When You Love an Angry Person
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
People from all over the world write to me, mostly women but sometimes it is a man, asking about what they can do to help their family member, loved one or partner “control” his or her anger. Or how they can help “diffuse” their partner’s anger. They say that their partner is “such a good guy” and his only flaw is his “anger problem.” Or they feel sorry for their out-of-control child or abusive parent. The intention to help is good but it is misplaced as it enables the angry person to stay as he is. This article is my response to the letters I’ve received where one person wants to take responsibility for another person’s problem of anger.
I use the pronoun “he” in this article as research shows that men are more angry than women. The research shows that men are angrier than women. Women have structural differences in their brain that work with emotions, so that women can more easily inhibit the anger response. The higher testosterone level revs up in men and sets the stage for more aggression. In addition, aggression is considered to be more acceptable in boys and men and is modeled for them by Hollywood through violent movies. Boys usually like the more violent computer games. Women typically take the peacekeeper role, although recently more and more women are acting in aggressively angry ways. Women are typically the care takers of the relationship. Most men are notorically lacking in relationship skills.
The theme of this article is that people will get away with whatever you let them get away with. Anger can be used as a destructive emotion that too many people get way with. When you allow bad behavior to go unchecked, it increases whether it comes from your child, partner or parent. You teach how to treat you and if you put up with abuse, then that is what you will get.
Most people do not know what to do with anger other than exploding it or stuffing it. Anger is the most complicated emotion, because it is so complex with many aspects. There are thirty-plus sub skills of anger and few people are even aware that they exist.
You may have grown up in a household where people were unkind to one another with their anger or one where the adults avoided conflict. Most of our parents did not know how to do anger well. You learned what your parents modeled in their actions towards each other and the children. Now you probably play out your parent’s patterns of submission or dominance and exploding anger in your own relationships.
Anger Patterns are Learned from our Parents
Children learn how to be in relationships from their parents through a process of social learning, and especially observational learning. They adapt the behaviors they see their parents do. The children in the family watch their parents and learn positive as well as dysfunctional coping styles in dealing with stress and threat. Research studies show that there are three social skills that create happy marriages: problem solving, emotional distress regulation and conflict management. Expression of positive words, maintaining a pleasant attitudes and the avoidance of conflict and negativity are other major skills in creating happy unions. People, who have poor coping skills in handling internal emotional distress, often become anxious or angry.
Aggression is learned behavior. Children raised in families with above average in rates of violence are at greater risk for being physically aggressive toward their romantic partner. Violence is passed down through the generations. Parental physical punishment of the adolescent has been associated with later dating violence. Increased risk for overall antisocial behavior in general in turn increases risk for aggression toward a romantic partner. Children, who aggressively fight with their siblings, can carry this destructive fighting pattern over to their adult years.
Parents who discipline their children by emphasizing positive interactions and inhibiting negative behaviors promote skills in conflict management. Parents who do not monitor their children’s behavior or give inconsistent discipline create children who do not have the social skills to succeed in happy relationships. Achieving emotional intimacy is a necessary developmental task of young adults. Close social ties promote personal well being. The failure to establish or maintain positive relationships sets up physical and emotional distress in the individual.
Anger is Catching and Causes all Kinds of Nasty Side Effects in the Family
The energy of self-indulgent anger is contagious just like a nasty virus. It can infect your family though one member and be passed on to the others. Each person is affected by the anger in their social system and acts it out in their own unique way, whether they cower in silence with resentment or act out their anger on others.
Anger is a major side effect of the chaos in the home and vice versa. The research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows that the survivors of traumatic events are left with anger. The universal desire to survive during situations of threat are linked with high physiological arousal and anger. The hormones, increased muscle tension, and pounding heart are all activated to produce the resources to “fight or flight” to deal with the threat.
Children learn this survival mode of reactive stress and hyper alertness when they are traumatized. Anger can become an automatic response and a protective mechanism, which “revs” up the body to deal with threat or perceived threat. Even when there is no emergency, the person can go into full activation of anger and become ready to fight.
Children from angry families most often pick up anxiety, frustration and agitation that flavor how they see life. The research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows that early trauma in life interferes with the ability to regulate emotion, which then leads to excessive anger, fear and rage. This inability to deal with frustration and anxiety can lead to extreme out busts of aggression. Or it can surface as icy cold hostility as a means of controlling other using looks of disgust to convey displeasure.
An insecure childhood is often a set up for needing to control others. The person who was traumatized as a child by family violence often feels anxious, keyed up, on edge, irritable and tense. He has trouble learning the tools to release pent-up emotions of distress. The child learns to vent his anger because one of their parents acted that way.
