Anger! What Do You Think It’s Good For?

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some teenage boys who have diabetes. The reason I was working with them was because some people in their lives thought that their behavior with their diabetes and their attitudes when asked about it were less than pleasant. The people who brought the kids to me were doctors and parents, and the kids were not happy to be here.

In each of the sessions, we discussed the boys’ history of living with diabetes and the impact it had on them and their families. In all of these sessions, the boys said that they didn’t have a problem with diabetes—that it was no big deal except when the adults in their lives started bugging them about it. One kid was clear about his anger: His mom was making him pay more attention to his diabetes and he didn’t want to. She was a bit overinvolved, and he was getting ready to leave for college and didn’t want or need her continued nagging. His control was decent and was active enough with his self-care that he really didn’t need any further help.


The other two boys were pissed about everything: mom, school, the doctor, and me. They denied that they were angry, and meanwhile they were doing poorly in school, refusing to monitor blood glucose levels, and missing injections—their control was horrible.

In all of these kids the anger was on the surface, while underneath there were probably lots of other feelings and circumstances that could use some discussion. Some of these feelings were about diabetes (fear, sadness), and some were about other issues. The one boy who identified his anger directly was also later able to discuss his fears of leaving home and his frustration over not getting credit from his mom for the positive approach he has taken with his diabetes. The other two boys refused to discuss anything, but then again they refused to look at what seemed so apparent to everyone else: that they were lonely, scared, and afraid to appear vulnerable by asking for help.

In a way, anger was serving all of these kids well. It was buying them some distance from the feelings that were too difficult to deal with; for them, anger kept people and diabetes at a distance.

Anger with diabetes is challenging to deal with. Unless you have some good ways of managing anger before you get diabetes, it is likely to become a focus for your anger after you are diagnosed. I know some people who, after years of living with this condition, still wear their anger on their sleeves. This displaced anger is something I receive simply because I’m a psychologist.

There is a big difference for me between people who are angry and own it and express it directly and people who get angry at me simply because I represent yet another health-care professional who is trying to get them to do some things they don’t want to do. This is not my job; this is their perception.

I guess I’m writing this because anger is one of the feelings that arises often and, when it is directed well, can be useful to the individual. When it is not expressed directly, however, it is likely to come out in not-so-useful ways.

Has anger impacted you? In what way? Positively or negatively?

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