Transcription: How Arlene Helps People With Anger Issues
Bill: I’m speaking with Arlene Foreman. She’s a certified anger management specialist located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. First of all Arlene, what is anger management?
Arlene: Bill, anger management is an old word. You don’t manage anger, I don’t teach you to manage anger. What I focus on is what I get – if you’re helping me and you keep focusing on my anger and my resentment, that part of the brain gets more and more developed. In the last 10 years, new research shows that what you need to do to change angry people is focus on compassion, focus on the skills that they need to replace the anger, and probably the most important thing to focus on is ‘’Is that behavior matching my value? If my value is to hurt my wife…’’ then that’s a whole different thing that almost nobody I have ever worked with said ‘’What I want on my tombstone is ‘’I was right and I made my point!’’’’ What people really want is they want to know in retrospect that I’ve treated the people I care about with compassion and with empathy. That’s my value. So in ‘’anger management’’, what we teach people is accept the anger, sit in it, do relaxation techniques, and focus on compassion and developing compassion. So at the moment that I have the stimulus to really get angry, I have rehearsed a way that my brain triggers ‘’My partner has a point of view, and I need to have compassion for her/for him.’’ Compassion and anger are incompatible. The brain cannot do both at the same time. So when I teach people when they get the signal of anger to turn it into compassion and you’re not gonna do it in five minutes. It’s gonna take rehearsal over and over to get really good at it. But that’s the core of what anger management is all about.
Bill: A lot of us get angry. I mean, we just get angry. How do I know when my anger is a problem?
Arlene: When my anger is getting in the way of my own values and my own goals. If I find myself getting fired from jobs, my partner is throwing me out of the house, if the kids run away from me, then anger is a problem.
Bill: Let’s say if someone says ‘’I don’t have an issue with anger because I’ve stuffed it all in and I only rage once in a while.’’
Arlene: What’s a surprise is if somebody’s rage can get me six times a day, I’m kinda ready for it and numbing myself, and it’s not as damaging as if somebody is raging at me once in a while and I can’t predict when it’s gonna hit. The trauma is even greater.
Bill: So what I’m hearing you say is the unpredictability that’s even worse than knowing that you’re gonna get naturally angry?
Arlene: Not naturally angry. What I’m saying is it’s like a shock to the system when it comes. But if it is coming all the time, it’s like ‘’been there, done that.’’ And it hurts and it’s disturbing. But it’s not the shock that my partner is holding it in and stuffing it and I can’t predict when it’s coming.
Bill: So what I’m also hearing you say is that letting it out is better than holding it in?
Arlene: No, anger is not to be let out, and anger is not to be held in. Anger is to be acknowledged, felt, sit on it, and let it dissipate, because most anger comes from a problem that needs to be solved, and I can’t problem solve when I’m full of anger. So I’ve got to calm myself down and then come back and problem solve.
Bill: So there’s a difference between experiencing anger and expressing anger?
Arlene: Exactly. Everybody experiences anger. Anger becomes a problem when I’m expressing it in a way that it’s hurting somebody. I can experience it and even say to you Bill ‘’I’m angry!’’ when it’s so intense that I’m hurting you, you’re afraid when I’m angry, that’s not good for either of us if we’re trying to have any kind of loving relationship, or even on a job anywhere.
Bill: Arlene, is your goal to have people rage and express their anger less often? Is that the goal of anger management?
Arlene: No. The point of anger management is never, ever rage at anybody. Never express anger when my brain is flooded with adrenaline and I cannot problem solve. People that are full of anger live in a world of ‘’I’m angry because of you! If it weren’t for what you did, I wouldn’t be angry.’’ And I use the metaphor of a pressure cooker – and the belief is that you caused the pressure in my pot and that’s what caused it. I needed to let off the steam. Well you need a new metaphor, and the new metaphor is ‘’I create my own anger, and I need to shut off the steam that’s putting the heat under that pot.’’ And if you remember Bill, I talked about how compassion and anger are incompatible. Well, shutting off that flame happens when I feel compassion for you and my anger goes away. Then I come to you and I problem solve. There is no story, no excuse ever, for raging at another person or even expressing anger in a way that you feel devalued.
Bill: I’ve heard the term ‘’toxic anger’’. What is that?
