. Ident the demon becomes. Finally, Sakka, leader will outline implications for therapy that follow from this alternative framing. What I propose to be gained by this shift is an Andrew E. Roffman, New York University Child Study orientation to one’s experience not based on theCenter, Family Studies Program, New York University illusion of control and the paradoxes and bindsSchool of Medicine. I would like to thank Martin Knowles, CSW, for his sup- that such an illusion tends to generate. Startingport, ideas, and editorial assistance. with the cybernetic premise (Bateson, 1972) that Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed no one part of a systemic unity can exercise uni-to Andrew E. Roffman, ACSW, 114 East 32nd Street, Suite lateral control over the whole, I am proposing406, New York, NY 10016. E-mail: andrew.roffman@med that anger management can unwittingly a problematic way of thinking about the human 161
  2. 2. Roffmanorganism and human experience. The alternative Accepting Maturana’s (1988) invitation to putto management and control is a coordination objectivity in parentheses, I suggest that the wordparadigm, one that seeks to situate the problem- anger, multiply defined and multireferential as itatic experience, or function, back into the sys- may be, is a viable term, given its apparent use-temic organization of the person as a whole and fulness for so many people. As anger is a con-the person’s network of ongoing relationships. struct that varies cross-culturally, this account re-What is to be gained is a change in relationship fers broadly to a Western frame of reference.and in premises to and about one’s emotional Anger as a concept is linked, at least in West-experiencing. ern culture, with a felt, bodily based domain of experience. I have found the work of Lakoff andAnger Is a Concept Johnson (1980, 1999) especially illuminating in regard to how anger as an embodied concept Psychological language has so saturated every- is constructed in the English language. Using an-day discourse (as well as professional discourse) ger as a case study in his analysis of how meta-that it is quite easy to forget that words such as phor structures individuals’ concepts and catego-anger are first and foremost words. If we as cli- ries, Lakoff (1987) showed how the concept ofnicians are to talk of managing anger, or doing anger is structured metaphorically. How indi-anything in relation to it, we ought to have some viduals “language” their experience of angersense of what we are referring to. In my view, it derives largely from the constraints of thisis insufficient to accept the presupposition that particular metaphorical structuring, which is, in“there is anger.” Gergen’s (1991) critique of the turn, grounded in the physical experience ofrealist conception of emotions pertains to this dis- embodiment.cussion for it notes that, even in the face of ob- In his analysis, anger as the “target domain”servable and quantifiable physiological measures, (of a conceptual structuring) is given conceptualclinicians are faced with the “vulnerability of the meaning by the “source domain” of heat of afundamental premises, first, that emotions do ex- fluid in a container (e.g., boiling water) or heat ofist, and second, that they are manifest in these a solid in a container (e.g., fire) such that themeasures” (p. 221). As Gergen stated, central metaphor of anger is anger is the heat ofThat we observe increased pulse rate, grimacing behavior and a fluid/solid in a container. From this centralthe verbal declaration ‘I am fearful,’ is not in doubt here; it metaphorical structure, individuals construct theiris the conclusions that ‘fear exists’ and that ‘these are its various ways of talking about anger. Lakoffexpressions’ for which the research provides no justification.(p. 221) (1987) derived this central metaphor from what he referred to as the “common folk theory of theIf we as clinicians were to agree that “there is physiological effects of anger” (p. 381). Theseanger,” that would constitute an achievement of effects, such as increased body heat, increasedconsensual validation—we have agreed on a de- pressure (blood, muscle), agitation, interferencescription; we have not isolated a “thing.” This with accurate perception, and redness, are presentposition is familiar to anyone who has wrestled in the various ways individuals speak of anger.1with the postmodern critiques of the social sci- The implications of how people structure theirences. Language is not stable. It does not refer to concept of anger are not trivial. Consider whata pregiven world, but, in Maturana and Varela’s Lakoff (1987) referred to as the ontology of anger(1987) beautiful turn of phrase, brings forth the revealed by the following central metaphor: An-world in and through our interaction. It is beyond ger is intense, can lead to loss of control, and canthe scope of this article to lay out all the details of be dangerous to others. The experience of angerthis postmodern critique. Suffice it to say that it is presents itself as a moment of responsibility forimportant to start both theoretically and clinically effective action. In a further analysis of the en-with the idea that anger is multiply defined and tailments of the central metaphor, Lakoff showedmultireferential. Clinicians ought not to assumethat we know what another person is referring towhen he or she uses the word anger, even if wehave a pretty good idea, especially if we happen 1 See Lakoff (1987) and Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 1999)to share sufficient cultural background to indulge for a fascinating and more full elaboration of these ideas asourselves in the illusion of self-evidence. well as examples of metaphorical structuring.162