Some of the children in the family learn to identify with the aggressor because the parent who yells the loudest gets his way. Belligerence and hostility become a way of life. They can even justify their yelling or hitting saying, “I was raised with my dad’s yelling and using the belt, and it didn’t hurt me.” They cannot see that their current behavior, which seems normal to them is a direct result of being raised in an angry household.
A second pattern that happens in other abused children, (particularly girls) is freezing in response to loud voices and anger. This is a dissociative response where the person becomes numb and spaces out instead of fighting or fleeing. Dissociation can be a normal response to trauma to keep form experiencing the pain. This behavioral pattern, learned in childhood, then carries over to the adult life where the woman literally gives up her voice to keep the peace.
A third pattern in dealing with stress that is also more prevalent in girls and women is “tend and befriend.” Women are more likely to band together and try to keep the peace. Tend and befriend is connected to the female brain and maternal behavior associated caring for others is due to a hormone called oxytocin. This evolutionary adaptation of trying to soothe the waters and keep others happy backfires on women who live in abusive relationships.
Prolonged, excessive chaos in the child’s home lead to brain and hormonal changes resulting in withdrawal due to fear and acting out. Later in life the earlier stressors show up in eating disorders, promiscuity, codependency and alcohol and drug abuse. Anger becomes an unwelcome generational gift that is passed down in families.
Anger is a Normal Reaction to Loss, Threat or being Traumatized
Anger is a normal human response when our well being is threatened. We all have anger when we feel betrayed and are unable to express the pain that we feel. Anger is made up of feelings, thoughts and physiological reactions, which includes adrenalin and cortisol release to prepare for action. While the feelings and physiological reactions cannot always be controlled, the thoughts and the behaviors can be modified and expressed in more acceptable ways.
The research shows that anger is a normal response to betrayal and loss of basic trust in others. Anger also is a normal reaction to injustice, terror and feeling out of control. The innocence of the child is broken by acts of betrayal. What takes its place is fear and anger. The hurt child resolves not to trust again and creates barriers to further connection to others.
All anger is not bad. Sometimes anger is a legitimate response to an injustice, which is used to bring momentum, which allows the person to make, needed changes in their life. At times anger is justified given an unfair situation where the energy that anger provides is needed to leave a bad situation. Anger can be used to protect yourself when you are terrorized. We need the energy that anger brings to get us to act and do something differently when we are stuck in bad circumstances.
Other times, anger is just a bad habit to deal with the feelings of frustration because things are not going as the person wants. This article addresses the habitual type of destructive anger that harms family members and friends.
Twenty percent of people have an anger-prone personality. If you choose to be around someone who easily gets frustrated and express anger freely, the quality of your life will be affected. It is best to find out how a person expresses anger before you become emotionally involved, hop into bed of have a child with them. Your life will be drastically changed by living with a habitually angry person. During the honeymoon period of new relationship, people put on their best behavior. Later the person’s true coping mechanisms come out.
Check out a new partner’s coping patterns of dealing with conflict before things get serious between you. Observe his reactions to daily stressors to life, and how he does anger. See how he treats the significant others in his life when he is upset with them. If he treats others badly, chances are he will treat you badly when the bloom of new love fades. See how he acts when he is upset and threatened. Pick a fight if necessary to determine what type of fighter he is-mean or constructive. If the person drinks or uses drugs, see how he reacts when he is drunk-is he an angry drunk, a raging drunk, a melancholy drunk or a sleepy drunk?
Do not be foolish enough to think you can change another person’s anger patterns. After all, he has had many years to practice them before meeting you. Anger coping patterns lie deep within the psyche and do not change unless the person makes a strong commitment to become a better person. They need a structured program of anger management or therapy to learn how to break into their destructive behavior.
What Provokes Anger?
Anger is made up of increased physical arousal, emotions and accompanying behaviors that comes up when a person feels a threat or a loss or a perceived threat or loss. The threat may be to their self-esteem as they feel challenged or discounted by what happened. The person responds to the threat by producing adrenalin to “fight or flight.” How they respond is due to how they have been conditioned as a child or later in life if they are exposed to abuse. Everyone has triggers that set off anger. Here are the most common reasons people become angry:
- Their body or property is threatened
- Their values are being threatened (disagree with what someone is doing such as kicking a dog or not following the rules)
- Someone insists that they do something they don’t want to
- When someone hurts or betrays them and they feel a loss of trust
- They are guilty about something and they do not want to feel or admit their guilt
- They feel discounted and their sense of self esteem is lowered
- Their expectations are not met and they don’t get their way (their expectations may be unrealistic)
The Shoulds, Ought Tos, Musts and Have Tos
Most adult anger is about expectations and values not being met. We build up strong belief systems of how things should be or should not be and then expect others to behave in ways that we deem best. Expectations can be realistic (I expect you to be faithful to me in marriage) or unrealistic (I expect you to keep a perfect house all the time. I expect you to let me indulge in my addictions such as alcohol or shopping.) The shoulds are the irrational ways we make our self and others crazy by insisting that small, insubstantial things be our way.
