Some questions about anger

These are some questions which people have asked about anger – some of the original answers have been slightly edited and extended. They are included here to give an idea of how people experience anger-causing situations and some options they could consider.

Re-routing anger

Q. Is there any one book you would recommend that deals with the physical and emotional details of anger and how to reroute it?

A. The book that best suits you will depend on your personal tastes and I do not know of one that is so good it could be recommended to everyone. There are hundreds of books on anger. Most of them have the theme of what to do with angry feelings. I believe that this is missing the point.

From practical hands-on experience of helping people to deal with their anger over some  years I believe that the most important thing to focus on is to NOT get angry in the first place. Then you do not have to find ways of dealing with it, re-routing it, or getting rid of it.

As suggested in the main anger section the key thing with anger is to deal with the ‘hot buttons’ the triggers that precipitate the angry feelings and thoughts. Once these triggers have been activated and you are feeling angry it is too late to do anything other than avoid making things worse, by acting out your anger, or working at calming yourself down.

For example, someone with the anger habit is a bit like someone who has the habit of putting their  finger on the hot-plate of an electric cooker. (OK, I agree that it’s a bit more complex and subtle than this – but stay with the analogy for a moment). Once you do it you do not feel good – your finger hurts and it injured. So, of course, you now have to seek treatment for the injury and relief for the pain.

But what if you spend your time, in between anger bouts, looking for better treatments for burns or better ways of handling pain? Wouldn’t it be better to learn to not put your finger on  the hot-plate in the first place!

I suggest that you deal with your anger habit from three angles:

1.Hot buttons:  Start recognising your hot buttons – the things that provoke your anger. Then change how you handle these. (See the anger section for more information on this.)

2. Anger effects: Understand the physiological and emotional changes that anger produces (in general, the fight and flight response is engaged – unlike people who respond to the unknown with fear you respond with anger – you want to fight rather than flee.) so that you know how to handle the symptoms once these occur.

3. Deal with these symptoms – while keeping a clear focus on the priority of not getting angry so often, so easily, so heatedly, etc. Deal with the symptoms through managing your breathing, relaxing physically, calming your thinking – and learning from each anger episode so it is less likely to recur.

Maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

Q. I have been struggling for so long – years in fact – with so many of the issues covered here, particularly ‘anger’,  I feel with this help, maybe there’s light at the end of my tunnel!  Thank you so much!

A. Thanks for that nice message, Jackie. I’m glad the information has provided you with increased hope.

The theme of the info. on the site is that we can help ourselves – once we know how to go about it. And, of course, that putting the information into practise is what makes the difference – not just knowing it. So lots of persistence and strength!

Keep checking back, too. I update fairly regularly. You might also consider subscribing to the free email newsletter – it will keep you informed of additions to the site.

My husband’s anger

Q. I think my husband has an anger problem. He loses his temper every week. He yells at me and curses about small matters such as leaving a light on or putting something on the wrong shelf or leaving the top off the milk bottle. How can I get him to address his anger problem- or is this normal behaviour. We have only been married 6 months.

A. Sounds like you both need to have a chat with a marriage guidance counsellor. Now’s the time to do it before things settle down in this route forever, too!

It’s likely that his high expectations of married life didn’t include things like having to negotiate and compromise and share duties! That’s why I suggest that you address it as a joint issue rather than as his problem.

Anger is destroying my life!

Q. Thank you for your section on Anger!  It is the best and freshest info I have read on the subject… particularly the section on “anger management” programs.  I only hope I can begin to use this info to stop getting angry, as it is destroying my life!  If you have any other help to offer me it will be deeply appreciated.

A. Many thanks for the great feedback, Gary. It’s great to get that sort of message first thing on a Sunday morning!

I hope you also find it useful while you’re actually putting the information into practical use. There will be extra pieces posted from time to time on the subject of anger. These are usually mentioned in our newsletter so it might be worthwhile subscribing to that.

You say “I only hope I can begin….'”  Well you can begin…  That’s the easiest piece, and … it’s the sticking at it that counts.

