VICUS.COM (30 April 2000) -- Everybody who knows Jake agrees, he is
the nicest guy in the world. Everybody, that is, except his fiancée.
This brilliant, affable, successful, biomedical researcher sought
couples therapy, because he was committed to making his impending
marriage, his fifth, work.
While Marjorie had the apparent problem, impulsively storming out
of his apartment in tears with threats never to return, appearances
can be deceiving. It turns out that Jake was subtly provoking
Marjorie—and she responded! Whenever this couple felt emotionally
close to each other, Jake, without realizing it, found reasons to push
her away. Through criticism or sins of omission, he sent signals that
increased his fiancée's feelings of insecurity. Magnanimous Jake
however, “loved her enough” to enter into therapy with Marjorie. I
was amused when he confided in me that he was attending therapy
because he was determined to help me “fix” in his future bride!
Although Marjorie clearly needed to stop reacting to his
provocation, Jake had the greater problem. This wonderful, brilliant,
driven "Type A" guy was a control freak who subtly, or not
so subtly, took his anger out on his partner. He was prone to periodic
blow-ups, which Marjorie found frightening. Once he even smashed her
stereo. While he “didn’t really mean the awful things he said or
did,” it is no wonder that four wives had divorced him!
Jake and I got to work on anger management training. The goal was
to improve his impulse control skills in order to give Jake time to
examine the logic behind his angry thought
before making a behavioral response.
Anger management is generally a three-stage process.
the angry response from occurring|
processing of angry feelings|
Jake learned to use the standard impulse control techniques
such as walking away when angry and exercising to expend
catecholamines. He also began to implement cognitive techniques such
as “reframing” and “disputing” his underlying, angry thinking.
But Jake's anger issues were so deeply ingrained and widespread
through his personality that simple anger management training was not
enough. Jake needed an overhaul of how he viewed the world. He needed
a more benign philosophy of life to replace his current "they're
out to get you" view.
of Tai Chi to anger management
I turned to Eastern philosophy for help. Tai Chi seemed
appropriate because it combines elements of physical, mental and
emotional self-control with movement. Jake enjoyed the Tai Chi
classes, and I encouraged him to read about its philosophical basis,
which we applied to the cognitive aspect of his anger management
training. He embraced both therapies with enthusiasm and spent every
waking moment applying the lessons.
As an example, he had a nasty habit of acting angrily when
Marjorie was preoccupied with herself and unavailable to dote on him.
This "she's selfish and only cares about herself" thinking,
which elicited angry feelings, was replaced with "she is trying
to solve internal difficulties that have nothing to do with me."
Reframing his interpretation of events led to his wanting to comfort
her, as opposed to wanting to punish her.
Six months later, Jake was a new man. Explosive incidents
were history as he developed a newfound awareness of himself,
including his anger and his fear. He developed the skills to calmly
articulate his feelings to Marjorie. Most of the time, he could calmly
articulate his anger or fearful feelings to her. Jake had begun to
take control of his life. He experienced a sense of personal power. No
longer was he subject to the whim of emotional impulse. Now, he was in
a position to orchestrate his life using his head to make smarter
Tai Chi as
complementary therapy with anger management training
Tai Chi philosophy complements and augments several
components of anger management training: impulse-control,
self-awareness training and cognitive restructuring in a refractory
Tai Chi makes a positive contribution to anger management
therapy presumably because it improves self-discipline. In the absence
of impulse control, anger management training will fail.
Tai Chi augments refractory anger management cases by
providing a benign philosophy of life. Philosophical change is often
necessary in deep-seated cases.
Tai Chi helps increase self-awareness presumably as the
shift in philosophy allows the individual to feel emotionally
"safer." When one's philosophy is punitive, as it invariably
is in anger problems, individuals must first get in touch with the
very real things they find upsetting, they must be able to tolerate
unpleasant feelings. A punitive philosophy prohibits obtaining the
internal information that is available by "sitting with
feelings" because the angry individual is typically judgmental
and self-punitive. Negative emotions are experienced so intensely,
some form of flight becomes the only apparently viable option.
In the words of those who are proponents of Tai Chi,
"The art of t'ai chi ch'uan," according to Kurland (1997),
"originates from Taoism. It encompasses the natural laws of our
environment (and) emphasizes nurturing the breath to attain relaxation
and hence longevity." Key points include relaxation, breathing
and guarding against anger. As a martial art, Tai Chi teaches skills
such as "yielding" and "investing in loss," which
are essential to surviving in today's stressful environment.
Tai Chi discourages struggling or using excessive strength
to overcome obstacles. Skills that are essential in order to cultivate
a successful contemporary relationship. In fact, during two person
exercises, Tai Chi players learn to flow with their partner (notice
the use of the term "partner" rather than
"opponent"), just as water flows around rocks in a stream.
Matiatos is a licensed psychologist in New Jersey and New York, where
she maintains a practice as a cognitive behaviorist. She combines
cognitive behavioral techniques with 12-step and spiritual
philosophies. Dr. Matiatos hosts and moderates www.drirene.com,
which targets anger addiction: verbally abusive people and the
codependents who love them.
Kurland, Relax. ©June 1997
[cited 2000 April 27] [1 screen]. Available from URL:
Matiatos I. Taking Control of
Your Life: Anger. ©1998/9 [cited 2000 April 27] 1 screen].
Available from URL: http://drirene.com/taking.php
A. What is Tai Chi Chuan? ©
Cloudwater Tai Chi, 1999. [cited 2000 April 27] [1 screen]. Available