What’s Underneath a Client’s Anger?

When a client erupts in anger, what’s really going on?

While anger is a normal and sometimes necessary emotion, it can escalate all too quickly once triggered.

And that can lead to devastating choices and consequences.

In the video below, ten experts share their perspectives on what drives anger, and how they approach it.

Take a look – it’s under 5 minutes.

This video was taken from the Next Level Practitioner training program where members receive a daily video full of practical insights from one of the top 25 experts in our field. That program is not open for new members right now, but if you want to be on a waiting list in case it opens up, please click here.

What are some strategies you’ve used when working with a client’s anger? Please tell us about it in the comment section below.


Please Leave A Comment



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  2. Kevin J. Waters says:

    Kevin J. Waters, yesterday I left a fairly long comment on my coming to terms with my Anger,&, the path which I wound up traveling to get to recognize,(know), my anger, where, how it posed my life, Until … well to night I was again visiting,&, was totally thrilled to see some very familiar faces on your mindfulness study page! People like Jack Kornfield,&, Tara Brach, pardon my spelling…. these are just two of many,some of the Elders,Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh………. Through this path,&, practices daily, I now know that what ever i say, or do has my signature on it……. It was a delightful stop here tonight !

  3. Kevin relates to the mind/body/medicine, in that through the course of many episodes, (years), of searching for the “Cure” for my Chronic Pain, Drugs, Therapy’s, treatment ctrs. an so on until rock bottom, a world of despair, destructive loneliness, I was Touched, &, Introduction to a well known 12 step program, which soon aroused my interest in the possibilities of “Other, Mind, Body, Medicine” facilities in existence ! It took some yrs. of sobriety to clear the mind, up to start a seriously investigition ,more,&, more, alternative ……. finally I wound-up at a MAT,facility,( Medicated Assisted Therapy), with a number of yrs. sober, became introduced to meditation, Mindfulness, & Managed care for my mental health meds. My Point Being That for Me …. Mind/ Body Medicine, truly represents, “A BALANCE” in my life. I’ve taken the best of Western Inspiration, &, Merged it with Eastern Spirituality,or spiritual growth, to put me on Thich Nhat Hanh’s path of “Enlighten Buddhism ” Which to me means, a Never ending Exam of the Spiritual being in the Human Form.

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  5. Cathy McKinley says:

    Excellent perspectives! Thank you all. I have found that anger is sometimes a secondary emotion experienced after a person has felt sad or threatened. It seems people feel angry in order to protect themselves from feeling sad or vulnerable. I often ask my clients to consider where they believe the anger is coming from in their experiences and what the anger is trying to do for them. Often, my clients admit they feel sad or afraid. Anger seems to offer them protection.

  6. I do two things, depending on circumstances. For one thing I knowledge that there are good reasons for the client to be angry. What is the underlying clarity within the storm of anger? The clarity is always there; the anger is egos push. Secondly, I ask the client to feel it, where it is in their body and to stay there. It might be the first time that they have ever actually felt anger.

  7. Anne Hedelius says:

    I am a mental health professional at the MA level. I went to see a Clinical Psych for personal therapy. This became an explosive situation because she could not acknowledge or validate my anger. “If she was mirroring” it was shaming, frightening, and terrifying since I have chronic PTSD. She did several things that made it worse, like refusing to explain treatment, refused to discuss her background, silent treatments, withholding critical information, no written informed consent. or HIPAA. She would not even smile. Later refused professional consultation or to release my medical records. She billed my insurance company and terminated me after forty-eight sessions with a hostile email.

    To make a long story short this created tremendous suffering in both of our lives. I had a complete relapse after twenty-five years of stability. This resulted in board complaints (still pending), insurance complaints and an investigation by HHS OCR. She did agree to a plan of correction with HHS. She violated my rights and how many others? I share this story because therapists need to know that as clients we are very vulnerable and need to have information. I was not protected, as she explained, “because I already knew all that stuff”. Yes, I did know all the regs and ethics, however I did not know her. As a client a therapist is just that, a client, and we have the same mental health rights as anyone else.

    • Scott says:

      As a counselor, the work I do in the front line is to follow the treatment plan for the client. Sometimes lots of patience but also “supervision” because it is very client-focus approach, involving the therapeutic team and the family members, which means the parents. The services are renewable and complaints are considerable. So, what I did to take care of myself successfully or in an inefficient way was to have some extra supervision for myself. It was what I needed to be supportive and helpful. I can truly understand your point.

