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Caregiver Skills - Anger

By Elizabeth Easton, PsyD

Transcript

Elizabeth Easton:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Emotion-Focused Family Therapy. Emotion coaching, anger. I'm Elizabeth Easton, the national director of psychotherapy. Today, I'm here to talk to you a little bit about emotion coaching. One of the toughest emotions to support with anger. If you haven't had a chance to watch the videos on a motion coaching step one or a motion coaching step two, I would encourage you to pause this video, go back to those and then return. This is really meant to enhance and deepen your work with that skill. Let's jump in. Emotion coaching, anger. Why is it so important? For an emotion to run its course, it needs to be expressed and accepted. This is one of the toughest things to do with anger. In our society and the way many of us were conditioned to work with anger, expressing it and actually accepting anger within ourselves or for other people has not been supported. That's not what's been taught. This is going to shift some of the wiring in your brain in terms of how to respond to anger and hopefully be more helpful for your loved one and for you.

Here's what we know about holding in anger or suppressing it. Suppressed or incomplete anger is particularly toxic. We've learned that it can really fuel the symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, and eating disorders, and many others, including the behaviors like self-harm behaviors, or even suicidality. Supporting the expression of your loved one's anger can be an incredibly powerful tool for healing. In fact, by helping your loved one to express the anger, you can expect to see fairly immediate reduction in symptoms. You can see them calm and you can see them shift very quickly, especially the more you do it. So why is it so hard?

Well, the capacity to remain calm, and open, and non-defensive in the face of another's anger is nothing short of a superpower. You will be a superhero if you're able to figure out how to do this, especially when that anger is directed towards you. Loved ones who are more explosive can also benefit from the validation of anger in order to calm the brainstorm that occurs in their brain when they're overwhelmed and to help them find more appropriate ways of really communicating that they're not doing well, that all is not well. In fact, navigating anger together can actually help promote the deepening of your relationship, a deeper connection with each other. So here's what I try to always remember. That our goal is that the loved one learns how to get angry and move through anger in order to navigate some of the biggest challenges they're going to face. It's actually a helpful skill for all of us.

So won't I be reinforcing the anger if I validate why they're experiencing it? It's a great question. It's one probably the most common question that I get from caregivers who are supporting their loved ones through anger. So here's the metaphor we use. Imagine that anger is like air in a balloon. The anger will slowly dissipate and so to with their symptoms as you emotion coach, as you join them in their anger, as you prove that you understand it and you get why they would feel angry. If your loved one is quick to anger or angers often, you may discover that their anger actually covers up deeper feelings of pain, like fear, loneliness, sadness, or even shame. That sense of not being good enough. So validating their anger is really the portal or the pathway to these more vulnerable emotions that you may need to be ready to validate afterwards to jump into validating their fear or validating the more vulnerable things underneath. This can be the way in.

So some caregivers have asked me, "Do I even need to learn this skill? My loved one never expresses anger. That's just not really who they are. Are you sure there's anger underneath what they're going through?" So here's what I generally say. If your loved one is struggling with a mental health issue, assume there's unexpressed anger. You should assume that not only do they have anger that they're not comfortable with saying out loud or really conveying to anyone else, assume that they may even be afraid to be angry with you in case it negatively affects your relationship.

Many of us in our culture are conditioned to not express this. And that if we express it, it could only be harmful. And if it's harmful, we could lose relationship connection with the people who we most love, who we need support from. So assume it's there. What's the worst that can happen? It's not there and they let you know that. Well, at least you left no stone unturned. The best way to prove to your loved one that it's okay to be angry with you, that this is allowed in your relationship is to help draw out their anger by recalling or validating instances when they made attempts to express anger towards you and maybe you didn't accept it or you shut down or it made sense for them to feel angry and they didn't express it. They stuffed it in some way.

It can be helpful to return back to these situations to validate them now, even if they were years in the past to really introduce that anger is okay to be expressed and is okay to be discussed in your relationship. If they dismiss your attempts to do this, just let them know that it would be normal to feel angry in those instances and validate their possible experiences anyway. It'll help heal those places within them that need healing.

So it's the same script. Here's one variation in terms of working with anger. I don't blame you for feeling angry because, because, because. So the way that I like to think about emotion coaching, anger is that I'm going to go towards the anger and I'm really going to help draw it out and I'm going to put words to what may be going on. So here's an example. "I can understand why you're so angry, that you have to face your fear right now, because you may not feel like you have the strength to even do this, and because we haven't always been able to navigate this well together, and because I have not always understood how hard this has been for you." And then you would come forward with the support step. You would come forward with joining them, that they're not alone, that you're going to figure out a way to support them through it, and that their anger is allowed and accepted. And maybe encourage them to take a deep breath and to still take a step forward defacing whatever that feared situation is.

A micro skill in emotion coaching, anger, that you may have even noticed that I did to some extent is really matching the energy of whatever emotion you're working with. So when we think about anger, take a second and imagine anger in your body. How does it feel? The last time you were angry, what did you notice? Maybe your shoulders are back, maybe your muscles are tense, maybe your jaw is clenched, it feels strong, it feels big. So you're going to try to match that as your emotion coaching, especially starting here with your first because. That's like going up and grabbing that balloon by the string and bringing it down. You're going to go up to match the energy and then draw the balloon down. So with each because you come down to a baseline.

The way that I like to think about matching toner volume is imagine you're in a car. You're driving the car and you're on the highway. And you have someone in the passenger seat and someone cuts you off. You have to swerve to even stay in your lane and imagine that the passenger next to your turns to you and says, "Hey, it's fine. We're fine. Nothing happened. Let's just let them get ahead of us." How would you feel? Less angry, more angry. Most of us would feel more frustrated in that moment. We'd feel like we aren't supposed to be angry. That it's not allowed or appropriate for the situation.

So what happens if instead they turn like this, "Can you believe that guy? I can't believe that happened. He's still doing it up there. Oh, that was awful. Let's just pull into this next line and let him get way ahead of us. You did a great job handling that." How would that feel? They're frustrated. They're angry with us. They can join us in the emotion that can help us feel less embarrassed and more valid in what we experienced. And then we can let go of that and slowly start to come down. That's really the goal. That's why you match energy and tone.

So I hope this is helpful. I know that sitting in someone's anger, that feeling angry yourself is so uncomfortable. The best thing we can do is feel it and move through it and support our loved ones to do the same. So I hope you go try this. Thank you.