When you are working with clients who have anger issues, you may want to consider teaching him or her “The 90-Second Rule.” Our emotions come into our body and are interpreted in the brain. We think we feel them in the brain, but the emotions are actually feelings in the body. When an intense emotion such as anger comes into the body, it will be funneled straight to the adrenal glands. Then adrenaline is sent to the brain through vagus nerve. It goes to the amygdala which is the switching station in the lymbic system. The amygdala interprets the message as anger. This message is sent to the hypothalamus (the hypothalamus is the emotional regulator) which then floods the brain with cortisol. When the brain is flooded with the anger message we received from the body, we experience the anger. This is the course of anger that allows us to say sometimes, “I’m so angry I could burst.” No matter what the cause of that anger, the process between the adrenalin gland, the spinal cord, the amygdala and the hypothalamus and then the constant anger surging through the body, will only last 90 seconds unless you continue to feed the anger.
So what does that mean? The amazing thing is that if you stop this chemical process, the anger will stop. The key is, don’t feed the anger. An example would be when one is driving and somebody cuts him or her off. Our driver had the right of way but almost hit the other car. Just barely missing it. The other driver drove on probably not even knowing that he almost hit the person in our example. But for the next half an hour our driver is saying to him/herself, “That stupid so and so, I wish he were here so I could give him a piece of my mind.” As long as the driver keeps this message going, it keeps the anger going. It feeds the emotion. The cortisol keeps flooding the brain and repeatedly triggering more anger and stress. The other guy is down the road oblivious to what almost happened. Our driver is ruining his/her day over something the other driver probably didn’t know anything about.
Get your clients to learn a new behavior which is to say to him/herself, “That was a stupid thing he did and it pissed me off but there’s nothing I can do about it now.” Then the person in our example isn’t feeding the anger and in 90 seconds it will naturally dissipate. In time the client will learn to catch themselves before they feed the anger beyond its original 90 second life
The 90-Second Rule is a very interesting piece of neurology that is important to the work that we do treating DID. Almost all people with DID have angry “parts”. With this understanding, you can teach the angry parts to wait ninety seconds and they will generally stabilize. If you don’t feed the anger, then the chemical reaction that’s been kicked off in the brain will simply peter out and you will no longer be experiencing angry. I teach this technique to clients with angry parts and it is extremely effective in stabilizing them. Of course, most of the time, we are all inclined feed the chemical reaction over and over again. But the thing to remember is — you don’t have to.