Anger in our home

Q. I’ve read so many helpful questions and answers about anger. I think we are experiencing anger problems in our home. I know there is an anger problem, but I am not sure if it is simply with one person or if after all these years that our whole family may be affected?

I have to question myself as to why I have not tried to approach this situation sooner, but I guess it’s because . . . No, I know it’s because I am afraid of the repercussions. No, not physical. Emotional. I’m afraid he will turn away from me and well, that will be the end of our relationship.

It’s a juvenile feeling, I think. He loves me a lot! And I love my husband very much. We married (9 years ago) because we are best of friends. Though I know we cannot change anyone else, I thought that he would mellow out hanging around me and my ways of handling things.

Besides, he seems to have become more angry in the past few years than ever. It seems to infect more and more of the day, and I find it hard to relax. He seems to deal with problems in the most intense way, ‘because I make my point, then I forget about it’.

However, in the process, feelings are being hurt, children are learning to be afraid he’ll find out about things, and they frankly don’t like approaching him about many things because he tends to be gruff and overreact.

This is when I become frustrated and a bit sad that they have to turn to me all the time. I want them to have a healthy relationship with their dad. He seems to think people’s forgetfulness and mistakes need to be addressed every time. I like to let things go once in awhile, when they are really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. He’s tight, and I’m slack when it comes to my nature: I’m more easy going. I have to add that he does have good qualities, and I have seen him be gentle and kind. IT IS THERE.

However, my own problems with anger management likely play into this. I have been quiet when he has mismanaged his anger with something or someone else. I am ashamed of that. But, today is another day. I want to learn to express how I feel to him in each and every situation. It affects me when others are hurt, and I hurt for him because I know relationships are being damaged.

The closeness and acceptance I know he wants, he is working against with his relational style. I am looking for ways of not accepting his behaviour, supporting the kids when they are in receipt of his inappropriately expressed anger, and hoping he will begin to recognize there is a problem.  I think if we could get a handle on this, it would have a great rippling effect in our family.

This is one area I have never been able to approach him on (not willing). I know if this is going to be a healthy marriage and family, it has to be addressed. I’m sure you have lots on your plate, and I appreciate the time you have taken to supply the info on your site.

I am hoping you have time to send some ideas my way.

A. That was a long one! And it graphically described your situation and your dilemma.

And it seems that ‘quality of life’ is beginning to become important to you. It seems strange that he’s been like this for so long and you have never discussed it – sounds like maybe you are into placatory behaviour of the ‘I mustn’t upset him’ type???

This is unlikely to help – on the contrary, it may non-verbally signal that he is in charge.

A lot of anger is power-driven. The angry person likes the looks of fear that their tantrums evoke. Not that they like hurting – they just like the feeling of being powerful – and often they are people who have very little power or influence outside their immediate family.

Of course, I cannot tell you what to do.

I can tell you that, in my opinion, sweeping it under the carpet just makes for a bumpy journey over the carpet – and, over time, this may get worse rather than better. He’s likely in his 40’s or 50’s – and won’t necessarily want to change…

Does he know how you really feel when he’s having a tantrum? Does this bother him – enough for him to manage his moods better???? Perhaps this could also be discussed.

Telling him how you feel – without attributing blame might be useful. Then saying that the children feel the same – again without attributing blame.

And you’re right it has to be addressed – otherwise you’re all living a lie.

 

Can I help my boyfriend with his anger?

Q. My boyfriend is in need of help in controlling his anger. He has read all the info in your web pages. He is getting help by going to anger management.

How can I as a girlfriend help him and is there any information about supporting him as he goes through this?

A. First of all, congratulations to you both for the team-approach you are taking to this.

As your partner will have read, anger is not a weakness – it’s a soft-wired response that we develop – often at a quite young age.

So treating it as an issue for both of you to work on will make things a lot easier for him than if he were teamed up with someone who simply demanded you’ve got a problem – and if we’re going to continue then you’d better sort yourself out!

How to help?

