Readings

The Anger Workbook

Lorrainne Bilodeau

It is emotional immaturity that incites destructive behavior….People make decisions and act on feelings that they don’t even know they have. 

In The Anger Workbook, author Lorrainne Bilodeau says that there are many people who try to control their emotions and feel that feeling or expressing is bad or wrong. She says that no matter how hard a person tries to hide their feelings of anger, their lives are ultimately controlled by them because the feelings continue to occur beneath the surface. Bilodeau says that anger is a normal emotion that can be expressed in a healthy manner. 

The purpose of the workbook is to help the reader identify their attitudes about anger, learn how to acknowledge personal anger, and how to respond to the anger of others. The author states that the guide is not intended to replace professional counseling and she warns that if a reader has destructive thoughts about themselves or others, they should seek professional assistance. 

There are six chapters in this book. The first chapter, Investigating Personal Attitudes About Anger, has a series of exercises for you to do that will help to identify what angers you, how you feel about anger, how you responded to anger as a child and as an adult, what your “fantasy” response is to anger, and what you think the “ideal” response is to anger. After the exercises the author helps you to identify your attitudes based on your answers to the questions. For example, if your “fantasy” response to anger involves violence, then you believe anger is a form of power. If your “ideal” response to anger is to remove yourself from the situation until the other person is “rational” then your belief is that “anger either comes from or creates irrationality, therefore anger equals insanity”. 

The second chapter, Taking a New Perspective on Anger the author explains that anger is useful and functional, but our misconceptions about anger prevent us from using it properly. She uses the examples of people not wanting to experience sadness in their lives, but will watch a “tear-jerker” movie and totally enjoy it, or of people not wanting to experience fear, but will ride a rollercoaster at an amusement park just for the fear. She says the reason for this is that in these examples people put aside their judgments and just experience the emotions for what they are. She goes on to explain that anger is “an internal reaction to an external event” and it has many useful functions including survival, in culture as a “social regulator”, for communication, as a motivating force for change, meeting personal needs, and gaining a desired goal, and for psychological protection. 

The third chapter, Acknowledging the Complexities of Anger, explains the process of anger as a circular cycle as follows: an event, which leads to a thought, which leads to a chemical being produced, which leads to a physiological sensation (feeling), which leads to choosing a behavior. Then others react to the behavior, which leads to another event and then they cycle continues. The author also points out that unlike other emotions, anger is never the primary emotion; anger occurs as a result of fear or anxiety, and is used as a defense mechanism. 

The fourth chapter, Understanding How Anger Goes Awry, explains how other factors influence the cycle described in the previous chapter. For example, prior experiences may effect the way a person perceives the original event, which will effect they way he/she thinks and responds to the event. Chemical imbalances due to things like depression, diabetes, prescription medications, diet, stress, alcohol and illegal drugs may influence the chemical way our body responds to the external event. Emotions are sometimes concealed because of societal or family beliefs that the emotions should not be expressed. 

The fifth chapter, Changing Your Experience of Anger, contains about 30 exercises for you to do that will help to change the way you experience your feelings, especially anger. An example of an exercise is: “Uses of Anger- below is a list of anger’s functions. Review chapter 2 and write an example of ways you’ve used or seen anger used in each of these functions”. Then the author lists the following items: “Survival, Cultural, Social Regulator, Social Bonding/Social Change, Communication, Motivation, Psychological Protection”. Another example of an exercise called “Reinterpreting the Event”. In this one you write down three events that made you angry and how you interpreted the event at the time. Then for each one you try to think of three other possible interpretations for the event; the purpose being that sometimes when we think more clearly about it we realize that we misunderstood something or took something personally that we shouldn’t have. 


The sixth and final chapter is called Responding to Another Person’s Anger. The author says, “The greatest problem in encountering another’s anger is that people return to a child’s perspective of powerlessness and vulnerability and react on childhood misinformation.” She says that we don’t have to deal with another person’s anger, it is their anger and they are the only one who can deal with. The author goes on to discuss how we can react in the best possible manner (she says that when the other person’s anger may be expressed violently to just get away, not to try any other techniques for communication). The chapter ends with two more exercises. 

The Anger Workbook is a soft-bound book with 114 pages. It was published in 1992 by Hazelden, which publishes many educational materials (for more information you can visit their website at: http://www.hazelden.org). The author, Lorrainne Bilodeau, M.S., is a Certified Addictions Counselor, who has developed a seminar which focuses an anger and she also trains therapists to respond to clients’ anger in healing ways. 

I read this book in hopes of finding ways to help clients in dealing with their anger. Since I wanted to see how effective the information and the exercises were, as I read the book I did each of the exercises myself. I was surprised when I learned things about my own beliefs about anger and how I have learned to deal with my own emotions. The author discusses in detail how we come to view anger in our childhood and some of the exercises focus on getting in touch with the “messages” we received as children, whether it was a direct message or an indirect one. I discovered a lot of indirect messages I was given as a child about the “proper” way to express my feelings, which I now understand was misinformation. 

The exercises were easy to do, but some of them are time-consuming. Most of the reading material in the book can be read in less than an hour, but if you do the exercises the way they are intended, it will take a while to get through this book. It took me about 2 weeks to get all of the exercises done. Depending on how much time you have to devote to the book, it could take anywhere from a few days to a month to do all of the work. 

One of the things I liked about the book is that it includes writing space to do the assignments; the writing space was adequate to do the assignments. At the back of the book there are also several blank “journal” pages for you to write down additional thoughts. 

I had hoped to use this workbook with clients so that they could see their patterns of anger, but I don’t think all of my clients will be able to read the book, do the exercises and understand it on their own. The book is written as simply as possible, using basic language and most high school graduates can probably read it. The problem that I think some of my clients will have is that the theories of emotions and behavior discussed in the book are probably too abstract for them. Most of my clients are very concrete thinkers and even though they will probably be able to read the book and follow the directions for the exercises, some of them won’t be able to apply the author’s theories to their own patterns of behavior. What I may have to do for some of my lower functioning clients is to have them read it, do the exercises, then go over each of the exercises with them to help them interpret their results. 

I do recommend this book for people having trouble in life because they are angry and for people who are afraid to express their anger. I think the book is excellent for helping people to get in touch with their beliefs about anger, the way they express anger directly and indirectly, and how anger effects our daily lives in so many ways. 

I also highly recommend this book for women in general, as I feel that a lot of us were given misinformation about anger and were taught to keep anger to ourselves because it was “unladylike” to express it. The author points out that depression is generally a result of people being unable to process their feelings of anger. More women suffer from depression than men, and I have always believed that the reason for that is because it is socially acceptable for men to be assertive, aggressive and express their anger, where it is not usually socially acceptable for women to show those types of feelings. 

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