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Women increasingly seek treatment for anger issues

It took a night in jail for "Annie" to realize she needed help.

The 28-year-old Moorhead woman had been fighting with her husband about his infidelity.

When he wouldn't stop talking about seeing other women, she threw her coffee in his face.

Annie is now divorced. And after going through anger management counseling, has better control over her emotions.

"You know how people get mad at the smallest things and they don't see the bigger picture?" she said. "The anger management classes made me see the bigger picture."

Annie said she came to understand that anger is a secondary emotion triggered by another emotion, like feeling hurt or betrayed. She learned to refocus whenever she is angry instead of lashing out.

"In the moment, when I get mad at someone, I try to be compassionate for that person and put myself in their shoes and think about why I'm mad," she said. "Once I think about them instead of me, the anger disappears."

In changing how she deals with anger, Annie also changed how people see her.

"A lot of people would say that I walked around snotty, that I wasn't friendly," she said. "I'm a nice person. It's just that I had a lot of resentment and anger."

Her anger management sessions helped her learn to release that resentment, and she has become a more approachable, friendly person, she said.

"I went to jail for something that was just so dumb," said Annie, who asked to remain anonymous for this story. "I'm actually glad it did happen because then I got help."

While anger is typically a bigger issue among men, it is a problem that cuts across all walks of life, said John Lyon, a counselor with The Village Family Service Center, which has offices throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.

When Lyon started leading the anger management classes six years ago, they were just for men, he said.

"Men in this culture especially don't get educated on dealing with their feelings and emotions," he said.

Men often have poor emotional vocabularies, and when an initial emotion might make them feel uncomfortable, they label it as anger, he said.

But then he came to find there were a lot of angry women, too.

Women might have an easier time dealing with their anger because they are a lot more comfortable dealing with underlying feelings, and anger is a secondary emotion that covers up another feeling, like embarrassment, Lyon said.

"Anger is fundamentally a signal that there is a problem," he said. "The problems that people have, what makes them angry is usually other people."

Learning to communicate and fix those problems with other people can also help solve anger issues, Lyon said.

Through anger management classes, participants learn what anger is, how it works, and where it comes from.

They also learn how to identify situations that incite their anger and how to adapt to them or avoid them. They talk about how anger has messed up their lives and learn skills for defusing anger and meeting their needs in other ways.

Lyon said there are a lot of benefits of anger, otherwise people wouldn't get angry. Often it is used to control the behavior of others, he said.

But uncontrolled anger can hurt your spouse, your children, and your work life.

"One of the most significant predictors of satisfaction in marriage is how you handle conflict," Lyon said.

And children often learn anger management habits from their parents, he said.

"If it's disrupting your life, making things more difficult, or if other people say you have a temper, you may have an anger management problem," Lyon said.

Of course, suppressing anger isn't healthy, either.

If anger isn't expressed, it can turn inward and cause problems like hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression, according to the American Psychology Association.

Unexpressed anger can also lead to passive-aggressive behavior and a perpetually cynical and hostile personality, the association stated.

People with anger management issues often have a less satisfying life and relationships, Lyon said.

Once his clients have learned to deal with their anger, they often can't believe how much better things are and wish they had done something about it sooner, Lyon said.

"It's about making your life better," he said.

That's something Annie came to realize, even though it was a hard lesson to learn.

"A lot of people who get angry don't think rationally," she said. "It teaches you how to think rationally in a situation where you're going to become irrational."

Expressing angry feelings in an assertive, but nonaggressive manner is the healthiest way to express anger, according to the American Psychology Association.

To do this, you have to learn to clearly express your needs, and learn how to meet them without hurting others or by being pushy or demanding, the association stated.

The Village offers anger management counseling that can help with that, both one-on-one and in group settings.

While it can be difficult to talk about how anger has messed up your life with a group of strangers, Lyon said it helps to hear what's worked for other people and to realize you're not alone.

"Knowing you're not the only person who's had this is reassuring," he said.

Tips for managing anger

<•> Slow down

Operating in fast-forward can cause stress and lead to anger. Instead, John Lyon, a therapist with The Village Family Service Center, suggests slowing down.

"If you go slower, you get just as much or more accomplished and feel better about it," he said.

<•> Communicate

Often people will assume they know what someone will say and conclude it's not worth talking to them, but communicating honestly without making the other person defensive will get better results, Lyon said.

<•> Hang in there

People often thing they should remove themselves from a situation if they feel angry, but Lyon said it doesn't solve the problem.

"It teaches your partner that every time there's a conflict, you will run away," Lyon said. "It creates more conflict in the long run."