After the death of his father, Brad* struggled to maintain normalcy. Then the neck pain started. When results from an MRI scan were delayed for days, Brad exploded on the phone with the clinic. “Maybe it’s time for a little Columbine action around here!” he screamed. When Brad told his wife about the outburst, she urged him to seek help.
For Steve*, the road to anger management was longer. “My first marriage was a fiasco,” he admits. Once in a “blind rage” Steve broke his wife’s nose. His second marriage was verbally abusive, too, and it culminated in 2002 when he took his anger at work out on his spouse. She gave him an ultimatum: get anger management or get out.
John Hesch traces his anger issues to a “raging father,” but he was in his mid-forties before he considered a change. One impetus was his then 13-year-old son. The boy was three years from driving, and Hesch didn’t want to teach his own son that his father’s road rage was acceptable. In retrospect, his reasons were broader. “What’s going to be my legacy as a father?” he remembers thinking. “What kind of world do I want to inhabit?”
Brad, Steve, and John all took anger management classes at the Twin Cities Men’s Center (TCMC) in Minneapolis. Today, all three are instructors.
John Hesch, TCMC's Anger Management CoordinatorPeople have to take drivers education to get a driver's license. If you smash up a car it's no big deal unless you hurt someone. How many cars will you have in a lifetime? However if your anger destroys a marriage or a child's life, how many opportunities will you have to find another relationship or more children?
A group of Twin Cities men launched the 501(c)(3) in 1976, in response to the Men’s Liberation Movement. Although less known than its female counterpart, the men’s movement was inspired by the same desire to acknowledge oppression, rethink gender roles, and create a political platform. Many of the projects conceived at TCMC morphed into Twin Cities-based organizations, including the Minnesota AIDS Project and the Domestic Abuse Project.
TCMC’s anger management class began in 1995 and is titled “Men Helping Men with Anger.” Each course meets for two hours per week for 12 weeks and is facilitated by two instructors. Now TCMC’s Anger Management Coordinator, Hesch estimates that as many as half of his students are on probation and were court-ordered to take the course. For this subset, “Men Helping Men” is a requisite to retaining visitation rights or avoiding jail time. Others have come at the prompting of friends or family. Regardless of their reasons, most adopt the attitude of, “If I’m here, I might as well get something out of it,” Hesch says.
David Decker, one of Minnesota’s foremost domestic violence experts, places anger on a continuum that starts as an emotion, progresses to an attitude, and culminates in a behavior. Some anger attitudes and behaviors are positive; they help people react to danger, emergencies, and social injustice. But anger attitudes and behaviors can also be negative. Decker describes these negative manifestations — like blaming, lecturing, name calling, and physical aggression — as “distortions of the emotion.”
The ANGEResources website is run by two psychologists. It has helpful articles about anger and a quiz to see how angry you are.
But be it a learned behavior, a genetic predisposition, or triggered by life circumstances — the experts stress there are no “excuses” for destructive anger. Ultimately, anger is a choice — a choice to change that’s always available to make. “Age is obsolete as far as the success of an anger management class,” Decker says.
"Above all, a person in anger management learns that his behavior is his responsibility," Hesch says, calling this the “first rule” of anger management. In the program, men also begin to notice their personal triggers, and they learn “de-escalation” tactics that help them respond to anger appropriately. These include exercise, calling a friend, “respective” versus “defensive” listening, adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and “taking a time out.” Students also explore their deep-rooted beliefs and tendencies, such as perfectionism or comparing themselves to others. “Ultimately, what we’re teaching is life management,” Hesch explains.
In addition to its curriculum, the instructors attribute the success of “Men Helping Men” to its nonjudgmental environment. It’s here that men feel comfortable opening up, and they often develop friendships that last beyond the class.
To foster that cohesion, each cohort stays together for the 12-week course. The men receive a phone roster so they can communicate between classes. And the facilitators set a ground rule: everything that is said about — or to — another person should be respectful. “If you tolerate disrespect in class, you’ll tolerate it in life,” Steve explains.
Each class begins with the men discussing how their week went. They then move to the formal curriculum, which is laced with personal stories. The stories not only teach, they inspire. “You learn all these things that are tremendously helpful. But you also learn that you’re not a freak. And you start to actually care about the other guys in the room,” Steve says.
Over the years, the instructors have noticed changes in our society. When they started teaching, most folks were embarrassed to talk to them about their work. Now they receive congratulations, and inquiries about how to join the class. People even tell them that anger management classes need to happen earlier. “Guys have told me, ‘Why didn’t we take this class in elementary and middle school?’” Steve says.
The fee for taking the “Men Helping Men with Anger” is $256.
For more information, or to register, call 612-229-3102 or fill out a contact form here.
*The names of two instructors have been changed
Hennepin County's Community Outreach Psychiatric Services (COPE) is available 24/7/365 to respond to an anger crisis or other mental health emergency. Call 612-596-1223.