How is anger related to addiction and dependence problems? What role does it play in the start of accepting treatment? Is anger useful and healthy or something to be avoided?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC, and David Livingston, LMFT answer these and other questions about the relationship between anger and symptoms of Opioid Dependence, and about the healthy function of anger as a part of our emotional, psychological, and physical health.
Episode 10: Anger and the Relationship It Has To Addiction
Anger as a Superpower: Using Anger in a Healthy Way
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: In the world of superheroes, Dr. Bruce Banner is cursed and blessed, I guess, with the superpower of turning into a giant, huge beast whenever he’s angry. Anger is the trigger for his destructive powers. Well, you’re probably familiar with that for movies and such. If you are a real nerd like some of us, you know that the original Hulk character in the world of comic books actually grows in his strength and his power. Depending on how angry he gets, the angrier he is, the more powerful he is. Hey, guys, it’s Dwight. I’m here with the Waismann Method® podcast this week. David Livingston, Clare Waismann and I are going to have a discussion about anger and the relationship it has to addiction. I think you might be surprised to hear some of the things that we discuss and come up with in this talk. Anger is not just a trigger for bad things to happen. It’s actually oftentimes its own sort of superpower. And how do we use that in a healthy way for what it is meant to be used for instead of letting it just become the rage monster that it can be? It’s a really great conversation, really great principles involved. And I’m excited to have all of you be a part of it.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Well, I was really intrigued when Marina brought up the idea of anger. It got me thinking about anger and all the different ways that it connects with addiction. And so where does that take us? What do you guys think when you think of anger and addiction?
David Livingston, LMFT: You want to start class?
Clare Waismann, CAODC: No, you go for it!
David Livingston, LMFT: Oh, boy. So oh. So I think it’s probably the single most important part of addiction. So here’s how I conceive of it and I kind of break it down. So if you think of what a craving is, OK, so the difference between having just thoughts and feelings coming through us and feeling what people call a craving. Right. It’s kind of it’s a different word for it would be kind of a compulsive or an obsessive state, meaning that there’s an intensity to the thoughts and the feelings that people feel with. Right. So that there’s a sense of like being gripped by something and that it moves you towards it. And having talked to literally thousands of people, there’s always a part of them that knows and wishes they weren’t about to do something that might not be good for them. You know, there’s some aspect. There’s usually some ambivalence.
David Livingston, LMFT: So what’s the driving force? Well, if you think of what anger is, what anger is primarily almost entirely intensity. OK, so what happens in addiction is there is unmet needs. Right? OK, so if you think of a baby or you start right at the most primitive picture, babies cry with great intensity until their needs are met, until they’re changed or fed or held or whatever it is they need. OK, so what happens is that template lives on in our lives. So what happens with cravings is and it’s why A.A. talks about, you know, make sure you’re not hungry, make sure you’re sleeping because these are the primary needs. I just OK. And they carry on throughout life. So as we get older, it gets more complex. So there’s need for good dependency. There’s a need for varied experiences. There’s a need to feel well connected in the world and there’s a need to feel creative. OK, so, you know, really, at the end of when people are utilizing their anger, well, they are utilizing it protectively. OK, that’s one of the big flips in addiction is instead of you realize you meant to say, you know what the hell, I don’t care. You say kind of protectively and have other avenues in which to creatively find outlets for what you’re needed and call up a friend. You go to a game, you go for a walk, you have a whole routine of things you do that help you enjoy yourself and not get into trouble. It doesn’t get sort of limited into this one activity that, you know, where all of that intensity gets driven.
David Livingston, LMFT: And that’s really what treatment is. And getting to know your anger is getting to know your needs and getting to know your creativity. And one of the worst things we’ve done in treatment is try to get rid of it. You get rid of it, you will push it underground and it will come back with a fury. And what you can to get is people who are compliant say, OK, yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not good instead of really getting to know that part of them and helping them expand it. Into a more creative ways that is so any rate, that’s as I said in the upfront, I’m going to you know, I have a lot to say about this, but as a beginning statement.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: I feel like we tend to forget that it’s a primary emotion and treat it like it’s a bad behavior. Anger itself that is I mean, that just because anger can fuel so many aggressive behaviors, we tend to associate that with the emotion itself, right? Really identify with what you’re saying as far as the function, the functionality of an emotion, right. Is if it leads me to be protective. And I guess you’re talking about being actually protective because, you know, if I walk down the street and I just try to be a big, tough, scary guy, that’s not really protecting me as much as if I have a healthy support system of people who care for me and love for me. Right. That that actually protects me more.