Don’t believe everything you think! The mind can make wrong assumptions and make up things that are just not true. The shoulds are the rules that we make for our self and others that are based on our personal history and way of doing things. Anger is often the result of a person’s need to control someone else and tell them what to do based on his own view of how things should be in life.
Perfectionists usually have a big list of shoulds that they try to impose on their mates and children. Perfectionists are usually made so by their parents. People who had critical, perfectionistic parents learn to be judgmental themselves. They often become angry when their own needs are not met.
People who are critical and controlling of others usually have high anxiety and irritability within and try to keep their nervous feelings down by trying to control the environment and the people in it. They harbor irrational beliefs that certain people are stupid, evil, or do things wrong and it is their moral duty to correct them. They try to impose their standards on others in order to keep their nervous feelings at bay. For more information read my three articles; The Big Game, The Right Man and Right Woman Theory and Projection, Blaming, Grudge Holding Doomsday Thinking, Revenge Thoughts and Black and White Thinking.
Constant criticism is a bad habit that will sour any relationship. Virginia Satir called this habit the “Bony Finger of Blame.” Here are some examples of shoulds that are irrational to try to control another person. Note that each statement starts with the word “You” followed by an accusation and the insistence that the person is doing something wrong. They are all a form of “I get to tell you what to do.”
- You should not use so much butter on your toast.
- You should brown the hamburger the way I do.
- You should take the dishes out of the dishwasher my way.
- You should wear your hair long (or get your hair cut).
- Children should not make noise. Children should be seen and not heard.
- You are dong the vacuuming wrong. You should do it like this.
- You should not be calling your friends so much.
Shoulds are those beliefs that are absolutes that make us crazy and keep us from achieving closeness with others. For information on how to break into the rigidity of the shoulds and make them preferences, see my book The Doormat Syndrome.
Mature Ways of Dealing with a High Level of Internal Frustration
Some people are easily provoked and have a hotheaded temperament, yet they take responsibility for their responses to irritation. They live with a high level of inner frustration but try to keep their aggravation under control. They accept their overly emotional temperament and take responsibility for dealing with it. They learn techniques to deal with the cues and triggers that bring up the inner arousal that will quickly turn to anger. They do stress management techniques regularly and use physical exercise to work off their strong emotions of irritation. They minimize venting their anger at others by recognizing the beginning signs of anger and take a time out to chill out,
Mature people seek better ways to deal with their anger in an argument. They make a contract with their partner that they can leave during a fight when they feel that they are getting out of control. They remove themselves to a private place for time out. In private they do damage control techniques to bring their anger level down and then return to deal with the problem.
So, how do they learn these ways of keeping their cool? They understand that they have an anger prone personality. They recognize that they must work an active program of anger management in order to live a happier life. They study and take parenting classes to seek more effective ways of disciplining their children. They take anger management classes and do couples counseling to learn better ways of being with the people they work and live with. Mature people with high degrees of frustration keep tabs on themselves and work at diffusing their anger responses.
There is a new breed of angry men and women who are motivated to change their inappropriate behavior. They choose to go to therapy and couples counseling to work through their excesses of anger. Some agree to get help due to their conscience telling them that their outbursts hurt others. Some come because their partner is threatening to leave them if they don’t get help. Some “macho” men recognize that they are doing their father’s anger and sending it down to their own kids. A few get help only after they lose their spouse and families. And sadly, some never do.
Courageous men and women choose to learn to be different from their own angry parents. They stop denying that their anger causes problems for others. They take responsibility for their unjust actions. They experience a significant boost in self-esteem when they admit their wrongdoing and seek other ways of dealing with their anger. Their spouses and children are extremely thankful to them for taking this important step of deciding to grow and learn anger management techniques. They learn and practice the following healthy ways to deal with their aggressive impulses. As they grow in maturity and loving kindness, they become role models for others in their family.
