A Guide to Help Youth with Anger
Kartik was the star of his football team but had not yet entered the game although it was already the second half and his team, the Super Kings, were losing, 2-0. He looked down the line of spectators at his mom and elder brother both of whom had attended every game. He scanned the crowd and finally found his father’s face watching the action at the far end of the field. Kartik strode over to his coach.
“Come on, coach, put me in. I promise, I won’t miss another practice.” The coach groaned as his team squandered an opportunity to score. “Coach, come on. My dad’s here. He’s never seen me play all year.” Coach Ravindran shook his head. “Sorry Kartik. You know the rules. You’ll get your chance.”
Kartik started to turn away, but he quickly whipped back around and push his face nose-to-nose with the coach, like a police officer. “To hell with your rules”. He shouted and spat a stream of violent curses and began swinging his fists at the surprised man. His first blow landed before Coach Ravindran could react and connected with the man’s nose. Blood began streaming down the coach’s face as he and Kartik locked in a struggle and tumbled to the ground, Coach Ravindran trying to pin the boy down and Kartik punching and kicking wildly.
It was Kartik’s elder brother who finally pulled him to his feet, still kicking and struggling. The game had stopped as everyone turned to watch the drama on the sidelines. Kartik was still cursing and trying to break free of his brother’s grasp when his father strode up to the boy and slapped him in the face.
“What’s the matter with you?” he yelled. His face was red, and although his arm hung at his sides, his hands were balled into fists. “Get into the car now,” he shouted, adding a few more obscenities for emphasis.
Karthik’s father glared at his wife and turned to the coach, who wiping his face with a now-bloody handkerchief. “I am sorry,” he said, struggling to control his words. “This should never has happened.” He shot a glance at his wife again. “That boy should have been taught better.”
Problem of Anger
Anger is a very commonly experienced and displayed emotion during adolescence.
Dr. G, Keith Olson writes, “Sometimes its occurrence is understandable and predictable; at times it comes as a surprise and shock to everyone, including the angry individual themselves.” While extreme mood swings and emotional instability are natural part of the teen years, temper outbursts and aggressive behavior can be signs that young person’s anger has reached unhealthy proportions and is not being handled appropriately.
Psychologist Gary R. Collins writes, [Anger] occurs in varying degrees of intensity – from mild annoyance to violent rage…. It may be hidden and held inward or expressed openly. It can be of short duration, coming and going quickly, or it may persist for decades in the form of bitterness, resentment or hatred. Anger may be destructive, especially when it persists in the form of aggression, unforgiveness or revenge…. Anger, openly expressed, deliberately hidden from others, or unconsciously expressed, is at the basis of a host of psychological, physical, spiritual problems.
Dr. Les Carter outlines three general ways in which people tend to handle anger – repression, expression, and release:
- Repression is a form of denial. If a person denies that he is angry, then he feels no obligation to deal with his anger. The problem is solved (temporarily). Naturally this is a dangerous method of handling anger. Repression may have its short-term rewards, but in the long run repressed anger is usually especially powerful and bitter. By repressing it, a person is pushing anger from conscious to the subconscious. There it can fester and worsen without that person’s knowledge.
- Expression is another way people handle anger. Anger is not expressed verbally. It can be expressed through behavior. Well over half of all communication is done through non-verbal means. Nonverbal expressions of anger can include a stern look, a slam of a door, ignoring someone crying, or giving a cold glare.
- Released anger refers to anger that is dismissed or let go. It is not to be confused with repressed anger. Repressed anger is simply pushed into subconscious mind. But when anger is released, the person has made a conscious decision that anger is no longer needed and it is therefore dropped. People can gain the ability to release anger only after they first gain some mastery of the art of expressing anger.
The problem many teens and preteens face are that they tend to repress their anger (particularly if their parents or religion have taught them that anger is always bad) or they have never learned how to express anger appropriately, so they express it inappropriate ways. And, of course, very few young people (or adults) have learned how to release anger when it is warranted. As a result, bitterness, rage, and anger build up until they explode in brawling, slander, or other forms of malice.
In order to help youth, understand and deal with anger, the wise youth leader or parent will first seek to understand its root causes and effects.
Causes of Anger
There are many reasons anger invades people’s lives. Anger is triggered by a vast array of emotions and events. Some of the more prominent and significant are frustration, alienation, hurt or threat of hurt, injustice, fear, or anger as a learned response.
There are probably few times in life when a person’s frustration level can equal the frustration experienced during adolescence.
Teens and preteens are in a very active, energized, expansive and expressive stage in human development. Consequently, they are extremely likely to experience frustration.
Frustration results when a person’s progress toward the attainment of a goal is blocked or interrupted. Collins suggests that “how much [a person feels] frustrated depends on the importance of the goal, the size of the obstacles, and the duration of the frustration.” The many goals and passions of teen years (getting a friend, earning a driving license, even being allowed to stay up late) and the intensity with which teens desire such things make many young people candidates for severe frustration and, therefore, anger.