  8. brenda says:

    I find many of the comments inaccurate and disturbing

  9. When I have a client who is angry, I first of all listen to what they are saying about what or who makes them angry. I look for cognitive distortions (all or nothing thinking, should statements, emotional reasoning, etc.) and also for false beliefs – which are not working to their advantage or which do not fit a picture of reality (people dont accept me because I am ……..).
    I then acknowledge that they are feeling angry and explain that anger is a normal human emotion which is more appropriate when their physical self is threatened. We explore other words like, hurt, frustrated, dismissed, disappointed or resentful. We talk about how these are pay offs rather than becoming passive, helpless or a victim. These are often survival tools they learned as a child to cope with threatening situations.
    We then talk about how when we point the finger at someone or something, they have all the power. We are waiting for them to change things so we can feel better. I teach them to point the finger back at themselves and identify what they bring to the situation – because they are in control of their thoughts, emotions and behaviour and that therefore brings the power back to them. Using CBT we reframe the events, try on new behaviours (homework) and focus on where they want to be rather than where they don’t want to be.

  10. Scott says:

    In residential, my client would strive to get what they want, or what they think that is what they want and need. The challenges that I encountered is that the suffering whole person by severe ptsd would respond in a very dysfunctional manner. So the most calming successful way was to use post note as sticky on the fridge and set a schedule to sit and journal about the day and address the fears. Seems to give a structure and bring in a new day.

    • Scott says:

      Carl Rogers , on becoming a person, is very client -focus and is my prettied choice. The structure scheduled was for the client to have a quiet time for herself before a social event like movies, bowling, friends. It was just that she/he was not co-operating, some sort of. The reward came only after.

  11. Mike says:

    i think that being fit and looking more and more from inside out about the anger would be the best approach. Somebody said that it is “an action emotion”… the origin has to be physical in all the senses. Repressed, it would be geared towards an unexpected target. What i have observed in children, is that they do exactly what their body is needing to let it out in the “real time”. Their coping skills are very limited on the contrary. While as adults, there might be some reasoning from the two parts of the brain that would play into how we choose to react. Evidently, this would have to be proved since this is much more science behind this that my background is. For me, this topic is the most apprehended but vry useful

  12. I will mirror the angry expression initially in a show of empathy. I find this often calms the person a bit and then they feel safe talking more and expressing more of their thoughts and feelings in addition to anger. As the client (or could be a friend) begins to express what is underneath the anger, we can have a conversation. In the conversation I am able to ask clarifying questions to gain some understanding about what triggered this individuals feelings and expression of anger. As we go through this process, the person can hear himself/herself and often can begin to get beneath the anger and get some clarity on the situation. Although this does not always work..I find that it often does and it gets to the source more quickly. It also helps to de-escalate the outward expression first shown by the person at the outset.
    I found all the comments by the persons in the video very insightful and helpful. Great understanding and clarity. the comments below are also enlightening…Anger indeed is a secondary emotion. finding what is underneath can be so productive and lead to important social change.

  13. Anne Ness says:

    One aspect of being angry that was not mentioned is the relationship to the physical constitution to how anger is experienced and expressed. People with rapid metabolism are more likely to express anger if they do not eat for too long. People wuo are very thin are more likely to experience anger as despair, those people need to be able to experience righteous anger.

  14. Anne Ness says:

    Holistic nurses published an article many years ago describing a method of dealing with an angry, critical patient . The technique is to Center yourself and imagine how you feel about someone that you love very much and then practice feeling that way about the angry patient.

  15. Jenny Bullen says:

    To listen VERY carefully with empathy…they have something very important to say. When that anger abates through expression then you have a platform to look at what is happening with the client.

  16. Before they present with Anger agree with them that they want me to help them notice its coming so that they can learn the early warning signs (somatic) and then they can have more options to take control (“working from the bottom of the brain up”).

  17. Matt says:

    For myself, my anger is “a secondary emotion,” always stemming from a “primary” feeling of hurt, real or perceived. My anger is mobilized to protect me from re-feeling the hurt, or being re-injured emotionally; and from a place of “retaliation in the face of hurt.” To feel hurt, angry, and to not outwardly react; but to respond both appropriately and effectively, is my ideal. Not feeling the hurt by intensifying the anger resulting from it, denies an opportunity for me to grow, to learn about myself and ‘the other,’ and to channel or to use anger as a sharp tool, pointing 180 degrees away from my own hurt; it helps me know where to look to ‘aim’ my best healing efforts: not at the anger, at the hurt.

    Specifically: Thank you for the image of “discharge” of emotional strength-building opportunities presented by anger! Levels: Hostility, Anger, Healthy ‘processing’ of strong emotions!

  18. Stephanie says:

    I explain to the client that anger is a secondary emotion to protect from feeling hurt/scared/confused/not in control and try to understand the underlying feeling. I also praise an expression of anger toward me in the session as a valuable clue to an area that we need to explore.