Healthy Approaches to Dealing with and Expressing Anger
- Using feelings of threat and distress to cue yourself that you are beginning to be angry
- Not sweating the small stuff and heading off anger before it escalates (This is no big deal)
- Using humor to defuse the tension in the situation
- Using movement or exercise to drain anger away
- Becoming more flexible and accepting of things others do
- Writing about the anger (Use size 24 print and a bold type on your computer, then delete it.)
- Drawing pictures about anger
- Looking for and admitting your part of the problem
- Sharing feelings and discussing the issue from an emotional level Gently confronting the irrational ideas of yourself and the other person
- Problem solving the issue using conflict negotiation
- Taking Time Out to cool off, and then come back to address the problem
- Breathing and calming to talk your anger down ( I can handle this. I’m cool. etc.)
- Observing your physical reactions, thoughts and feelings
- Finding the errors in your thinking that triggered anger
- Trying to see the issue from the other person’s point of view
- Take constructive action to make changes about the situation (MAD-Use your anger to make a difference
- Using relaxation techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitization, Thought Field Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, Tapas Acupressure Technique and Progressive Relaxation to release anger.
It is better if both partners in a relationship where there is anger are willing to acknowledge their own dysfunctional coping patterns and make the necessary changes in how they deal with conflict. Once learned, these skills are a positive investment that will serve the entire family. If your partner refuses to learn and grow, focus on yourself.
Some People Do Not Take Responsibility for their Aggressive Outbursts
A few decades ago there was a myth that it was healthy to blow up to keep it from being bottled up in the body and causing physical problems. Unfortunately, this erroneous idea sticks around today despite the evidence that blowing up does not solve the problem and creates trauma for others. Still some people feel justified in exploding and then forgetting about the incident while those around them are left devastated.
Some people who are typically angry believe they have the right to vent their frustrations on others or to break things. This self-indulgent attitude is entitlement and is a form of self-righteousness. Outbursts of anger do not solve the underlying feelings of threat, fear and sense of betrayal, which are hiding under the anger in the person. Angry people block vulnerable feelings such as hurt, sadness, guilt and vulnerability. The emotions have to go somewhere so they turn up as anger. Anger becomes the substitute emotion for the others that are not allowed.
The person who believes that he has the right to vent anger on others never quite grows up emotionally. He is stuck in a child-like reaction when he feels frustrated and responds with a temper tantrum. Tantrums increase the anger by revving the body up to a heightened arousal state.
Screaming does NOT purge the anger impulses. It may give a temporary relief but makes it worse overall. Name calling and swearing do not solve the problem. Continued yelling breaks down the inhibitions that most people have about not acting out their harmful impulses. Any habitual verbal thought pattern such as yelling creates a well-worn pathway in the brain making it easier for the pattern to happen again. Dealing with irritation with constant expression anger can be a harmful habit that takes over a person’s life.
Expression of hostility results in more hostility. Impulsive anger such as yelling, throwing things, cursing, and blaming the other person takes its toll on the person expressing it and harms those in its path. Frustration and anger may temporarily go away with the venting, but the rage remains within because it is not addressed directly. The anger remains there unchanged until the next time an expectation is not met or there is disappointment, threat, or stress.
People who cannot stand feeling helpless get angry instead. Anger and the adrenalin make them feel that they are more in control of the situation. Getting angry instead of feeling ashamed or anxious helps the person manage those emotions they do not want to feel.
Violence has a way of getting out of control. Rewarding a person’s verbally abusive behavior by allowing it, excusing it and returning to things as usual WILL increase their screaming behavior. When family members indulge the aggressive person, their violent tendencies remain. The person learns that there will not be consequences for inappropriate behavior so continue his tirades without fear of reprisal. Children in the family learn that when they are stressed, it is okay to blow up and hurt others and things.
Some angry people feel anxious and guilty about blowing up. They feel a decrease in their self-esteem with feelings of remorse and guilt. They talk about how bad they feel (some will even cry) to “hook” their partner feeling bad for them and allow them to return to grace. This is one dynamic in abusive relationships called the “fight and make up” syndrome.
Some people who get angry cannot talk about the problem the next day. Talking about the issue stresses them and they get angry all over again. This type of person emotionally distances to take care of his anxiety. while you need closure to deal with your own anxiety and need to talk. Emotional Distancing and Emotional Pursuing when anxious and upset are common ways to cope with conflict in most relationships. Read my article on the Angries Out web site on Repressors to understand the need to withdraw from conflict.
Harmful Behaviors of Expressing Anger that Hurt Others of Self
The negative ways of dealing with anger are harmful to life. Harmful anger negates others or your self.
