November 07, 2006

Are You Addicted to Anger?

"All addictions have symptoms, which allow us to recognize these problems as addictive diseases. The signs of addictive diseases are self-stimulation, compulsion, obsession, denial, withdrawal and craving syndrome, and unpredictable behavior. Like alcoholism or drug use, anger meets many of the criteria.

Self-Stimulation. For those of us who are rageaholics, expressing our anger is self-stimulating. It triggers our compulsion for more anger...The more alcoholics drink, the more they want. The more we ragers rage, the more we want to rage. One way to define alcoholism is that when the alcoholic ingests alcohol, it sets up a self-stimulating system in which he craves more alcohol. The more alcohol a person drinks, the more alcohol that person wants. It is the same way with rageaholics.

Compulsion. Anger addiction or "rageaholism" is the compulsive pursuit of a mood change by repeatedly engaging in episodes of rage despite adverse consequences. Rageaholics are individuals who continue to rage compulsively without regard to the negative consequences. It is the compulsion that signals the disease of addiction. Despite all judgment, reason, insight or consequence, we continue to use "the substance" compulsively.

When we can no longer control how much or when we rage, we have crossed the line into addiction...

In all forms of addiction, the control over thoughts and behavior is lost. As addiction progresses, our losses become increasingly profound and our life is no longer under our control. We are at the mercy of anyone who provokes us. Our thought processes become dominated by the addiction and we look for opportunities to indulge our addiction. Anger, revenge and rage take over. Our life becomes a booby trap, baited with pride and vengefulness as we wait for someone to offend us in some real or imagined way...

Obsession. Rageaholics are frequently preoccupied with resentment and fantasies of revenge. Those thoughts sometimes rise powerfully and allow no other thoughts to enter. No matter how hard we try to stop them, ideas of outrage and revenge predominate. The force of anger is sometimes irresistible and followed by action. Therefore, the preoccupation with the "wrongs" of others and revenge continually leads to rage. Progressively, these thoughts crowd out all others until our life becomes chronically revenge oriented. At that point, anger controls our thoughts.

Denial. Denial keeps anger addicts trapped. It is the mental process by which we conclude that the addiction is not the problem-it's them. Ignorance of addiction and the inability to examine ourselves work together to keep anger addicts stuck. Knowing no other way to live, we deny that there is anything wrong with us. This system of denial ensures that the process of rage and righteous indignation will continue...

Withdrawal and Craving. As with any addiction, anger has a detoxification period. This is a very vulnerable time when addicts often feel unreal, like we have given up "who we are." Craving is high during this time. Those who abstain from name-calling, profanity and yelling during this period report more depression than usual for the first three months. Afterward, however, if we have achieved complete abstinence and maintained it for 90 days, we find we no longer think in profane or disparaging terms. It may even become shocking when we hear others do it...

Unpredictable Behavior. Another definition of alcoholism is that when an alcoholic drinks, there is no way to predict his or her behavior. He may drink appropriately from time to time, just as the rageaholic may express anger appropriately from time to time. However, when the alcoholic starts to drink alcohol, all bets are off. No one knows what is going to happen. He or she may drink appropriately or may disappear for days. When rageaholics start to express anger, no one knows where it is going to go. The most likely thing is that we are going to explode, rant and rave. How can we then relate to "the appropriate expression" of anger?

We rageaholics would like to learn how to express our anger appropriately just like alcoholics would like to learn how to drink appropriately. But can we be taught to do this? Yes, you can be taught, but when the adrenaline hits, it's an excuse to blow up. We keep arguing that we are expressing ourselves appropriately. While there are some exceptions, I encourage those with rage problems to abstain from the expression of anger for one year.

Remember, this plan is only for that small percent of the population who have rage or violence problems. (The approach described here is not for everyone.) For those addicted to anger, it won't work to express our anger. We have tried it and know it has never worked. Many of us have been to therapy for years and have worked very hard at learning to express our anger appropriately. However, we often feel frustrated and don't know why we can't learn it. In fact, we may feel relieved when we decide it is all right to give up trying to express our anger appropriately and begin to learn how to abstain from the expression of anger altogether...

A Recovering Rager's Creed

1. I will practice self-restraint as a top priority today.

2. When angry, I will act the opposite of how I feel.

3. If I am feeling like my anger is about to erupt, I will QUIETLY leave the situation.

4. I will find truth in all criticisms directed toward me today, especially from my partner.

5. I will say, "You are right," in a sincere, meaningful way when criticized.

6. I will give an example of how the person who criticized me is right.

7. I will repeat this silently to myself: "I am better off being wrong, because when I am right, I am dangerous."

8. I will avoid explaining myself in any way by saying, "I have no idea why I did that... it doesn't make any sense to me either."

9. I will listen sympathetically to my partner when she tells me about her day. I will make eye contact and turn off the TV.

10. I will give no unsolicited advice to my wife or children. I will also avoid asking, "Do you know what you should do?" or "Do you know why that happened?"

11. I will avoid blaming family members for anything today, especially if it was their fault.

12. I will avoid trying to make any family member "understand."

13. I will avoid trying to convince my child or spouse that I am being fair.

14. I will look for an opportunity to sincerely praise everyone I live with, even the cat I don't like.

15. I will humbly commit myself to removing my angry behaviors today as my contribution toward a more peaceful world.

Read more in How to Stop Losing Your Life to Anger

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