  19. The outpouring of anger reflects the more vulnerable feelings of hurt. So I ask them to tell me about what the hurt is all about. Usually all of that hurt has been built up over time, with my client thinking that if they just “go along” with their partner, they’ll eventually get their opinion taken. The problem, of course, is that this guarantee doesn’t happen. Then the resentment builds even more as they try to diffuse it by complying. Teaching and practicing how to express their “anger” in real time is crucial. Then they know that it’s better to reveal it, not conceal it.

  20. Jay Bishop says:

    I will often briefly check in with myself as to how I am experiencing this anger and attempt to lower my possible reactivity before quite simply reflecting back what I see, hear and feel the client experiencing, as a way of validating the emotion, giving it an entirely legitimate presence in the room, inside the person, in the air between us, just right here, right now, and entirely at home in the present moment. I want to engage with that anger as an underheard entity.

  21. Brenda Lea deGraw says:

    Exactly sometimes not even to do with the service as it is money. And or they just need to vent about
    something completely different than their actual interrelation with the company representative that they
    are acquiring service. Generally when a client is angry with the service they are receiving they are under
    pressure and or frustrated that they are not getting their needs met and in so doing identified then
    is the opportunity to communicate to satisfaction.

  22. I honor the expression of anger in my client with respect and belief. I believe the anger is telling us about important parts of the client’s narrative which have gotten lost. The loss of self with those missing parts of the original story are vital for this person to feel whole. We look at when and how the anger is being used. I will ask, What could it be trying to get us to remember about you that’s been forgotten? The answer is always interesting.

  23. linda havel says:

    This was immensely interesting…on a personal level..thank you

  24. Anger is an expression of energy which is often fueled by more vulnerable primary feelings which may not be safe to express and may not be even be known because of dissociation or lack of awareness. I have found It’s useful to welcome the expression of anger and give it permission to breathe and then at the right time provide the opportunity to explore what is underneath….much like an archaeologist might do in excavating a site. Bringing understanding, acceptance and compassion to all of the primary and secondary feelings can help all of these parts feel unconditionally accepted.

    In my experience that usually helps individuals feel more regulated and differentiated.

    Sometimes re-orienting someone cognitively can quickly help the individual to dial down also because it moves them from the limbic system to the pre-frontal cortex. For example, ” you are angry about your husband not coming to therapy and sharing himself right now because he’s not in the mood to share.” “Do you remember last week when you had a part of you that didn’t want to share?” Do you remember how your husband didn’t press you? he accepted that you had a part that wasn’t open and available at that moment?” How was that for you that he was able to respect that boundary? How do you feel as you reflect on that experience? Could you imagine how offering him this consideration might be helpful to both of you right now?

  25. Maureen Joy says:

    I always empathize first with someone who is angry knowing that underneath the anger on the surface us a deeper often hidden pain.

  26. Beginagainmom says:

    I ‘m sorry,” I tell him, my son, 9. He is an impresario of enthusiasm and friendliness. He has lots of great ideas. Everything ! Now! He’s afraid he’ll forget. Afraid he doesn’t belong and afraid of his anxieties that have a seed from somewhere. He is exhausting. I often don’t see the upset coming. I walk on eggshells. Some days I can dance on them. We both can. Our whole family can. We have sitt and s and therapists up the wazooo!
    It’s often too much. It’s exhausting to be him. He has a lot of labels that we keep to ourselves. (I have a few of my own)…His: Dx: ASD, FASD, low cognitive, peers/parents he can’t figure…he is the 3rd child by a diff dad & was adopted at birth. I sometimes say, “Let’s go outside, You don’t have to love me, play, eat… Thank you for saying something. Can I sit here? Would it be okay to hold hands? That had to feel bad… I made a mistake too. You tell me..That wasn’t ok. That makes sense. What if I/we decide ahead…Can we try again? “Hitting/kicking’s not ok. What would be better for both of us? Or, let’s go find Dad…

  27. Michael Miloff says:

    All these comments are so amazing. Thank you.

    I find another dimension of anger is its relationship to a sense of justice. So many expressions (all?) of anger seems intimately connected with a sense that someone else/the world has unjustly treated them, and, therefore, their anger (no matter how extreme it looks to others is justified). Often when we are angry and find out that our assumption about what X did was wrong), we can calm down instantly (micro seconds) though, of course, it may be hard to let in that information.

