Demystifying Anger with Dr. Clair Robbins
We sat down with Dr. Clair Robbins to understand her expertise in the treatment of anger- an emotion she believes is often misunderstood. Here is what she had to say:
"Many people find they prefer to experience some emotions over others. For example, a lot of people would prefer to feel happy rather than anxious. In my work, one of the most commonly disliked emotions is anger. Anger gets a bad reputation as an emotion.
A lot of people learn anger is not an acceptable emotion to experience or express. Maybe their parents told them not to be angry growing up. So they try not to be angry but end up being angry anway. In fact, they find the harder they push the anger away, the more it comes back.
Sometimes people learn the opposite - that being angry is the only way they can be heard or get what they need. So they get angry a lot to try to get what they need. And while they get what they need, they might also end up getting in fights with others or losing friends because of how they express their anger.
These are only two examples, but in either it’s easy to see how the person starts to dislike anger as an emotion. However, anger in and of itself is not bad! Anger is actually a very helpful and important emotion. It alerts us to potential threats, blocked goals, violated boundaries, or things that seem unfair. Without anger we wouldn’t stand up for ourselves or engage in creative problem solving to meet our goals.
When I work with folks who are struggling with anger, the first thing we discuss is that anger in and of itself is not a “bad” emotion. The emotion itself is important and helpful. How we express it and manage it is what can cause problems in day to day life. Therefore, the focus of anger treatment is on recognizing anger and expressing it in ways that are helpful and effective. Using treatments such as the Unified Protocol and CBT, people can learn to understand and manage their anger in a way that is consistent with their long-term goals.
In these treatments, we usually start by breaking down anger-related experiences to make them easier to understand. I often hear people tell me that anger feels like it goes from 0 - 60 in an instant. However, a lot of things actually happen as we get angry! Our hearts beat faster, we sweat, we have angry thoughts, etc. By slowing this process down, it is possible to notice anger is rising earlier in the chain of events and to intervene to prevent unhelpful expressions of anger. Once we slow down this process, we focus on learning additional skills to help manage anger. These skills include thinking more flexibly about situations. A lot of people find when they are angry they have thoughts that actually make them even more angry. For example, if someone cuts them off on the highway, the more they think about what a jerk the person is the angrier they become. Cognitive skills help challenge these thoughts and identify more helpful patterns of thinking (like maybe the person is rushing to the hospital). I also work to help people change their behavior. For example, I teach ways of communicating that are more effective than yelling or arguing. I also help people develop alternative ways of expressing anger that are more helpful (e.g., going for a run instead of breaking things). These are a few examples of the skills taught in this type of treatment. People often find these skills are empowering and they feel better able to manage anger with some practice!"
To learn more about the treatment of anger or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Robbins, contact our front desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.