- Self harm such as hitting or cutting
- Physically assaulting others
- Verbally abuse
- Raging and screaming
- Throwing and breaking things
- Cursing and name-calling
- Holding grudges and plotting revenge
- Using excessive addictions to calm down
- Displacing anger on weaker people or animals
- Criticizing others
- Criticizing and beating self up
- Blaming others instead of taking responsibility for one’s own actions
- Giving others the silent treatment and using pouting or cold rage to show disapproval and control others
- Using anger and raging to manipulate others to back down
- Using sarcasm and negative humor to put others down
- Denying anger and stuffing feelings, which may then turn into depression
- Shutting down and dissociating when threatened
- Running away and not addressing the problem
- Going into battle alert over small things
On Just Trying to “Control” Your Anger
It is a fallacy to think that you can just “control” your anger. The energy that anger generates has to go somewhere. Too often people think they are “controlling” their anger, but they are just stuffing it down and it comes out later with disastrous results. Anger cannot be controlled, but it can be expressed more appropriately and then released. Anger can be understood, analyzed and channeled into higher-level responses. Blasting it out, giving the cold shoulder or squelching anger are not realistic goals. The healthy goal regarding our anger can be to learn better ways of expressing it that do not harm others or ourselves.
One simple question to ask when angry is “Do my actions celebrate life or harm life?” Another good question is “What am I saying to myself to make myself angry today?” Here are some of the necessary skills for people who have frequent outbursts of anger:
Skills for Containing Excessive Anger:
- To learn to discriminate between big and little deals. (Don’t sweat the small stuff.)
- To realize and accept that you don’t always get what you want. (Break into entitlement)
- To identify irrational thoughts and statements that fuel anger.
- To break into self-angering thoughts and use cool down thoughts.
- To analyze and correct mistakes instead of beating self up.
- To address anger directly with the person you are angry with instead of displacing the anger on family members.
- To use Thought Stoppage to interrupt intrusive, negative thinking. Thought Stoppage techniques are anything you say or do to break into self-angering thoughts.
- To keep cool when others are trying to push your buttons.
- To take Time Out when overheated during an argument and return to problem solve.
- To break into tirades when correcting others. (Read The One Minute Father or The One Minute Mother by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.)
Skills for Learning to Feel Empathy and Respect Others
- To listen to others when they are upset and try to understand their point of view.
- To recognize and refrain from actions that are hurtful to others.
- To stop blaming others when you are stressed.
- To take responsibility for one’s own actions and wrong doings.
- To refrain from sarcasm, name calling, egg ons and put-downs.
- To see things from the other person’s perspective.
- To observe the effect of one’s actions upon others and express sorrow for hurting them.
- To treat others with respect and caring even when feeing upset and frustrated.
Utilize Damage Control During Your Partner’s Anger Attack
Making changes in your way of dealing with an angry person may bring about consequences both good and bad. Only you can decide if these ideas will work for you or not. Some angry people will cut you off if you try to confront them. The more rigid people might become estranged from you. Do not attempt these ideas if you think the angry person will hurt you.
Do a cost-benefit analysis of what the after effects of your changing the rules to increase respect for all involved. Be aware that challenging some angry people about their inappropriate anger may create an atmosphere that is hostile and distancing. Some people use anger to exit from a relationship. Think of several likely bad case scenarios that might happen and ask yourself, “Can I live with this?” If so, go ahead and rock the boat a little. Some boats need rocking.
When you interact with an angry person, watch your own level of anger when your partner is upset. Some people inadvertently “egg on” the angry person with derision or disgust. They use verbal and nonverbal language that encourages the other person to escalate their level of anger.
Some people nit pick at their partner which provokes them. Watch the type of complaints that you make that threaten his self-esteem such as statements of blame that start with “You always….” Criticism and sarcasm about another person’s behavior is not productive. Save your energy for problem solving. Make a list of his triggers and then observe how you set him off. Don’t be a button pusher on purpose. Do not feed the anger beast as it can turn and devour you!
Another form of setting up an angry response is to promise something and then not follow through. Agreeing to do something and then dropping the ball is passive aggressive behavior. This is related to fear of confrontation and the need to look good and agreeing up front, then doing what you want. The passive aggressive person is aggressive in their passivity. See my article on The Boomerang Relationship.
Timing is important when trying to settle problems. People are more irritable when they are tired or already frustrated. If either one of you is rushed or upset, anger will escalate. Try to find a time for problem solving when you both have the inner resources to deal with the issue. Schedule discussions ahead of time and ask that you both start thinking of compromises.
