|I often refer to "taking control,"
"personal power," and "personal responsibility" throughout these
pages. All are issues of self-control and personal choice. Self-control phenomena are not
confined to any particular disorder or set of disorders. The more self-control skills an
individual has, the greater his or her ability to make life work, despite what may come
their way. This page is about pivotal events that occurred
during cognitive treatment of deeply-rooted anger.
is member of an elite subset of angry people who really, really want to lose their
Meet Brent*, a very angry, fairly well-to-do middle aged
guy. He is not your typical anger addict. Yes, he is your typical road-rage junkie. Yes,
he is guilty of occasional property damage. He has the typical angry person's atypical
ability to endure whatever it takes to accomplish his objective. Brent is also
exceptionally selfish and self-absorbed. He has lots of typical anger stuff. However, Brent is member of an elite subset of angry people
who really, really want to lose their rage. Perhaps he has suffered enough. After all, his
anger has cost him dearly. His 3 ex-wives and only daughter want nothing to do with him.
While the typical anger addict continues to proclaim "innocence," dumps the
blame, and finds another partner, Brent is atypical. He sincerely wants to stop
participating in his own demise. He wants to see the obvious.
Known as "Mr. Nice Guy," Brent has always been
great to his friends. He goes out of his way, is personable, gregarious, and very
generous. These qualities attracted Maureen*, a pretty and empathic young woman almost 20
years his junior. Maureen occasionally attended sessions during their stormy 18-month
relationship. She was present as Brent again complained about her
"selfishness," "poor manners," "insecurities," etc.
The pair had just returned from a week-long Caribbean excursion with 2 couples Brent knew.
He complained that Maureen slept through breakfast most days, forcing him to dine
"alone" with his friends. Maureen was disinterested in socializing and
sightseeing. She only wanted to sleep, lounge on the beach alone, tend to her tan, and
embarrass him further by drinking too much. He was very sensitive to what his
friends must be thinking: What a fool he was for staying with her! Maureen listened in tears, trying to get a word in edgewise
to apologize for her admittedly poor behavior. When she finally got a chance to speak, she
explained that she slept and drank her way through the trip out of humiliation followed by
intense and overwhelming depression, and anxiety. Brent was unimpressed. I scratched my
head and asked her what she was doing with someone who found so much wrong with her. She
told me that she loved him, and I believed her. Brent broke up with Maureen later that
week. I did not see him again until a year later.
distorted reality to conform to his preconceived agenda, such as when he
perceived her obvious pain and embarrassment as "selfishness."
Back in my office, Brent told me that he and Maureen got
back together after a few months. He returned to therapy now since Maureen walked out on
him 4 weeks ago and was refusing to speak with him. Apparently, she had had enough. Brent
wanted to understand what she had had enough of. He felt he treated her so well. He was
beside himself with grief and wanted her back. Brent listened carefully while I reiterated Maureen's tale
of a year ago: Thinly veiled, crude comments "jokingly" made to his friends
concerning her weight, her appearance, her religion; his "inability" to keep his
eyes off other women in her presence, etc. Mortified and deeply hurt, Maureen could not
face the other couples. Brent treated her with thinly-veiled contempt. Yes, he was
gracious and opened doors, but he also paid more attention to anyone else than to
her. Riddled with serious problems of her own, Maureen's barely contained anxiety broke
through as she realized the extent of his problems. Knowing their relationship would not
work, she reacted with full-blown panic attacks and depression that lasted the duration of
I told Brent:
|That a truly caring individual (which is how he saw
himself) would not choose to make jokes at a loved
one's expense. Why hurt them?|
|That he distorted reality to conform to his preconceived agenda or mood of the moment. That what he dubbed
"selfishness" was, in fact, mortification and pain.|
|That he habitually distorted what was obvious to everyone
He justified his perception of "selfish" based on
her social withdrawal from his friends. He felt that had she been less
"selfish," she would have been there for him and been a companion.