    The old testament God often gets angry when his peoples did not live up to their contract and/or expectations. So much of justice is (failing to) complying with an explicit or implicit contract or expectations. I am not sure about the therapeutic implications of all of this – perhaps, to explore with people the expectations which they have of others/situations (or even themselves – as one can have self-anger also). Not sure how its related but Paul Riceour’s Phenomenology of Evil (an extraordinary book) beautifully outlined (if I recall 40 years later) how evil is chaos/no order, a threat to meaning, how meaning for most of us is about social connection, and how shaming and shame is about being disconnected, no longer belonging. When one feels there is no justice and one feels disempowered to right things – there is a sense of victimization, of chaos, of evil – and righteous anger is a way of asserting meaning and belonging (to a shared set of values whose violation must be protested to preserve one’s sense of identity and meaning. Unfortunately, anger and being on a war footing can inhibit deeper searches for truth and meaning. I wonder if there are not concurrent paths to dealing with anger, both in the moment, but also to help people develop world views that have a broader sense of justice and empowerment so when things don’t go their way, they can process it by broader/different filters of meaning, better taking in how the world works and most importantly strengthening their own sense of agency and ability to influence.

  28. Art Miron says:

    In my work with anger, I like to use the metaphor of the iceberg that the Titanic hit, and ask the client, if the iceberg stood 100 feet above sea level when struck, how much of the iceberg was below sea level? Usually, we say 400 or 500 feet. I then say, anger is very much like this iceberg. The upper part is out there, but below it are very significant and important feelings that absolutely trigger the strong response. So, like Dan Siegel said, it is very important to work to identify the powerful feelings underlying the anger, and then decide what to do with those feelings.

  29. Dr John Morrissey says:

    I always acknowledge that anger is a legitimate emotion. I need to be able to self regulate to make it effective. With patients, I use an anger style quiz to see if I can get clearer about their underlying beliefs and then move towards providing them with alternatives and techniques.

  30. Cecile Yap says:

    A simple strategy to calm down an angry client? I silently pray to comfort him and me. . . and tell the client we need to have peace within first – to have peace in mind and body! We must always believed in spirituality for God’s healing as there are no arguments in humility but LOVE. . . I share with my clients that our purpose in life is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. This is what the Lord wants us to be!

  31. Kathy says:

    One thing I always do is trace anger issues back to FOA in order to identify unmet needs and desires which become areas where forgiveness is necessary: forgiving God, others, and self.
    Where did the injury occur, with whom?
    Discover the benefits of letting go of that anger verses reserving the right to remain angry and bitter. If my clients can understand that forgiveness is for them and not the perpetrator/s, it allows them the space to take back their personal power.

  32. Sean phelps says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for your perspective. So just to confirm you are taking a third person perspective and simply summarising their perspective back to them?

  33. Scott Liam says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  34. Petria Thoresen says:

    Normalisation and validation, which gives room for healthy expression of what makes them feel angry creating the space for further exploration across the holistic spectrum of physical, psycho-emotional, spiritual, social being and contexts

  35. Gabrielle Collins Lawlor says:

    Sometimes I retell their story in a different way back to them and ask them what reaction they have to the story and what reaction they think the person in the story had. It generally works.

    • Sean phelps says:

      Interesting. So in a third person perspective but how is the story read back to them just in a summarised way?

  36. Anita says:

    One of the things I’ve done to find “the tenderness” beneath the anger is to point out to the client how anger in the room might be making me feel and to ask if that is how they intend to make others feel. Most often it is not.

    • Jorque says:

      There was / is a saying “Some cookies jars can be harder to reach” !

  37. Don Jorge says:

    I agree that anger can be a source of motivation towards the achievements and the sense of self-worth . It reflects and reveals an inner source of energy that one has to be sure about the instructions before using it in a beneficial way.

  38. Athena Spelios says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  39. Diana Gold says:

    For me, the most important thing is to welcome, as much as I can the anger that is being expressed. It is my job as a therapist not to react defensively but stay in the painful onslaught and feel how it is to be attacked by my client, after all, I am asking my client to work at using their anger as a way to understand their inner needs and vulnerabilities. I need to keep in my mind that the anger is a compass point and a useful indicator of what the hurt may be that is underneath.


    It is important to recognise the vulnerability that underlies the anger, to share awareness of it and explore the underlying emotions generally fear, terror or rage at unmet earlier developmental needs.

  41. Thank you. I think our response to a client’s anger is so important. I view it positively as a resource that is not yet appropriately directed.

  42. When angry couples listen to each other they can “get it out”. This allows clinician to question where does the anger come from in childhood. Then often one or sometimes both decide to get individual therapy.

  43. Anna Rickell says:

    I sat with very angry patients until the soft side emerged. I think about anger as a hermit crab…. anger is the armor and underneath is a very soft squiggly person…. creature….. most improve in time. It a long slow process… process that cannot be hurried. There is a hurt and vulnerable person underneath. The anger was a defense that is/was empowering.