Arlene: I’m going to answer it this way: toxic anger is anger expressed in a way that undermines my own goals and hurts people. That’s what toxic anger in a nutshell is. Healthy, normal anger is ‘’I have a feeling of anger, I acknowledge it, I can even express to you that I’m angry, I sit in it, I breathe deep, I relax, I take a walk, I listen to music, until it dissipates.
Bill: Now I’ve also heard of chronic anger. Tell us what that is.
Arlene: Chronic anger is exactly the way it sounds. When I have chronic anger, I’m angry all the time, and I’m just looking around for something to set it off. And I’m often running whether somebody’s pulling over me in front of me on the highway, or a child spilled their milk, or I got home and a hot water tank leaked all over the basement and I exploded.
Bill: That sounds a lot like toxic anger.
Arlene: Toxic anger is the anger expressed, and the Chronic anger is like a time bomb waiting to be expressed. That’s the basic difference between the two.
Bill: Arlene, how is resentment related to anger?
Arlene: Bill, that’s a really important question because it’s at the core of most anger problems, and resentment is very sneaky. I’m new in a relationship with you, and we’re in love, and everything you do is wonderful, and your quirks are cute… and overtime you start getting on my nerves, and I start having a little bit of resentment towards you. And I don’t even know that you may be picking it up, I don’t know. And the resentment builds, and builds, and builds, until it’s strong enough that the resentment starts to trigger anger. So it underlies anger. If we were doing a scale of 1 to 10, and 1 is ‘no anger’ and 10 is ‘terrible rage’, resentment is probably a 3. So I’m in a constant state of 3. If you do something that I don’t like and I start at a 1, and my anger starts to flare up. It will flare to a 3, maybe even a 4 or a 5, and dissipate. But if I am full of resentment, I start at a 3, and it doesn’t take long until I’m a 6 or a 7, and I’m putting you down and I’m yelling, and calling names. And now, the fight is over, and for hours, I’m simmering over the injustice I’ve felt from what you did to me.
Bill: That sounds a little bit like chronic anger, because you’ve mentioned that underlying feeling, that underlying resentment. And the chronic is underlying as well.
Arlene: The difference is when I have a resentment, like I’ve asked people if they feel resentment, and they were like ‘’Yes, that’s it!’’ But until I asked the question, they weren’t even aware. When people are angry all the time, they know resentment is probably a 3, chronic anger is a 4 or 5.
Bill: Now this may seem like a silly question, but why do we get angry, Arlene?
Arlene: My two cents Bill is that a million years ago on the Savannah, those of us who got angry and attacked, survived and had children. Those that did not, did not reproduce. So it’s deep inside of our brain. When we’re provoked and especially when we’re provoked unpredictably, our brain is wired up for fight-flight-freeze, which can be a reaction to a threatening situation. Well, there’s no tigers chasing us anymore, but we still have this primitive response and we live in an angry culture. So we’re taught that when something hits me unexpectedly and I feel that it’s an injustice, that old reptilian brain wakes up. But I’m human, and I need to plug in the skills that I’ve learned in anger management so I’m not attacking.
Bill: So what happens to the body and our brains when we are in a rage situation?
Arlene: The body and the brain gets flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. The body is getting ready to either attack somebody from another tribe or an animal we’re afraid of that’s gonna kill us. The cortisol is gonna tighten my body, and the adrenaline that’s gonna make my heart beat really hard and fast to provide extra oxygen, food, blood to the extremities… and nothing happens. So there’s no animal, there’s just language, there’s just words. So my body is full of these hormones that are so abundant that they become toxic. My brain, especially the prefemoral cortex, the front of my brain, when it’s flooded with adrenaline (it’s called epinephrine and norepinephrine), I cannot process information anymore. Sometimes when people are in a rage and you scream at them, leave the guy alone. You’re gonna hurt him, and they can’t even hear. They can’t speak. They can’t problem-solve. It’s a dangerous place to be in for the person in severe anger-rage and the person on the other end of it. Bill I want to add one more thing. We’ve talked about resentment, and resentment creates a slow leak of adrenaline and cortisol, and when your adrenaline and cortisol are constantly bathing the organs in your body, they start irritating and tearing down the lining of the organs. So that not only when I’m full of anger and resentment am I hurting you, I am probably hurting myself even more.
