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Section 3
The Effect of Perceived Anger on Punitive Intuitions

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In the last section, we discussed how feeling controlled causes anger. Some main ideas we considered were why control occurs, how a client responds to control, and the acknowledgement of freedom.

In this section, we will discuss five myths that perpetuate anger. These myths are a history of rejection leaves a client with a feeling of impending rejection, letting go of anger means conceding defeat, no one understands the client’s problems, the client doesn’t deserve to be happy, and there is nothing to look forward to anymore.  As I describe these myths, decide if you can apply them in cognitive therapy with your client.

5 Myths that Perpetuate Anger

♦ #1 The History of Rejection... Leaves a Client with a Feeling of Impending Rejection
In my practice, I have noticed that because some anger is linked to experiences of rejection it is common for clients to assume rejection is the norm. The first myth is the history of rejection leads a client to believe they will always experience rejection in relationships.  Therefore, Katie reacted with anger.  

Katie, age 27, stated, "My father was always so damn cold toward me. I felt like a nuisance.  I just feel like most of the time I’m a nuisance to everyone.  I want affection, but feel like I’m unwanted."  As a result, Katie chose physically and verbally abusive relationships which fed this pattern of feeling rejected. This led Katie to draw the conclusion she was worthless. Katie told me, "It’s more than I can take!  I just want to explode!"  Do you have an anger management client like Katie who has the myth of impending rejection in his or her relationships feeding into their anger?  Later in this section, I will explain a technique which was effective with Katie.

♦ #2 Letting Go of Anger Means... Conceding Defeat
The second myth is that letting go of anger means conceding defeat.  Would you agree that most angry clients hold on to their anger because forgiveness feels like conceding defeat?  Chet, age 32,  explained, "My dad used to beat me when I was a kid. I tried to talk to him about it a couple months ago and he shrugged me off. He said, ‘If you had been more obedient, I wouldn’t have had to hit you so much.’ How can I forgive him when he isn’t the least bit sorry? He wouldn’t change it even if he could." Because Chet didn’t want to feel defeated by his father, he held on to his anger.

♦ Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique: Thrive Anyway
As you already know, anger feels more powerful than sadness. The challenge, of course, is for Chet to see that letting his anger go remained one of the only ways that Chet could stop his feeling of being defeated.  I had Chet try the CBT Thrive Anyway exercise. This is a self-affirmation exercise in which Chet repeated a few sentences to himself each day for a week. 

Here are the affirmations that Chet created for himself: "Stopping resentment is not the same as condoning wrong. I accept other’s freedom to live in unhealthy ways. I accept responsibility for my emotions. No one has the power to make me stay angry. Letting go of anger has nothing to do with winning or losing."  In addition to repeating these words, Chet also spent time focusing on the meaning behind these phrases and was able to benefit.

♦ #3 No One Understands My Problems
In addition to history of rejection leaves a client emotionally depleted and letting go of anger means conceding defeat, the third myth is no one understands my problems. It seems to be a contradiction that anger management clients tend to thrive on relationships for support, even though they feel no one understands their problem.  Do you find that, without supportive relationships, it becomes difficult for a client to identify with others?

To break the myth that no one understands their problems,  the client may need to realize that someone with different experiences can empathize and that someone does understand their problems. As you know, feelings of isolation can be hard to dissipate. With Chet, I encouraged him to stop focusing on the differences between his situation and others and instead focus on the fact that others also experience fear, pain, disappointment, etc. in some form.  Do you have a Chet who feels that no one understands his or her problem?  We’ll talk about a technique shortly.

♦ #4 The Client Doesn’t Deserve to be Happy
The fourth myth is the client doesn’t deserve to be happy.  Some clients may feel they don’t deserve happiness. I find that clients who have suffered years of physical or verbal abuse may not acknowledge their capability for joy.  As a client’s self-esteem decreases, their hope for happiness diminishes.  As you have probably experienced, this can quickly become an anger-producing circumstance.  However, everyone deserves happiness.  Chet experienced very little happiness as a child, but he found happiness after resolving his anger problems.