David Livingston, LMFT: So since that’s what you’re talking about is the difference between actual protection and unhealthy attempts at protection. Right.
David Livingston, LMFT: Yeah, yeah, I mean I mean it more is a discerning element, like if someone comes around with with with a drug, it’s terrible. So get the hell away from me. I’m not interested in that. Right. And so that that the aggression is used creatively.
David Livingston, LMFT: Right. So if you take all you know, if you try to take away someone’s anger, you will deaden them and you would just end. But if you find ways and you help them expand that that aggressive, you know, not aggressive in the sense of violence or destructiveness, but aggressive in the sense of aliveness. Right. Where you feel like you’re excited, you’re interested, you’re growing, you’re learning. You’re you know, that’s the function of what that element is supposed to, you know. So part of what happens is people don’t know how to be alive in more creative in interesting ways. And when they find that and when that gets better, it can really make a difference in terms of how they relate to that part of themselves.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: Anger can be a very healthy feeling. You know, it’s a basic human emotion. It’s a response of a sympathetic nervous system. So we all have anger, but there is a huge difference between anger and rage. And I think unmet needs can turn into rage. So it’s it’s being able to use the anger wisely because often is a justifiable response of something that happened that wasn’t fair or was not right. So it’s really how to manage that natural response in a healthy way.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And being able to communicate that feeling of anger in a way that a lot of times when you work with communications and even like relationships, you need to be able to express anger in a way that can be productive. And in fact, that’s one of the more damaging things to relationship, is when we can’t express ourselves. Right. Or either we don’t express ourselves at all or we express ourselves only in rage where we have the heart rate pumping and we’re overly aggressive and expressive of anger. So I guess either like too little or none at all. No, that was the same thing, either either too little or too much. As far as that expression, it can go either way. And trying to find that healthy expression of being able to tell someone I’m angry at you or even to express with ourselves. Right. That feeling of anger in a way that that can be productive.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: And I think in a relationship, I think we as human beings, we all want to be connected. We all want to be heard. And I think when anger is present or overwhelming anger, the opposites happens. You know, you’re pushing somebody away. Somebody else shuts down and they go into the protective mode. You’re angry and protecting myself. Then I think the communication there, you know, takes a halt that you can’t go further than that.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Well, and, David, you bring up an interesting criticism of sometimes in treatment and psychotherapy approaches, we can make the mistake of trying to say let’s get rid of anger. If it were if we were possible, which, as you said, that would deaden you. And I was just thinking about, like, what does opiate abuse do to you emotionally? It deadens you. Right? So are we continuing a continuation of symptoms after literal chemical sobriety there?
David Livingston, LMFT: Well, I mean, most of the people that that that I meet who are doing well in life are pretty intense people and they’re just spreading it around. But they’re it’s so the idea is to be is to have our aggression. And I don’t mean that again, because that word carries so many different connotations, connotations and different meaning for everyone. So I’m not talking about I’m certainly not talking about violence and I’m not talking about any sort of destructiveness. I’m talking about a type of aliveness. And so but they’re they’re profoundly connected. So if you can bring, you know, what our educational system and what growing up is supposed to do is, you know, you you joined the soccer team and you learn to paint and you learn to hang out with your friends. And, you know, so there’s multiple ways and, you know, whatever it is you like to do and you create this life for these there’s these outlets and then you find that and and it’s a creative life, so. You know, and our anger helps us sort of when it’s used well, when it’s, you know, any kind of, and I’m talking around this, but any emotion can be too much. Right?
