For years I had a horrible temper. It was horrible because I turned it on myself and became depressed, or isolated myself from others because I simply could not understand how people could be so callous, insensitive and selfish.
An elderly neighbor I’d offered a ride to the grocery store once because she didn’t like to drive in the rain now called every day, asking to be chauffeured around town. I felt bad about saying no, and she always managed to beg and plead her way to a yes anyway. So I did it for a while, and then one day I just started avoiding her and didn’t answer the phone until it stopped ringing altogether.
A friend I baby-sat for a couple of times when her regular sitter bailed was suddenly calling with a crisis every week. I found myself doing a lot of things I once did out of a feeling of generosity. Only now I did them with a feeling of resentment – and did them begrudgingly. I was getting angrier and angrier. I tried therapy first. I went to four different therapists, all of who urged me to do everything from hit pillows or break empty glass jars in the dumpster at my apartment, to meditation and trying to understand the other person’s point of view. None of those helped much, and seemed to aggravate the situation! So I went to my pastor about the problem and told him I needed help with “anger management.” He listened to my story and turned around and pulled a book off of his shelf and handed it to me.
“You don’t need anger management,” he said. “You need boundary management.” I read the book, “Boundaries, When to Say Yes, When to Say No,” by Dr. Henry Cloud and my world changed. I learned to say no to things I didn’t want to do (play chauffeur or babysitter for a living) and learned to say yes to things I did want to do. I learned people aren’t mind readers and that by expressing my needs, expectations and boundaries in a matter-of-fact way my anger issues dropped immensely.
Anger, as my pastor pointed out nearly seven years ago now, is an indication a boundary has been breached or is about to be. Just as my computer buzzes at me when a program wants to access the Internet without my permission, anger is a warning that something or someone is pushing on a boundary. We may not be aware of what the trigger is, or even what the boundary is – but it’s a definite indicator something isn’t right.
Do your clients have anger management, or boundary issues? People with anger management issues have a low tolerance for frustration and other issues, but I firmly believe that what appears to be an out-of-control temper is really an absence of healthy boundaries and the inability to simply say “No,” or know when and how to say “No,” or to ask for what they want.
So the next time you or a client talks about anger, explore the concept of boundaries and see first if they have healthy boundaries as well. Healthy boundaries are a lot harder to teach than just breathing or hitting pillows, but they work so much better!