Toward Eliminating Anger: A Necessary Component of Change

"Anger management" does not go far enough.

Posted Mar 13, 2019

In previous writings, I have stated that people with a criminal personality who want to change must work toward eliminating anger in their lives. I was criticized for taking an extreme and unrealistic position. Consider the following observations with respect to the psychological makeup of people who make crime a way of life (there are also implications for the rest of us):

  • The criminal’s anger results from fear.
  • Anger results when expectations that were unrealistic are not being met.
  • Anger arises when the criminal finds that he is not in control. (A hallmark of a criminal personality is seeking to control other people by any means in order to have his way and to  build himself up).
  • The criminal’s anger results in a trail of emotional or physical injury. 
  • Anger interferes with and often precludes responsible decision making.
  • Anger interferes with and often precludes problem-solving.

While corresponding with an inmate serving a life sentence for homicide, I received a letter in which he describes his effort to identify “errors in thinking” that give rise to anger. He was striving not only to deter these thoughts but also to implement corrective thought processes which he had been introduced to.

The inmate wrote the following:

“Some people argue that anger can bring about positive results.  Maybe that’s the case with others in certain circumstances.  But with me, that has never held true.  I’ve never made a good decision while angry, and I’ve never gone and done anything productive while motivated by anger.  For me, remaining angry is extremely dangerous.  So I guard my mind for any signs of even the slightest bit of anger.  Such as the irritation I felt with my cellmate who is a chronic complainer.  If I were to say anything to him to cause bad feelings, I could expect to have a rough stay for the rest of my time here.  I needed to invest in the relationship for the long term.  Hurting his feelings would make him even more disagreeable.  Plus, when I stopped and thought about it, I figured he was simply worried about his family.  So he was just suffering and needed someone to vent on.  I didn’t want to make his situation worse by snapping at him.  So I let it go.  I’m glad that I did.  Come to find out when it was all over, he told me he was worried to death about his family.  He apologized to me for how he acted and thanked me for being patient with him.  We had a good laugh about it then, and our relationship as cellmates has grown a little stronger because of that.  Had I treated him harshly, that certainly wouldn’t be the case.

“In my experience, anger hurts.  It hurts me and everyone around me.  Personally, I don’t want any more of the pain I know [that] comes from harboring feelings of ill will, and I don’t want to be the person who takes out their bad feelings on others.  Knowing of its many drawbacks, I work hard at preventing anger and, if that fails, eliminating anger.  This is my duty as a responsible, future citizen of society.  I can’t go back into society the same angry person.  If I can’t deal with anger in a reasonable way, I might as well remain in here.”

A significant part of any program designed to help criminals make lasting changes must include recognizing errors of thinking that give rise to anger and implementing a set of corrective thought processes.*

* These concepts are explained at length in Volumes 1 and 2 of "The Criminal Personality" (Yochelson and Samenow) and in "Inside the Criminal Mind" (Samenow).