David Livingston, LMFT: So if, you know, sometimes I’ll work with someone who is, you know, can be obsessive and, you know, they’ll tell you how much they just love someone and love them. I’m like, so there’s nothing about this person you don’t know, like, which is impossible. So anything like you’re saying about rage, like rage, if it goes too far, it cuts us off from a more integrated life. Right. So that we can’t see what we’d like and what’s good and what’s helpful. You know, we it colors things so strongly that it can make it hard to sort of see the whole and, you know, I think ultimately that’s really what therapy is about. And that and the end of addiction is a creative, alive life. It’s it’s not a life just struggling to stay sober. It’s a life where you’ve got things to do that you’re interested in, you know, avenues to exist.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: And I think to when you want to refer to anger with addiction, a lot of people that, you know, start abusing substance are truly, truly masking the anger within. They know and that anger that they don’t know how to manage, what to do with that and that anger that has become self-destructive. They take a numbing device. You know, it’s actually a little break from that constant need of being angry with something towards something.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: And the problem with that is after using, you know, a numbing device for years, sometimes even decades, once you remove the drugs, you know, you have those issues that were never dealt with and sometimes they become overwhelming. And I think that rehab centers are trying to dig all of those things as this person is just coming out of the covers. It becomes too much. Yeah, it becomes more than they can handle. They don’t have the tools to manage that in the first place. And after all these years, now, they are even more fragile. So I think sitting, you know, expressing all those inner feelings to others, you know, that puts you in such a transparent state when you’re already so fragile and scared of how you’re going to deal with that. It’s a bit much and you have to understand something as well. A lot of these people have anger towards things that happened when they were young enough that they did not have the tools to even verbalize what happened to them. So, you know, where anger turn until they turn in to lack of self-love. So it’s you know, it gets confusing. It gets lost in the feeling itself, changes because it snowballs from one mishandled feeling to the other.
David Livingston, LMFT: I remember speaking with a colleague of mine who I worked at a community mental health center. He ran the residential unit for the men’s unit. We had a men’s in a women’s residential unit where people were there primarily for addiction reasons. Anyway, we were talking about a study where they were talking about trauma and how there had been a specific study with people who were going through that treatment. And I think they were just reading some of the statistics of of how many people reported forms of trauma that contributed to their addiction. And I always remember now, I don’t remember the exact statistic. It was basically it said somewhere around, you know, one third to one half of men in treatment have had trauma. And he laughed and said, yeah, I think that statistic is actually 100 percent. And his experience was, was that and I have always since then tried to be conscious of what you’re talking about, Clare, is when someone becomes sober all of a sudden, here come all those feelings rushing back and many, many, many, many times there’s some kind of trauma or some kind of hurt, and that anger is there, and how do we deal with that? Right. And how do we put that to use to where it can become? And I like how you put it as well, David, when you talk about creative aggression and say, I’m angry that this thing happened to me, how do I get creative about that instead of going back to relapse?
David Livingston, LMFT: So you move at a pace that they in many ways lead because what’s on their mind is usually most important. And the flip-side of anger tends to be guilt. So you’ll tend to see that slip back and forth with people sort of hard on themselves. And then after that, then they’re angry at other people. And, you know, over time, what the potential is, is that whatever the trauma was or whatever the loss was, whether it’s conflict-oriented or or if there are deficits, the ability to recognize what those needs were, they still exist today. And what if you grow up lonely and not well connected? You still need to be you need to be not lonely today, certainly not as lonely and you need to be better connected. So so, you know, the discerning part of the anger is it reminds you that you needed to be right, that there’s an intense intensity to it because it mattered. Right. That that’s the core of anger is people only are upset because something matters. But once you connect it to what it was, it mattered to them. They don’t really need the anger because they’ve gotten to what it is that mattered. So if you don’t help them through and get to know the anger, it’s harder to connect it to what mattered.
David Livingston, LMFT: And once they start to remember and realize what mattered then or what happened to trauma, whether it’s safety or something else, because they still need it now. So you don’t even have to go back, say, and reopen all that. You just have to get to the anger and the needs because they exist now, too. And if they start to get met now, then the trauma is getting taken care of because the needs are getting met differently now. And that’s actually how you work through a trauma. You don’t go back and just open it all up for the sake of remembering it. I mean, sometimes people need to do that to some degree just to, you know, because it’s on their mind. And certainly, you don’t inhibit that that’s coming out of them. However, the benefit is when they start to live a life that doesn’t look like that now and their life looks very different now. Then they start to feel like the trauma is truly getting put in the past. And I’m not sure that gets differentiated well.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: There’s a, it goes back to your example of a baby. You know, if you’d never seen a baby before and you see someone come for one. First of all, it’s one of the most abrasive cries in the world, rather, babies crying. It’s really, really hard to deal with. And then someone comes up and gives a bottle or a change or a love and it just stops, right? It would seem like a miracle. Right? And so it reminds me that what you’re saying is if we can find the need, the anger isn’t as necessary and it can abate.
