David’s Tuesday Tips (#6)*

Here’s your paradoxical tip of the day!

Few therapists can recognize, or acknowledge, the patient’s anger. Most therapists appear to have a fairly intense “anger / conflict phobia.”

This is true of non-therapists as well. The attempt to avoid anger will cause it to mushroom.

Use the Reply / Comment feature below to let us to know how you understand today’s tip.



* Copyright © 2018 by David D. Burns, MD.




20 thoughts on “David’s Tuesday Tips (#6)*

  1. Hi Dr. David. I have listened to this in a bunch of your podcasts and am glad you brought it up today. It is confusing to me but perhaps it means that the therapist might have a little emotophobia and is unskillful at saying “Hey, you upset me when you refused to do you homework, etc..” Look forward to hearing the correct answer and understanding this better. Philomablog

    • Thanks, Philomablog. You are moving in the right direction, but there’s a bit more to it. On a slightly different point, if you say, “Hey, you upset me when you refused . . . ” it sounds a bit blaming. Like YOU upset ME, so you’re to blame for my negative feelings. In addition, “when you refused” also has a bit of a blaming tone to it. The danger is that this type of expression of your feelings, to a patient or a friend or family member, may trigger a defensive response which can easily lead to an escalation of the conflict. Then you may conclude, “Yup, negative feelings are bad and need to be squashed!” david

  2. My experience is that most people think of anger and sadness as being separate emotions and are startled when my anger is revealed since I’ve been thought to be sad. I become angry when the major causes of my sadness (scars on my brain and spinal compression) are not understood. I have to remind myself that I am fortunate and grateful to have what I do, to do all I can for others, and to use my imagination to be strong–otherwise, my sadness will dominate and gradually enlarge and extend into anger, and then startle those around me. I think people are more comfortable around sadness than anger, though they don’t want either, so a lot of anger is repressed and sadness accompanies it.

    • Thank you Elizabeth! I have seen the same pattern, even recently, some times people hide their anger, thinking they “should not” feel that way, and then when it emerges, it erupts and spooks everyone. Then you may go back into your shell, thinking that anger really IS something bad that needs to be repressed or avoided or hidden. And yes, many people do think that anger and sadness are bad! david

  3. Thank you for this! I recently tried the disarming technique on an upset customer. I made a statements such as “your right” and “thank you for pointing that out”, and by the end of the conversation she was comforting me! The podcasts have been so helpful in my day to interactions with everyone around me

    Best regards,
    Susana Carter

  4. Holding space for anger is incredibly hard, especially if your own ego is threatened. It really challenges all my self regulatory skills to be able to sit and witness someone else’s anger without wanting to “fix it” or turn away.

    • Oh, yes, you are so right about that! This is a huge problem in the world, I think! Thanks. Also, if we witness someone else’s anger that is directed at us, we may have an overwhelming urge to flee or fight, both with perhaps less than optimal outcomes! But this urge to “fix” is also a killer! d

  5. I may have a phobia of conflict. And, I believe this phobia or aversion to conflict has negatively impacted me at times in my roles as a loving husband and father. I believe it has also caused problems for me in the work place, where I work as an accountant.

    Mike Tinnon
    San Antonio, Texas, USA

  6. Dear Dr. Burns,
    This post is very triggering for me and has me ticked off! Ha! Actually really appreciate you acknowledging this phobia. In my experience it seems like there are therapists who will hide behind their diagnosis shield. In other words they will grasp for diagnosis of the patient versus helping address the broader issues. I’ve seen this in family therapy dynamics where it is easier to deal with patient who is focused on his/her role rather than deal with a bullying family member. And as I was married into a family with a respected Psychiatrist from a renowned University, I’ve seen first hand how even those professionally trained avoid conflict in their personal life.
    Many thanks,

    • Oh, you are so right. The gurus nearly always have clay feet, and many hidden flaws. I’m no exception, though don’t really qualify as “guru” I fear! We all struggle with these issues. Yes, shrinks often hide behind treating a “diagnosis” instead of treating the person. Many people fear their own anger, as well as the anger of others. For some reason, this Tuesday Tip is getting more attention than previous tips! Thanks for you excellent comment, John. David

  7. Dear David,

    I had an interaction with a girlfriend recently that echoes this. She said “I can be mad at you, and not disapprove of you”. I think this tip has a lot to do with the death of the ego – we can never really know what others are thinking of us.

    Thank you,

    Travis Albright
    Detroit, MI

    • Right you are! We do a lot of Mind-Reading. i was writing about that this morning in a chapter in my new book, actually. I’m also writing about the “self,” and our fear that others may judge our “self.” Thanks, Travis! david

  8. Great reminder. Avoiding issues rarely make things.better, even though it may feel better at the time.
    Hard to break the habit of always attempting to turn the negative into a positive.

    • Right you are, John! These habits are very hard to break. That’s just one reason why relationship problems usually take much longer to treat than depression and anxiety. And many people, perhaps most, do not even want to change their comfortable ways of doing things, especially when it comes to conflicted relationships. Blaming others is so much more rewarding that examining our own role in the conflict. david

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