Does Anger Help or Hurt Relationships?

Does Anger Help or Hurt Relationships?
Most of us assume that anger always hurts relationships, but is this true?

I grew up next door to my parents’ best friends. They were like second parents to me, and I spent much time sharing my feelings, hopes and dreams with Betty. Unlike my own mother, she was a great listener.

Since I was there a lot, I also heard the bickering that often went on. Was this a positive or negative in their relationship?

Betty and Morrie are now 98 and 100 years old, still married, still bickering, still taking their daily walks and still extremely alert. Whatever they are doing, it has worked for them.

In the 45 years of working with my clients, I’ve learned some important things about anger and relationships that I’d like to share with you.

Rage is always hurtful to a relationship. Dumping your rage on your partner is a form of control that creates fear in your partner. Fear and love do not co-exist, so the more fear, the less love. Raging at your partner indicates that you are not taking loving care of yourself and instead you are trying to make your partner do what you want him or her to do. Rage generally indicates that you have not accepted your helplessness over others and you are using intimidation to control them. While they might comply for the moment, the negative consequences on a relationship are generally major.

The kind of in-the-moment bickering that Morrie and Betty do can be helpful, provided that neither person takes it personally. The bickering is like letting the steam out of a pot of boiling water — it can take the edge off the daily challenges, but only if both people are able to not be reactive to it — to let it go by them rather than to take seriously anything that partners say when irritated.

Most of us get irritated at times, and it is often healthier to express it than to repress it, but it’s vitally important that you not hit below the belt by saying hurtful things to your partner.

Irritation and bickering indicate that there are ways you are not taking loving care of yourself, so use your irritation to learn about how you might be abandoning yourself. While getting irritated here and there is fine, don’t let it stop there. Do your inner work to discover what the underlying issue is for you so that you can take loving action in your own behalf.

Practice not taking your partner’s anger or irritation personally. Others’ behavior is about them, not about you. When you learn to not take it personally, then you can let it go and not harbor your own anger and irritation in response to theirs. What can be harmful in relationships is the negative circle that partners can get into when they fight and blame each other, without doing their inner work to explore their own irritations.

Learn to be non-reactive to your partner’s anger or irritation. Imagine the energy of their anger flying over you and past you rather than going into your heart. While you might want to argue with them and point out where they are wrong, or try to resolve an issue, you need to accept that he or she can’t hear you when they are angry. Trying to resolve something when one or both are angry is a waste of time and energy.

The time to resolve an issue is when both of you are open to learning about yourselves and each other, and both of you are caring about yourselves and each other. This means doing your own inner work before trying to resolve anything with your partner. Issues are often easy to resolve when both people are open and caring, but impossible when one or both are closed and angry.

The conclusion I’ve drawn is that sometimes letting the steam out of the pot can be helpful in avoiding future resentment, provided both of you learn to be non-reactive, to not take it personally, and to not say hurtful things when angry or irritated.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, “The Intimate Relationship Toolbox” – the first two weeks are free! Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

Connect with Margaret on Facebook: Inner Bonding, and Facebook: SelfQuest.

For more from Margaret Paul, Ph.D., click here.

For more on love and relationships, click here.

Mark Goffeney, Born Without Arms, Plays Guitar Using His Toes (VIDEO)
There are some people in this world who can absolutely inspire you to do more when you see what they’ve managed to do. Musician Mark Goffeney is without a doubt one of those people.

Born without arms but developing a passion for music at a very young age, he learned to play the guitar employing an unconventional method: laying the instrument flat on the ground and using his toes.

Watch Goffeney, who is also known by the nickname of “Big Toe,” perform a beautiful cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1993 hit “Soul to Squeeze” in this 2007 video from toberndo.

And if you’d like to know more about this remarkable musician from San Diego, be sure to visit Goffeney’s website here.

Welcome To Internet Rehab
They’ve come from all over the country to be cured of one of society’s newest, and potentially most debilitating, ailments. After trying and failing to control their behavior, they’ve checked themselves into a cluster of gray-and-white buildings located off of an interstate parkway in rural Pennsylvania, 80 miles south of Buffalo, New York, in order to reclaim their lives.

Welcome to Internet rehab.

It’s the first inpatient Internet addiction treatment center in the country, located in the Behavioral Health Services unit at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania.

Many of us have joked at one time or another about being addicted to our email, iPhone or Twitter account, but as technology has penetrated nearly every domain of our daily lives, these addictions are becoming more real — and they’re being recognized by mental health professionals.

Psychologist Dr. Kimberly Young has spent the past 18 years treating thousands of Americans who suffer from the very real, and increasingly common, affliction of being addicted to their digital devices. Young — who founded the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995 and has written five books on the topic since then — says she’s seen the problem increasing significantly in recent years, with more and more people asking about treatment options.

