HEArt, The Short Story
Court Appointed Destructive Anger Prevention Class In a Weird Place
“It all comes down to this, you know it and you just don’t want to admit it . You are afraid, scared shitless. You run from that fear with everything you got. You claim you don’t care. ‘I could care less you say’ How many times have you said it, have you heard it from somebody else? But, besides being grammatically ignorant, it is bullshit. You care, and even as you are pretending you don’t care, the anger is seeping through every word of I… COULDN’T… CARE …LESS (he says slowly with mockery in his voice), and below that is the fear. Yeah, you say you don’t feel fear, NO FEAR, you’re not scared, Maybe not at the time, at the time you were just pissed, or blind with rage, but afterward you knew it was fear. You couldn’t hide forever.
You know how you got here, you ran the wrong person off the road, at the wrong time, or in the wrong place. Or, maybe, it was the right time, you got lucky, if you hadn’t gotten some bleeding heart judge, or had a fancy lawyer you would be sitting in the can right now.
Since we, you know we, me and all the boys and girls with the prison keys and the numbers to back ‘em up, know you don’t want to be here…How do we know?, We wouldn’t want to be here either, so we are going to give one of you a free pass to get out.
In a couple minutes anybody who wants to get out of this goes to that side door, and in to the room next door. You fight it out, the winner gets to leave, everybody else comes back next week to get the same choice, finish the meeting. Or fight it out.
Oh, there is a question, “
“What happens if you get hurt bad in the fight? “ asks a guy who came in last and had to sit in the front row, because there was no standing room left around the edges of the room.
“ That, my inquisitive friend is what the Affordable Care Act was for. Any other questions?
OK, Anybody who wants to leave, start walking to the door. Anybody who wants to stay for the rest of the anger prevention class, stay. Heh, you (the instructor points to a guy) no kicking anybody as they walk by you, if you’re so tough go out and fight.”
Ten of the 30 people leave.
Then the instructor, leaning on the desk in front of the room in a more relaxed posture, smiles slightly, and asks in a pleasant tone “Any more questions before we go on to what is next?’
Somebody else in the front row asks “ How come you sound so angry, are you scared?’ The instructor smiles sweetly, eyes tilting up, quietly says “Moi?”
The exit the fighters have taken leads directly to another room. After all have entered, the strong door behind them is closed and locked. They commence to beat the crap out of each other. The varying results are, some cringing in corners, some out cold or moaning in pain on the floor, or running out the door on the other side of the room. And finally two just having it out it out like the trained fighters they are. We won’t linger too long on this. Only enough to say that those who went into the fighting room will get a notice as to what time to return for the class the next week. Some are driven off to the hospital; they will have to report to an officer of the court to reschedule when they can walk unassisted . The winner?… a special operations team takes him off to jail to stand trial for assault, and maybe more, depending on what happens in the hospital. “Not fair” you say?
Back in the class the instructor goes on. “ I’ve got some ideas about how to have less destructive anger, but we all know they won’t work unless you sincerely try them, so now, since everyone here is here by choice, I have this great feeling that you are all going to get some help you are saying you need. Otherwise, you would have left, right?”
The class continues until the instructor finishes explaining how anger occurs to block other more uncomfortable emotions, including sadness and sometimes even love, and how to use this knowledge to have less anger, and what to do about the bad feelings that come up when the anger doesn’t block them. Everyone leaves, some actually improved for the experience.
The Next Week
The class re-assembles, a few from the previous week with visible reminders of last week’s fight, a bruise here or there, a limp. The instructor begins the same way. About seven leave, It may seem like a lot, but who wants to hear some guy rattle on about emotions, and especially somebody telling you this BS idea that people could be afraid when they were angry. He said that the anger blocks the fear. He said why would they bother being angry if they were not threatened, and if they were threatened the natural reaction was fear, or at least worry, but that they didn’t FEEL it because it was blocked by their anger. What a load of crap.
Meanwhile in the fighting room, among the people who went there because they hadn’t heard that if you won the fight you went to do hard time, there were two combat veterans, multiple tours, lots of, shall we say, up close and personal moments. They agree to work together, then flipped a coin. The winner would fall on the floor and pretend to have been knocked out; the loser (He picked tails in this case.) would have to go to the class again the next week. Well, at least he got to miss this one class, and he could always fight again the next week. As you’d expect the “winner” was nice enough to get word to his buddy of what happened, so he wouldn’t fall into the trap.
