“When was your anger a problem for you last week?” I asked the young man sitting before me. He was 20ish and typically quite pleasant, but he had come to therapy at the insistence of his girlfriend because he was prone to aggressive outbursts and fits of rage.
He frowned and said, “When my girlfriend and I went to lunch.”
“What happened?” I asked.
He became more animated and said, “She picked me up from work. We went through a drive-thru, and they got my order wrong.” I had noticed in the past that he was the type who could re-anger himself just by telling a story about a time when he was angry. (What a talent to have!) He snarled out the rest of the story.
They gave him the wrong sandwich, so he started flipping out, screaming and cursing. His girlfriend had asked him to calm down, so he started screaming at her and cursing. Then he smashed up the bag of food and threw it out the window!
“Then what happened?” I asked. He replied, “She took me back to the work site.” (He was a construction worker–oh, good!)
“How long were you angry?” I asked, curious. “The rest of the day, man! Three hours.”
“Well, I’m shocked,” I said. “They messed up your order at a drive-thru? That doesn’t sound like any fast food restaurant I know! There are usually only NASA scientists working at drive-thru windows.” He looked away sheepishly.
“What was the first thing you did when you got the bag?” I asked him. “I checked it,” he answered.
“Why did you do that?”
He replied, “Because they usually get it wrong.”
“I’d say they sometimes get it wrong, but, okay, you’re right: they mess up the order at times. You know that so well that you automatically checked the contents to verify your order. Didn’t it make more sense to expect a mistake than to upset yourself when there was one?”
He thought about it. “I guess.”
I continued, “So let me see if I have this straight. You went through a drive-thru, they gave you the wrong sandwich, and this was your solution: you screamed and yelled, you swore at your girlfriend, you littered, you wasted money, you went hungry, and you walked around ticked off at a construction site for three hours?”
He looked away and smiled, embarrassed. “Yeah.”
Now, is it reasonable to think that this kid is ever going to open that bag, see the wrong sandwich, and say, “Oh, God bless ’em for trying. I’ll eat what they gave me. Kumbaya…”
No, but it is realistic to think that he could open the bag, see the wrong sandwich and sigh and say in a reasonable tone, “Damn it! They gave me the wrong sandwich. Go back through.”
His response demonstrated the unhealthy negative emotion of rage or intense anger. He could’ve exhibited annoyance or mild anger, which is still negative, but less intense. That is often the goal of “Anger Management” or counseling: to help people develop the ability to move themselves from anger to annoyance. Most of us experience annoyance–even practically perfect therapists! However, if you or someone you love frequently exhibits rage, then you or they may need to get some professional help.
People can and do change; sometimes, though, we need professional help to do so. Make an appointment to see a counselor–I know some good ones!