British tempers are rising. Some of us even have an anger problem and could do with professional help. JV Chamary takes a destructive approach to his anger management issues.
Breathing heavily, my heart is racing at 199 beats per minute – almost three times my resting pulse. I feel exhausted. Just minutes ago the car in front of me looked road-worthy. Now the windows are smashed, the bodywork is beaten, it’s ready to be scrapped. The weight of the sledgehammer in my hands reminds me that i destroyed the car… or at least my anger did.
We all get angry. In fact, according to the Mental Foundation, 64 per cent of us believe we’re getting angrier. Last year it published Boiling Point, a report on ‘problem anger’ in the UK. From a survey of 2000 people, one in 10 admit that they have trouble controlling their temper, while almost a third say they know a friend or family member who has an anger problem. But very few of the 13 per cent who say they can’t control their rage have sought help.
Call centres, computer crashes, traffic jams… they can all send us berserk and anger is a difficult emotion to control. But, if you’re not tempted by sitting in a circle and talking about your feelings, you’ll be pleased to discover there is another way of dealing with your anger: destruction therapy. It’s a delicate psychological approach that puts you in touch with your feelings by getting you to smash things to smithereens.
It’s based on the idea that we find violent activities therapeutic. The therapists define ‘violence’ as the exertion of physical force to abuse but, since we normally think of violence as something that injures others, it seems counterintuitive to use it to manage anger. Especially when violence fuelled by anger is unacceptable. But importantly, when it comes to therapy, that violence is directed towards inanimate objects.
Managing anger through violence does make sense on a psychological level.
“When we smash something, we’re moderating our psychological state through the physical part of ourselves,” says Dr Michael Sinclair, director of City Psychology Group. This is possible because the four parts to the ‘self’ – emotional, behavioural, rational and physical – are all connected. Changing something in one of them has a knock-on effect on the others.
Anger is a reaction to a perceived threat, injustice or inadequacy, and these can all interfere with our innate tendency to want move forward and be productive.
When people or situations prevent us from achieving our goals, it leads to frustration and anger. “When we’re stressed or angry, we’re responding to a sense of being stuck,” Sinclair says.
One way to cognitively free yourself from feeling stuck is to set yourself a goal, and work towards it to fight negative thoughts. “By the end of it, you’ve accomplished something. You cognitively tell yourself this and therefore moderate your anger on that level,” Sinclair says. But there’s another way to become unstuck – a physical one – and that’s where destruction therapy comes in.
Mike Fisher is a psychotherapist and director of The British Association of Anger Management. He’s standing in a scrapyard explaining to me how smashing up a car will help me manage my anger. Doing so will release emotions associated with ‘historical trauma’, memories of situations that made me angry. “I’ve seen it be very effective,” Mike says. While this is the first time he’s supervised a destruction therapy session, he’s done something similar before. “Working in my private practice or with a group, there’s usually a ‘batting stain’, somewhere with punching bags and baseball bats, to help with emotional release work.”
Mike maps out my anger management session: first i’ll smash the car without any intervention, but that isn’t enough to qualify as destruction therapy. For that i’ll need to go at it again, but this time focus on something that made me really mad. The car in front of me will no longer be a car, it will be somebody that triggered my anger in the past.
In theory, this should relieve me of the historical trauma. “Once you’ve done the whole process, you’ll feel happier because you’ve released something – it’s a cathartic experience.”
The first time i smash the car is just a bit of fun. I don’t get angry, and i’m conscious of the sledge hammer striking the bonnet, of the glass shattering as i hit the windscreen. It feels like exercise and while i don’t feel any happier, i do feel good.
“it changes your chemistry,” says clinical psychiatrist Dr John Ratey, author of spark! How Exercise will Improve the Performance of your Brain. “All your nerve cells are working overtime, there’s a prolonged release of neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine – and endorphins.” Intense exercise like destruction therapy also activates endocannabinoid receptors (usually stimulated by cannabis compounds) in the brain’s reward centre. The even more feel-good chemicals are released if you push yourself to exhaustion. The brain starts producing nitric oxide, a key signalling molecule that also works as an antidepressant. “All of those will make you feel really good,” Ratey Says
Just smashing the car isn’t helping to manage anger though, so Mike’s priming me for emotional release, telling me to think of a past situation where i was really angry. I go back nearly seven years, to Waterloo station, where I’m standing in front of the departures board, waiting for a train that will take me to an important exam. I’m trying to stay relaxed, so i stand alone, eyes closed, breathing slowly. Suddenly my legs buckle and i fall to the ground. Getting up, i realise that a complete stranger has pulled a schoolboy prank: knocking the back of my knees with their kneecaps. Not only did this make me fall over, it made me a laughing stock.
Shock turned to rage and i came close to hitting the guy who did it.
“You were preparing for one of the important tests in your life, “ Mike says, in an attempt to wind me up. “How could something like this happen? Out of the blue! Now go Back to that situation and imagine you did take a swipe at him.” It takes a while to really get into but after a few moments I’m focused on my historical trauma.
I then do something to the car that i would never do to a person: I beat the hell out of it.
(Article taken from the BBC Focus Magazine)