The Next Week
“Every emotion has an action that goes with it, fear has hiding and running away, affection has going toward, sadness, shutting down. And anger, it has getting rid of something. Why bother to get rid of it if it isn’t a threat, and if it is a threat why don’t you have fear? Too logical for you? Don’t like it, then you come up with an answer of why you go crazy over someone cutting you off in traffic, even though you have done it lots of times yourself by accident. “
A hand is raised, and his answer comes before the person bothers to be recognized by the instructor. “Because you are just pissed off, that is why.”, he says
The instructor responds, “You’re right, I don’t know why I never thought of that. It is so obvious. Nothing happens for any reason other that it just is. Congratulations, you have earned the right to sleep through the rest of the classes”
The Next Week
The vet who got sent to jail after winning the coin flip and the fight is back in class. He got a lawyer through some veterans law project, or the ACLU or something, and he might beat the case, because this “fighting room” is so completely unconstitutional nobody could ever believe it. But, he still had to go back to the class.
The instructor starts in again, “OK, you are stuck here, no more fighting room. It was a temporary experimental program. Personally I thought it was a great idea, but we forgot to run it by good lawyers, and this might be my last class, I don’t know, so at the end I’m going to give you the big secret of how not to get crazy with anger.
It is really hard to figure out why such little bitty things get people so pissed off, when sometimes they just meekly accept or ignore big things, like the government letting people dump poisons in rivers. I think there are two reasons, one is that the little thing reminds you of something big and very personal, from your past that is stuck in your memory where it doesn’t belong. It’s like you have flashback. When someone cuts you off in traffic, part of you knows it doesn’t deserve capital punishment, but part of you is reminded some tie when you were ambushed, or of all the times when in some important way you were told you were worthless. And that old feeling comes back, and the anger comes to block it.
The other is that, maybe” the instructor pauses and looks down, “I don’t know, I forgot. Shit! But I do remember the BIG SECRET. So this guy is walking down the street in New York. He is lost and decides to stop this old guy with a violin case and ask for directions. He says, ‘How to you get to Carnegie Hall?’ The old guy says ‘Practice, practice, practice’”.
“Duh.. you practice looking at the situations when you blow up, and practice finding the names of the emotions that are being hidden by the anger. Not the feelings, you don’t feel them, they are hidden. Name the fear and sadness that you don’t feel, that are hidden by the anger. And then try to figure out what to do with them before you get in the anger situations. Practice this everyday. It might feel bad, then use your brain to figure out what to do with the hurt and fear that won’t make things worse later. On the other hand, you could always keep all your anger and keep having the happy life that brought you here.”
“Oh yeah, and read the book”: Don’t I Have the Right to Be Angry?
The instructor grabs his cell phone, looks down at it, and heads for the door saying “That was my lawyer; I got to go.”
“Iceholes” he says, as he comes in the door.
“Who,” his wife asks, “the lawyers, the police, your boss, the guy who started the fighting room?”
“No, “ he says, “ the clients at the court mandated anger prevention class. They don’t practice, and they are going to keep messing up their lives, not to mention the people they fark over.”
“ You know you didn’t used to swear like this.” she says
“Yeah, I know. And, I didn’t swear” he says.
“If you are pissed off, maybe you should practice HEArt” she says.
“OK, let me see, what is the name of the emotion the anger is hiding? Is it fear? What might I be worried about? Here is a list
- The clients’ lives being bad.
- The other people affected by the clients.
- My reputation if I am not a success.
I could go on” He says.
“You would not be a very good example if your customers could see you now.” She says.
“AH HAH” he says, “you are wrong my lovely darling.
It was a good example of me practicing HEArt. And, secondly that was not problem anger, No one was hurt. I don’t regret it. And thirdly I was able to give you the momentary pleasure of thinking you had caught me not practicing what I preach. But, no need to thank me; I love making you happy. So, what shall I make for dinner?”
Aphorism Approach to Beginning a HEArt Presentation
Recently I have found the following exercise helpful in introducing the HEArt ideas. It promotes active consideration of the principles, and seems to bring the main message across clearly.
- Provide note cards to the participants and ask them to (anonymously) write the two or three ideas, principles, mottos, slogans etc. they TRY to live by. Collect the note cards. If it is going to be a continuing group let the participants know that they will be will given feedback at the next meeting.
- After collecting the cards I mention some of my beliefs, though this approach might not be preferred by clinicians who have different thoughts about self-revelation.
- Propose participants consider adding one more idea to their list. That is “Anger/rage are often present to block feeling sadness, fear, and other painful experience.” The presenter might then say: “The exploration of this idea and how to make it useful is the main work of the HEArt suggestions to prevent destructive anger.”
- Present the HEArt program.
Podcast from the University of Buffalo School of Social Work
Listen to a 35 minute interview with Howard Lipke conducted by Dr. Nancy Smyth, dean of the School of Social Work. The basics and history of the development of the HEArt program are discussed, as are research, general ideas about anger prevention work and clinical practice with combat veterans.
Episode 180 – Dr. Howard Lipke: HEArt for Veterans: Identifying the Hidden Emotion. (2015, November 23). inSocialWork® Podcast Series. [Audio Podcast] Retrieved from http://www.insocialwork.org/episode.asp?ep=180