Building Resiliency: Lessons from the Strong Resiliency program – Part 2

Posted on 05/07/11 by erynwicker

From a series I wrote for Thye Chilliwack Progress some time ago…

Week 2 of the Strong Resiliency Groups: Dealing with Anger.

 As you remember from last week’s column we are working through a series of articles on lessons taken from the Strong Resiliency group curriculum. The previous week we explored empathy and how to increase our understanding of another person’s emotional state. And now that you are watching for visual cues and tuning into the emotional needs of yourself and others’ you are ready for the next big challenge.  

Anger. How can such a little word carry so much weight? We all have our own thoughts and feelings surrounding this one word – some of us because of our upbringing, or because of our personalities, or because of others in our life. But I think we can all agree that anger is an emotion that brings with it a myriad of reactions, ranging from calm to enragement, and rarely do two people experience it the same, whether it be on the receiving or giving end.  

Our goal of today’s lesson on anger is simple: learning how to understand anger and manage our aggression. Well, it sounds simple enough. To get started it would help if we were all on the same page with regard to the definitions of the key words.

Emotion: a feeling that comes from something happening to you that is meant to tell you something about your situation. You can identify emotions by the thoughts in your head or the feelings in your body.

Anger: A powerful emotion of extreme unhappiness and dislike towards something or someone when you feel threatened or harmed.

Aggression: Forceful or oppositional behaviour or words that cause physical or emotional harm to others, yourself, or property.

Anger Management: Choosing appropriate behaviours when you are angry.

 

Just as we all have eyes and ears that help us navigate the road when we are driving, we also have emotions that help us to understand and deal with people and experiences. Essentially, emotions can act as tools or another sense in helping us perceive relationships, people, and situations. Anger is one such normal, healthy emotion, albeit a powerful one, that helps us to protect ourselves when we feel as though something is going wrong or not quite right. For instance, it would be natural to become angry if someone was spreading gossip about you or blaming you for something that you didn’t do. So, in reality, if we didn’t become angry we may not feel motivated to protect ourselves. However, anger does not have to equal aggressions in terms of defending ourselves or righting a wrong. Often times, rather than solving the problem, aggression contributes to the creation of many more problems. Thankfully, aggression is only one way that we can react to our anger, and there are more effective ways to handle it, including: talking about your anger, problem solving, or walking away. Sometimes it seems that even though aggression can accomplish what you want in the moment, over the long-term the consequences can build. In fact, research has shown many short-term and long-term problems for angry and aggressive people including health problems, poor friendships and romantic relationships, and difficulty holding employment.

To further help us understand our anger I would like to introduce the Anger Model that the Strong Resiliency groups use in their lesson on anger. It is a 6-step model that helps illustrate the build up and break down of an anger response.

Trigger: Anything that someone does to you or something that happens to you that results in you feeling angry.

Interpretation: The process of thinking about what has happened to you and deciding what it means. It is an automatic and active process based upon past experiences, situational circumstances, and mood.

Emotional Reaction: A response to an event that influences your mood. Our interpretation will determine our emotional reaction which will in turn influence our decision-making process.

Decision: Making a choice, based upon our interpretation, about what action you will take. Sometimes a decision occurs so quickly we are unaware that we were making a decision in the first place, however, we are still deciding how to respond.

Behaviour: The behavioural response or the acting out the decision we made.

Consequence: The direct results of our behaviour, including short-term and long-term consequences, as well as obvious and subtle consequences.

So now that we have a better understanding of our anger what are we able to do about it? There are several examples of things we can each do to help cope more effectively with our anger – although we could use all of the skills any time you are angry, they work best when used in the right stage of the Anger Model.

Counting Backwards: Count backwards from 10, either quietly or in your head. It is best used when you first notice that you are angry (Emotional Reaction Stage) as it gives you time to think about the situation and what you might do, as well as providing a breather time to calm down.

If-Then Statements: Ask yourself what might happen if you do something. Best used when you are deciding what to do about a problem (Decision Stage) as they help us to make better choices by helping us understand the consequences of our actions.

Self Talk: Say to yourself the things that a good friend might say to calm you down such as: “Calm down”, “Take it easy”, “It’s not worth it”, or “Let it go”. It is best used when your first notice you are angry (Emotional Reaction Stage).

Self Evaluation: Think about what you want to get out of the situation and how best to get it. Best used when deciding what to do about a problem (Decision Stage) as it’s’ purpose is to help you achieve your end result.

 

Now in the groups that I facilitate at Child and Youth Meal Health we would incorporate some role plays based on real life situations that the participants shared so that we could work on generalizing this learning outside of the classroom and into the world outside. Angry moments such as problems at school, or issues with friends, siblings, and parents are presented and we go through the anger model just as the situation happened, then we discuss what could have been different had the student used an anger control skill. Then we role play the situation again, but this time interject the skills and see how the outcome might have differed. 

But unfortunately, via the medium of the written word, it would be rather difficult for us to demonstrate the actual use of the anger control skills in a real life situation. So, for a different form of homework, I ask each of you, as the Strong Adults of the Chilliwack Progress group, to think of a recent situation where you might have witnessed or been involved in someone or yourself becoming angry. Try to elaborate on your example so that it includes each step of the anger model (trigger, interpretation, emotional reaction, decision, behaviour, consequence). Now, thinking of the anger control skills that you have just learned, which of them would have been helpful in your above scenario and at what point could it have been tried. And or the last step, consider the roadblocks to using these skills, not only in past situations, but in trying to anticipate any barriers to using them in future ones as well.  

 

Now I can imagine what some of you might be thinking: These anger management skills are oversimplified because they are meant for children and adolescents and they probably won’t work for me. And that is a possibility – you may try one of the skills and still feel angry, perhaps not with the same intensity, but the anger may not have completely disappeared. But there are other things to consider, such as the context of the situation, your desire to have some power over your anger, and your commitment to trying each and every one of the anger control skills. You never know they might just work, maybe not the first time, at least not for everyone, but consider the second and the third time – and chances are there are going to be situations in all of our futures that produce an anger response so it will be nice to be just a little bit more prepared.