    • Nathan says:

      It looks a bit nerves-racking but nice … strategy to try. Thx.

  44. Gisèle Cyr says:


    I will try to listen and let the angry person talk to see why the person is angry.
    If the person talk loud. I will start to take about the same one of voice as the angry person but soon after I will lower my tone and sometimes the angry person will lower her voice but not always.

    If It is a patient in bed and I can have music on a radio or TV, I will put up the music louder to tell this person, it is something normal to feel different emotions and after I will lower the music to help the person to lower her tone and feel more in control.

  45. Nathan says:

    I found it difficult to be in a room where both the therapist and the client are dealing with their own anger. M. Linaham and P. Levine understanding of anger speaks pretty well about it, among all the others. I think when anger can be identified in a specific way, such as irritability, or strength after all, then it really helps to find a way to approach it and help it fade away…So thank you so much again for this great practice video.

  46. Mitra BIshop says:

    Lots of great ideas for how to work with angry folk! Thank you!

  47. srisht says:

    Anger is generated by our brainstem when one become aware of one’s Unmet Need, or Boundary violation covering Sadness/Grief.
    If healthy Aggression fails to protect one ,then Shame covers it ,and vacillation between guilt/ shame and rage cycle begins.
    Anger like fear needs to be experienced in the body.Ms. Tara Bach’s technique of RAIN can be quite helpful.

    • Taylor says:

      Indeed, your entire paragraph is accurate and helpful. Thank you.

    • Taylor says:

      srisht: Spot on. The sentence about the distortion of healthy aggression is profound and illuminating. Wish a therapist had worked with me on this; would’ve saved me years. How can I contact you?

  48. Dawn DelMonte says:

    Wonderful video and beautiful discussion! Very helpful to me personally and professionally.

  49. i don’t know where my “reply” is, so will redo….a wise teacher once gave me a formula…..UNDER ANGER IS DESPAIR (GRIEF) AND UNDER DESPAIR IS AN UNMET NEED. so when it’s appropriate, i share the formula and ask “what are you really needing”. it’s very effective in getting to the “bottom line” and when it works with BPD, it’s a real win ;-)!

    • Susan says:

      Yes I like this, works well I think. Great article and responses, very helpful.

    • Gabrielle Collins Lawlor says:

      I like that I’ll use it too thanks

  50. a wise teacher once gave me a little formula which i use a lot to drop below the anger to the real issue…..

    “UNDER ANGER IS DESPAIR (GRIEF) AND UNDER DESPAIR IS AN UNMET NEED”….when it’s appropriate, i share that and then, ask “what are you really needing”. occasionally, it works with BPD and that’s a real win ;-)!

  51. Alex Jones says:

    Completely validate it. Help client see it as a strength (like maintaining dignity, etc. or protecting self/others from harm, etc.) Whatever resonates with that client. Then explore what drives that anger, what lies beneath it, what triggers it, how they express it most often, what is successful and what isn’t successful in expressing their anger. Help them befriend and listen to their anger.

  52. Joanne Thomas, LCSW says:

    Thank you for sharing this video. I always try to validate the person’s feelings and help them understand that anger is a natural emotion like any other emotion we experience as human beings. Feeling angry is not good or bad, it’s what one does with the anger or how it is expressed that can be either productive or counterproductive. I have learned that sometimes when people act angry, they’re really afraid. Uncovering what may be hiding behind the anger can tap into vulnerabilities that a client may not be allowing themselves to feel.

  53. Very good comments. My first experience of anger was watching my sibling as a baby being angry and then for years getting needs met that way. I saw it as a manipulation strategy. I let my clients know that I don’t reward manipulation strategies. Yesterday I was tested again, and just explained I was here doing my job, let the two clients know that I was there for them if they wished to communicate in any other way. Righteous anger is a healthy thing I feel/know as it makes for action, change and sometimes I advocate for others because I can, and it works.

  54. Cindy Dow says:

    Instead of giving advice about whatever ‘seems’ to be the reason someone is angry, or telling someone they need to learn to control their anger and channel it differently (while they are IN the anger moment) – I have found using empathy and mirroring back what I think someone’s anger feels like to them has can move us to either discovering what the issue of the rage is really about or will help the person get more in touch with the underlying emotions — because they realize someone is REALLY listening.

    If someone has been pissed off about an issue that they cannot seem to solve, feel helpless about, or if someone had done something to anger the individual — and says: “Can you believe this! That idiot did __________________ again. I want to punch the asshole!”