David Livingston, LMFT: That’s it. That’s to create it. That’s where creativity is. Oh, right. So once the baby’s changed, it can play. Once it’s fed, it can go off. And it’s sort of when you start to get this integrated, expanding, you know, process.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Would you say that we’re more at risk for problems with drugs and alcohol when? Well, I guess when our needs aren’t met, but especially if we feel that we are not cared for, that our needs are not respected, not important.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: Now, I think I think self-love, you know, self-care it is again. It’s another basic need we have. I mean, you know, when we as children didn’t did not receive the love, the assistance when we felt insecure about, you know, the ones you’re are supposed to protect us, I think the whole world around us becomes scary. And that can lead to, again, the need for a numbing device that, you know, can lead to someone believing they are not deserving of happiness, not deserving of having a healthy life. And there’s a lot of self-sabotage that goes on. So absolutely, I think the first few years of a child’s life is detrimental for their, you know, sustained mental health for the rest of your life and relationships.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Yeah, it sounds like one of the healthy ways to cope with anger then that we’re saying is being able to communicate. Well, I guess finding safe people and then communicating with them for our needs is going to be one big, important way to deal with that anger.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: And not just communicate that feeling, heard, fully understood, I think is and again, going back to addiction and treatment centers is we go always back to the same sentence, is concentrating on addiction and concentrating on the person the moment they feel heard and understood. I think there is an awakening and there is trust. There is a bond that gets created. And so many of the people we see have been to 20, 30 rehabs and never felt, heard or understood – they just felt like another addict sitting in in the chair having to do the exact same steps as everybody else.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: When you see people go through a complicated system, whether it’s the criminal justice system or a lot of treatment, a lot of treatment centers, unfortunately, fall into this, too, where there’s a lot of harshness and then they just associate that system with the rest of the world that has done, you know, has been harsh already. And why would I not be angry with my therapist if I’m sitting in a room assigned to this person who’s part of this system? Or why would I not be angry at the person who’s telling me, yeah, you know, here’s what you need to do, fill out these forms to do this and then and then get sober and come in here and take some drug tests and all that. Why would I not be angry if I’m being treated the same way that I’ve been treated?
David Livingston, LMFT: Correct.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: And and then there is that expect, you know, patients, when they come into treatment, often expect to not to be treated well, that things are not going to work, that. So when you start responding to that lack of expectation of success, you know, you’re empowering that feeling of negativeness that, you know, overtakes the whole treatment.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I remember a day when I was talking to somebody who was on probation for drug use and as a client who came to see me. And they were talking about some of the negatives, about their probation system. They go in and, you know, they have to do something and then drug test and no one was listening to them. And I just remember listening to the story and then going, like, wow, that sucks. That would piss me off, too. And the person you could tell, they were very surprised, first of all. And I didn’t go and say, oh, you should, you know, forget those people and you should go relapse. I didn’t, you know, say any of that. But just to say, yeah, you have a right to be angry about that, that was poor treatment. You know, to be treated that way would also make me angry. It was amazing just right then we had a bond right away just because we admitted anger was OK, you know.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: Right. Right. Because it’s you know, again, a lot of times anger is justifiable. More often than not, it’s just how we handled that. You know, when I hire in the hospital, we have what we call patient assistance. And this is the person that they will meet when they arrive to the hospital that will take them to the room, that will help them with their paperwork. They will be between them and the hospital staff, something a little more personal, I tell them. When they walk in here. Everything that you say and everything that you are is what’s going to dictate the rest of the treatment because what we sell is a promise. And once they come here, they are wondering if the promise is going to happen and because that has failed them so many times and so many different places, they are waiting for that, you know, lack of compassion. They are waiting for that, “Well, that’s not what’s going to happen.” Once that happens, their whole demeanor changes and then it becomes a fight from thereon.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: You know, there’s the question mark. So it’s very, very important that you know, people feel hurt, people feel that they are being treated as a unique individual.
David Livingston, LMFT: What’s going on that you’re upset. Know what happened, the appreciation when you hear them figure out, I mean, almost every time whatever is going on is can be pretty quickly and easily remedied. Often it’s just some confusion about one thing or another or, you know, poor communication. And often people expect nothing or expect to be treated poorly. So they’re so grateful when you just clear the air and figure out whatever it is that’s upsetting them. And you sit and you get things right, and then things feel solid and they know what to expect. And you see anxiety go down, you see people relax, you see recovery start to improve much faster. And that should be the treatment model. I mean, really, really, attunement is what therapy is about like you’re saying, like you’re both saying. And so when that happens, people get better much quicker.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: I like this idea, too, that’s forming that when we have anger, especially if we don’t have skills, then, you know, our instinct often is to either pull away or lash out or lash out at ourselves. But what we’re forming really here, I think is, is the idea that if I’m angry, then I should figure out and question, well, what are my needs and how can I really meet those and use that kind of as the spur that pushes us onward, right. To say, “Oh, OK, I’m angry. That means I need something. If I am in my mind…” And I love this image, I keep going back to the crying baby. If there’s a little emotional baby inside me somewhere that’s crying, what does it need? How do I feed that baby in a way that’s going to help it? And so finding people who I can trust and this is something I always I’m a big consumer advocate when it comes to addiction treatment as well as any mental health care. Right. That is to say, I want to find people who will respect me because that’s who can help me. They can’t help me if they don’t care about me as an individual and if they don’t have actually their own skills to listen to me and treat me like an individual.
