Bernard Golden, author of Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies that work, freely admits that his personal struggles with anger motivated him to write his book, advocate for individuals, and teach strategies to overcome or cope with anger. One of the things I appreciate about Overcoming Destructive Anger is its simplicity. Although the first few chapters might seem redundant and simplistic to some, the author does a good job of maintaining reader interest while also educating.
Part I of the book provides a general overview and engages the reader in identifying various kinds of anger and the “mechanisms” by which anger becomes psychologically, emotionally, and even neurologically ingrained. For many people, anger is often fueled by the culture in which we are born and in which we develop. But Golden explains that anger is cemented into behavior because we learn (through our environment, cultural experiences, and upbringing) to express and view anger in certain ways. We also develop patterns of anger because we find that it can be a tool to get us what we want in certain situations.
As a result, anger is reinforced by the responses that others exhibit toward the angry person. For example, drivers will move into the next lane to avoid coming in contact with the hostile emotions of an angry fellow driver. The hostile person, sadly, “learns” that their feelings and behaviors gets the person what he or she ultimately wants. Golden further explains that anger blocks accountability, provides an adrenaline rush, and feels “comfortable” because change is difficult.
Part II of the book provides an overview of ways to cultivate change and mindfulness. Golden discusses mindfulness practices and self-compassion as ways to cope with and ultimately change destructive anger. Part III focuses on interpersonal relationships and ways to practice what is learned throughout the book in relationships that may have been negatively affected by out of control anger.
For some readers, Overcoming Destructive Anger might not resonate. One thing that concerns me about Golden’s book is how overly simplistic it can be in regards to teaching tools for anger management. For example, Golden says at the beginning that readers will learn about anger and then read about tools and strategies that can help someone manage their anger. However, it could feel like the strategies provided in Parts II and III are not sufficient to help control powerful emotions.
For an individual struggling with years of anger, it may be difficult to read Golden’s book and relate to the information on mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-awareness. It also may be difficult to see the difference between Golden’s book and any other self-help book on the same topic.
In addition, while Golden provides an easy-to-understand overview, we must be careful not to minimize (intentionally or unintentionally) the destructive nature of anger. Anger is a very powerful emotion that is often at the top of multiple layers of life experience, resentment, cultural and social influence, inaccurate perceptions or thinking errors, trauma, abuse, untreated mental health conditions, personality disorders, and a myriad other similar things.
Despite some of the above observations, Golden’s book is a good first start for readers who are new to the topic of anger and its impact on the sufferer. For instance, it would be very helpful for adolescents or teenagers needing to learn more about their own anger. Golden’s book is certainly one that I will add to my library and recommend to clients.
Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies That Work
Johns Hopkins University Press, June 2016
Paperback, 224 pages