The biggest help is simply being there. Allowing the space to talk about the anger management programme if he wants to. Or to not talk about it if that’s what he wants.

Sometimes the best support we can offer people is simply being there, watching, noticing, listening – really listening, and giving them the space to talk if and when they want to and to remain silent if that’s what they need.

There’s a fashion in new age/counselling circles that people have to share everything to be truthful, or valid, or healthy.

Not so. For some people talking about a problem (other than, perhaps, in a professional setting) can make it seem worse rather than help with it.

Finally, I would suggest that you’re doing the best thing by simply recognising

That this is something your boyfriend is a victim of

That he IS actively working on

That when the anger ‘buttons’ are triggered he has little conscious control

Of course, it would be a completely different matter if he were using this I have no control thing as an alibi to be obnoxious – but he is not. Keep working on it as a team. Good luck to you both.

My girlfriend is threatening to leave me

Q: I have a question, my girlfriend gave me an ultimatum two days ago, she said if I didn’t get help with dealing with my anger, she said she would leave me.

Now I am feeling resentment towards her and wondering if we should even be together. Was this right of her to tell me that I need to get help no matter what it takes, or costs?

My anger is confined to yelling and tantrums. I never have or would I hit her. Thank you.

A: My views – because that is all they can be i.e. my opinions rather than ‘truths’…

She has a right to go or to stay. What she appears to be saying (from your version of it, anyway) is that your yelling and your tantrums do not make being with you a happy experience, however much she may love you.

Which is quite understandable. Who’d want to be with someone who uses behaviours that provoke fear!

Being around someone who ‘loses it’ and explodes with angry behaviour is not fun. It can be terrifying.

You say you won’t hit/hurt.

Can you be sure? If you cannot control your anger outbursts how can you guarantee that you will control how these are expressed??

How can you guarantee that you will NOT hit her?

You are either in control or you’re not in control. So if you are in control – and if do you love her – then control the anger, in the first place.

Think about it. It’s not much of a deal to say to someone – ‘if you love me you’ll let me explode and yell at you and throw things around and bang doors and generally terrify you’ is it?

In her place I would not give you an ultimatum. I’d be gone long ago. Who needs to live with that! She must love you a lot to even be around now. So think about what you’re in danger of losing.

And think of who might replace her…. A wimp who will put up with your tantrums – who let you walk over them…? Is that the kind of person you’d respect? Is that the kind of person you could live with for the rest of your life? Someone who had so little self respect that they ‘d put up with anything – just so you stayed around!

And all because you want the right to be unpleasant – rather than get some assistance. Sounds like you’ve got a good person there, in your girlfriend. Don’t screw it up.

I’m destroying our marriage

Q: I have recently come to the realization that my anger is destroying my marriage. After one too many blow-ups recently, my wife got serious.  It was a wake-up call to me and I’m trying to resolve my anger issues.

I was feeling pretty confident about not having any significant blow-ups because I want my wife to feel safe and I want my marriage to last.  I realize that 15 years of letting my anger get the best of me has taken its toll on her.  Now I’m hoping for things to get “normal”.

We’ve always had a wonderful sexual relationship.  Recently though, my wife isn’t really interested in sex.  I haven’t forced myself upon her, figuring she will eventually become comfortable with me again.  She reminds me that sex isn’t the only thing in our relationship and she is right.  Whenever she initiates sex, we always have sex and she says she doesn’t have to be the only one to initiate.  However, when I initiate… she is too tired, etc.

Now after so many tries, I am frustrated and feeling a little angry.  I feel like a baby that can’t get his way, but also feel wronged when my wife displays her nakedness openly to me, sleeps next to me closely, kisses and hugs me passionately, but then doesn’t want to have sex.  I’m afraid that I’m on course for another angry blow-up that will damage our relationship.

The past blow-ups were never physically abusive, but did get to the point where I said and did some things ‘for effect’  e.g. once I began to pack my bags saying I’ve had it. Once I threw a hot dog that I was eating forcefully to the ground.  Once I sped down the interstate way too fast, etc.

