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«Rebecca Stadtner & Tim Tavis The Clearinghouse for Structured/Thematic Groups & Innovative Programs Counseling & Mental Health Center The University ...»

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Exploring Anger

DP 016 - Developmental

Rebecca Stadtner & Tim Tavis

The Clearinghouse for Structured/Thematic

Groups & Innovative Programs

Counseling & Mental Health Center

The University of Texas at Austin

100 East 26th Street

Austin, Texas 78712 • 512-471-3515





Exploring Anger-Stadtner/Tavis—page 2 Introduction This group is based on the premise that anger is a connecting, relational emotion. Internally, it can be a response or a trigger for other emotions, and therefore a potentially useful cue for self-exploration and understanding.

Externally, anger performs relational functions and can be thought of as a tool for creating between people arousal, intimacy, distance, power, and so on.

Anger is neither positive nor negative, so it is inappropriate to assume that either its expression or suppression necessarily builds better relationships or promotes mental health. Anger is an emotion among other emotions.

The "rules" which govern anger are to a great extent culturally determined, but it is within the more specific family context that we acquire our deepest beliefs about its implications for ourselves and our relationships. Within our families, we learn when, how, and whether to be angry, and how to respond to anger in others.

Problems with anger are often a function of interpretations and assumptions evolved from old family patterns which no longer fit. These problems can often be compounded by the notion of anger as a "thing" which must be handled in a limited number of ways, usually involving some form of internal or external venting. Internally, anger may become depression or guilt, while externally, it may take the form of aggression or manipulation. Because beliefs about and behavior around anger are inextricably embedded within relationships, group therapy provides an ideal context for identifying old, problematic patterns and practicing new, functional ones.

The exploration of anger as an emotion connected to other emotions and serving functions in interpersonal relationships should result in a greater ability to use anger creatively and functionally. This structured theme group links retrospective memory work with current interpersonal situations, both within and without the group, in an attempt to help members broaden their repertoires of ways to use anger creatively and constructively.

Exploring Anger-Stadtner/Tavls—page 3 Session One GOALS Process Goals: Build group cohesion. Establish atmosphere of trust and safety.

Content Goals: Elicit beliefs about anger and identify common themes.

Foreshadow thesethemes of subsequent sessions:

• Feelings of anger are often inconsistent. The same situations do not make everybody angry, nor do individuals always get angry at the same behavior. Anger depends on attributions. It is situation-dependent and dependent on internal feelings. These attributions have their roots both in our culture and in early childhood experiences within the family.

• Anger is a signal of disequilibrium. This can be between people or within a person.

• People often tend to justify their anger and to find reasons that their anger is appropriate. Anger has a social function.

• People don't automatically feel better after expressing anger. Whether or not we feef better after expressing anger often depends on how our anger is received, whether we elicit the response we want.

Introductions, Housekeeping, Key Points

• Welcome to group—Leaders introduce themselves briefly.

• Fees and agency regulations are explained.

• Confidentiality—Emphasize protection, safety, freedom to talk.

• Attendance—Emphasize that the group is structured as a sequence of exercises that facilitates understanding. Participants will get more out of it if they attend every session. Emphasize the importance of individuals to the group as a whole.

Exploring Anger-Stadlnei/Tavis—page 4 First Exercise Purpose: To relax members, promote group cohesion, and set a precedence for natural and gradually deepening self-disclosure Beginning with one leader, go around the circle and have each member stae three objective personal facts (name, rank, serial number; name, year in school, major). In the same order, go around the circle again, this time with each participant relating an enjoyable recent or past experience.The third time around, instruct participants to say a sentence or two about why they were attracted to this group.


Purpose: To facilitate self-disclosure of personal beliefs about anger, create group cohesion by emphasizing commonalities and generate material on which to base observations about anger For each of the following sentences, begin by going around the circle, leader first, and have participants finish the sentence. Ideally, this will turn into a spontaneous and playful exercise with people generating lots of situations.

Write down responses on chalkboard. Leaders can facilitate this exercise by completing the sentences with a broad range of situations.

–  –  –

Summing up: Use the material generated in the sentence completion exercise to emphasize the following observations about anger.

• Feelings of anger are inconsistent. Anger is often stimulated by the motivations which we attribute to other people's actions. These attributions depend on the way we are feeling and the way we perceive the other person feels about us. (Cite examples such as the difference between always/sometimes sentences. Or: Your roommate's failure to live up to an agreement will be much more irritating if you believe this failure is intentional, and so on.) It is often difficult to separate what is happening from your own internal state. Attributuion patterns—what we attribute to ourselves and what to others—usually originate in childhood relationships within our families.

* Anger is a sign of disequilibrium either between people or within oneself.

Interpersonal disequilibrium may be due to misunderstandings, unresolved tensions, or unmet needs or injustices in the relationship.

Intrapersonal disequilibirium may be due to anxiety triggered by feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, uncertainty, or ambivalence. Internal disequilibrium sometimes reflects unresolved issues in our histories, but it can also signal the need for resolving a problem or making a decision in the present. Usually, both sorts of disequilibrium are involved in situations where anger is present. Anger is a sign that something needs attention.