  3. 3. Is Anger a Thing-to-Be-Managed?how anger is (a) equated metaphorically with in- tion. Whether the behavior is deemed acceptable,sanity, (b) framed as an opponent and a danger- pathological, or criminal is dependent on the con-ous animal, and (c) seen to exert demands, have text of appetite, and settle as a burden that needs to belifted.2 Anger Is Not the Beast Within Lakoff’s (1987) analysis shows how the meta-phoric structuring of anger subtly justifies its per- Anger management extends longstandingformance. The notion that anger is like a heated Western ideas that place emotion and reason influid in a container naturally leads to the notion opposition. These ideas are supported by the fol-that anger is something one needs to calm down, lowing metaphorical structure: Passions aresiphon off, or explode out with. Anger is con- beasts inside a person (Lakoff, 1987). As Laza-ceived in this way as a quantifiable substance that rus (1991a) stated,behaves as does heated fluid in a container—the the functional separation of cognition and emotion has a longhotter it gets, the more likely something explo- cultural tradition in the Western world, going back to thesive will happen, so action is planned accord- ancient Greeks and continuing through the middle ages in the Catholic Church and in the present era. In the Apollonianingly. The metaphor implies a threshold beyond Greek ideal, which the medieval church also adopted, ratio-which anger cannot be controlled—it explodes, nality was enthroned as godlike. Passion was regarded asboils over, or seeps out (etc.) in a way that the animal-like, and people were enjoined to control their animalperson is presumably no longer responsible for. natures by reason. (p. 357)Therapists frequently hear justifications for angry Lazarus (1991a) continued, noting thatbehavior, even violence, based on the idea of“just exploding.” our cultural traditions and philosophical biases have rein- Anger management gets support from this cen- forced the concept of emotion and cognition as separate sys- tems, with emotion as primitive and cognition as advanced intral metaphor of anger. Just as one needs to “man- both a phylogenetic and ontogenetic sense, despite the veryage” a heated fluid in a container (especially real possibility that this is not the best model for thinking ofvolatile fluids, but even simple water will do) so the emotion process. (p. 357)should one manage anger as it manifests and in- If anger is one of the primitive, irrationaltensifies. This way of thinking is so pervasive in beasts within, then it would naturally follow thatmodern language that it seems self-evident. The individuals would want to tame or at least containgenius of Lakoff’s (1987) work was in showing it. In this fashion, anger management deriveshow camouflaged metaphor is in individuals’ from similar premises as psychoanalysis with itsconstructions of anger. The camouflaging largely concept of ego defenses. Lem’s (1968) character,follows because the metaphor structure is so Dr. Hogarth, offered this colorful depiction of theclose to individuals’ experience of themselves as state of affairs.embodied. Bodies are containers. When an indi-vidual gets angry, blood pressure generally rises, Once again we are shown the demon and the angel, the beastone’s face reddens, muscles grow tense, heart and the god locked in Manichean embrace, and once again man has been pronounced, by himself, not culpable, as he israte increases, and so forth: All of these processes but the field of combat for forces that have entered him,are isomorphic to the behavior of heated fluids or distended him, and hold sway inside his skin. (p. 5)solids in a container. Further, when individualsget angry, they are faced with what seems to be Anger framed as primitive, as the beast within,self-evident choices; they can control their anger sustains a mythology pervasive in today’s culturein some way, or they can choose to act upon it to and a tautology specifying the need to control andcorrect the perceived offense or wrongdoing. If master it. Unmanaged, the beast wreaks havoc onindividuals choose the former, they are “manag- those around it. Suppressed, the beast wreaksing” their anger, “channeling it constructively,” havoc on the individual him or herself. Tamedor “expressing it appropriately”; assuming thecontext is fitting, these are all prosocial forms ofbehavior. If individuals choose the latter path, 2 An example of these metaphors is vividly depicted inthey are seeking justice, retribution, and ven- Kassinove and Tafrate’s (2002) Anger Thermometer, a sub-geance and are acting from various motives such jective scale for angry feelings. At 100° (the highest point),as a moral imperative or a saving of face in the the descriptors are “Rabid–Crazed–Maniacal–Wild–Violent–context of public or private shame and humilia- Demented” (p. 27). 163