Unfortunately there are 15 years of these episodes and I can’t afford another one. Please help me, twb, Jack.

R:  Jack, You put your finger on the issue when you said ‘I feel like a baby’ because, as you’ll have read from the site, anger is really a ploy to get our own way by stomping our feet and demanding that the world give us what we want.

As we develop into mature adults many people realise that in life we have to negotiate. We have to give as well as take/demand.

From what you say, after 15 years your wife has got tired of giving-in to a demanding 3 year old in a man’s body. And probably feels resentful of you and your inability to see things from any perspective other than your own. (Even in your email you are mainly referring to your feelings and your needs!)

How about thinking of what it is like for her, what it has been like for her. Then you’ll perceive why she has likely had enough.

And if you want to know how to do this – ask her! Simply put your cards on the table “I really don’t understand what it is like for you (and what it has been like for you) – because I’ve always been too interested in my needs and ‘rights’ to bother to find out…”

Yes, you can probably save your marriage IF you change your tack. And become a bit interested in her for her sake rather than as a ploy to get what you want/need.

But I’d not waste too much time in getting started on this – from my experience in working with people, things tend to happen quite fast when they get to this stage, Jack. I hope you DO get yourself working on this – and that you save your marriage. Regards, Reg.

Anger with my step-son

Q 1: Hello, I have just read your section on anger. I feel I fit into a lot of the categories for having an anger control problem.

My biggest problem is my step-son. He’s 13 and all we seem to do is yell at each other. Most of the time it’s because he did not do something the way I expected it, or if I feel like he isn’t showing me enough respect.

This is very stressful on my wife. I will try to watch out for my triggers and control them because I often feel lousy after I lose my temper and yell. I think the anger management steps will help. If there is any other advice you can offer I would appreciate it. Thank you. Sam.

A 1: Teenage step-children and their step-parents frequently have this problem. And there is no easy answer – for you. You will simply have to recognise that at his, age, as he develops his pre-adult personality, you are one of the safest people for him to try out his assertiveness on.

He may also be recognising that as you are not his ‘real’ parent that you do not have ‘rights’ over him – however long you may have lived together.

The tough bit for you will be to stand back. Take a lower profile… if you want peace for yourself, your wife, and your step-son. Otherwise you’ve got about 5-7 years of battling ahead of you.

Let his mother handle the discipline. Be frank and open with him – tell him that you recognise the difficulty he now has in following your rules.

Then do what organisational managers do when they do not have direct line-authority over someone – they negotiate.

Tell him that’s what you now propose to do. And that you recognise that your attempts to assert authority have failed! Which they have! And so they should – fail, that is!

He’s railing against the injustice of an ‘incomer’ telling him what to do and demanding respect from him. Respect has to be earned, Sam, not bullied into someone.

How would you like it if someone at work bawled you out and demanded that you do what they say and that you then also show them more respect. Chances are that you would not like it. You might have to put up with it to stay employed but it’d be under duress.

He doesn’t have to put up with your behaviour. He does not have to show you any more respect than you earn – and you can only do that by respecting his age, his view of the world, his fears and concerns, his wants and hopes.

Sorry! This may not be what you wanted to hear. It’s not how it is – only how I see it – and how I’ve seen similar situations when I worked as a counsellor.

But I hope it starts you thinking and negotiating. Think of the alternative – years of shouting and sulking…

Q 2: Thanks for getting back to me, and thank you for your honesty. I understand what you said and I think if I try to do that it will work. Thanks again, Sam.

Reply 2: Stay with it, Sam! Just think of what’s really important… In the long term….

Being respected and obeyed by a kid for a few years…

…or the peace of mind of both you and your wife for the next few decades. Regards, Reg

Q 3: I’ll stick with it. What I really worry about is the relationship I will have with him when he is older and grown up. I want us to have the kind of friendship I have with my Dad. So I will ease off and see if that helps. Thanks again

Reply 3: That’s an understandable point, Sam.

One thing to remember is that nowadays 13 year olds are a lot more mature than, say, 20 years ago. Often more like a 15-16 year old was back then.