David Livingston, LMFT: Talking about love, you know, and as you’re saying, right. About, you know, being treated as an individual when somebody is angry or upset about something and you really take the time to listen to them, understand it, parse them with it, go through and do whatever you can to help them with their concern or what’s upsetting them. They feel deeply loved and cared about. You know, people who don’t ever feel deeply loved, had never been loved, would be angry if you never if you’re never taking care of and understood, you don’t feel deeply rooted. You that is the essence of secure attachment. There’s no secure attachment if you can’t be captured when you’re both happy and joyful and easy to get along with. And when you’re also ornery, upset about something and needs somebody understanding and attention at that time, we need both forever and secure attachment, which is such a part of the problem with addictions. People don’t have a deep sense of trust and that they can attach deeply. And when you can attach deeply and you feel like you’re your nervous system relaxes, you don’t need to change your consciousness or get out of your own nervous system or change it with a drug because it relaxes by itself. So, you know, to the degree that that is so anyway, you know, it’s just kind of another way of saying what we’re all talking about.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: Now, I think that’s incredibly important, incredibly important to be able to relax with somebody, to be able to fully trust somebody, you know, to that’s being in peace, not just for somebody else, but within. I think that’s incredibly important.
David Livingston, LMFT: It’s mostly when people go, I think, treatments, they’re constantly told that they’ve got to adjust to the program rather than the program, yet there’s always some sort of a program going on and there’s something you have to do to participate wherever you’re at that. That’s always part of it. So I don’t want to be naive, but primarily it should be more the other way or the therapeutic part of it is adjusting to your needs, figuring that out, understanding it, and then you get this true symbiotic relationship that’s back and forth. That’s much better.
Clare Waismann, CAODC: I think it’s it’s just as important, Dwight that in the end of all this that people understand that again, being angry, it’s natural, it’s healthy. But when you’re angry, you don’t need to be to engage in destructive or aggressive behavior. You can be angry in so many healthy ways to be very clear with yourself and others what you’re angry about. You know, try not to deflect because then you’re not solving the issue. I think honesty and timing also can really help you get over that anger and move forward. So is learning how to talk about it, being honest about it, not using a destructive or aggressive behavior that is going to push those around you further away from you and not allow them to hear what you have to say?
David Livingston, LMFT: Confusion about anger, what I would say probably one of the biggest causes of anxiety, depression, somatic problems, a need to sort of find a way out of that discomfort. What we need to pay attention to is being destructive to ourselves or others. That’s the that should become… That’s really how I think about it, I think. Anger does not worry me just when someone’s angry, when they’re vulnerable to they’re actually telling me something that matters to them. Once you really understand it’s the word destructive that is far more useful, you can relax around that part of you and get to know yourself in a way that allows for you to be healthier and pretty much always to,
Clare Waismann, CAODC: I think, absolutely!
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And we’re going to leave it there, the show, as always, is hosted by Clare Waismann, founder of the Waismann Method, and David Livingston, our chief therapist. Anything we can do to help you check us out at opioids.com for the Waismann Method Clinic and Rapid Detox program. You can also call any time at 1-800-423-2482 if you have questions about opioid addiction. Our music is the song Medical by Clean Mind Sounds. The Waismann Method podcast is produced by Popped Collar Productions, a company that helps you to start up your podcast, especially if you are helping professionals in health care or anywhere else where you are trying to help people reach out to them. As always, make sure that you’re getting help when you need it. Make sure that you’re being safe, taking care of yourself. And as always, remember to ask questions. When you ask questions, you get answers. And whenever you can find answers, you can find hope. Have a good week. We’ll be back again soon with discussions about addiction and recovery.
The Avengers (2012):
Steve Rogers: Now might be a really good time for you to get angry.
Bruce Banner: That’s my secret. Yes.
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