Anger Management: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach > Chapter 9 - Anger And The Family

How Past Learning Can Influence Present Behavior

Sessions 9 & 10

Outline of Sessions 9 & 10

  • Instructions to Group Leaders
  • Check-In Procedure
  • Suggested Remarks
  • – Anger and the Family
  • Homework Assignment

Instructions to Group Leaders

As with sessions 7 and 8, sessions 9 and 10 are combined because it takes more than one session to answer the questions beginning on page 46 and connect the responses to current behavior.

Sessions 9 and 10 (comprising two 90-minute sessions) help group members gain a better understanding of their anger with regard to the interactions they had with their parents and the families that they grew up in (Reilly & Grusznski, 1984). Help them see how these past interactions have influenced their current behavior, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes and the way they now interact with others as adults.

Many people are unaware of the connection between past learning and current behavior. Present a series of questions to the group members that will help them understand how their learning histories relate to current patterns of behavior. Because of the nature and content of this exercise, with its focus on family interactions, it is important that you monitor and structure the exercise carefully, but at the same time provide a warm and supportive environment. Experience has shown there is a tendency for group members to elaborate on many detailed aspects of their family backgrounds that are beyond the scope of this exercise. Keep in mind that family issues may bring up difficult and painful memories that could potentially trigger anxiety, depression, or relapse to drug and alcohol use. It is important, therefore, to tell group members that they are not required to answer any questions if they feel that they would be emotionally overwhelmed by doing so. Instead, tell them that they can pursue these and other issues with their individual or group therapist.

Check-In Procedure

Ask group members to report the highest level of anger they reached on the anger meter during the past week. Make sure they reserve 10 for situations where they lost control of their anger and experienced negative consequences. Ask them to describe the anger-provoking event that led to their highest level of anger. Help them identify the cues that occurred in response to the anger-provoking event, and help them classify these cues into the four cue categories. Ask them to report on their use of the Conflict Resolution Model and the ongoing development of their anger control plans.

Suggested Remarks

(Use the following blocked or put this in your own words.)

Anger and the Family

In these sessions, you will explore how anger and other emotions were displayed by your parents and in the families in which you grew up. For many of us, the interactions we have had with our parents have strongly influenced our behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes as adults. With regard to anger and its expression, these feelings and behaviors usually were modeled for us by our parents or parental figures. The purpose of these sessions is to examine the connection between what you have learned in the past, in the families in which you grew up, and your current behavior and interactions with others now as adults. You will be asked a series of questions concerning your parents and families. This is an involved and often emotionally charged topic, so if you are not comfortable answering any questions, you do not have to do so. Also, because there is a natural tendency to want to elaborate on family issues because of their emotional content, please focus on answering the specific questions:


  • Describe your family. Did you live with both parents? Did you have any brothers and sisters? Where did you grow up?
  • How was anger expressed in your family while you were growing up? How did your father express anger? How did your mother express anger? (Possible probes to use: Did your parents yell or throw things? Were you ever threatened with physical violence? Was your father abusive to your mother or you?)
  • How were other emotions such as happiness and sadness expressed in your family? Were warm emotions expressed frequently, or was emotional expression restricted to feelings of anger and frustration? Were pleasant emotions expressed at birthdays or holidays?
  • How were you disciplined and by whom? Did this discipline involve being spanked or hit with belts, switches, or paddles? (An assumption of the anger management treatment is that no form of physical discipline is beneficial to a child. Empirical studies have shown that nonphysical forms of discipline are very effective in shaping childhood behavior [Barkley, 1997; Ducharme, Atkinson, & Poulton, 2000; Webster-Stratton & Hammond, 1997]).
  • What role did you take in your family? For example, were you the hero, the rescuer, the victim, or the scapegoat?
  • What messages did you receive about your father and men in general? In other words, in your experience, how were men supposed to act in society? What messages did you receive about your mother and women in general? How were women supposed to act in society? (Note: Many of the messages group members have received differ from messages that are socially appropriate today. Point out the changing roles of men and women during the past three decades.)
  • What behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes carry over into your relationships as adults today? What purpose do these behaviors serve? What would happen if you gave up these behaviors? (The group leader should help group members see the connection between past social learning and their current behavior.)


[Question #25. Nonphysical forms of discipline are very effective in shaping childhood behavior.]

Homework Assignment

Have group members refer to the participant workbook. Ask them to monitor and record their highest level of anger on the anger meter during the coming week. Ask them to identify the event that made them angry, the cues associated with the anger-provoking event, and the strategies they used to manage their anger in response to the event. Remind them to continue to develop their anger control plans.

Anger Management: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach > Chapter 9 - Anger And The Family
Page Last Modified On: April 18, 2015, 12:00 PM