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February 20, 2018

Balloon + Hot Air = A Tool For Learning to Manage Anger

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Very often when I am helping clients deal with anger I will use a balloon. As counselors we know that anger is an appropriate but highly volatile emotion. Research indicates that anger that becomes parasitic or anger that is expressed as rage can have very destructive effects on both an individual and to others. When a client or I identify anger as an issue that they wish to work on, I often pull a balloon from my desk. The balloon itself represents the integrity of the emotion. First, I indicate to the client how big the balloon is blown represents the choice they have in deciding how much anger they wish to have. Sometimes I will blow a balloon or sometimes I will have the client blow their own balloon. The only rule is that the balloon cannot be blown so big it explodes. Very quickly the client comes to see that once the balloon has much air in it, it becomes an inconvenience.

Consequently, something must be done with this balloon. If it had no air in it (the integrity of the emotion still intact) the balloon can be placed in a pocket. But with air in the balloon, there is no place to put it. The larger the balloon the more difficult it is to know what to do with the balloon and continue with other activities. At this point I demonstrate to the client that the air can be let out very slowly and softly. This represents a number of symbolic alternatives. One alternative is that time is the best healer. Another example is that sometimes by exercising or doing other constructive activities, anger can subside. On the other hand, sometimes anger must be expressed. I illustrate this concept to the client by letting the air out in such a fashion that the balloon squeaks and makes noise.

I demonstrate to the client that one can have this mediated discharge and at times cut off the air flow. This represents mediated discharge with containment. An individual has to know how and when to express their anger. The noise can go on for a long time, or a short time, depending upon what the individual's goals may be. Finally, I demonstrate to the client "what happens when you let go of your anger?" Each time anger is let go the balloon flies uncontrollably around the room. This symbolizes what happens when anger is out of control. The client very quickly understands the importance of both choosing how to control how much anger they develop and creative and healthy ways of discharging anger without losing control. In situations involving couples we will experiment with two balloons. Individuals can quickly understand how the visual image of loss of control is highly unproductive. See if this little technique, that will cost you about $ 1.29 for a bag of balloons, might help your clients create some of the positive changes they need in dealing creatively with their anger.