So negotiation works better with them – usually. (Nothing’s guaranteed in human relationships).

It’s great that you’d like to have a good relationship with him. That’s your starting point. Say that to him. But tell him you’ll need his help in this ‘because the relationship I had with my Dad was based on different ways of communicating’.

Perhaps you could put your cards on the table and say: ‘Look this hasn’t been working. I think I may understand how you must feel about me – but you’ll need to guide me, knowing that you can now trust me to hear you openly. The old way, where I tried to force you to knuckle down to it, didn’t work. Yet we need to have a reasonably cooperative household. And I want the best for you. So what do you and I need to do….? Let’s take a few months to get to know each other in a different way – man to man.’”

This may work. But for sure the old way didn’t. And if this way doesn’t work (perhaps because he has too much suspicion or resentment based on your attempts to over-power him, you’ll just have to keep trying different approaches.

“If what you are doing isn’t working – anything else will be an improvement”

My husband goes into a rage

Q.  My husband goes into a rage every time something goes wrong – i.e., the garbage disposal didn’t work – what did we do to it to break it. Help!!! (only one example)

A. I empathise with you. It must be a pretty tense household – just waiting for the next explosion.

What to do about it? Well, first thing is you cannot change him – directly. You can influence him indirectly. But this will take time and patience  – and courage and determination.

So if you love him, despite his tantrums, then you may wish to give the following ideas a fair trial.

(Important: if the tantrums also imply a threat of physical harm it may be more important to take steps to ensure your safety.)

I used the word ‘tantrum’ deliberately. Rather like we’d use it with a 3-year old lying on the supermarket floor having a tantrum because he cannot have sweets. Unfortunately if the 3-year old is rewarded with the sweets guess what happens? He’s discovered a way of conditioning his parents – because they responded to his tantrum by giving in.

And, again guess what, if this continues the child becomes a tantrum-raising adolescent and then a tantrum-throwing adult. Only now there are fewer people to reward the tantrum and so the person may try even harder – greater and more dramatic rages.

Some eventually catch on and realise the game has changed – many just go hunting for someone to impress. Someone who will react to their tempers in a way that their parents used to.

The question is – how might you be, unwittingly, rewarding the behaviour? Do you try to appease? Or please? Or calm him? Or show fear? All of these tend to give the angry person a sense of power – they are, at last, getting a familiar reaction!

Incidentally, the worst thing you can do is to react in kind – with a tantrum of your own. Very occasionally this may produce a placatory response from them. But only if you are able to terrify them even more than they terrify you. Meanwhile it’s a pretty unpleasant experience for you both, for your family, and for the neighbours. And if you cannot out-tantrum(!) him it could lead to violence.

Show no reaction

Okay, what to do? I’d try avoiding letting him see ANY emotional response to his outbursts. Neither fear, nor concern, nor anger, etc. React in a dispassionate and unemotional manner. Almost clinically detached. Perhaps carrying on with whatever you were doing. Or simply leave the building for a while. If he’s not got an audience he’s unlikely (but this is not guaranteed) to continue ranting.

Basically, I am suggesting that you check to discover how your behaviour may be feeding his rages and stop doing this.

And, once again, your first concern must be for your own safety – mental as well as physical. No matter how much you love somebody your own well-being has to be your priority.

Obsessed with winning…

Q. I agree and find enlightening your views of anger.  However, I have a tendency to get locked into an obsessive mind frame when dealing with something like this. I have great difficulty moving on and forward, allowing the person to no longer control me. Can you make any suggestions to  help with this. It has really gotten to the point where several days are consumed with this anger and rehashing of events. Thanks, Sharon.

A. I’d wonder what is behind your obsession with the person with whom, you are angry, if I were you.

This could lead to some interesting insights.

What, for instance, is unacceptable about simply letting them “win”? E.g. in not getting them to see your point of view. In not just letting things be?

What’s the price you perceive in this?

Because, rationally, you probably agree that you cannot get your own way all of the time. Follow this train of thought for a while – see where it leads.