Additional Information for Chapter 4, page 49
The Compatibility Code provides a fairly complete description of how to deal with anger. The context is actually anger due to a broken relationship. The model presented, however, works for any type of anger regardless of cause. There are people whose anger is so extreme, so explosive that the model presented would not be adequate to resolve their situation. For such people we suggest a therapist who specializes in anger management. Such a situation goes far beyond scope of this book or even this website.
What we do here is reproduce the text from The Compatibility Code. It is well written and fairly thorough. If you have questions about specific circumstances not covered in this description, feel free to contact us on the “Ask the Experts” section of this web site. We will provide a personal answer as soon as possible, and, if you deal with an issue that might be helpful to others, we may include it in updated versions of this prescript. It would not include your name, of course. Here, then is what the book suggests:
From The Compatibility Code:
I start with anger because it is one of the most striking reactions to a broken relationship. In our germ analogy, it is like the knife that inflicts the damage, which opens the wounds that can then get infected with devastation or jealousy. Most of the people that I counsel, before, during, or after their separation or divorce, experience some level of anger, which is normal. However, it is vital to address it early because if you don’t, it can harm you for a long time, especially if you either knowingly or unknowingly choose to nurse it.
Sometimes, anger is stimulated in you by immediate and observable causes such as betrayal, infidelity, just plain meanness, or at worst, violation. Other times there has been no overt effort to hurt one another; it’s just that the relationship didn’t work out. Even then, anger is often the result.
Much of the reason for angry, aggressive feelings is due simply to what psychologists call “pain-elicited aggression.” It applies to animals; it applies to humans. It works this way. In an experiment, two sets of laboratory animals are placed in a cage with many other animals. In one instance there is a loud piercing noise; in the other there is none. The noise is external; it is not caused by any of the animals, but researchers observe far greater levels of aggressive behavior among the animals in the distressing situation than among animals in the control group with no noise. Similar experiments have involved humans with similar results.
My husband, prior to meeting me, actually experienced this type of reaction when he finally broke off an “on-again-off-again” five-year romantic relationship. He was emotionally devastated for several months, as I imagine her to have been as well. But in addition to the devastation, Darren also experienced the effect of heightened anger. He had extreme negative thoughts towards his ex-girlfriend. He didn’t want her to be successful in business, in relationships, or in any other area of her life. However, because he knew about pain-elicited aggression, he realized, even in his worst moments, that he didn’t really wish her ill. He was just hurting and the aggressive thoughts were a consequence of the pain he was feeling. Because he knew the cause of his feelings, the knowledge allowed insight and clarity into his own thought processes. He later shared with me that about two months after the break-up, while he was still deeply feeling the loss of the relationship, an acquaintance came up to him with bright eager eyes, and without realizing his single status said, “Oh Darren, I hear that the two of you are engaged!” He said, “We were, but I broke up with her two months ago!” Her response astonished him: “Oh you must feel really guilty!” He responded, “Not at all; we tried really hard for five years, and it simply didn’t work out. I still wish her well even though I recognize we weren’t right for each other.” Because of his knowledge of the anger that can follow emotional pain, he exhibited a level of insight and calmness even while in pain. Several years later there is, of course, not a shred of negative feeling toward the woman.
C.S. Lewis, author of the favorite children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, gives us another way to look at anger. In the story of his spiritual odyssey, Surprised by Joy, he speaks of his entry into the British Army in 1917 during World War I. He says, “It was, of course, awful; but the ‘of course’ blunted the pain. I never thought it would be wonderful.”One could speak of a break-up in the same way: “It was, of course, awful,” but by acknowledging the “of course,” you can blunt the pain. After a break-up, when you know you’re going to be in pain, you can also recognize that you may have destructive thoughts towards that person. But you can gain assurance by recognizing that the anger and the potentially destructive thoughts that come with it do not carry real substance.
The problem, of course, happens when the anger isn’t resolved. There is actually a five-step process that a person can go through to effectively deal with their anger. The five steps are listed in the next section with clarification following each one
The Five Steps: Admit, Vent, Plan, Do, Forget it
1) Admit it: There are some who don’t like to admit they are angry. However, to begin resolution you need to be objectively aware of just how angry, outraged, incensed, furious, or irate you really are. When you acknowledge the severity of your emotions, then you can begin to do something about them.
2) Vent it: There are two types of venting: physical release, and cognitive/emotional release. Physical release (beat a punching bag, run twenty miles, scream at the top of your lungs) may assist in immediate reduction of emotions, but its benefit is only temporary. The cognitive and emotional form of venting is required. This type of venting is typically in the form of talking through your feelings with an objective other person. This allows you to externalize those feelings, and causes them to lose power. The person you speak with could be a therapist or counselor, or it could be several of your friends. Just don’t jeopardize a friendship by dumping too much negative emotion on one person.
3) Plan it: Once emotion has reduced to the point that you are thinking more rationally (this might take months if the emotions are extreme) then you begin to plan how to deal with feelings or to deal with the circumstances that have caused them. This is where a professional counselor can prove to be invaluable. They have access to a wide array of resources to assist you in dealing with anger. The planning may focus on control of your own emotions; pursuing healthy alternative activities; understanding the dynamics of what has happened; and other times eradicating irrational thought patterns.
4) Do It: Once planned, the next step is to discipline yourself to carry out the activities. Good intentions don’t work here; do what’s on the list. One interesting example (assuming that this has been planned) is to write a barnburner of a letter expressing your outrage at the jerk who inflicted this pain on you. Don’t hold back, this letter should skin the hide off of a billy goat! Then read it carefully to make sure you have included everything-add missing details. Read it again, several times if you like…and burn the letter. You have gotten it out. When externalized, emotions lose their power. There are hundreds more techniques that a therapist would help you fit to your situation, but it’s up to you to carry them out.
5) Forget it: Some find this a strange final step. The reality is that if you have completed the four steps listed above, forgetting will happen as a natural consequence. As you pursue other meaningful activities, the powerful emotions will eventually die a natural death. In some exceptionally difficult cases more effort is required and there are therapists who devote their entire practice to helping people forget painful events.
The Problem of Repression and Conclusion
Do you want to know what doesn’t work? Just skip the first four steps and try to perform step number five. The effort to forget painful emotions without thorough processing of steps one to four is what psychologists call repression. You internalize all the poison and find that its ravaging effects will continue to haunt you for a very long time, sometimes for a lifetime.
At the end of this process, you won’t have forgotten the events that occurred, but the emotional horror and the anger that results from it can be entirely erased. Once you haveresolved the issue by going through the steps of externalization (steps one and two) and taking the appropriate action (steps three, four, and five), then you can move on with your life. As suggested above, unresolved, it has the potential to turn into a cancer that eats away at your emotional health.