Some weeks ago, I discovered psychotherapist Les Carter, who makes insightful videos about narcissism and narcissists for YouTube. I found his videos so helpful and well done that I decided to read a few of his books. Not long ago, I read and reviewed his book, Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me. Today, I finished his 2004 book, The Anger Trap.
Dr. Carter operates a private practice in Dallas, Texas, a place where I’d imagine he runs into a lot of big personalities, big cowboy hats, and big egos. He seems to have centered a lot of his work around the victims of narcissists. Anger typically goes hand in hand with narcissism. Narcissists are people who feel compelled to be right at all costs. That need to be in charge is often caused by some kind of psychic wound that occurred in the tenderest years of life. Narcissists are typically immature, irrational, and controlling, and having to deal with them can be maddening. Conversely, victims of narcissists also end up angry, because constantly having to deal with overbearing, unreasonable, manipulative people is infuriating.
I wouldn’t necessarily claim The Anger Trap is about narcissism per se. Instead, it offers an explanation of how inappropriate anger can cause serious life issues that have damaging ripple effects. A person who is not in control of unresolved anger can make mistakes that can cost them relationships, their jobs, and even their lives, since being angry can go hand in hand with suffering from a host of physical problems, developing bad habits, or having an accident. Besides offering an explanation of how damaging unresolved anger can be, Dr. Carter also gives readers pointers on how to handle that anger so that it’s no longer destructive.
I grew up in a dysfunctional household with an alcoholic father who often took his rage out on me, and a neglectful mother who told me she never wanted me and didn’t protect me from my dad’s abuse. By the time I was in my mid 20s, I had full blown major depression and anxiety that required medication and therapy. I feel a lot better today than I used to, although I still have issues dealing with abusive, angry people and have actually become an angry person myself… although I try not to be abusive if I can help it. My husband has definitely heard me rage, not at him, but about people and things that piss me off. It’s probably like a broken record for him… and I’m sure he’d rather I be funny, cheerful, and cute instead of pissed off about things I can’t control.
I’ve gotten to a point at which I’m “saturated”. I can no longer tolerate being abused by other people. Being unwilling to put up with abuse is not necessarily a bad thing, except I don’t handle these situations as assertively as I should. I get so fixated on my rage at being crapped on once again, that I don’t take the opportunity to change the power dynamic by staying in control and dealing with the offender in a direct but respectful manner. There was a time when I was younger that I would respond to verbal rage with verbal rage. I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I become passive aggressive. You will definitely know if I’m angry, but I might not say anything. Instead, it will be written all over my face. I’ve been told I look super mean when I’m enraged, even if I say nothing. While that response does get some people to back off quickly, in the long run, it doesn’t fix the issue that led to the angry confrontation. In fact, it compounds the problem.
Or, I’ll vent in my blog and have intrusive people reading my comments, spreading them to others, or getting into my business by lecturing me on how I “come across” to others. Some readers are real assholes and enjoy causing me more pain by deliberately stirring up shit. So now, when I need to express my anger, I write privately or password protect my posts to ward off the snitches. I’m sure some long time readers might even miss some of my more entertaining rants. It probably makes my blog less interesting to some people. It’s a shame, too, because I have met some good people through blogging and sometimes people “get” it and either offer good insight or realize that they aren’t alone. But I’m no longer willing to tolerate feedback from people who just want to cause trouble, so those rants are no longer for everyone… at least for the time being.
I know that shouting at people, being passive aggressive, and venting aren’t necessarily effective ways to deal with being pissed off. Dr. Carter describes other expressions of anger that aren’t effective. For example, some people get angry and just start yelling, heaping criticism and shame on whomever is their target du jour and assassinating their characters. I’ve seen that a lot here in Germany. It seems to be the going national method for dealing with anything that goes wrong. Personally, I find it a very poor form of communication, because when they lose control, and just dump all of their frustrations at once, the other party stops listening and starts gathering their defenses.
Responding verbally with rage is ultimately ineffective, since when people start yelling, no one is listening anymore. They’re too busy defending themselves. The situation ends with bad will all around and oftentimes, little hope that the relationship can be salvaged. No one wants to be belittled, condescended to, and blamed for everything under the sun. Often, the angry person becomes very fixated on being destructive, rather than fixing the issue that led to their anger and maintaining civility and goodwill. Eventually, that kind of behavior leads to the angry person being left with a lot of enemies and a damaged reputation. Giving in to that surge of rage might feel good at the time, but it can definitely lead to some pretty negative aftereffects.
The Anger Trap offers gentle, supportive, reasonable methods of dealing with rage and handling conflicts in a responsible and assertive way. Dr. Carter presents cases he’s encountered during his years of practice of people who have gotten into trouble because of being excessively angry. He offers insight into how the problems developed and effective strategies on how to deal with that anger so that it doesn’t become destructive and cause serious damage.
I liked what I read in this book. I think Dr. Carter’s advice is excellent. However, it’s up to the reader to take the words to heart and practice new ways of responding to those angry feelings. It takes concerted mindfulness and desire to come up with new and effective ways to respond to anger. So, while I think The Anger Trap is helpful reading, it’s really just the first step in changing a bad habit into something healthier. To benefit from Dr. Carter’s advice, the reader will have to digest the information, believe in it, and practice. It takes time to learn new skills, and dealing with anger constructively is a habit that must be consciously picked up and reinforced. Hopefully, in the long run, it will lead to a healthier, happier, and probably a longer life.
I really enjoy Dr. Carter’s writing and speaking style. He’s got a kindly demeanor that isn’t threatening. He uses humor, good sense, and reason as he presents his points. He is also religious and mentions God at times. The religious aspect of this book may not be helpful to some readers. Personally, I didn’t mind it. I’m not very religious, but I’m not quite an atheist. It doesn’t bother me when Dr. Carter writes that I’m a child of God. If you think religion is a bunch of bullshit, maybe that would be a negative for you.
I watch Dr. Carter’s videos often and find his books helpful. While Carter’s books about narcissism are good for understanding narcissists and their dysfunctional behaviors, the anger book is particularly useful for me. I do have anger issues, and I do need to work on them. My anger issues came about for perfectly justifiable reasons that were not entirely my fault, but hanging onto those issues and poor communication habits don’t work in real life. Other people– except for maybe Bill– don’t understand why I have these problems and won’t necessarily excuse me for them. So, fixing them is in my best interest, as well as for my loved ones. Poor Bill has to deal with my sorry ass all the time… good thing he loves me anyway. I think it’s because he likes my jokes. Also, despite being pissed off a lot of the time, I’m still much less crazy than his ex wife is. I guess I can build on that.