Bill: I’m wondering if there’s a connection between toxic anger, resentment and, say, depression or anxiety?
Arlene: Well when I am so full of rage, first of all I say things, do things that are against my values, that if I weren’t so full of adrenaline and cortisol, I would never say them. Something dies down and I feel ashamed of what I did and what I said. So I crash from this high – this toxic high where I felt pumped up and strong and justified to somebody that’s mortified of what I said to my wife, or hit my child so hard, or I would ring out my boss because I’m afraid that I’m gonna lose my job. And also I’m afraid of the next time that this anger is going to erupt too, which fires off anxiety. So I’m bouncing from anxiety to depression, and in the meantime, here I am with underlying resentment just waiting for this 3 to turn into a 6 or 7 because I don’t understand what’s going on with my brain or body and that’s what this program is all about. That’s what I teach people – to really understand what’s happening in the body and what you can do so that you’re really in control of your own life and living your deep core values.
Bill: So I’m curious Arlene, what percentage of the population has a problem with anger and how has it changed?
Arlene: 20 percent of us hardly ever get angry, and then there’s another 60 percent of us who get angry sometimes but it’s not a big problem, and another 20 percent of the population has a real issue with toxic anger, Bill. I’ve been doing work with couples, with individuals, and couples used to come with issues of ‘he’s not sensitive enough’, ‘I’m afraid he doesn’t love me’, money issues, in-law issues, but today, probably the biggest issue that’s coming in is ‘he’s angry at her, and she’s angry at him’. It’s not always raging, it’s not always out of control, destructive anger, but it’s resentment, entitlement, and a toxic anger that just terribly hurts a love relationship.
Bill: I’ve heard, Arlene, that our parents influence how we are in relationships, and I’m wondering what’s the effect on children who witness a parent being abused?
Arlene: Bill, I was surprised to find out that children who witnessed a parent being abused are more devastated than if they’re receiving the abuse themselves. And while we’re on the subject of children, most anger issues start as children. We teach our children ‘’if somebody’s punching you and calling you names on the playground, punch him right back.’’ Well, that’s the beginning of anger and rage, and it just grows and grows from there. The best thing to teach children when they’re being harassed is just turn around and go away.
Bill: Arlene, are there ways that anger is expressed that we don’t even recognize? Or even as the giver?
Arlene: Good question, Bill. Sometimes we just think of anger as ‘’I’m just yelling at you and calling you names and putting you down.’’ But there are ways for me to express anger that can be just as maybe more painful, and that’s just ignoring you. When you walk by, just ignore you. Or his tongue rolling, just don’t talk to you for days. You deserve it, I don’t like what you did, and you don’t have enough value for maybe even looking at you and talking to you, so I just ignore you.
Bill: I’ve heard you say, Arlene, that anger, especially rage, is addictive. What do you mean by that?
Arlene: You know Bill, when I’m really angry, I get pumped up. It’s like amphetamine – I feel strong, I feel motivated, I’m on top, I’m actually more superior than you are, and that feels kinda good. And my brain likes that feeling, just like it likes speed, because that’s really what’s happening. If I’d do that once in a while, even the 60 percent that I get angry sometimes, that wouldn’t turn into an addiction, but if I’m raging, and in my range, I can see you shrinking and afraid and I’m getting more pumped up, my unconscious likes it. And the more I do it, the more I’m stimulated to do it more, and it escalates, it gets more and more, and it’s also tied in with depression and anxiety, because if I don’t wanna feel depression or anxiety, my brain starts searching for something to rage about, and I’m pumped up and I feel great! The problem is, just like drugs, we crash, and the same cycle happens as it does with substance abuse.
Bill: I know that addicts over time need more and more frequency to the substance that they’re addicted to. It sounds like you’re saying that’s the same with anger.
Arlene: Yes Bill, that’s the same. The brain likes that feeling, and wants more and more of it. Probably the biggest problem with anger is at least you know you’re going out to get some Coke, but anger feels so right and I’m so justified that I would never see that as I have a problem and I’m addicted to anger. The problem is you, that you keep doing things that piss me off.
Bill: Now that we’re on the subject of addictive behavior, I can’t help but wonder if alcohol plays any role in expressing toxic anger?