See if you can get an agreement to talk about ways the family is being stressed by anger. Try a bargaining approach. Without anger in your voice, try to negotiate for changes. Take responsibility for your own unhealthy way of reacting and ask your partner if he will work to change his outbursts. This concept is behavior exchange-“I’ll stop doing this if you will stop doing that.” Sometimes just agreeing not to use cuss words or name calling can make a difference in the stress in the home.
See if the proverb, ” A soft voice turneth away wrath.” works with your partner. The research shows that people who start a potential disagreement with a “soft, non-blaming startup” are more like to get the problem solved. Blaming and sarcastic remarks typically increase the anger output. .
Read my article on Fair Fighting and insist on practicing the steps to keep tempers down during arguments. Take notes on how to fight fair and review them to get agreement on what you will try to avoid. Post these notes between you and your partner when you try to resolve differences. Watch the process of anger eruption between the two of you. Learn all you can about how you and your partner set each other off and how you each back off to calm down.
Stick to one problem only. Do not bring in other examples of the problem, old history or past grudges. Think of what you want or ways to compromise. If the topic of conversation goes off in a different direction, bring it back by saying, “We were talking about ….” Label the issue at hand and put it on a piece of paper between you and keep bringing the topic of conversation back to what you are trying to resolve. Keep bringing the argument back to the issue you are trying to solve.
Develop an anti-venting policy for your home. Some people still believe that it is necessary to get their anger out by screaming and yelling. This is an old fashioned ideas that has not been proven by research. Venting only makes the person feel more justified in their anger and does not solve the problem being addressed. There are at least twelve other anger responses that can be made instead of yelling. Increase the behavior repertoire by practicing other ways to deal with anger.
Know that some arguments cannot be solved. People have strong value differences that they dig into and they cannot see the other person’s point of view. John Gottman’s research shows that 60% of arguments cannot be solved. Pick your battles wisely. Let the little things go. Stand up for what you really believe. Do your best to avoid silly arguments that can never find resolution such as “My childhood was better (or worse) than yours” and “I get to tell you how to run your life.”
Define your limits with unhealthy behavior such as, “I can’t allow you to yell at me. Yelling hurts me and it hurts you. I’m not willing to watch you scream and yell. I’ve got to go. We can talk about this later.” Be straight forward about this. Look the person in the eye and show a quiet strength as you set them straight. Role play saying the words with emphasis with a friend if necessary.
Of course, some people will deny they are yelling in a very loud voice. They may have been screamed at as a child and think the level of anger they are expressing is minimal. Some people are so accustomed to raising their voice in anger that they do not even know they are yelling. Call them on their bluff. Have a tape recorder nearby and record their voice. Say, “Since you don’t think you are yelling, let’s record it and play it back.”
If you are super sensitive about loud voices, do some exercises to deflect negative energy. Imagery can be used to shield against negativity while letting needed information come through. Sometimes even though the person is yelling, there may be a message you need to hear, despite their loud volume. See my book The Doormat Syndrome for more information about how to shield against negative energy.
Don’t try to reason with someone who is raging. They are too flooded with hormones to hear your point of view or to problem solve. Their hormones of adrenalin and cortisol are ruling them, not heir common sense. People who are flooded go for the jugular vein rather than try to resolve differences. Save your breath and energy. Wait until they are calmer and can agree to problem solved instead of yelling.
Some angry people have the strong need to be seen as a good guy or girl. They modify their behavior when others are present to present a nice face to others while they are cruel at home. If your partner’s public behavior is appropriate and his private behavior is angry, avoid bring up sensitive material when you are at home. Talk about volatile topics in a park or in a restaurant. Social convention says people usually keep their voices down in public and not air dirty linen. Of course, this will not work if your partner brings the problem up again with increased anger when you return home.
Don’t go it alone. Get a mediator who is neutral such as a therapist or an older neutral levelheaded friend or relative that you both respect. Continue to educate yourself on how to live healthy. Help is there for free or for low cost in all kind of forms if you want it.
Dealing with an Angry Person who has a Drinking/Drugging Problem
Anger that comes out when a partner is drinking or high on drugs can be extremely destructive. DO NOT TRY TO TALK, REASON OR ARGUE WITH SOMEONE WHO IS DRUNK. Inebriated people cannot hear information correctly through the haze of alcohol. They often lose their inhibitions when under the influence of alcohol and lose patience with their partner easily. Leave and talk to him only when he is sober. Make this a steadfast rule for yourself: You will not stay and be abused by someone who is out of control with alcohol or drugs.
