Anger in the Families

Family relationships are one of the strongest contributors to individual character development. Many of us spend years trying to understand, erase, or copy the influences of our family unit. The more established the pattern, the more challenging it is to change. The effect of anger in families is usually apparent in the way that members relate with one another. Our earliest experiences communicating and relating to others occurs within the family. Relational patterns that include angry outbursts and/or behaviors are likely to reappear in later relationships outside the family.

Thankfully, professional family therapists with well-designed treatment plans can help clients choose healthier, more useful behaviors in their current relationships. Our earliest experiences communicating and relating to others occur within the family. Family relationships are one of the strongest contributors to individual character development. The effects of anger in families is usually apparent in the way that members relate with one another. Relational patterns that include angry outbursts and/or behaviors are likely to reappear in later relationships outside the family. The more established the pattern, the more challenging it is to change. Many of us spend years trying to understand, erase, or copy the influences of our family unit. Thankfully, professional family therapists with well-designed treatment plans can help clients construct new patterns in their current relationships that include healthier, more productive behaviors.

Is anger harming my relationships?

Anger may contribute to the development of a host of unhealthy patterns in relationships. If allowed to continue unchecked, angry outbursts and threatening behaviors tend to escalate. In relationships where calm, open dialogue is overshadowed by rage-filled words and deeds, loving bonds among family members may be camouflaged by heavy layers of resentment.

There is good news! Professional family therapists are trained to spot troublesome patterns of interaction involving anger. Individuals committed to improving their relationships through the hard work of therapy are generally rewarded with a renewed sense of hope. Here are some ideas that may help individuals reorganize their own thought patterns so that anger-producing thoughts and feelings are greatly reduced:

When feel anger rising, ask yourself, “Why am I choosing to be angry right now? I have other choices. What choice would be more useful at the moment?
Before allowing hurt feelings to flourish, say, “I am going to choose not to be offended. Now…what is the point they are making?

  • Pause for 10 seconds. Choose an attitude of calm curiosity that will allow you to respond respectfully.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. When you feel resentment building, journal your feelings and then share your thoughts with a trusted loved one.
  • Establish firm boundaries. Reduce the amount of time spent with those whose anger is expressed in unhealthy ways.
  • Cultivate and nourish relationships with people who treat you with respect even when they are angry.
  • Call for an appointment with a family therapist when you need help establishing healthy, respectful patterns in your relationships with others..

How do I know if my family or loved one has an anger problem?

In most instances, individuals are aware of it when they do not control their angry outbursts Unfortunately, too many come to accept their angry outbursts as an unchangeable part of who they are. In fact, they may feel hopeless to change. If you feel that you or a loved one may express anger in unhealthy ways, consider the following questions: , Do you or a loved one:

  • Becoming angrier than is appropriate in regard to mild frustration or irritation?
  • Feel guilt or regret over something said or done in anger?
  • Experience social conflict as a result of angry outbursts (lawsuits, fights, property damage, school suspensions, etc?)
  • Have family and/or friends who express concern and suggest getting help?
  • Deal with chronic physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal, difficulties, or anxiety?

Where to Get Help for My Anger

Fortunately, the mental health profession is responsive to individuals seeking treatment for help with inappropriate expressions of anger. Referrals to treatment programs and services are often available and, perhaps, even mandated for individuals suffering moderate to severe social conflict. Many chronically angry individuals feel shame and guilt about their expressions of anger. There may be times when a friend or loved one may feel the need to intervene. If so, it is critical to take advantage of mental health professionals with a family systems background. These professionals are trained to help find useful ideas for changing an individual’s (or a family’s) ways of expressing anger.

What Kind of Help Will I Get for My Anger?

An effective anger management plan can include individual or family therapies, which are some of the more common ways people attempt to deal with chronic anger.

  • Individual therapy: The therapist and an individual client explore healthy options and ideas that will maximize the client's strengths and natural abilities. Sessions focus on choices the client prefers to make and on the types of relational interactions the client prefers to have.
  • Family therapy: The therapist meets with a family group to gather insight and input from several family members who desire to work together toward healthier, more productive family relationships. Therapy may explore each person's role in the family and tap into family strengths in the search for healthy options and ideas. 

How Marriage and Family Therapy Helps Control Anger

Marriage and family therapists are trained to identify patterns that are passed from one generation to the next. When identified, these patterns help client and therapist to explore learned perceptions about appropriate expressions and suppressions of anger. When a client (or client group) better understands the family’s inherited concepts about anger, this provides opportunity for dialogue regarding what the client wants to change in the future

Find a Marriage and Family Therapist in your area using AAMFT's Therapist Locator service.

Resources

Help for the Angry Family (series) By Ron Potter-Efron (2001): The author, a therapist at First Things First Counseling Center, Eau Claire,WI, outlines the multiple ways that individuals and/or therapists can work to purge anger from the family. The series includes:

  • Help for the Parent of Angry Young Children (0-5)
  • Help for the Parents of Angry Children (6-12)
  • Help for the Parents of the Angry Adolescent
  • Help for the Angry Couple

This fall AAMFT members will be sharing their unique perspectives, knowledge, and research findings in a crowdsourced effort to update our Therapy Topics. Check out the September 8 eNews for more information on how you can be involved!

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