  4. 4. Roffmanand trained, the beast serves his master well. It is an invader or possessor (“I was overwhelmed byinteresting to note that the beast-within metaphor anger”). Here, one is dealing with language thatdoes not support professional or folk models that presumes, perhaps even creates, a split betweenadvocate a cathartic expression of anger. These experiencer and the data of experience. Angerdiscredited ideas (Tafrate, 1995) would hardly management depends on this split: Without itmake sense if anger was equated with a savage who or what would be managing the anger? Butbeast: Releasing a savage beast, that is, through I suggest that clinicians take seriously Bateson’scathartic therapy, will not lead to a happy out- (1972) idea of a “much larger field of interlock-come (in most imaginable cases). ing processes” and fit anger and the experiencing A more subtle rendering of the beast-within I into that field. My sense is that the relationshipmetaphor can be found in DiGiuseppe’s (1995) between anger and the managing subject is aparsing of anger into two forms: “dysfunctional much more complex one than the dualism of thator clinical anger” and “adaptive nondisturbed an- description can convey, and I believe that there isger.” Building on Ellis (1977), DiGiuseppe advo- clinical utility in holding that complexity, as Icated a clinical transformation of the former into describe shortly.the latter. In this case, the beast is tamed and theperson and his or her social network are the ben- Anger in-Relation-toeficiaries. To question the premise of anger as adangerous beast within is to expose a conceptual Anger results from the coordination of variousstructure endemic to researchers’ way of viewing parts of a complex system that extends beyondemotions and experience. the boundary of the skin of the individual in ques- tion. Anger, in this view, is a circuit, much likeAnger Is an in-Relation-to Phenomenon Bateson’s (1972) notion of mind (of which anger could be seen as a manifestation), which includesWho or What Is Managing Whom or What? the woodsman, his axe, and the tree in a feedback circuit. In this sense, anger is always an in- The dualism implicit in the opposition of the relation-to phenomenon. I believe this pertainsemotions and reason is present in the separation even in situations in which an external triggeringof self from body and emotions implicit in anger factor is absent. Anger always occurs in Crudely put, some part of the or- One could go so far as to say that it is the contextganism is presumed to be in charge of some other that specifies whether or not it is anger at all (forparts. In his seminal article, “The Cybernetics of meaning is negotiated, not received).Self,” Bateson (1972) asserted that any way of From an inside-the-person systems perspec-thinking that sees unilateral control as possible tive, then, it is difficult to explain how an organ-within a complex system is fundamentally ism of such recursive complexity as a human be-flawed: ing could be reduced to a rational executive sys-The “self” as ordinarily understood is only a small part of a tem in control of an irrational body with itsmuch larger trial-and-error system which does the thinking, emotions. More difficult would be to try to ana-acting, and deciding. This system includes all the informa- lyze that system apart from the relational net-tional pathways which are relevant at any given moment to works of which it is inextricably a part. Treatingany given decision. The “self” is a false reification of an anger as a thing-to-be-managed can potentiallyimproperly delimited part of this much larger field of inter-locking processes [italics added]. (p. 331) conceal anger as an in-relation-to phenomenon by neglecting context. As Lazarus (1991b) noted, Management and control of anger presupposes anger always arises in relation to some other.a manager or controller meta to the operations of That other need not be physically present at theanger in the organism. Current language makes it time (as in ruminative anger) nor need be an ac-very difficult to explain it otherwise. When I talk tual person (as in anger toward a type of personabout my relationship to anger, to being angry, to representative of a hated group or ideology).feeling angry, I cannot escape dividing myself up Even in script theory (DiGiuseppe, 1995), theinto an I and an emotional state that is both I and schemas that comprise a given anger script pre-not-I simultaneously. Phrases such as “my anger” suppose the existence of other persons. Withoutthat depict anger as a possession complicate mat- such reference to relational context, anger easilyters further, as do statements that portray anger as slides back into reification—a quantifiable thing164