Olson points out, during early adolescence, peer group acceptance and involvement is vitally important for healthy adjustment to occur….Teenagers are extremely sensitive to any indication of rejection or isolation from their group or from special friends. Such isolation brings not only feelings of loneliness, but deeply felt and grave questions about one’s own identity, basic okayness and ultimate value of human being…..
And when alienation is deeply felt by a teenager, anger reactions are normally expected.
They can be outwardly expressed, or they can be internally directed in self-destructive, risk-taking, substance abuse and even suicide.
Hurt or Threat of Hurt
Anger also arises as a reaction to physical or emotional hurt. When a teammate throws a cricket ball in the nose – whether it was intentional or not – the player is likely to respond with anger. When parents call a young person a cruel name, anger will result, though it may be repressed. When Dad cancels a much-anticipated movie trip with his daughter, she is apt to be hurt, which will breed anger.
When a young man or woman is insulted, made fun of, humiliated, ignored or threatened, the offended party will respond with anger, expressed or not.
Teens or preteens are likely to react to injustice with anger whether the injustice was done to them, to peer, or even to a total stranger. Olson writes,
adolescents tend to be strongly idealistic and firmly hold to their value system, imposing that system onto others.
They are [also] sensitive to perceived injustices that are perpetrated by parents, teachers, political leaders or other authority figures. Collins points out that injustice “is one of the most valid reasons for anger, yet it probably is one of the least common causes of anger.” However, because of their heightened sensitivity, it may be more common among adolescents.
Fear may also prompt anger among youth, Fear of not making the team, fear of flunking annual exams, fear of what other kids are saying about him or her, fear of being embarrassed in gym class, fear of not being selected to the college day function – such a plethora of worries and fears may create high levels of frustration and anger.
Anger may be a learned response in many cases. A young person may have learned inappropriate ways of handling and expressing anger from parents or others in the family or society. He or she may have learned to harbor hostility, to let bitterness build up into rage, to resent or hate those who are different or express disagreement with him or her.
Olson suggests that the effects of violence in the mass media presents role models that, “especially when presented in an attractive, powerful or prestigious fashion embody as a strong modeling power” As Collins suggests,
By watching or listening to others, people learn to become more easily angered and more outwardly aggressive.
Effects of Anger
One writer state emphatically that anger, or hostility, is “a significant factor in the formation of many serious diseases” and is “the leading cause of misery, depression, inefficiency, sickness, accidents, loss of work time and financial loss in industry.” In fact, he says, “No matter what the problem – marital conflict, alcoholism, …. child’s defiance, nervous, physical disease – elimination of hostility is a key factor in its solution”.
The effects of anger are widespread – broken relationships. physical impairment, financial hardship, etc. Collins summarizes the effects of anger by describing four effects of anger might have on a person, way that may overlap or alternate from one situation to another: withdrawal, turning inward, attacking a substitute, and facing the sources of anger.
Perhaps this is the easiest but least effective way to deal with anger.
Collins adds that withdrawal can take several forms:
- leaving the room, taking vacation, or otherwise removing oneself physically from the situation that arouses anger;
- avoiding the problem by plunging into work or other activities, by thinking about other things, or by escaping into a world of social media, netflix or novels;
- hiding the problem by drinking or taking drugs – behavior which also could be used to “get back” at the person who makes us angry; and
- denying, consciously or unconsciously, that anger even exists.
There may be calmness and smiling on the outside but boiling rage within
Sometimes anger is held in and not expressed. Internal anger, however, can be a powerful force that may express itself in these ways:
- physical symptoms ranging from a mild headache to ulcers, high blood pressure or heart attacks;
- psychological reactions such as anxiety, fear, or feelings of tension and depression….:
- unconscious attempts to harm [oneself] (seen in accident proneness, in a tendency to make mistakes, or even in suicide);
- thinking characterized by self-pity, thoughts of revenge, or ruminations on the injustices that one is experiencing; and
- spiritual struggles…..
Attacking a Substitute
“Introductory textbooks in psychology often describe the common human tendency to blame innocent people when things are not going well,” writes Collins. He notes that angry person may “verbally, physically, or cognitively attack some largely innocent but accusable person. Sometimes there may even be an illegal or criminal ‘acting out’ against innocent victims.”
Facing the Sources of Anger
The sources of anger can be confronted, says Collins, in either a destructive or a constructive way. Destructive reactions….may include verbal and physical aggression, ridicule, cynicism, refusal to cooperate, or involvement in things which will hurt or embarrass someone else. Drinking [and] failing in school… for example, sometimes are really subtle ways to get even with parents….
Much more helpful is an approach which admits that there is anger, which tries to see its causes, and then does what is possible to change the anger-producing situations or perhaps to see it in a different way. This is a constructive, anger-reducing approach, which some people only learn with the help of a counselor.
