Anger management: Addressing the violence by addressing the pain

It happens all the time: Conversation turns into confrontation. Anger explodes. Punches are thrown … or worse, guns are fired. A violent crime is committed and the lives of victims, perpetrators, and of families and friends, are changed forever.

Uncontrolled anger is one element fueling the rising tide of homicide gripping Detroit and other cities. Experts say that understanding and dealing with anger can help individuals, their families, and ultimately entire communities make better decisions that can help stop violence and reduce crime.

“In order to address anger and the resulting crime, you have to examine what leads us to become angry….what causes us to choose anger over another option,” says Chuck Jackson. He is executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Starr Commonwealth in Albion, Mich., and CEO of Starr Vista in Detroit. Both organizations provide services to families and children.

Uncontrolled anger in adolescents and adults often stems from unmet needs earlier in life, he continued. “Part of what we are missing as a society is that often we are not meeting the basic developmental needs of our children. They have to feel confident that they can master challenges, have a place to belong, feel safe and secure, can give back to others and know that there are people who love and care about them. When this happens they have a better self-concept, are more grounded and anger becomes less of an option for them. They are better equipped to deal with all kinds of life situations.”

Anger can also come from experiencing trauma at any age. Many people have witnessed violence, seen people they love hurt, or been hurt themselves, especially in urban environments. If we lose someone, we feel pain. Where does that pain go?

“As a society we don’t do a good enough job of dealing with this,” said Jackson. “Part of where we all struggle, particularly as African Americans, is that we are not quick to go to therapy, either because we lack the resources, or because we just don’t think we need it. Then the sources of our anger are not being addressed. Couple that with the reality that we live in a society that is still oppressive and for many offers few options. All of this can lead to making poor choices from maladaptive behaviors such as resorting to violence, and to self-medication with drugs and alcohol. If you don’t have a strong self-concept, these can begin, consciously or subconsciously, to look like tangible options for easing your pain.”

So what are the alternatives for helping adolescents and adults address their anger and walk away from conflict? The answer for some can be found by learning techniques to control or manage their anger. Anger management teaches that while you cannot avoid stressful life events, you can learn how to feel about them and what to do about them.

Research suggests that managing anger not only benefits the participant, but the entire family — and ultimately communities. But part of the challenge is recognizing when help is needed. According to experts at Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., in an article on their website, you should consider seeking help for anger issues:

• If you or a loved one’s anger seems out of control
• If it causes you to do things you regret
• If it hurts those around you
• If it is taking a toll on your personal relationships.

Eighteen-year-old Emmanuel attends school and works with other young people in his community, but that was not always so. After acting out as a young teen, he was remanded to the juvenile justice system and received residential treatment at Starr Commonwealth’s Albion campus.

“Emmanuel was angry about a lot of things,” said his mother, Gwen. She cited the death of his father when he was a baby. He was forced to compete for Gwen’s attention because of her at- home daycare business.

“He deeply resented the daycare because I had 15 to 30 kids that I took care of every day so he didn’t always get all the time and attention that he wanted,” said Gwen. “I had to explain that this was something that I had to do to provide for us.”

“[My son] was angry about a lot of thing, but he never really could talk about what was bothering him.”

Emmanuel turned his anger around with the help of the anger management program that was part of his treatment at Starr Commonwealth. In the program, healthy behavior is modeled by adults who can support the young adult by, among other things, encouraging and reinforcing appropriate behaviors.

Founded in Albion in 1913 and a national model for trauma response, Starr Commonwealth works toward creating a brighter future for Detroit’s young people and their families through early intervention programs and residential and private treatment programs. In 2012 it served over 600 young people in its anger management workshops.

Gwen saw firsthand the results for Emmanuel. He learned healthy ways to manage anger, triggers and decision making, and is moving forward with his life in positive, healthy ways.

“The counselor would keep me informed on how he was progressing,” says Gwen. “He did well in school, he was a leader. He started doing well at all the things that I saw in him and knew that he could do.”

“When he returned [from the program], we could talk about a lot of the things that were bothering him. Going through the program closed a gap for us and helped us establish a real line of communications.”

Taking action to learn how to control anger can have major impacts on individuals, their families and the entire community. Below is a list of agencies and resources that may be helpful:

Health Services resource list from

University of Michigan – Dearborn Website:
http://www.saveourchildrencoalition.org/wayne-county/health-mental-health/

Wayne County Department of
Community Mental Health:
http://www.waynecounty.com/hhs_mh.htm

Oakland County Department of Community Mental Health:
www.occmha.org

Washtenaw County Department of Community Mental Health:
http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/community_mental_health/mh_csts_wcho.html

John Dingel VA Medical Center, Detroit:
http://www.detroit.va.gov/services/mentalhealth.asp

Starr Commonwealth:
www.starr.org
Starr Vista:
www.starvista.org 

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