  5. 5. Is Anger a Thing-to-Be-Managed?within the organism, a substance under pressure explain and justify a person’s relationship to theawaiting discharge (Kubie, 1947). experience of feeling angry. Although such a per- Most episodes of anger that need to be man- son may be neurobiologically predisposed towardaged entail an appraisal of the situation such that greater difficulty with impulse control and affectthe person feels some threat to his or her well- regulation, such self-descriptions can be ex-being (Lazarus, 1991b). Anger-management pro- tremely constraining; they certainly do not repre-grams that are cognitively oriented are particu- sent a “get out of jail” card for abusive behavior.larly attuned to the ways in which clients can Being angry or enacting anger in a particular wayconstrue their angry episodes as justified and ap- can be so tightly connected with a person’s self-propriate, even in the face of evidence that their definition that to ask him or her to manage angeractions are destructive to themselves and others. I is tantamount to asking that person to change hiswould go so far as to say that they invite clients or her personality. To such a person I say, “yes,to deconstruct their versions of what anger “is,” you are often an angry person, but is that all thatshifting the meaning such that the relational con- you are?”text becomes foreground. It seems possible to saythat they are altering the client’s definition of Clinical Implicationsanger from an inside-the-person to an in-relation- I imagine that most clinicians would agree thatto-others phenomenon. The therapist-driven dis- there are roughly two relevant categories of cli-tinction between dysfunctional and adaptive non- ents for this work: those for whom anger is adisturbed anger is an undermining of a pre- problem and those for whom it is a problem forexisting undifferentiated structuring of anger someone else. In the following section, I refer toby the client. Such a shift, however, retains the the former. The latter, the client who is mandatedquality of first-order change (Watzlawick, Weak- for therapy or who is coming because a spouse orland, & Fisch, 1974) that, effective in many re- other important person has demanded it, is notspects, maintains the premises of management covered here. For this latter category, I refer theand control. reader to the excellent work done by DiGiuseppe Management and control are issues germane to (1995); Prochaska, DiClemente, and Norcrossthe topic of anger, especially as it is enacted in (1992); and Berg and Miller (1992). For a fasci-relationships. For anger, as most people have ex- nating example of shifting a client’s focus andperienced directly or indirectly, can be used as a motivation, I recommend the audiotape “It’s Herform of coercive control. If, as Lazarus (1991b) Fault,” by Berg (1994). In my experience, mostemphasized, blame is a necessary component of clients who present anger as a problem at onean anger episode, one can see how anger serves point did not see it that way or do not always seemultiple functions, both expressive of a person’s it that way. Engaging a person and sustaining hisneed to save face and of his or her desire to or her motivation is usually an ongoing part ofmaneuver the other so that such a resolution of this work.negative feeling can take place. Anger is fre- As indicated, anger is a multiply described,quently used as a means of domination and in- multireferential concept whose metaphoricaltimidation. I agree with Goldner, Penn, Shein- structuring is grounded in physical and physi-berg, and Walker (1990) that both the expressive ological experiences of embodiment. Further, an-and instrumental descriptions of anger have util- ger is most productively seen as an in-relation-toity and need not cancel each other out. To what phenomenon. The clinical implications that fol-extent, then, are clinicians to advocate a solution low these assertions are organized around threefor anger that invokes management and control general guidelines: unpacking, framing anger as a(of oneself ), when management and control of resource, and coordinating. I wish to emphasizeothers is frequently a major component of the that these represent general principles rather thanproblem? a specific model. The obverse of the problem of dualism is theproblem of identification: Individuals often con- Unpackingflate the experience of being angry with defini-tions of self. “I am a person who gets angry eas- Unpacking refers to the process of elicitingily, has a short temper, is passionate,” and so more and more distinctions about anger in a per-forth. These various self-statements serve both to son’s life. I have written extensively on the 165
  6. 6. Roffmanmethod of unpacking elsewhere (Roffman, 6. what a person thinks others should do in2003). Unpacking is an inquiry that shifts be- response to his or her anger,tween the foreground and background, between 7. where the person learned all of this—thatthe phenomenology of the person’s experience of he or she learned all of this—andanger and the context of that experience. Thisprocess can take place in sessions with the indi- 8. how the person imagines others experiencevidual or with the individual and the individual’s him or her when he or she is angry.spouse, partner, or family. Metaphor. Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980, The phenomenology of the person’s experi- 1999) work can guide one to listen for metaphorence. Unpacking addresses what Varela (1999) and to respond on both a literal and symbolicreferred to as know-how, the “readiness-for- level to the actual words used by the person toaction proper to every specific lived situation” (p. describe his or her anger. Because metaphor is9). That know-how is self-organized and self- the basic building block for concept formationsustaining. Varela stated, “I call any such readi- and the languaging of experience, it presents it-ness-for-action a microidentity and its corre- self as an immediate point of entry.sponding lived situation a microworld. Thus, The following is a reconstructed dialogue from‘who we are’ at any moment cannot be divorced an individual therapy.from what other things and who other people are Client: My blood starts to boil when sheto us” (p. 10). does that. In the moment of anger, both the microidentityand microworld of the angry subject are remark- Therapist: The flame must be pretty high—howably thick and nuanced. The process of asking for come?finer and finer distinctions about a person’s ex- Client: She just keeps adding fuel to the fire.perience pulls for that nuanced complexity. The Therapist: How come the pot stays on themetamessage of the therapist’s behavior is “I ac- burner? Can it ever be taken off?cept what you tell me as partial—what else isthere as well?” The form of this type of dialogue Client: You mean I shouldn’t let it bothercan range from the gentle eliciting style of me so much?Gendlin (1996) to the more challenging Socratic Therapist: I don’t know if “you shouldn’t,” butquestioning of cognitive therapy. This process is would you like to?destabilizing (Mahoney, 2000) and thus requires Client: I don’t know if I can. It just gets to bea strong enough therapeutic relationship to sup- too much sometimes.port it. In my style of working, creating moredistinctions can have a trance-inducing quality, Therapist: What’s the “it” that gets to be toopromoting a further metamessage (stated explic- much?itly or implied): “where you were sure, you can The following is a reconstructed dialogue frombe unsure; and you can be comfortable and enjoy a group therapy.this process.” The phenomenology in question covers such Client A: She knows just what buttons to push!matters as Client B: I know that! My wife’s an expert on how to push mine. 1. how a person knows he or she is angry, Therapist: Anybody here ever wonder about 2. what a person feels when angry, those buttons? How did they get 3. what a person identifies as the causes or there? And who’s responsible for de- activating them? triggers of anger, 4. what a person believes he or she can or The first dialogue above leads to the client’s should do when angry, making more and more distinctions about a pre- viously undifferentiated experiential gestalt. The 5. what a person thinks others do or should do second dialogue gets the group unpacking the ex- when they are angry, perience of having “buttons” and beginning to166
  7. 7. Is Anger a Thing-to-Be-Managed?hold themselves and each other accountable for suggestion that in the triggering moment a “drop-their “deactivation.” I do not attempt to interpret down menu” could appear before his eyes andthe client’s metaphor or necessarily suggest a dif- that he could click on the “Options submenu.” Onferent one. Instead, I try to get inside it with the this menu, he would find an array of choices thatclient and together utilize the metaphor for the would work for him and could select the onetherapy ends, expand and elaborate it ad absur- most appropriate to the situation. This was, fordum, underscore inconsistencies, undermine it, him, a revelation: He had options where in theand so forth. It is interesting to note, in this re- past he had, in his words, a “default setting.” I didgard, the bind that Lakoff (1987) identified in the not spell out these options, nor did he. In subse-central metaphor structure of anger. quent sessions, he reported the following options as newly available to him: backing away from anThere are two kinds of responsibilities involved in the folkmodel of anger that has emerged so far. The first is a respon- argument, using humor to dispel his and the othersibility to control one’s anger. In cases of extreme anger, this person’s anger, reminding himself of “the biggermay place a considerable burden on ones’ “inner resources.” picture,” thinking of his daughter and concludingThe second comes from the model of retributive justice that is that whatever he’s mad about “isn’t worth it,” andbuilt into our concept of anger; it is the responsibility to seekvengeance. What is particularly interesting is that these two so forth. Just accepting the idea that there wereresponsibilities are in conflict in the case of angry retribu- options cleared a space for him to respond in ation: If you take out your anger on someone, you are not variety of new ways.meeting your responsibility to control your anger, and if Context. When context is foregrounded in ayou don’t take out your anger on someone, you are not meet- discussion of anger, it serves to ground the de-ing your responsibility to provide retribution [italics added].