    I may say something like: “You sound REALLY upset” by that making sure my response is not monotone, but reflects that you’ve heard the intensity of their feelings – (making sure I do not use a specific feeling word like angry or frustrated). The one common response is “YES!! I am so angry….”
    Once they have said that I allow silence in case they have more to say – again responding in a way that shows I am listening and care.

    If nothing is said I may say something to mirror I am listening like, “That amount of anger sounds hard to deal with”, and follow up with asking if they’ve been feeling like this much lately. . (I do not say “Does that person upset you a lot” because it is getting away from the person who is feeling angry and focusing on the thing they are focusing anger on).

    Basically your client is trusting you with strong feelings. I have found by using empathy of their difficulty and how hard it must be for them to deal with this issue causing these high stress emotions with careful listening (not putting your words or your assumptions in their month) – but mirroring back in such a way that they can hear you ARE listening to their feelings and care about their difficulty with the issue – the client, once heard, tends to be able to continue with less misdirected anger. — Certainly the person or issue they are directing their anger toward may be an important issue to deal with, but until they recognize something needs to change, so you can brainstorm together with them giving the majority of what may help, the anger isn’t going anywhere.

    Asking for ideas that may resolve said issue may help with life feeling out of their control, or being all alone with it.
    Also, the magnitude of their anger may be realized by asking “Who does that person remind you of?” or “Have you ever felt this upset before?”

    • i love what you wrote and agree that’s is an effective approach

    • I like your post. I have sometimes used humour, and I will tone that down because upset is upset, and humour can lighten yet not empathise at the level of upset.

  55. Elizabeth Scheide, PhD Pittsburgh, PA says:

    I begin with a premise that anger is a protection against underlying feelings. If possible, I first validate the feeling of anger and accept it as purposeful. So often it emanates from a devastating feeling of helplessness in the presenting and pest situations. If possible I recognize that underlying feeling,validate it and the fear that usually accompanies it. I have rarely encountered anger that threatened my safety. When that has been the case I have slowed my breathing, lowered my eyes and my head and tried to remain as quiet as possible. Usually this non reactive posture has worked well. Once it did not, when I was with a usually passive patient, who was actively hallucinating, who very suddenly acted out..

  56. Roslyn Henze says:

    Wow, TY ALL,

  57. Jack says:

    I agree this is a great topic for clinicians to be discussing. I can see validity in every perspective offered here by the panel of experts. My way of seeing a client’s hostility is that of an altered ego state where if the person is no longer rational/reasonable and or processing the incoming data in an adaptive manner, then I think it is important to help the client first self-regulate so that she/he can return to the adult ego state. By looking “at” one’s anger instead of through it, a degree of control and agency becomes possible. It is in strengthening the adult and it’s capacity to name, feel, understand and process their anger and hostility that a healthy relationship with one’s anger can be formed. I find a blend of the transactional analysis’s approach of naming the parent, child and adult states in a client along with strengthening their mindful/adult way of dealing with their anger has been the best approach.

  58. Joan Lebel says:

    Just had an experience with a a male youth who turned the Health Unit on its head after a psychiatric assessment. The good part about it was he was not directing it at anyone in particular. The unsettling part was witnessing the internal pain he was exhibiting of hopelessness and helplessness. I am just starting to have some one-on-one with him and am at the early stages of building a trusting rapport. My gut feeling is he is seeking to be accepted by his family and community co-horts. He has PTSD from being bullied in his childhood that continued into his senior years of school. Talking about the events caused him to have an extreme stress response that lead him to externalize his internal rage. Up to this point he has been experiencing SI and attempts. These have become more and more lethal recently. When I consider his issues, these issues are also family and community problems that also need to be explored. We have begun CBT which makes sense to him. However, currently he had to be hospitalized for these suicidal attempts and impulsivity.

  59. Barbara says:

    I have a client whose daughter, in a session at their home, really leveled extreme anger at her mother. I found it very difficult to observe and deal with. In hindsight, I realized that she seemed to be angry at her mother for a number of reasons, among which was, the relationship the mother has with her husband. He is very controlling and passive aggressive and the daughter sides with him because he is 1. in control of a great deal of money and 2. her mother has never grown in her ability to deal with him in an effective manner, instead becoming his victim and complaining bitterly about how she distrusts him due to infidelity. the daughter kept asking, “why didn’t you leave?” This brought on tears and attempts to explain that mom was dependent financially and with 7 children to raise, couldn’t envision any way out. I am only working with the mother on developing coping skills to deal with the suicide of one of her sons and a mental breakdown. Can anyone address this? I did make a referral for family counseling but am not

    • Mary says:

      I believe that emotions work in pairs. Anger goes hand in hand with sadness and vise versa. It sounds like the mother touched on the sadness when the daughter angrily and repeatedly asked “why didn’t you leave”. It can take sometimes days, weeks, or months to move through one emotion and shift to the other. Individual counseling is a good place, a safe place, for sorting out emotions on a personal level, especially with the loss of her son.