* Anger has a social function, often as a controlling factor. Anger is frequently used to police social behavior, to uphold the norms, and to prevent the breaking of rules. It enforces boundaries. Possibly that is people tend to want to justify their anger. Our society's rules of behavior are in flux, and there is much concern and confusion over when anger is justified. A good example: people writing to Miss Manners, asking if they ought to be angry about certain social situations. "Should I be angry that my neighbor invites me to dinner, but never uses the good china?"

• People don't automatically feel better after expressing anger. Whether or not we feel better often depends on how our anger was received and whether we elicited the response we wanted. Do we feel validated and important in the offender's eyes, or do we feel even smaller than before?

Exploring Anger-Stadtner/Tavis—page 6


Purpose: To help members access angry feelings and accompanying beliefs, attributions, and expectations evoked in conflict situations.

Use the following as a guide for leading members in this imagery exercise.

"Get comfortable and let your muscles relax. You'll probably find this exercise easier to do with your eyes closed. I'm going to ask you to visualize some past experiences you've had with anger. I'll guide you through two different scenes. One may be relatively easy to visualize, while the other is more difficult, if not impossible. If that's the case, don't worry, stay relaxed and don't force yourself.

1. "Remember a time when you felt angry, but did nothing to express or act on your anger at the time. Where were you? Try to remember the surroundings. Who was with you? What else did you feel besides anger?

What do you think the other person was thinking about or feeling towards you?

If this person was not a stranger, did your feelings toward the person change after that time of anger?" 2. "Remember a time when you felt angry and expressed it. Where were you? What were the surroundings like? Who else was there? What were you thinking and feeling before you expressed your anger? What did you say or do? How did the other person respond? How did you feel after you expressed your anger? How did you fee! about the other person? How do you think the other person felt about you?"

–  –  –


Purpose: Toincrease participants' awareness of the attributions, beliefs, feelings, expectations and actions evoked in them by current conflict situations as a lead into next week's focus on response patterns learned in families of origin

–  –  –

GOALS Process Goals: Continue to build group cohesion and an atmosphere of trust and safety conducive to self-disclosure.

Content Goals: Continue to create awareness of (1) themes which elicit anger and (2) links between past (family) and present experiences in terms of themes which elicit anger and mechanisms employed to manage anger.


Purpose: To relax members and promote group cohesion Beginning with a leader, go around the circle and have each member relate an experience that he/she enjoyed this week.


Purpose: To heighten members' awareness of their patterns of managing and expressing anger

–  –  –


Purpose: To process homework assignment Have members describe an incident that made them angry during the past

week and respond to the following:

1) Describe the situation.

2) Were you aware of feeling anything other than anger?

3) How did you feel physically?

4) What did you do?

5) What did the other person do?

6) How did you feel after the incident?

Processing: Briefly focus on the theme apparent in the evocative situation for each individual. Succinctly identify mechanisms central to members' anger management strategies. This will lay the groundwork for the next session's exercise designed to raise awareness of similarities between past and present themes and strategies relating to anger.

–  –  –

GOALS Process Goals: Continue to build group cohesion and atmosphere of trust and safety.

Content Goals: Create awareness of link between childhood (family) and current "anger" experiences both in terms of themes which elicit anger and mechanisms employed to manage it.


Purpose: To identify links between past (family) and present anger themes and anger management strategies, and, secondarily, to create a basis for understanding the effects of the management strategies on the individuals involved Guided Imagery Instruct participants to relax and try to remember a childhood incident when they or someone else in their family was angry. Slowly guide them through the scene, evoking characteristics of the circumstances: what the setting was like, who was there, how others were perceived, how typical or atypical the incident was, how they felt inside, what happened, and how they and others felt and acted afterwards.

Repeat this exercise again, only this time instruct participants to recall a family incident of anger during their adolescence.

Exploring Anger-Stadtner/Tavis—page 11 Family Sculpture Now, instruct members to pick one of the two memories to use in the family sculpture exercise. Explain time guidelines: this exercise will begin today and continue next week, allowing 15 to 20 minutes for creating and processing each "family sculpture." Instructions should go something like this: "Based on the memory you have chosen, use as few or many of your fellow group members as you need to represent the scene. Ask whoever you want to play whatever role you like. Place them in relation to each other in the positions and with the facial expressions which best portray the feelings, actions, and reactions that occurred in your family when someone was angry. If you want, you can change this sculpture to represent what led up to, what happened during, and what happened after the event you choose to depict."

After a sculpture has been done, ask the sculptor to describe the thoughts and feelings evoked by the scene. What constraints did they feel? Focus on the anger themes, especially as they relate to issues raised by the first exercise.

Link strategies for managing anger in family with strategies described in previous sessions. For example, participants who as children were powerless in the face of their parents' fighting may beel powerless and exhibit helpless behavior in current conflict situations. Alternatively, such individuals may manage the feelings of powerlessness through domineering or aggressive behavior. Participants who as children were ignored or humiliated when they attempted to defend their perceptions, may as adults automatically withdraw in the face of conflict. This could take the form of either withdrawn silence or high volume tireades. In general anger strategies may be seen as ways of defending against the experience of vulnerability with another person.

Ask each actor to state very briefly (two sentences) feelings evoked in his/her role within the family sculpture. In processing, focus on whatever constraints participants express.

Closing (Allow about 10 minutes.) It is important to express appreciation to people for sharing personal experiences with the group.

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