(p. 396) scription in the relational domain. The statement of “I have a problem with anger” needs to be The following is a reconstructed dialogue from connected to some set of situations and relation-a couples therapy. ships in order to have more than just abstract Client: If I don’t talk back and prove my meaning. This action also shifts attention from an point [by shouting and intimidating] inside-the-person to an interpersonal, interac- then I’m pussy-whipped. If I do, then tional domain. The dialogue can shift from anger I’m abusive. per se to particular relationships to generalized patterns in relationships (for which anger may Therapist: I’d hate to have only those two play a major part) to particular ideas and prem- choices. ises about relationships. The vast domains of Client: What other choices are there? culture and gender open up as contextualizing Therapist: That’s the question, isn’t it? Right frameworks. Clinicians are not just managing an- now you don’t know that there are ger here, they are focusing attention on a person’s other choices in that moment. So it relational life: past, present, and future. The would be nice for you to have the frame of therapy can be expanded to include experience of discovering you do other people: spouses, friends, children, parents, have more, don’t you think? and so forth. In doing so, I often find that the Client: Yeah (pause) . . . yeah, I think so. client is not the only one for whom anger is a problem, or the presence of family members I would suggest that this and similar binds are highlights the degree to which the person’s angeridentifiable within the constructions of anger im- is wreaking havoc in the primary relationships inplicit in a person’s framing of the experience. the client’s world, often generating a motivationUnpacking makes these binds explicit and acces- to change that was not previously there. Clini-sible and, in many cases, is a significant step cians who regularly see families would likelytoward dissolving them. confirm my experience that the presence of im- A further outcome of unpacking is that it portant family members makes accessible wholeserves to identify a variety of “choice points” dimensions of the client’s experience that are not(Goldner, personal communication, 1994) from easily accessed in an individual therapy context.which new action and meaning can emerge. For In addition, in vivo enactments of angry interac-example, I worked with a client who was in the tions allow the therapist immediate access tocomputer field. He responded very well to the what is relevant for the therapy. 167
  8. 8. RoffmanAnger Is a Resource to him that something vital was going on emo- tionally. The process of unpacking led him to a I believe it is safe to presume that anger is greater sense of how he was constructing (as welluseful to the organism rather than vestigial. An as participating in the social construction of) that“angerectomy” would likely leave a person ex- “something vital.” He then developed an alterna-posed in a dangerous way to his or her world. tive pathway leading to different forms of actionWithout speculating on the various functions of that were not violent and abusive. The enactmentanger, I propose that clinicians accept that it is a of anger was not helping him achieve his desiredresource, an ability, and an intelligence of the intention, but it could be utilized as a signal toorganism. The question shifts from how to man- remind him of that intention and as a pathway toage it to how to link it up or coordinate it with the lead him to it.interests, desires, and needs of the person in his Wile (1981) suggested that members ofor her relational surround. In what ways couldanger function more effectively as a resource for couples get into difficulty because they havethe person? Two constructions that I work with in trouble articulating and arguing for the cases theythis regard are anger as a signal and anger as a are trying to make for themselves. It is interestingpathway. to note that Wile proposed that partners often Anger as a signal is a very basic way of con- compromise prematurely before taking the timestruing the usefulness of anger; it alerts the per- to define clearly the case to be made for them-son that something appraised as being of vital selves. I believe this is a useful frame for therapy,importance is taking place. Unfortunately, many in general, and have found that anger as signalpeople jump from signal to action without taking and pathway is a major resource for the processthe time to reflect on that vitally important mat- of making a case for oneself. Anger serves toter. Interrupting the automaticity of the person’s inform that the case at hand has emotional importresponse to a trigger is a basic component of most and offers the opportunity for reflection on whateffective forms of therapy. What’s “managed,” it is that constitutes that importance.however, is not the anger per se but the complex- I have also found in several “anger-phobic”ity of the moment; anger is just the arbitrarily clients that the distinction between experiencingpunctuated starting point of the phenomenology and expressing is revelatory. One young man viv-of the experiential context. idly imagined himself becoming like Godzilla if As a pathway, anger can lead backward toward he let himself be angry, stomping on buildingsthe desires and intentions that gave emotional in- and incinerating people with his fiery breath. Nottensity to the moment. I may ask the person, coincidentally, he had an alcoholic father whose“Imagine that the anger you were feeling is a rages were