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Written By: Michael Hecht, MFT

A few hints which may make it easier for someone to manage their anger because it is often not about anger so much as simply being assertive in one’s relationships. I recently had a client who complained that she had difficulty controlling herself from getting into altercations or heated arguments with people. I discovered that she constantly gave the following messages to herself:
“You don’t stick up for yourself”;
“You don’t say what you mean”;
“You get angry at yourself for allowing so-and-so to do such-and-such”;
“You look for excuses when you explain your reasoning to people”;
“You explain too much to people—more than you have to”;

The person suffers from low self-esteem and uses the above techniques to avoid confrontation. She found, however, that frequently the other person took advantage of her and used her as a “doormat”, which made her angry at the other person, but also at herself. Her solution was to get aggressive and argue and even get physical with the other person to show him/her that she was “tough.” She found, again, that this just opened the door to more controversy and she ended up at our Anger Management 818.

A few cues were helpful to her. They were designed to forestall her being taken advantage of. She first had to admit that the only person she could “fix” was herself—no-one else. Then she realized that she had to look out for herself because no-one else was going to do it. The other person was only out for his/her own advantage. “It’s my space (time) and I have to own it.” This also meant to her that she had to lay down the ground rules of her relationships with people clearly and unequivocally before the other person had an opening to take advantage, for example, putting a return date on something someone borrowed, or not allowing a neighbor to borrow her car anymore because of the consequences should the person be doing something illegal in it.

This led to her developing strategies for “asking for what I want.” She had to deal with others in a non-aggressive way. Inferring the feelings of others she was being assertive with became out of bounds for her. She had to learn to concern herself with her own feelings and desires first. The strategy she used when she felt bad as a result of what someone did or said was that she told them, “When you do (say) such-and-such, I feel (sad, angry, frustrated, frightened, put down, etc). I wish you would consider how I feel and stop that. Will you please help me and do that?”

The upshot was that this person felt encouraged to tell the people who she felt had wronged or taken advantage of her how she felt and what she wanted without reservation, so that they could see that she now cared about herself and so that she would no longer put herself in the position to get angry at herself and/or others due to neglecting her own boundaries.