If you do not have support at home from your partner, get it from friends and self help groups. Get yourself to Al Anon or Codependents of America Anonymous meetings to get some support. Learn from the experts-those people who have angry partners with addictions. People in the twelve step programs have been on the front line of your problem. These self-help groups offer your free education about the types of problems that you are facing. Warning! Not all self-help groups are created equal. I recommend checking out several groups and seeing how positive and supportive they are. Choose the one where you feel the most supported.
Some partners have gotten good results by videotaping drunken partners to show them how out of control their behavior gets. People often do not remember what they did when they were drunk. Seeing videotaped evidence of the stupidity of their actions can embarrass the person into seeking help. Of course, you should not try this if your partner might attack you.
Call The Person on His or Her Stuff
Relationships have their own subtle set of checks and balances built in to keep people from going too far out of control. In some relationships, however, one person is allowed to do what he wants, and others are taught to comply with his demands through hot anger or cold hostility.
Some caring partners accept the negative behaviors of others and do not give them sufficient reason for making changes. If you have felt helpless in your childhood with an angry parent, you may think that anger in the relationship is the way life is supposed to be. Living with constant anger may be familiar to you, but it is not the norm. Constant expression of anger over little things is not the way life is supposed to be.
Put “checks and balances” in the areas where your partner’s behavior gets out of control. This may work if your partner has some voice of reason within and a willingness for justice. A person whose behavior is continually disturbing to others can be told about it during a time when he is calmer. He needs feedback as to how he hurts others so he can evaluate the consequences of his actions. Calling a person on the consequences of their behavior helps maintain the moral order of the relationship. Loving firmness is the best way to talk to a person about his unacceptable behavior. Remind him that fair is fair, and you expect him to be reasonable with his anger.
NOTICE: Calling someone who is physically abusive on his misbehavior will probably cause him to become physically violent. Only you can decide whether the following information will be of help to your relationship. The following ideas may work for people who live with a reasonably sane, somewhat angry, partner, but do not try them with an out-of control abuser. Have a calm voice and be centered when you suggest the following ideas.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander and all the little ducklings. One way to maintain fairness is to insist on having a correction technique for all members of the household. Correction is a behavioral technique where the person who messes up the environment is required to clean it up as an offer of restitution. The correction procedure holds people responsible for their misbehavior by requiring them to undo, as much as possible, the damage they have done. Correction of what has been disturbed in the environment gives practical penalties for disturbing the home and the people who have been affected.
You have probably used the correction technique with young children. With correction, the person who throws things must pick them up and return them to their proper place. If he breaks things, he must pay for them and replace them. If he yells and screams, he must apologize to those he has disturbed.
Just like two year olds, grown up temper tantrums last longer when the person has an audience. You need not stay in the same room with a raging person. Warn him that you will leave when he is yelling and go take care of yourself. The take the children and leave quietly, saying that you are giving him some space to cool off and you hope that the next time he will take his own time out. Go to another room or get in the car and leave for a while. If he is fearful of left alone and gets angry, level with him to show that his actions will create his being left. You are not abandoning him but you are removing yourself form his anger.
Challenge the destructively angry person when he states that he can change all by himself when he has not been able to do so for a number of years. Keep your voice calm while you level with him.
- “Your angry behavior is no longer acceptable. I will not tolerate it any longer. You are in denial about your ability to stop getting mad and hurting others. You’ve tried to control it for many years and haven’t met with success. Your way of trying to deal with it has not worked. You do not have the right tools to stop your outbursts. You need some new skills to deal with your anger. You need a professionally trained person to help you. This means going to an anger management class or addressing the issue in counseling. Which plan is preferable to you? Classes or counseling? “
Keep coming back to his making better choices for his life. Have the phone numbers of resources available.
- ” You have a choice to deal with this or not. You can choose to walk away and calm yourself down or continue yelling which traumatizes your family. We expect you to make the best choice for your family. We can become a closer, loving family again if you take this step.”
Bring the issue up several times when he is calmer. Look him in the eye and tell him that his behavior was unacceptable. You and the children deserve better. Remind him that he is being unfair and his refusal to learn and grow affects both you and him. Tell him that you are changing the contract or the deal that you made when they two of you came together. He has changed the contract through repeated anger, and now you must change it for the mental health of all involved. He may not like your standing up for fairness and healthy interaction, but on a deep level, he knows that you are right.
We Get What We Put up with not What We Deserve: Finding Your Bottom Line
We get the relationships we are willing to put up with. We were not able to choose the family of our childhood ,and how they dealt with stressors. We can insist on open communication and treating everyone with respect in the family we have now.
