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New path of Learning

Saanich News April 26, 2006

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor

Dear Paul

I’ve been married several times and I admit my anger has caused lots of trouble in my relationships. I’m now in my third marriage. I love my wife, and I want to know - can someone really change something like this?


Dear Dwayne

Can someone learn to live with and manage their anger?

Of course, they can.

You’re already making a big step towards change when you take responsibility for your anger and the troubles it has caused in your life. That is a great starting place.

Furthermore, you’re right, anger causes real mischief in a relationship. Unchecked anger brings fear, distance, protection, and resentment - forces which ultimately make trust, openness, and intimacy, near impossible.

To master our feelings and expression of anger there’s lots to understand.

Anger manifests itself in various ways. It can be projected externally; it can be held or stored inwardly. The outward dumping of anger on another is blame. The inward holding of anger is resentment.

Many people see anger as wrong, dangerous or destructive. However, looking closer, one can see it isn’t being angry that creates problems. Problems emerge when we use our anger in attempts to control, blame, or punish another.

We can be furious or out of control when we express our anger. Or we can be logical, reasonable, even subtle. It doesn’t matter. Attempts to blame, control and punish always leave their mark.

When we attempt to control, we cross personal boundaries. We do harm to the other. We refer to this harm as “violence.”

All violence comes from the belief that other people’s actions are to blame for making us feel as we do and they therefore deserve our judgment and censure. All of us have been taught to think this way. However, this simply isn’t true.

So, here is the first point, Dwayne. Others do not cause our feelings.

All feelings we experience are based upon our personal interpretation, our unique history and conditioned views of reality. No one “makes” us happy or sad, or angry. We do that.

Our feelings are caused not by another’s actions but by what we believe to be true about their actions, by the personal meaning we give to their actions.

So you are responsible for your anger AND its expression. This is true for everyone.

Accepting this is the beginning of mastery over anger in our lives.

Secondly, to support you in your handling of anger, consider this. Anger is a secondary feeling.

Always, underneath anger, one can discover a hidden, more primary experience – the experience of hurt, or fear. Most people don’t see or acknowledge this.

In many ways, anger becomes our mask, hiding our more vulnerable feelings. While it fuels us with a sense of power and protection, by pointing the finger outward it hides and distracts us from our more vulnerable experience of fear and helplessness.

To master anger invites us to be more truthful and honest with ourselves and with others. We look, we inquire “What is really going on with me here?”

Test it out. Next time you feel angry look and see “Can I discover and experience, the underlying feelings my anger hides ? ”

Thirdly, when we are angry we are hoping its expression will somehow help us to feel better and feel more fully understood. Yet the truth is that controlling, punishing or making our partner feel guilty rarely make anyone feel better.

We may have the pay-off of a momentary sense of power, yet to attempt to control and make our partner wrong, costs us a great deal. It costs us the loss of trust, of well-being, of our connection and good will with our partner. When we see that anger and blame creates a great deal more suffering and problems than its solves, we begin to search for other ways.
This brings us to point four. Other ways: We transform anger when we begin to relate to anger as an important signal for self-understanding.

We do this by focusing our feelings not on what we believe to be true about our partner, but on what our anger can tell us about ourselves.

When we begin to question ourselves more deeply we often come across early and hidden fears. We discover what we are afraid of, and perhaps see what we really need in the moment.

Then, when we see and understand ourselves more clearly, we can take on communicating with our partner. We communicate, not to blame, but to share, to be more fully known and understood.

So Dwayne, learning to manage anger and be responsible for its expression is not only possible but puts you on a whole new path of learning.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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