It’s All About Attitudes – Part 1: Addictive

by Rusty Fleischer, Program Director, and Jerry Medol, Director –

Starting this week, we will begin a series of articles on what Anger Alternatives refers to as “attitudes” and how they affect our behavior.

According to Wikipedia, there is a debate about a precise definition of the word “attitude”. Carl Jung describes it as a “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”. Our description of an attitude is the approach a person uses that determines his or her behavior. Feelings and experiences develop attitudes and anger is expressed through a person’s attitude.

The different attitudes we will be covering in this series are:

  • Addictive
  • Aggressive
  • Depressive
  • Passive
  • Passive-Aggressive

With each negative attitude we will mirror a healthier approach to similar issues which we call “directed and healthy anger”.

Addicted woman

The first attitude in our series is the addictive attitude. It is expressed in what is more commonly known as substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, screen time, sex, work, pornography, food). An addiction that is less commonly known is the addiction to anger itself. In either situation, it is a way of medicating and numbing a hurt or loss that we are feeling and don’t want to feel.

Feeling hurt and loss is a normal experience for everyone at various times in life. It turns into addictive behavior when the expression of a physical or emotional need is acted out in some form without control. This can be through substance abuse or reactionary behavior. It is the way to disguise and hide the true feelings and allow the fear of feeling pain and being vulnerable to control behavior.

An example of this can be seen with our clients Mark and Joan, a married couple in their late 30’s. Mark came to our office to address his feelings of anger and his reactionary behavior. In our work together he shared that when Joan experienced certain stress patterns, in order to deal with her behavior, he felt compelled to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. As a result of the drinking, he would lose control and become verbally and physically abusive.

When Joan became anxious and fearful, she lost control and verbally attacked and criticized Mark.  As a result, when Mark felt attacked he would become defensive, reactionary and console himself with alcohol. It was a vicious cycle.

Both of them were dealing with addictive anger-related behaviors, Mark to alcohol and Joan to anxiety. These behaviors stemmed from the fears they each had in their childhood of not knowing how to feel safe.

Sometimes these addictive patterns have deep psychological significance that require in- depth study and analysis, but that is not always the case.  A healthy and directed response to these patterns, no matter what their origin is, would start with recognizing the signals that indicate an emotional reaction is occurring. Once this awareness is created, it opens the path to connect it to the original wound that in turn reveals the hurt and loss that the anger has been masking.

Both Mark and Joan need to separately learn and recognize when their fears are being triggered and learn to back off and control themselves in those intensely stressful moments.

Joan has been able to recognize when she is becoming fearful and connect her patterns of anxiety to childhood experiences when she did not feel safe, supported or cared about. Mark has had some successes and failures with handling his anger and his addiction and is still a work in progress. Both continue to work on replacing their addictions with healthy and directed anger.

All names have been changed to protect the privacy of clients.

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