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No easy solution to anger management

LOSING it seems to be this year's thing. Workplace murders, fathers who take shotguns to their wives and children. YouTube videos of people freaking out over minor prickles.

The latest hit is a hilarious video of a woman in such a rage over the lack of McNuggets in an Ohio drive-in that she punched at staff through the open window, then tried to climb in and get at them to punish them for the McNugget famine, then smashed the window and sped off.

And stars seem particularly prone to losing it. Charlie Sheen was ordered to take 36 hours of anger management classes after -- according to a police report -- he denied putting a knife to his wife's throat or attempting to strangle her during a Christmas Day row. His wife, though, told the court she had "feared for her life".

Sean Penn was ordered to do the magic 36 hours after a spat with a photographer last year. Naomi Campbell (below), Omar Sharif, even Meryl Streep's nephew -- if a celeb starts screaming and throwing telephones, the judge reaches for the anger management order. But can you really "manage" volcanic rage with a three-day course?

Dr Thomas Harbin, author of Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men -- How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life, thinks not. And he has spent a lifetime assessing dangerous criminals and working with angry people.

Dr Harbin says male anger comes from a sense of inferiority, and "precursor emotions" such as humiliation and frustration.

"I think the whole concept of 'anger management' frankly is a joke, at least the way it's realised in the USA: you go to 10 classes, or you go and spend a number of weeks with someone to learn anger management.

"If people don't deal with the core issues, and the precursor emotions, it's a complete and utter waste of time."

Angry people show their anger in different ways, says Dr Harbin. A few are violent. More are "verbally hostile" -- sarcastic, verbally aggressive and competitive. You have to analyse your anger to conquer it, he says -- how often you get angry, in what circumstances, what it takes to get you angry, what you do then.

Dr Harbin comes to this from personal experience. He's a big guy who was once the "chronically angry" edgy man who was called on when there was trouble in the hospital. When his wife said she was leaving him, he went to work on his own anger -- and found a career helping others.

Angry men, he says, think in a polarised way: you're either their friend or their enemy, either right or wrong. Until they see that this isn't realistic, they'll stay angry. And many have been chronically angry for so long that they see it as normal.

"Angry people . . . have a great capacity for denial," he says. "They can account for their behaviour or other people's reactions in a whole bunch of ways that keep the responsibility or accountability away from them."