Response to the Problem of Anger
Helping an adolescent or preadolescent who is struggling with anger may be a difficult and lengthy task. However, it is possible to do so, particularly if the following guidelines are kept in mind:
Help the [youth] admit how he or she really feels.
Be careful not to cause new frustration (and anger) by failing to listen. Pay attention to what the young person says (verbally and nonverbally) about how he or she is feeling. “Gradually breaking down denial and other defenses that prevent [him or her] from self-admission of the anger is often the first goal.”
Collins adds, “Such an admission can be threatening, especially for people who are angry at a loved one or who believe that all anger is wrong. It may help to point out that anger is common, God-given emotion which, for most people, gets out of control periodically….. If the counselee persists in denying the anger, even after hearing the evidence, perhaps he or she will admit the possibility that anger is present.”
The wise youth leader, parent, or teacher will do well to ask himself or herself. “Have I ever repressed anger or expressed it inappropriately?” “When was I last angry?” “What things do I need to work on?
Such questions may be a check on harsh or judgmental attitudes, helping the caring adult to empathize with the young person and his or her struggles. Keep in mind, too, that empathy can be communicated in some simplest ways. As you listen, try to remember to:
- Lean slightly forward in your chair.
- Make eye contact.
- Nod to indicate understanding.
- Reflect key statements (“You feel….” “You’re saying….”)
- Wait patiently through periods of silence or tears.
Keep in mind at all times that it can be very humbling for person, regardless of his or her age, to admit that he or she has been angry, has handled it inappropriately, and /or has lost self-control. Consequently, efforts to help a young person confront and deal with anger should be saturated with affirmation and appreciation.
Affirmation is acknowledging the worth of a person, Appreciation is acknowledging the worth of his or her attributes, actions, and attitudes.
An important step in helping the angry individual is to direct him or her to consider the sources of anger (discussion the root of bitterness that cause resentment, anger etc.) Who is he mad at? What is making her angry? Which of the causes discussed above is most pertinent?
Another step, once the source of the anger is identified, is to urge the young person to face the hurt that is causing the anger, invite God into the pain he or she is feeling and ask God to work through the pain.
Moreover, Ross Campbell offers some helpful advice directed primarily to parents but advice that could also be employed profitably by youth leaders and others:
You want to train [the] teen in the way he should go. First, praise him for appropriate ways he is expressing anger. Then you can talk to him about one of the inappropriate ways he is using (like name-calling), asking him to correct it. You want to choose the best possible moment…
In some cases, it is impossible to resolve anger, as for example, when the person provoking the anger is inaccessible. At these times, the teenager must learn other appropriate ways to ventilate the anger, like exercise, talking it over with a mature person, using diversion such as an enjoyable activity, or spending time alone in a relaxed manner.
Another way to train a teenager in handling his own anger is to teach the art of preventing certain type of anger cognitively. This means using active intellectual reasoning to reduce the anger. [Collins call this “the art of evaluation” and suggests that it involves learning to ask such questions as. “What is making me feel angry? “Am I jumping to conclusions?” “Is my anger really justified?” and “Are there things I could do to change the situation in order to reduce my anger?”]
Patient and sensitive training along the line of Campbell suggests may help a teen learn to express or release his or her anger appropriately.
One of the most effective ways of enlisting a young person’s participation in resolving a problem with anger is suggested by Richard P. Walters, who prescribes “personal action plans”. If possible, the young person should develop his or her own plan for dealing with anger, perhaps along the lines of the following outline adapted from Walter’s book, Anger: Yours and Mine and What to Do About it.
- Am I angry? Identify any active or passive behavior that might indicate anger.
- What am I angry about? Evaluate what is causing anger, bitterness, or resentment.
- Do I resolve it or not? Reflect on whether you need to express your anger (appropriately) and seek resolution and reconciliation.
- Can I employ “first aid”? Might any of the following help express or release the anger? Asking for God’s help 1. Recognizing the God is in control. 2. Pray with thanksgiving. 3. Pray for peace in your heart. 4. Pray for the person provoking the anger. Human willful control 5. Measure the issue. 6. Control yourself. 7. Remind yourself that an angry feeling is okay. 8. Divert your attention. 9. Separate yourself from the conflict. 10. Use music. 11. Challen your energy elsewhere. 12. Do something you enjoy. 13. Talk with a friend. 14. Talk with yourself. 15. Laugh. 16. Cry. 17. Write down. 18. Relax.
Some adolescent anger possesses such deep and complex roots it requires the expertise of a professional counselor. Be alter to signs of such an instance and be willing and ready to involve a professional if there is the slightest indication that the young person’s history or condition warrants it. (If you are not the young person’s parent, keep in mind that parents should be involved as early as possible, and referral should be accomplished with their consent.)
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Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.