frequent and furious. In disallowingpathway that leads you back to what’s most im- the experience of anger, he was cutting himselfportant to you in that situation. Where does it take off from an important source of informationyou and what does it show you?” about his ongoing relationships. Operating with A man came to me because he had “really lost the injunction of “feel no anger,” he had diffi-it” with his 12-year-old son, knocking him to the culty identifying his own preferences and desires,floor and dragging him to another room follow- contributing to a sense of confusion and beinging an argument in which he perceived his son to stuck in a significant love relationship. As hehave “taken it to the limit.” To his credit, the man learned to tolerate feeling anger, he becamethen calmed down, brought his son to the pedia- clearer about what he did and did not like andtrician, and asked that child protective services be what he did and did not want, allowing him tocalled. When we unpacked this event, retracing make an important decision about this relationship.his angry reaction backward in time, we were Anger-as-a-resource offers an alternativeable to frame an initial intention, his desire to be frame for appraisal. For example, it encouragesa good father. His son’s response to him was the client to explore the following perspectives:thwarting that desire, but the desire—to be aneffective, loving parent—was very much there. 1. If anger can be a message that something ofOnce he was able to identify this aspect of the importance is at stake for me right now,story, the man began to explore a different fram- how many different ways can I respond toing for his anger, one that identified it as a signal that message?168
  9. 9. Is Anger a Thing-to-Be-Managed? 2. If anger can be a pathway that leads me Coordination in the process of therapy is a back toward what is most important to me matter of enlarging the contextual frame of the in this moment, how many ways can I con- anger episode such that it includes more than the nect to that matter of importance in a way immediate felt needs of the moment. Like the that preserves my integrity and the integrity client who saw the bigger picture, coordination of my relationships with others? allows for a compelling interest in and ability to act upon the question of “what else?” regarding 3. How can I achieve the distinction between the experiential domain of the instance of anger. experiencing and expressing? Between al- The following is another reconstructed dia- lowing for the feeling without having to ex- logue from an individual therapy. press or enact it? And how many different criteria can I apply to this choice? Client: My first thought was, “I’m gonna kick his ass right now!” 4. Where does feeling angry fit into my con- ception of who I am in relation to others? At Therapist: Okay. What was your second this moment? In the past? As I see myself in thought? the future? Client: At the time I didn’t have one. Therapist: What if you gave yourself the timeAnger Can Be Coordinated and space . . . what second thought might come? Anger as a resource presupposes that the hu-man organism has a wide range of possible re- Client: (Long pause) I’d think about mysponses to any given triggering context, with an- kids.ger representing one of them (or an aspect of Therapist: Yeah?many of them). Coordination suggests that anger,as one of many potential responses, can take its Client: And I’d probably say to myself,place as one component of a person’s response to “Fuck it, it’s not worth it to get into this. . . . I don’t want to get locked upan event. A person is yelled at by his boss. His again.”evoked experience is a complex one of anger,humiliation, shame, and fear. He appraises the Therapist: What else? Second thoughts usuallysituation as one in which some action is called pave the way for third thoughts. . .for. He must do something to attend to the vital Client: Hmm. . . . Maybe the guy was justimportance of the moment; but which of the having a bad day or something. Imany needs and desires will be selected to direct don’t know. Like maybe it didn’tthat response? How does he make that choice have anything to do with me.when it is such a complex mixture? He may have Therapist: Maybe it was him and not you. . . .to take into account his felt need to defend his You’d really be taking care of your-integrity, the economic needs of having this job self that way, huh? That’s nice. Tak-in order to feed his family, and the need to pre- ing care of yourself and your kids.serve his image with his coworkers and friends. That’s what’s most important to you,The criteria upon which to base appropriate ac- isn’t it?tion in that moment are complex. It is fair to say Client: That’s right.that acting automatically in an angry way wouldprobably not be the best choice for the person, but Cognitive–behavioral therapy offers an arraydoes this mean that anger is an unwelcome or of impressive techniques that work to help peopleproblematic component of the context? I would calm down, reassess their thoughts and feelings,suggest that in a scenario such as this one, anger and select better choices for action. However, Iis not the thing to be managed; it is the complex also believe that there is much good sense insocial interaction that must be navigated on the presuming that clients have what they need tobasis of the coordination of the various salient solve their problems rather than to start with thecomponents of the person’s experience in the ser- premise of a deficit to be filled in by professionalvice of his or her interests, needs, and desires. instruction. Unfortunately, many of the resourcesWhat is fascinating is that people do this so a client needs to help him or herself are not im-quickly and automatically most of the time. mediately available, or not recognized as such, 169