In response to the overwhelming demand for Internet addiction treatment, Young created the 10-day inpatient treatment program, open to adults over the age of 18, which launched last week with 16 beds for patients and a full medical staff.

Young’s program is founded in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — a form of talk therapy developed in the 1970s that focuses on a patient’s thoughts and beliefs, rather than his or her actions — complemented by special techniques and tools for Internet addicts to help them learn to interact with technology in healthier ways. Like many rehabilitation programs, the treatment starts with a full 72-hour detox, followed by a psychiatric evaluation. After the detox period, patients attend daily individual and group therapy sessions, educational classes, and family consultations, all while being gradually reintroduced to technology.

“It’s like food addiction — you’re learning new ways of eating or new ways of using the Internet, rather than a full abstinence, 12-step program,” Young tells The Huffington Post.

Generally associated with features of impulse-control disorders, Internet addiction takes many different forms: A condition can arise from excessive time spent on gambling online, pornography, social media, and even eBay addiction. Young has seen it all, but says that she most often deals with online gaming addictions. Still, there’s no typical Internet addict — just as with drugs or alcohol, addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status.

“It could be anyone. It could be your grandmother, your 15-year-old son, your husband or wife,” says Young. “Like any addiction, it affects all of us.”

But where is the line between a teenager glued to a smartphone and a full-blown addiction requiring medical attention? Signs of a serious Internet addictive disorder are comparable to the symptoms of any other addiction, including lying about one’s usage of technology, craving more time on the Internet, unsuccessful attempts to control behavior, and increasingly poor performance at school or work.

Young diagnoses Internet addiction with a comprehensive Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire that she developed using 20 questions (Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use? Do you stay online longer than originally intended?) to assess attitudes and behaviors around Internet usage. A patient must also have a dual diagnosis with another psychiatric condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression or anxiety in order to be diagnosed with Internet Addiction Disorder.

Although the validity of Internet addiction as a legitimate mental health condition hasn’t always been agreed upon, it’s now being taken seriously by the mental health community, thanks in large part to Young’s pioneering work in the field. The most recent volume of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V), which consulted Young’s expertise on the subject, listed “Internet Use Disorder” and Internet Gaming Disorder as subjects worthy of further study. Now that more unified, accepted diagnostic criteria for these conditions are emerging, it’s likely that the conditions will be classified as clinical disorders in the next DSM revision, Young explains.

Other countries, mainly in Asia, have already begun taking serious measures to address growing rates of dependence on digital devices. In China, Taiwan and Korea, as much as 30 percent of the population may be experiencing problematic Internet use, according to the Center for Internet Addiction, and China’s hospitals began opening special units for the treatment of Internet addiction in 2008, the Telegraph reports.

But even Internet users who may not have an addiction still frequently exhibit an unhealthy dependence on digital devices that could be interfering with their work, lives and relationships. The average smartphone user checks their device every six and a half minutes (that’s 150 times a day) and 50 percent of people aged 18-29 say that they use their phone on the toilet, according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll. A 2012 study found that 66 percent of people are actually afraid to lose or be separated from their cell phone, while a University of Maryland study even found that college students forced to unplug from their devices for 24 hours experienced physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal, similar to what drug addicts experience while trying to go “cold turkey,” The Telegraph reports.

“Internet addiction opens up this debate of how much technology is enough? How young is it okay to start?” says Young.

Children today are using technology from the age of three, according to a recent UK survey, and the long-term implications of early exposure to technology could prove to be significant as they grow up. Among young adults, excessive technology use has been linked with heightened stress levels, anxiety and depression. But in the technology-saturated workplace, even adults would do well to monitor and control their usage.

“These forms of technology are as addictive as crack. Period. If you expose yourself to them continuously, they will pull you in the way a drug would — continuously, even when you know it’s not serving you well,” Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of “The Way We Work Isn’t Working,” told The Huffington Post in July. “If that’s the case, you’ve got to move in and out of exposing yourself to them.”

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Psychosis: A Highly Valuable Contribution Despite Major Flaws
The core of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is the idea of simply accepting, rather than trying to get rid of, disturbing or unwanted inner experiences like anxiety or voices, and then refocusing on a commitment to take action toward personally chosen values regardless of whether that seems to make the unwanted experiences increase or decrease.

The process of applying ACT to “psychotic” experiences is well described in the book Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness for Psychosis, which I recently finished reading. I found a lot to like in the book and generally in the concept of applying ACT to psychotic experiences, but I also noticed some major limitations, which I will get to below.

There is, I think, great value in the notion of shifting attention away from attempts to eliminate experiences that might be labeled “psychotic” and focusing instead on increasing a person’s ability and willingness to move toward his or her values. This idea is consistent with the emphasis in the recovery movement of finding a way to live a valued life despite any ongoing problems, but ACT has value because of the unique and effective strategies it offers to help people make this shift.