Watch how you enable your partner’s bad behavior. Do you make excuses for him? Do you feel bad when he is upset? It is not your job to try to get your partner to “diffuse” or “control” his anger. It is the job of each angry person to take care of his anger and find appropriate ways to express it. An angry person may not have the motivation to do so. If you allow, excuse or forgive him repeatedly for his outbursts, why should he be expected to change?
Angry behavior that harms you or the children should not be allowed to continue and get worse. Limit setting is necessary for adults, just as it is for angry two year old who is yelling and flailing. Virginia Satir described people finding their Bottom Line and stating it emphatically. Your Bottom Line is those behaviors that you will NOT tolerate. Determine which behaviors will cause you to leave the relationship if your partner continues to do damaging behavior that creates chaos in the home.
Physical abuse and continual verbal abuse are common Bottom Lines for most people. One older woman cried as she said, “He hit the kids a lot, but when he started in on me, I left. Now I feel ashamed for allowing him to be violent with the children. I should have set my Bottom Line higher and then stuck to it.”
State your Bottom Line loud and clear to your partner. Then stick to it. Bottom Lines that define health and safety are one place where you are allowed to be stubborn. Know what you stand for and how you expect to be treated with respect. Here are some Bottom Lines that people have described to show their partner that there are limits to bad behavior:
- I can’t be with you if you provoke fights with others in public and endanger my life.
- I won’t take your lying and cheating on me. I refuse to live that way. Don’t step over that line.
- I won’t stay if you continue to swear and call me names. I do not deserve to be called ugly names just because you have an anger problem.
- I can’t take your screaming at the kids. Screaming insults at them is harmful. Don’t cross that line. Walk away when you feel your temper rising, and you want to yell.
- Your drinking is damaging your job, our marriage and the children. I refuse to live with an alcoholic.
- I’m physically ill and can’t handle your constant criticisms of me. If you want to live with me, you have to stop judging me and making nasty comments.
Some people have a high Bottom Line-“I can’t stay because you don’t hold me when I’m upset. I can’t be with you because you are not romantic.” Others have an almost nonexistent Bottom Line-“So he hits me and sends me to the hospital every other week. That’s not a reason to leave a man.” You have to decide what you will allow and will not allow. You have your own conscience and sense of self-respect to live with.
If you find yourself allowing the Bottom Line behavior to happen without your doing anything about it, your line is slipping lower and lower. Your partner will lose respect for you and continue to act out. And your self-respect will slip also. If you can’t set limits and boundaries (and many people cannot) get into counseling yourself to learn how to be more assertive.” Assertiveness behavior is a set of skills that you can learn with some coaching.
Talk with your friends and get ideas about how they expect to be treated by their partners. Do something different than you have done before when you are bombarded by someone else’s anger. Don’t just hope that the situation will change by itself. Why should it? Angry people get to stay in charge and threaten others by their explosiveness. Set your Bottom Line and stick to it.
You are Only as Oppressed as You Allow Yourself to Be
If there is abuse in your situation, you need more help than this article can give. Find a professional to help you who is trained in abuse. Get into anger management classes, take an assertiveness training course or go to counseling. Go get help before your stress, anger and depression increase. Couples counseling is NOT recommended when there is physical abuse in the relationship. You need individual help to learn how to strengthen yourself if you live with an abusive partner. Read my article, Violence in Families.
You get the life you choose. Keep studying about anger and how it affects you and your loved ones. It is important you keep learning and growing and increasing the options in your life. Your life is yours alone. And you only get one life. Only you can make it happier. You can choose to keep studying and learning about anger and about living more harmoniously. Expect more for yourself. You do not have to live with the misery of constant anger.
(Disclaimer: If you are living in an abusive relationship, you need more help than this article can give you. Get professional help immediately. This article is not meant to provide all the help that you need to deal with an abusive partner, but gives you information about options. If you cannot see these ideas about creating equality working in your relationship, then you may need to get professional help.)
Also note, the ideas in this article reflect my opinion which is based on my clinical experience, the research literature and my understanding of how best to have a happy life. My opinion comes from my philosophy that people should take responsibility for their actions. I recommend a tough approach with confronting others about their inappropriate behavior. This strict approach may not be correct for everyone.
Resources for Change:
Hassan, Steven. Combating Mind Control.
Hassan, Steven, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Thrive for Themselves. Freedom of Mind Press, 2000.
Lerner, Harriet, The Dance of Anger. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.
Namka, Lynne. How to Let Go of Your Mad Baggage. