Problems with anger and aggression

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You are not punished for your anger, you are punished because of your anger.


Hatred is a matter of the heart; despise that of the head.

Arthur Schopenhauer

What is anger?

Anger is one of the basic emotions of man. An important function of anger is to indicate ones limits and to show that someone else has gone too far. Usually, the relationships are then restored and the anger can weaken or disappear.

Not everyone finds it easy to properly express their anger. Anger can sometimes become the oil on the fire and turn into destructive aggression. Anger is also very much linked to fear. You need fear as a signal for your safety. You need anger to stay present. Anxiety functions as the brake, but it can freeze you. When you have balance, you are as lively, present and caring as you can.

What about Aggression?

Aggression is not just violence. It is also energy that you need to reach out for food, love or whatever. The word aggression comes from the Latin ‘agere’ which means to act purposefully. It exists early in life, such as sucking, that aims to nourish and satisfy you. However, after rejection, the energy freezes. Frozen energy can be moved by so-called “aggression exercises” that help you feel your need and reach out again.

Types of aggression

  1. Positive aggression: This is to assert yourself, have limits, be active, get what you want, say and do something in a direct way.This type of aggression serves you in a healthy way. You will also find positive aggression in healthy competition, fighting and sports.
  2. Indirect aggression: This includes gossip, passive aggressiveness, ‘bitching’, ‘whining’, becoming a victim, being trapped in self-pity, being demanding, cynicism, sarcasm, withholding the other’s love or sex, always feeling guilty, not taking self-responsibility, etc.
  3. Negative Aggression: These are all kinds of violence, abuses of others, abuses of power, manipulation, threatening to commit suicide, etc. Associated with this may be addictions, depression, dissociation, eating disorders, personality disorders, etc.

Problems with anger and aggression

Sometimes people can “hoard” their anger for a long time, but they can also go too far with it; go over the line with it. It is also possible that people have not learned in their education that there is also room for anger in life and how you can express anger in a good and functional way. This is then accompanied by uncertainty or frustration. It can also happen that the anger in someone is so strong that he or she is overrun and no longer has control over himself. This can lead to threatening or negative aggressive behavior towards others, destroying items and in some cases also self-harm. But it can also lead to anxiety.

Anger attacks are common in young children. Their emotion regulation is not sufficiently developed until a certain age. In some cases, they need guidance to manage their anger or aggression. As an adult, you are supposed to be able to control your anger – which is not the same as suppressing it. You don’t have to look far around to see that this is not easy for many.

Anger after major events

Anger often comes to the fore in people’s lives because of certain major life events such as going through a divorce, or losing a loved one or a skill or role. Anger should also be given a place to those who have been victims of physical abuse or sexual abuse. These kinds of events in childhood or later life can also give rise to all kinds of psychological and psychiatric complaints or syndromes, such as depression, anxiety, attachment disorders or personality disorders. Often there is a combination of aptitude and environmental factors.

Consequences in daily functioning

If you regularly have anger attacks, this can have major consequences for your daily functioning. Inadequate regulation of anger often leads to deteriorated social relations. It also often results in others developing fear of your reactive anger. You may also become afraid of your own anger attacks if you lose your self-control. Or you feel guilty or ashamed of it. It is therefore quite possible that you will avoid situations in which you run the risk of getting angry, which will lead you to some sort of isolation and where the tension only increases. This is detrimental to your social life.

Anyone who reacts angrily may get the negative counter-reaction from another person back. As a result, others may expect you to get angry and thus maintain the pattern. Depending on the severity of the anger problem, contact with the police, justice or other authorities can also have unpleasant consequences.

Appropriate interventions for disorders related to anger and aggression include:

  • Individual Therapy: Bodymind and body-centered psychotherapy is not just about talking, but also about experiencing and acting. In individual work, the therapist can explore with you the cause of your anger and destructive aggression, such as perhaps a negative self-image or a profound event where you still suffer from. During therapy, the focus is on developing specific skills for managing your anger, while also combating everyday stressors and low self-esteem (which often accompany tantrums). If you are aware of the fixed patterns along which an anger attack develops, you can view these steps separately. In exercises you can (sometimes literally) dwell on every step and discover that you have a choice in your thoughts and your actions. In role plays, for example, you can experience the consequences for the course of an event if you make other behavioral choices. Depending on the severity of the problems, treatment can vary from a few months to several years.

  • Relaxation, body awareness, grounding and emotional expression: Like individual therapy, relaxation, grounding and body awareness works by teaching specific management skills to the client. You learn to regulate your emotions through relaxation and breathing exercises. We use techniques that make you aware of the inner processes that contribute to anger, and thus teach you to have better control over these processes. With targeted exercises and assignments you can (re) learn how to get angry in a good and safe way. You can get to know the signals of your anger: where do you feel this in your body? What thoughts come to your mind and what behavior does that involve? Alternative behavior is also discussed: in which ways can you safely express your anger?

  • Group Therapy: Groups provide safe and appropriate social training where you as a client can receive feedback from other group members and professionals on how to regulate their behavior. A prevention plan with clear agreements on how to act if your anger is too high can be discussed. The safety of yourself, the therapist and any group members is thus guaranteed.

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Individual therapy sessions

Dirk Marivoet psychotherapist in Belgium

Dirk Marivoet, MSc. is a European certified psychotherapist (ECP). He studied physiotherapy as well as psychomotor therapy at the University of Leuven. Next he worked in the clinics and taught for 11 years at this university. For over 30 years now he has worked in a holistic way and is especially interested in the integration of body, mind and spirit in service of individual, collective and global development.

Dirk Marivoet and his colleagues at the IBI (International Institute of Bodymind Integration) offer individual therapy sessions for those interested in this mind-body approach.

In Ghent (Belgium), Europe, the rest of the world and online.

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