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Behaving Badly: Anger Management

By: Martin Brenner

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Christian Bale is no stranger to the ranting and raving so common today among celebrity types. Whether they feel some sense of entitlement or superiority, gross displays of celebrity anger are everywhere. In Bale's case, a July outburst on a movie set has left his public image in tatters. He has apologized for the incident, calling himself a "punk" and saying he was "way out of order." But this was not the first time Bale's misbehaving ways attracted international press. His recent tirade of expletives came on the set of Terminator: Salvation and was aimed at one of the film's crewmembers. He reportedly became upset when the man walked into one of Bale's shots. Unfortunately for Bale, the four-minute outburst was recorded and played back for the world to hear.

Bale was arrested for another July incident - just a few days later - after allegedly assaulting his mother and sister in London's Dorchester Hotel. The assault was said to occur right before the London premiere of "The Dark Knight," in which he played the most recent incarnation of Batman. Charges were later dropped in that case and Bale denied the assault ever happened.

Was the Hollywood Pressure Cooker a Factor in Bale's Meltdown?
Bale is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to talking to the press, leading the media, bloggers and his fans worldwide to speculate about the possible causes of his meltdown. It could be that Bale simply cracked under the pressure of a hectic promotional and filming schedule. Couple that with back-to-back projects, an unrelenting press and a hectic travel schedule and it's not hard to imagine why Bale may have been rather irritable. But the mistake he made - that so many people make - is in lashing out at others when we are feeling angry or troubled.

Anger Can Be A Way of Life for Some
At its worst, anger is an all-consuming emotion, capable of triggering great physical and psychological illness. For some, anger is an occasional response to a perceived slight or a negative situation. For others, anger is a way of life. It has the ability to highjack every thought and idea, to take over people entirely, ruining everything in its path. Anger can manifest in violence and destruction if left unchecked. The body's response to anger is unmistakable and well documented. It releases adrenalin that increases the heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this can lead to disease within the body, including stomach and heart disease, depression and high blood pressure.

Angry and anxious people are everywhere in today's fast paced society. The everyday pressures of life, the economic instability and news of job losses and company downsizing affect us all on some level. Many people are worried about their futures and the futures of their families. Headlines around the country scream that the world is in turmoil due to foreclosures, lay-offs and bankruptcies. So how do we collectively handle all of these stresses? Many people turn inwards, shutting down and storing negative emotions that build up over time. Finding constructive ways to handle stress and pressure goes a long way toward keeping the peace.

Creating Balance in a Chaotic World
Stress, life crisis, unfulfilled expectations and the breakdown of close, interpersonal relationships can all be powerful anger triggers. Recognizing these triggers is a step in the right direction. Any form of stress is said to be a buildup of negative thoughts that cause a response to overwhelming or unfamiliar demands. Dwelling on past events or hardships can keep the negativity flowing. Re-living negative emotions and the baggage associated with them can be just as damaging as the events themselves. Understanding that the past cannot be changed, and being able to move on from there, helps us and makes us more unlikely to repeat old mistakes.

Bale could have chosen to simply ignore the man or to ask him politely not to interrupt the scene again. But the emotional and physical response we sometimes have to external triggers can get overblown. Bale gave up his control over anger, letting the dark emotion take hold instead. Creating harmony and balance within oneself is possible, given the right tools.

Managing Anger
The first step in resolving anger issues is to realize that you, and only you, are in control over your emotions and reactions. The energy expended on anger is far greater than what is needed to retrain your way of thinking. It may sound oversimplified, but you've no doubt heard about the power of positive thinking. It is possible to create the life and relationships you want. Positive affirmations can have a powerful effect on every aspect of your life. It took years to develop the negative thought patterns that contribute to chronic anger, so re-training your brain won't happen overnight. But you will be surprised to find that adopting a positive outlook and the feelings that come along with it can be just as addicting.

Anger management counseling helps patients identify triggers and adopt strategies to improve self control. Medication, relaxation, meditation and exercise are sometimes used to facilitate the healing process. Strategies may include ways to strengthen coping skills and teaching you how to adapt to situations and overcome challenges. This can be done through deep breathing, writing, role-playing and exercise.

Anger is About Control
Underlying anger is caused by our perception of a loss of control over factors affecting our core values. These values could include pride, love and money. In Bale's case, perhaps he felt he was being treated unfairly and had lost control over his performance. We tend to have a negative emotional response when we don't get what we want or expect.

Anger can be constructive at times, allowing us to fight back if we find ourselves under attack physically. In most cases, it merely clouds our judgment, throws us off track and causes added stress. The negative attention surrounding Bale's case has undoubtedly caused him more stress than what he felt in that instant when he overreacted. Essentially, he created the situation he finds himself in. Regaining your power over anger may require you to explore the hurt and fear underlying the anger, develop empathetic understanding of others and assume people operate under the best intentions. Had Bale recognized that the man was not intentionally trying to ruin his shot, he may have reacted differently or not at all. Try to always look for the win-win in any situation. Take a time-out if someone is getting too upset, and try to find constructive ways to release negative energy.

Changing the Way We Respond
We cannot unlearn old beliefs or habits. Once something is committed to our internal memory, it stays put. Just like you can't unlearn that 2+2=4, we can never completely unlearn our past experiences, whether they were positive or negative. What we can do, is change the way we respond, by understanding the negatives and acting on the positives. Staying focused on the present and future keeps us from staying stuck in the past. One way to think of it is to realize that we are not exactly the same people who made past mistakes. We have learned, grown and changed since then, so it's unproductive to blame the people we used to be. Try this: Make a list of all of your positive attributes, as you are now. Keep the list close by and periodically remind yourself of these positive qualities.

Harboring anger is damaging to the mind, heart and spirit. The basic nature of the soul is to always remain calm and blissful, despite all odds. By allowing yourself to get carried away by anger, you are going against the natural state of your being. Sometimes, people get so ingrained in an angry lifestyle that they forget how easy it is to be happy. The following is a list of suggested steps to take when you find yourself plagued by anger.

  1. Stop.
  2. Recognize what you are feeling is anger.
  3. Make a decision as to whether you will react in typical fashion or try something new.
  4. Commit to making a change and working through issues, and follow through on that commitment.
  5. Don't act on your first instincts.
  6. Take a deep breath and realize that whatever you think you feel (sadness, irritation, or frustration) is really masked anger.
Consequences, Acceptance and the Conscious Choice to Be Happy
Being able to project forward to the consequences of our actions is also a very important step in keeping ourselves in check. Our harsh words and actions can hurt people and ruin relationships. Certainly, the fallout can be far worse for someone like Bale who is in the public eye - especially when that tirade is unleashed in a room full of rolling cameras and sound equipment.

Even though you may not fully understand things that happen in your life, you can choose to accept that it's just the way things are. This level of acceptance can bring you to a place of peace within yourself. Remember: every moment of anger is one less moment of happiness. You cannot feel anger and happiness at the same time. It is a choice, and it's a no-brainer. Choose happiness. Only you have the power to do it.

Martin Brenner is a certified Chemical Dependency Counselor and Anger Management Facilitator. He has 20 years of experience providing guidance and counseling to a wide and diverse range of people. Mr. Brenner provides services to individuals challenged with various addictions including but not limited to - Substance Abuse, Alcohol, and Anger.

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