  60. Lisa Heim says:

    Clients need help to understand how to interpret their anger. Anger is a signal that indicates something about what they believe. It indicates that they believe that they need something that some person or some circumstance is keeping them from getting or keeping. They must confront their own beliefs about what they need. What is the true source of what they most deeply need? If they see others or circumstances as having the power to keep them from getting their needs met, they will be angry and will act out of that anger in a way that is designed to get control. They must find their deepest needs met in a source that cannot be denied or blocked in order to relinquish their anger and find contentment and peace.

    • Anne Ness says:

      Abused wives have a problem with expressing anger, the daughter is expressing anger for both of them.

    • Keri Stone says:

      I guess you would call me a “newbie” in terms of clinical experience. I am still in need of quite a few hours to obtain full licensure so when I’ve been in situations with angry clients, it is EXTREMELY uncomfortable, especially in couples or family situations where multiple people are involved. I suppose I’ve always thought of anger as a defense mechanism/survival instinct and never really delved deeper. In tense moments like that I’m usually trying to regulate my own anxiety (*insert anxious giggle here*). I appreciate you putting it in terms of one being blocked from getting THEIR needs met. Seeing it as “meeting ones own needs” is such a simple and nonthreatening way to help clients and significant others understand where the anger originates. As opposed to the commonly associated: the angry person is simply seeking to control another (“well, yes, now that you’ve prevented my needs from being met I am going to control what I can to find equilibrium”). I am currently not working but this topic takes me back to one of my last few sessions with a very angry family dynamic. I wish I had thought to explain it this way. Thank you!

  61. Helen says:

    Really helpful set of excellent comments. Recently (in the past few days) had an experience where I had a cx suddenly turn angry and hostile towards me, they were very personal it was shaming and humiliating and I am still processing the shock to my system – I could feel my heart beating so hard while it was happening (harder than it’s ever beaten before). The physical sensations were awful, somehow I managed to remain present and listen to their need for validation and acceptance beneath the rage. The video was helpful for me to reset and consider better ways to work with anger. Great timing, I needed this thank you.

  62. dianne says:

    When someone is in overwhelm, it can be very important to allow them the space to talk about their anger and to express what is happening for them. I certainly would not want to stem that flow. And neither can be it be good to be in denial about what one is feeling, –so acknowledgement, and deeply going into the feeling can be very important, as can be its letting go, following that, if one is to feel free to turn one’s attention to other things after the event.

    I know myself how much the energy of anger can motivate and certainly the ‘I can show you’ position can be very productive of achievement in the world.

    Anger is connected with pride and yes can be an indication that someone feels that is hurt, their sense of self has been wounded, and assertiveness is often seen as a healthy way to both channel the anger and affirm one’s self –this can feel like a very important action when a person feels they have in some way been ‘abused’. And it can serve to give a sense of protection, or in very obvious ways, real protection. Also, often anger is seen to be healthy when challenging injustices on wider levels of society when seeking to defend human rights of different kinds.

    My view is however that whilst it is often seen as very productive to use the anger of energy to achieve things –often very worthwhile things, it may be valuable to recognize how that energy motivates a person, and that it may at times be a filter that removes one from the clarity, the immediacy of one’s experience so that a person can end up with a bit of a tunnelled vision wherein other points of view will seem secondary to one’s own sense of mission.

    Ultimately I think, anger is best held to lightly as a tool for achievement so that the wider context of life is always in awareness. This is not to say that ‘great’ things are often achieved using this energy but to make the more valid point, in my opinion, that to acknowledge, deeply feel, and surrender anger is a more healthy trajectory – allowing for great achievements nevertheless accomplished via greater clarity and broader vision of the whole….

  63. Linda Horn, LPC-MHSP says:

    Anger is the.response we see after ordinary words have ceasedo be effective for that individual.

    • Taylor says:

      Wise words, indeed.

  64. Therese says:

    Dianne’s comment brings me to a book by Mike George called Don’t Get Mad Get Wise. A wonderful spiritual book teaching us that anger is a learned pattern or habit with some help can be unlearned.

  65. Sara Fernald says:

    Anger is about survival. Deny it, attempt to get someone to deny or shift it too rapidly it, and you block their survival instinct and ability to grow. Anger in its highest forms of expression should trigger YOU to understand the survival brain is highly activated. As Bessel so helpfully educates, when the survival brain (amygdala) is fired up, the rest of the brain starts to go off line. Be their EMT, help them to breathe, and start to settle into full mindedness. Only with this type of presence and acceptance of THEIR reality, can you carefully help to transport them to more sophisticated – and helpful – insight.

