Why does “Anger Management” not work?

Sometimes men who are abusive take “Anger Management” courses. Women have reported to us that these programs do not seem to improve the dynamics in the relationship. This is because anger is not the problem with men who are abusive; their desire for power and control is the problem.
An Anger Management course will try to address an abusive man’s behaviour. If in the past, when he was angry he yelled, threw something or hit his partner, he will be asked to stop this behaviour and to do something else when he is angry like take a “time out”.
The problem with this methodology is that it approaches the problem at the level of the man’s behaviour when the real problem has to do with the man’s belief system. The man believes that he is entitled to control his partner’s actions. He believes he is entitled to be superior to his partner and he believes he deserves to have all his needs met when he wants them met and how he wants them met. When he does not get everything he wants (and thinks he deserves) he gets angry. Anger is not the core problem; the core problem is his belief system that fuels his anger.
What women have taught us is that if a man takes “Anger Management” he may stop some of the more overt abusive actions like hitting his partner but he is very likely to become more controlling in other ways. For example, he may become more controlling about the money or more critical about how the woman chooses to use her time. This can be confusing because on the surface it may look like he is “less abusive” – he is maybe no longer hitting her – but in fact he is just as abusive as he ever was, he is simply using different tactics to abuse.
There is counseling that is appropriate for men who are abusive. It is counseling that looks at the belief system of abusive men. If any real, lasting change is going to happen with an abusive man, he is going to need to be challenged about his beliefs and he will need to learn to look at himself and his relationship with his partner in a very different way. (This entry is also posted on the Articles Page.)

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  1. Given the idea that many children who have been abused become abusers, how do we help our children?
    I have been abused, and I fully relate to all the articles about controlling and angry men. But how do we address this constructively and and objectively. Because one day, our children, our sons, grow up, and move into relationships with women. Often times, these relationships are dysfunctional, our sons don’t have good models for relationships, and they choose women who are controlling and manipulative like their fathers were. They try to deal with it. They shove it down and wrestle with it. Eventually, when they are pushed to their limits, they explode, sometimes doing what was modeled for them. Do we villain-ize our own sons as controlling and abusive men who will never change? Putting them in counseling is not a fix-all. Many times, even if a woman leaves an abusive relationship, the abusive ex/father will not allow counseling or will dictate that the counselor be someone sympathetic to and easily manipulated by him. I see increasing awareness for domestic violence and abuse, and that’s good. But despite exhausting every resource I can find for years, no one addresses this elephant in the room. Meanwhile, our sons are growing up and moving into relationships and marriages of their own, and they are angry.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. These are hard and painful situations. I think you being as supported as possible and doing what you can to talk to your growing sons is important. Your voice is important.

  3. My daughter has been physically and mentally abused by her partner for quite sometime. Every time she has gone back. This time the police were involved and he was placed on bail. My daughter is saying she will return after the court case as she believes he can change after completing a anger management course. Any comments would be helpful or advice

  4. Thank you for your message. Change is possible but incredibly difficult and requires genuine willingness on the part of the partner as well as the right kind of program. Even then, permanent, long lasting change only happens in a small fraction of cases. The important thing you can do at this time is educate yourself and support your daughter as she continues to gather evidence about whether he will really change and if he will do the very hard work of maintaining that change over time. Either way, your daughter needs support. This is a really hard situation. Also make sure that you have good support for yourself and you take care of yourself. This is really hard on you too. Take care, Karen.

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