  10. 10. Roffmanand are thus not coordinated. However, fortu- interaction, and interbeing (Hanh, 1998). Perhapsnately, as Zeig (1988) noted, the avolitional as- I am advocating, as Hardy (2001) called it, “sav-pect of responding automatically to a trigger can ing the world in fifty minute intervals” (p. 19). Ibe co-opted so that a different avolitional re- am not sure my goal is so lofty. However, I dosponse can arise. The client who tells you that believe that clients who learn to situate ecologi-his or her angry reaction “just happens” can be cally the experience of anger within the largerasked, “and what else do you think can ‘just organization of who they are as persons, and whohappen’ in response to that trigger?” Coordina- they are in relation to others, find that life, fortion implies an exponential increase in the range them and others, improves. This is clearly anof choices for response, allowing the person to ethical and ideological preference; I make no at-benefit from Ashby’s (1965) law of requisite tempts to argue otherwise.variety.3 Milton Erickson once said that the symptom is Here are some examples of heuristic questions to the person like the handle is to the pot: Youregarding coordination: grab hold of the pot by the handle, and just so, you access the person through the symptom (Ha- 1. In what context or set of contexts would ley, 1982). Anger presents the handle to a per- expressing or enacting anger fit? In what son’s relationship to his embodied experience context or set of contexts would it not? and to others. Management of anger is isomor- 2. How many different ways can I make space phic to management of people, which is isomor- for feeling angry without taking retributive phic to management of other species, and so action against the other or without nega- forth. At its worst, anger management represents tively judging myself? a form of relationship that is instrumental, tech- nological, and decidedly unecological. 3. How many different ways can I “do” anger In the tale of the anger-eating-demon, Sakka, in relation to others that works toward pre- king of the gods practices what at first glance serving what I want to preserve in the rela- seems to be a paradoxical intervention to de- tionship or even enhances the relationship? throne the demon. However, my reading would have Sakka restoring balance through an act ofA Final Word About Anger Management respect and reverence that transforms the demon back into a shape and size fitting to the larger Respectable research indicates that anger- programs can be quite effective. Sowhy try to fix what is not broken? It is a reason- 3able question and one that to be answered must Increased complexity (up to a certain threshold) affordsreveal my biases (if they are not already evident). the organism with more options for viability and fit in relation to its world.I am not sure that my alternative framing wouldmake therapy in the context of anger as a problemany more effective (or any less for that matter). ReferencesHowever, I do think that it would be adding a ASHBY, W. R. (1965). An introduction to cybernetics. Newdimension to the work that is otherwise absent. York: Wiley. BATESON, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York:The management paradigm fits the Cartesian du- Dutton.alism of Western scientific objectivism and fol- BECK, R., & FERNANDEZ, E. (1998) Cognitive–behaviorallows in the long tradition, stretching back millen- therapy in the treatment of anger: A meta-analysis. Cogni-nia, of seeing human beings as existing apart tive Therapy & Research, 22(1), 63–74.from the world—of the world as pregiven and of BERG, I. (1994). It’s her fault (Audiotape). Milwaukee, WI: Brief Family Therapy Center.the relationship of humankind to that world being BERG, I., & MILLER, S. (1992). Working with the problemlargely an instrumental one of transactions and drinker: A solution-focused approach. New York: Norton.adaptations in relation to the environment. Man- DIGIUSEPPE, R. (1995). Developing the therapeutic allianceagement, control, mastery over—these are all with angry clients. In H. Kassinove (Ed.), Anger disorders:practices that follow from this dualistic world- Definition, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 131–149). Wash- ington, DC: Taylor & Francis.view. The framing I offer emerges from a per- DIGIUSEPPE, R., & TAFRATE, R. (2001). A comprehensivespective whereby individuals are ever and always treatment model for anger disorders. Psychotherapy:implicated in larger circuits of interdependence, Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(3), 262–271.170
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