A Teen’s “Anger Plan” Pays Off
Millicent H. Kellner, PhD, LCSW
CPC Behavioral Healthcare
High Point Schools
© 2000 CPC Behavioral Healthcare, Inc
Jimmy was standing on the lunch line talking to Gloria when he suddenly felt someone’s elbow jabbing him in the left side. As he swung around to see whose elbow it was, he felt his teeth clench, his heart pound and his fists tighten. He asked himself, “Who’s messing with me?” Angry feelings and thoughts surged through him as he scanned the lunchroom. His eyes finally came to rest on Todd who was talking to some of their classmates and pointing in Jimmy’s direction with a smirk on his face. “Why that no good lousy so and so,” Jimmy thought. “I’m gonna show him who’s a man.” His angry feelings escalated further and he took a step in Todd’s direction. He imagined beating him to a pulp. Then, within seconds, his anger management training took over and Jimmy showed everyone in the lunchroom exactly how a real man responsibly handles such a situation.
Ironically, it was the image of beating Todd up that helped Jimmy begin to calm himself down. In the old days, that mental image would have only agitated him further. With increased angry thoughts and increased angry feelings, he would have really heated up and gotten into a fight. And then what? He and Todd could be locked in a never-ending battle of fighting and retaliation. And the possible consequences! He could be thrown off the football team, grounded by his parents for a month or, worse yet, he or Jimmy could be seriously hurt. “Been there, done that. It’s not worth it,” he told himself. “I don’t have to react to Todd’s antics.”
So Jimmy decided to take charge. First, he took several deep breaths to help himself cool down. He knew that creating a calmer state in his body would help him reduce his anger-based physiological responses as well as his angry feelings and angry thoughts. He could feel the muscles begin to relax in his jaw and his hands. He took more deep breaths and the pounding in his chest quieted. Once he was calmer, he was able to make good use of his self-talk, thinking:
“I can calm down. I am not going to let Todd push my buttons. I am in charge of myself.” He took a moment to wonder if Todd had bumped into him by accident, but dismissed this idea. After all, Todd made no effort to apologize and his behavior following the incident (e.g., that he pointed at Jim in front of others and smirked) gave some evidence that it was deliberate. Jim did notice, however, that initially, when he was consumed by anger, he had been unable to even consider whether or not Todd’s actions had been deliberate. “Boy, anger is such a powerful emotion it makes it hard to think clearly,” he thought. As he walked to the lunch table, he said to himself, “That was really an obnoxious experience. I sure have the right to be angry. I’ll talk out my feelings with the gang at lunch. That will help me feel better.”
His Anger Management Plan
Jimmy had an anger management strategy and several anger management tools at his disposal to help him carry out his anger management plan. Having such a plan meant that he was ready ahead of time to make prosocial choices. He had prepared a strategy to help him reach the goal of successfully handling his angry feelings so that he could avoid violent behavior, property destruction or negative consequences/outcomes. With a plan, Jimmy was prepared to interrupt his angry emotional state by using techniques that kept him calm, in control and in charge, while he found prosocial responses for his own angry feelings.
Jim’s plan rested on his awareness of his own anger reaction. He knew that he should neither deny his angry feelings nor act them out. He was in touch with his anger. He felt the anger in his body and was conscious of his angry thoughts. He could observe that the interaction of his thoughts and feelings had an impact on his emotional state: Angry thoughts increased his angry feelings and angry feelings increased his angry thoughts. He was also able to use his painful memories of the negative outcome of previous incidents, ones in which he did not successfully manage his anger, to help him strive for improved management in the present situation.
Thus, based on his knowledge of himself, he used the physiological technique of taking several deep breaths to help him begin to cool down. For him, calmer bodily responses brought about calmer thinking. Interestingly, this technique which worked so well for him, did not work well for his girlfriend. Rather, she found it more helpful to count to ten. But Jim knew that everyone had to develop their own individual plan. He also used the techniques of self-talk and self-statements to affirm and reinforce his anger management. He kept telling himself that he could take charge and calm down. He was able to evaluate and praise himself for his prosocial response.
Finally, Jimmy chose to walk away from Todd. He took his lunch and sat down to enjoy the company of his friends. He told them how rude Todd had been and how angry he was. He told them he was not going to get himself all bent out of shape because of someone else’s lack of manners. He realized he felt proud of himself. He did not feel like a whimp. Rather, he felt secure and confident. He knew he could walk away again if Todd hassled him. His anger management plan had helped him take charge of the situation in a socially responsible way, like a real man.
Helping Your Teen
If your teen needs help in learning to develop an anger plan, check the resources in your community. Many schools, youth agencies and mental health centers now offer anger management programs to assist adolescents in learning the skills of successful anger control.
About the Author: Millicent H. Kellner, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and certified educational supervisor who has worked with children in the fields of mental health and special education for almost 30 years. Dr. Kellner is presently Research and Project Development Specialist at CPC Behavioral Healthcare’s High Point Schools, Morganville, NJ. She is responsible for the school’s Anger Management Program and is presently conducting research on this program. She has published several articles and made numerous presentations at professional conferences about teaching Anger Management skills to “at-risk” youth.