Instead, she embarrassed him by withdrawing. I told Brent:
|That he was the one who provoked her, and for no
|Why should she be there for him? What about her? When is he
there for her, or anyone, unless he is in the mood? I reminded him that ordinary
give and take assumes you put your own stuff aside when your partner is hurting more than
you are, or when you are the one who administered the hurt.|
|Maureen's feelings were discounted. What his friends thought
was more important than how Maureen felt. Wrong! |
|What makes him so special that Maureen, and the
world, should revolve around him? Unless he chooses to
continue living a deeply unsatisfying life, Brent needs to examine his self-proclaimed
|Not only should Maureen's needs never supercede his, but she
is expected to be on stand-by - enduring her own pain - to be immediately available to
him. Says who? (Apparently, Maureen got healthy enough to say "NO!")|
|He expects Maureen to do as he does: be "strong"
enough to endure pain. Where is this written? |
|He disrespects anyone who cannot endure. It is a
sign of weakness. Really? Says who? I reminded him that these notions were diametrically
opposed to ideas he paid me to teach him.|
It is a set-up to expect that Maureen exercise exquisite
self-control over her emotional or physical pain - simply because she does not do it.
Furthermore, why should she? It is unhealthy and contrary to nature. If you are tired,
rest. If you are hungry, eat. Your body is wise, and if you listen, it will communicate.
Maureen was wise to time out and care for herself because she was hurting. My
feeling is that Maureen was not "selfish" enough! Had she more self-esteem and
self-respect, she would have cut the Caribbean trip short and gone home - alone. When you endure instead of feel, you control your body
instead of allow it to guide you. Stop listening long enough, and you lose yourself.
Brent's admitted inability to be alone with himself (alone vs. lonely), his restlessness,
his craving for excitement, his boredom, sense of emptiness, and, above all, his lack of
inner peace - is evidence of loss of self. Moral of the story: Fighting nature just
closeness can kill. I will actively and aggressively do anything and everything in my
power to push my partner away. Then I will convince everyone, including myself, that it is
Finally, he told me that Maureen was probably too insecure
for him; he needed a confidant woman. While that may be true, I pointed out that he did
everything humanly possible to ensure that her insecurity increased. A caring
person would drop everything to comfort their loved one. Empathy and concern are more
likely to diminish insecurity than is contempt. That is when Brent realized that he would
not, as opposed to could not comfort her. His secret script revealed
itself to him: "Emotional closeness is dangerous. A woman will let you down and
you will die. I will do everything in my power to push my partner
away. Then I will convince everyone, including myself, that it is her fault". Fifty-something Brent handled intimacy issues with about as
much aplomb as a neglected toddler. His behavior reflected strong underlying childish
fears and assumptions. He fully believed these assumptions and never questioned their
validity. In fact, he was unaware he was making any assumptions!
As a result, his actions thwarted his natural, healthy human thirst for partnership and
family. The irony is that Brent's life was wildly out of control because of his
exquisite ability to impose control!
|"The problem with the
anger addict's remarkable and twisted self-control is that is it devoid of conscious
The problem with the anger addict's remarkable and twisted
self-control is that is it devoid of conscious choice. This increases the odds of
working towards destructive ends. Relationships suffer most since serious anger issues
tend to be rooted in an inability to trust. "She has the power to kill you!"
But, that's neither here nor there - that was then and this is now. Maybe Brent's care takers really were horrible, rotten,
abusive and untrustworthy people. Maybe not. Either way, so what? They did the best they
could, and that is the subject of another chapter. What matters is that Brent is an adult
now and is quite capable of taking care of himself, should he choose to. (Which, by the
way, he did.) Brent's therapy focused on re-evaluating his fears to free
him to make rational, clear-headed choices that corresponded to his aims. As his fears
diminished, so did his need to protectively distort reality. As he became comfortable with
simply being as opposed to orchestrating, his inner life changed. He could see the