    Keep in mind that anger is a motivator for many. ‘Piss me off and I’ll show you what I can do!’

    I am a survivor of 17 years (3 to 20) of horrific abuse [hate that term, it is so soft sounding]. Anger and its evolution to self understanding and compassion led me to be a trailblazer in crisis intervention services and executive coaching. Anger and its evolution led me to raising two amazing children, as a single sole support parent. Anger compelled me to have a voice here.

    Yay! For anger.

    • Linnea Pyne says:

      Yes! I understand. And it’s useful I think to understand that anger is along a continuum like other emotions. Anger helps us understand that our boundaries are being crossed and our needs are not being met. Rage is something else entirely and I have yet to really feel safe enough to work with another’s rage.

    • Keri Stone says:

      Love this!

  66. Greg White says:

    Thanks. Two sound responses.
    My experience tells me now that if I feel like reciprocating I am not centred, meaning my awareness is probably flirting with flight and fight or freeze.
    I guess many shrinks freeze, but one will observe that to be centred relays a feeling of stability to client.
    Breathing in pranayama is the method.
    Sustaining that determines the success of the session.

  67. The other side of anger is hurt. Listen to the hurt behind the anger. Affirm anger is understandable and there is a way to deal with it without hurting yourself or anyone else. I love the comments of those who shared.

  68. Jodi Schneider says:

    What I do is name it as I own it. Then I breath with is as I let the pot boil and simmer as I breath out with some sound like a tea pot boiling over for a while and then I take myself for walk and say everything I am angry about until I begin to notice that I am getting less and less angry and if not I continue walking and inward talking until I am less angry and then find something beautiful to smile at and breath with.

  69. dianne says:

    Anger is often triggered by FEAR, and FEAR is about feeling SEPARATED. The closest these therapists got to this was when one of them mentioned ‘the desire to belong’. But it is more than that: it is about the FALL; it is about the frustrated longing for unity, for the return to EDEN.

    We have to take it all back, back to the original rift from that unity which came in each case, at the moment of birth, of incarnancy. At that moment when we had a body, we equally had an ego. The ego is the symbol of separation, and the quest of each human being is return to Source which comes with the dissolution of the ego. it is this ego that gives us the sense of separation – it is what stops us from feeling truly connected to life and to our so called ‘environment’ which really is part of us, not separate from us.

    Anger is an unconscious quality that in its best form can be simply creative energy. Otherwise it is best not to suppress, not to repress, not to project, or deny, or displace………but to simply SURRENDER Through the latter process, connection can be reestablished, –and this then deals with the FEAR, the sense of separation, the psyche torn asunder, is sutured, and healed.

    R.D. Laing’s work eventually showed that actually, whilst allowing madness to exhaust itself through acting out, may bring about great progress for an individual, this can be really costly to all involved in the treatment, and will not in the end significantly transmute. What will result in true return to homeostasis, is simply the letting go of that which does not serve us.

    • Sherry Belman says:

      When caretaking others are determined to break, quash, annihilate the newly forming, necessary ego…results in later life/therapy must notice & grow up that with client, not be too quick to surrender it…or can the 2 be done alternatively/simultaneously? Good psycho spiritual question.

    • Wholistic therapist says:

      So beautifully expressed, with all due respect to the therapists, if they had the level of consiousness you have expressed here, with your comment……wow…. The true Healing would begin, and it would be fast, and it would be compleate…….maybe as you have written it so well, we will see “A Hundredth Monkey” effect… Wouldn’t that be great…..

      • yes, the wise teacher also taught me that “anger is the action emotion”…i liken it to the motor on a boat…ist supplies the energy to go forward and the “person” needs to steer. john bradshaw says, “anger is a demand for dignity”…..that’s good, too.

        • Taylor says:

          Yes, all that you’ve said. Anger is a boundary setter, a way to stand for and in oneself by blasting other energies and others’ energies away. It’s also a catalyst for action. As well as a defense for underlying needs and unmet needs; and for emotions that need tending and recognition, such as sadness (grief), fear. And ‘s srisht’s comment, above, is quite helpful, as well.
          “srisht says:
          Anger is generated by our brainstem when one become aware of one’s Unmet Need, or Boundary violation covering Sadness/Grief.
          If healthy Aggression fails to protect one ,then Shame covers it ,and vacillation between guilt/ shame and rage cycle begins.
          Anger like fear needs to be experienced in the body.Ms. Tara Bach’s technique of RAIN can be quite helpful.”

  70. Mugford Rose says:

    Excellent. Thank you

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