♦ #5 There is Nothing to Look Forward to Anymore
In addition to the four myths we have covered so far of history of rejection leaves a client with feelings of impending rejection, letting go of anger means conceding defeat, no one understands the client’s problems and the client doesn’t deserve to be happy,  the fifth myth is there is nothing to look forward to anymore.  Do you find that after clients develop patterns of anger, it is easy for them to conclude that there is nothing else to look forward to?  

Clearly, clients can be so determined to be angry they lose sight of their goals.  Sally, age 48, stated, "At this age, I know what I am, an angry person and I know this is it for me.  I don’t have anything going for me.  I’ve made so many damn mistakes that I can’t afford to be optimistic."  Sally believed there was nothing to look forward to anymore.  

♦ Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique: Changing Inner Rules
I have found a helpful cognitive therapy intervention with anger management clients is Changing Inner Rules.  Compare my use of Changing Inner Rules with yours.  Katie had the myth of impending rejection.  With Sally, the myth was that she had nothing left to look forward to anymore.  Katie and Sally both had strict inner rules to protect themselves from their myths. 

First, I spoke with Sally concerning these rules and asked her to keep a journal for one week.  Whenever Sally noticed an inner rule restricting her actions, she described the rule and its consequences in her journal.  Sally identified an inner rule which perpetuated her anger and related directly to the myth of having nothing to look forward to.   Sally intentionally denied herself an optimistic approach to anything in her life.  Sally saw this rule as being logical.  However, as the week continued, Sally saw that she was missing out on a lot and was perpetuating her own anger through practicing continuous pessimism. 

Second, when Sally returned for her next session, we reviewed the rules she identified.  I focused on her rule of not allowing optimism.  Sally stated, "I know.  I’ve just always thought that if I expect the worse, I can’t be disappointed.  But now it seems like what I’ve been doing is spending a lot of my time being pissed at people who try new things, because I don’t try new things."  Sally’s journal entries made it clear that she was aware that this inner rule helped perpetuate her anger.  

Third, I asked Sally if she could change this rule in her journal and refer back to it during the week.  Sally chose to change the rule to "be optimistic."  She stated, "The number of times I get angry seems to be less."  The journal of Inner Rules allowed Sally to see how she was making herself angry with inner rules derived from a myth.  The journal also allowed Sally to see how she was benefiting from changing her inner rules.

In this section, we discussed five myths that perpetuate anger. They are history of rejection leaves a client with feelings of impending rejection, letting go of anger means conceding defeat, no one understands the client’s problems, the client doesn’t deserve to be happy, and there is nothing to look forward to anymore.

In the next section, we will discuss how other emotions create anger.  The five areas we will discuss are pride influences anger, fear’s effects on anger, loneliness  creates anger, and anger can reflect inferiority feelings.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Côté-Lussier, C. (2013). Fight fire with fire: The effect of perceived anger on punitive intuitions. Emotion, 13(6), 999–1003. 

Kuin, N. C., Masthoff, E. D. M., Nunnink, V. N., Munafò, M. R., & Penton-Voak, I. S. (2020). Changing perception: A randomized controlled trial of emotion recognition training to reduce anger and aggression in violent offenders. Psychology of Violence, 10(4), 400–410. 

Lemay, E. P., Jr., Overall, N. C., & Clark, M. S. (2012). Experiences and interpersonal consequences of hurt feelings and anger. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(6), 982–1006.

Massa, A. A., Subramani, O. S., Eckhardt, C. I., & Parrott, D. J. (2019). Problematic alcohol use and acute intoxication predict angerrelated attentional biases: A test of the alcohol myopia theory. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 33(2), 139–143.

Rees, L., Chi, S.C. S., Friedman, R., & Shih, H.L. (2020). Anger as a trigger for information search in integrative negotiations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(7), 713–731.

What are five myt
hs that perpetuate anger? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 4
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