Psychological Self-Help

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preserve their freedom they have to strongly oppose the controlling person or subtly
undermine their power. There are also many people who believe they should be in
control (“I have always gotten my way” or “I know more than anyone else” or “Men
should make the important decisions”). So, to gain control themselves or to avoid
being controlled, many people become “control freaks” themselves.
Carl Semmelroth (2005), The Anger Habit in Relationships
Carl Semmelroth, another author of a recent self-help book about anger in
relationships, starts by expressing the point that we are responsible for our
anger and its destructiveness. He thinks the idea that our spouse or a parent
“makes me so mad” is nonsense. Many people in recent decades have been told
“your feelings don’t hurt anyone” (unless you express the feelings tactlessly) and
since the 1960’s were taught that “it is healthy to express your anger.” Children in
recent decades have not been told that anger by its very nature is destructive and
designed to hurt someone. Semmelroth says everyone needs to be taught that
anger is preparation to control by threatening to attack others.” Anger is a
lot of people’s way of solving problems by gaining control. But control in a
relationship like marriage is inconsistent with being equal partners. Using anger to
get your way is not a loving thing to do. Seeing it any other way is a self-delusion.
The belief that one needs to express their anger comes from the idea that
suppressed anger builds up until there is more and more pressure and finally an
explosion. That is a common belief going back to early Freudian writings.
Semmelroth and other more behavioral therapists say that anger is not a system of
internal drives and pressures but rather a habit—a learned way of reacting in certain
situations. Like other habits, the more you do it the more you are likely to do it. The
more you act in a loving manner, the more you are reinforced for being caring, and
the more likely you are to behave that way in the future. And the more often you act
in anger and get your way, the stronger your anger habit becomes and the more
nasty, hateful, and demanding you become.
Semmelroth, like Carter and most other psychologists, believes that every person
can and should be taught how to control his/her anger, starting in early childhood.
They, of course, would teach somewhat different methods for controlling our own
behavior. However, being civil and controlling our most vile emotions requires
extensive training. As billions of parents have found out, it won’t work to just tell a
child to “stop being so hateful to your sister” or “get over feeling that way,” or “do
what I tell you to do” (not as I do). Children need to be taught, certainly shown
over and over and rewarded for using better ways of handling frustration, rather
than being permitted to just use their ineffective natural angry responses. The
needed self-control skills would involve: (1) understanding where your angry
thoughts and feelings come from—their history, (2) deciding that being less angry
would help you achieve important life goals, more so than being known as an ill
tempered, unpleasant person, and (3) following a practical plan for learning better
anger control.
Carter also discusses some ways we undermine our own decisions to try to control
our anger better. Very often one of the things that makes us mad is feeling that
someone else is being pushy or unfair or bossy. We may respond to that other
person with our own anger, thinking we can’t let that person get away with
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