Arlene: Alcohol and anger go together most of the time. Especially when I’d have couples come in and they’ve had this brutal fight and I’d ask them if they were you out drinking, and most of the time Bill, they’ll say that. It can be just one of them that’s drinking too much, it’s deadly if it’s both of them. And the alcohol does the same thing that the adrenaline does – the prefrontal cortex that processes information, the part of the brain that makes us human, can’t function the way it should from the anger is enough. And then you couple that with alcohol, you don’t have a chance. The best thing for you to do is go to bed, stay away from people till all of these quiet down.
Bill: You know what Arlene, stereotypically we see that it’s the man that has an anger problem. Do women have anger problems as well?
Arlene: Yes Bill they do. The biggest difference between angry men and angry women is size. When a woman is angry and she’s going after a guy, he’s not afraid of her hurting him. It just bothers him what he’s saying and he doesn’t like to hear it. But when a guy is angry, a woman is afraid. He’s a lot bigger than her and a lot stronger than her. Even if they’re the same size, he has stronger muscles than her. So that anger feels much more dangerous to women than it does to men. On the other hand, women are having a problem with anger too. In the fifties, women didn’t get angry, they weren’t allowed, so it wasn’t much of a problem. It wasn’t lady-like. Well today, women are angry too. Probably the biggest difference is women are still repressing the anger and they’re the ones that are expressing it in a more subtle but just as hurtful ways of inferring that her partner has no value, that he’s somehow not competent however she puts him down, and she walks around as probably much resentment as guys do, and it’s as damaging to her body as it is to him.
Bill: You mentioned earlier about possibly losing your job if you rage at your boss. Why is it important to teach anger management at the workplace?
Arlene: Anger in the workplace is an enormous problem. If you wanna know who has a possibility of exploding with anger in a workplace? Just notice, who’s walking around all day with resentment, and just waiting for something unexpected to happen to this person, for that resentment to turn into anger and then rage. So it’s important first of all, for the people in the workplace to know how not to provoke the anger and how to soothe somebody and how to prevent this so that unexpected things aren’t as likely to happen and identify who’s full of resentment and see what you can do to get help for them.
Bill: Arlene, talk about fear and shame, and how it helps to heal anger.
Arlene: When men feel inside themselves that they’re being shamed, whether they are or not, will provoke anger. For women, it’s fear. If a woman feels threatened, that is what provokes anger for her. But it doesn’t matter if it’s shame or if it’s fear, and your anger is being provoked, don’t express it in a way that devalues anybody.
Bill: So what if I’m on the other end of someone raging? What do I do if they are raging at me?
Arlene: I’d suggest the couples to tell your partner ahead of time. It takes me about fifteen seconds to figure out that I’m going to be devalued and you’re going to spew this anger and range on me, and I’m going to take a time out, and I’m going to tell you ahead of time so that you’ll know that when I feel that coming and I’m the one that will decide. When I decide that you’re a 3 and you’re moving rapidly to a 6 or a 7, I’m leaving. But I’ll be back, I’ll have my cell phone, then you’re quiet and you’re ready to problem solve, call me, I won’t be far away and I’ll be right back.
Bill: Arlene, before we started this interview you said ‘’Bill, remember to ask me about lifesavers. And we’re just about done and I need to ask you about lifesavers. What about lifesavers?
Arlene: It’s a quick and efficient anger management technique. If I feel really angry, take a lifesaver. What it does, number one, when I’m sucking on it, opens up a memory of a first pleasurable experience of sucking and getting milk as an infant. The sugar in the lifesaver goes to my brain quickly, and it calms the brain. It takes about five minutes to suck on a lifesaver till it’s done, by then there’s a pretty good chance that my anger has dwindled, and if I continue to rage and speak angrily with a lifesaver, I’m probably gonna choke to death. (laughs)
Arlene: So carry lifesavers in your pocket if you have a problem with anger management.
Bill: Okay Arlene, I have to keep those lifesavers handy. Well Arlene, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with anger management and if someone were to get more information or feel like they have an issue with anger management, what should they do?
Arlene: Just call my office Bill at 610-896-3735, 610-896-3735, and we’ll set up an appointment and go from there. I wanna thank you for taking the time to listen to my interview and I want you to know that anger management is a solvable problem. You just need to make the decision that you have a problem and call me, and I’ll use the newest, most recent techniques and they work!
Bill: Thank you very much Arlene.
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