One of the DBT handouts I frequently use is “Changing Emotions by Acting Opposite to the Current Emotion” (Linehan-“Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder”) which deals with four common emotions or emotional states that folks struggle with – fear, guilt/shame, sadness/depression and anger. The short of it-
|-Overcoming fear involves doing the thing you’re afraid of over and over again (desensitization).
-Resolving guilt involves either making amends if the guilt is legitimate or doing the thing that creates shame repeatedly if it is not.
-Mitigating sadness means getting active, approaching and engaging in activities that build mastery.
-Anger involves avoiding or acting opposite the anger through acts of kindness.
A common question that comes up (and it did again today) is whether we are suppressing anger by avoiding it?
It’s less about suppression and more about tolerating your anger when it is pushing you towards aggression, rumination or vengeance and it’s pretty consistent with what CBT and DBT teaches when it comes to assertiveness. In tolerating the anger you’re acknowledging it’s presence and what’s causing it while working to mitigate its negative impact on yourself and your relationships.
Intense anger is a flood; don’t swim in a flood – wait for the waters to calm and gently step in. Dealing with something that causes anger is different than acting from a state of anger. Another DBT concept that might be useful in thinking about this is RAVEN (McKay, Wood and Brantley-“The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook”). Before acting out of anger you may want to check yourself across these factors-
Relax – Are you able to tolerate disagreement calmly? Can you access your reasonableness?
Avoid the Aversive – Are you in the best state possible to avoid the verbal (mocking) or behavioral (eyes rolling) jabs that can escalate the discussion?
Validate – Are you ready to hear and understand the other person’s position, even if you may not agree with it? Are you able to access empathy and negotiate?
Examine- Are you able to act consistent with your virtues in your treatment of the other person? Will you be able to maintain your own boundaries reasonably? Are you able to respect the other person’s boundaries?
Neutral Voice – Can you maintain consistency between your tone and the emotion surrounding the issue without contempt or betraying disproportionate anger?
Once you’re capable of addressing the issue within these parameters you may be more effective in addressing the issue. In other words – don’t let it go just because you feel calmer. Anger is an indicator of when something feels wrong; it’s not always a good indicator of whether it is wrong or how wrong it might be. It’s a cue that something bothers you and that something requires further examination. It’s your assessment of the issue that should determine further action – how to go about that assessment is material for another day. Thanks for checking in.