for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Clients
Payoffs and Consequences
The inappropriate expression of anger initially has many apparent payoffs. One payoff is being
able to manipulate and control others through aggressive and intimidating behavior; others
may comply with someone's demands because they fear verbal threats or violence. Another
payoff is the release of tension that occurs when one loses his or her temper and acts aggres-
sively. The individual may feel better after an angry outburst, but everyone else may feel worse.
In the long term, however, these initial payoffs lead to negative consequences. For this reason
they are called "apparent" payoffs because the long-term negative consequences far outweigh
the short-term gains. For example, consider a father who persuades his children to comply with
his demands by using an angry tone of voice and threatening gestures. These behaviors imply
to the children that they will receive physical harm if they are not obedient. The immediate pay-
off for the father is that the children obey his commands. The long-term consequence, howev-
er, may be that the children learn to fear or dislike him and become emotionally detached from
him. As they grow older, they may avoid contact with him or refuse to see him altogether.
Myths About Anger
Myth #1: Anger Is Inherited. One misconception or myth about anger is that the way we
express anger is inherited and cannot be changed. Sometimes, we may hear someone say, "I
inherited my anger from my father; that's just the way I am." This statement implies that the
expression of anger is a fixed and unalterable set of behaviors. Evidence from research stud-
ies, however, indicates that people are not born with set, specific ways of expressing anger.
These studies show, rather, that because the expression of anger is learned behavior, more
appropriate ways of expressing anger also can be learned.
It is well established that much of people's behavior is learned by observing others, particularly
influential people. These people include parents, family members, and friends. If children
observe parents expressing anger through aggressive acts, such as verbal abuse and violence,
it is very likely that they will learn to express anger in similar ways. Fortunately, this behavior
can be changed by learning new and appropriate ways of anger expression. It is not necessary
to continue to express anger by aggressive and violent means.
Myth #2: Anger Automatically Leads to Aggression. A related myth involves the misconception
that the only effective way to express anger is through aggression. It is commonly thought that
anger is something that builds and escalates to the point of an aggressive outburst. As has
been said, however, anger does not necessarily lead to aggression. In fact, effective anger man-
agement involves controlling the escalation of anger by learning assertiveness skills, changing
negative and hostile "self-talk," challenging irrational beliefs, and employing a variety of behav-
ioral strategies. These skills, techniques, and strategies will be discussed in later sessions.
Myth #3: People Must Be Aggressive To Get What They Want. Many people confuse assertive-
ness with aggression. The goal of aggression is to dominate, intimidate, harm, or injure another
person--to win at any cost. Conversely, the goal of assertiveness is to express feelings of anger