It is also a virtue of ACT that it is “transdiagnostic,” that is, it is not an approach designed for specific “mental disorders” but rather an approach designed to address problems in living which are understood to be universal for human beings, including for the professionals themselves. ACT appreciates that life is tricky and that we can get caught up in strategies that are unhelpful to us, like focusing too much on trying to get rid of unwanted experiences and/or getting too taken over by, or “fused,” with them, but it also appreciates that we all retain the ability to turn toward more constructive, value-driven approaches.

ACT is also often fun. Inspired by the book, I recently led a group mindfulness exercise, with my co-facilitator playing the role of a voice that interrupted that exercise, saying things designed to provoke and distract the group members. Meanwhile, I was guiding people in disengaging from his remarks, and having them notice they could gently bring their attention back to their breath. People ended up laughing a lot during the exercise but also noticing they did have the option of just disengaging from whatever was said, no matter how provocative, and attending instead to a particular chosen goal such as, in this case, paying attention to the breath. (You can download a detailed guide to using ACT in groups for people with “psychotic” experiences here.)

However, as noted by one group member who has made progress in understanding the parts of herself that lie behind her “voices,” such an approach of treating the voice hearing experience as simply something to accept and make nothing of, is best seen as a strategy to do only some of the time. At other times, people may be better off trying to understand what is behind their voices. That’s where I see problems with ACT: it tends to suggest that disruptive experiences, whether they be emotions, impulses, thoughts or voices, are just static to be disengaged from and then basically ignored as one moves toward values. But it neglects the way such experiences, when attended to and understood, can actually contribute to the development of a more integrated sense of values and self.

A commonly used metaphor in ACT is called “passengers on the bus.” The idea is to imagine yourself as a bus driver, and imagining that you have a lot of rowdy, scary looking passengers. They start telling you where to go, with the threat being that if you don’t obey, they will come up front of the bus where they will be very hard to ignore. So sometimes you do what they say to keep from having to notice them, and sometimes you stop the bus and try to throw them off (but they are too strong to throw off, plus you have to stop the bus to engage with them that way). The idea the ACT practitioner would be wanting you to become aware of is that in trying to get control over the passengers and over how noticeable they are to you, you have actually ended up with less control over the direction of the bus. The ACT practitioner would suggest you try instead focusing on where you want the bus to go, without trying to get rid of the passengers or worrying about whether they come up to the front of the bus and yell at you.

I believe the problem with always trying to live by this ACT metaphor is that while it may lead to being able to carry out intentional behavior toward values identified by the conscious part of the psyche, it tends to suggest there is no way of reconciling with the angry, scary, noisy parts of the psyche which may be objecting to those actions. For a different point of view, consider the perspective of Eleanor Longden, a woman who once was seen as a “hopeless schizophrenic” but who recovered using methods promoted by the hearing voices network, which she summarizes in the following analogy:

…I want you to imagine a group of people coming into a room. Some are angry, some are hugely distressed, and some are goading and malicious. They are not easy to be around, and we can choose one of two options for dealing with them The first is to sit down and try to understand them, to comfort them, to set helpful and safe boundaries on their behavior, to ask them what has happened to make them feel this way, and to seek possible solutions. The second option is to lock them in another room and wait for them to calm down. And perhaps they will. But what if they don’t? What if, instead, they begin to claw and pound at the door, to shout louder to get our attention, to grow even more frustrated and distressed? And what if we, in turn, grow more afraid and mistrustful of them and become even less inclined to open the door and begin to negotiate peace and resolution? For years I had chosen the second option as the way to deal with the voices. The first option, quite simply, was what made my recovery possible — out of the dark room and into the light.

I suspect a wise “bus driver” would alternate between at times being firm and taking some actions despite “passengers” yelling and complaining, but also at times being flexible and seeking to understand strongly expressed complaints and to come up with reasonable solutions that resolve difficulties and make peace with the passengers. So I think that even while ACT strategies are helpful for people with difficult or psychotic experiences to know and practice at times, ACT would do better to be more aware of the limitations of those strategies, and to consider alternating them with more self-exploratory strategies such as those suggested by Eleanor, who also wrote that:

…possibly one of the greatest revelations on the journey occurred when I realized that the most hostile, aggressive voices actually represented the parts of me that had been hurt the most profoundly — and as such, it was these voices that need to be shown the greatest compassion and care. In turn, this meant sending a loving message of compassion, acceptance, and respect toward myself. My voices seemed like the problem; they were actually the solution, an inextricable part of the healing process.

I believe, like Eleanor, that every bit of our psyche and of our experience has value if and when we put it in the right perspective. I hope to see future versions of ACT which acknowledge this and which help people find value in, rather than just tolerate, the experiences they once felt compelled to avoid at all costs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s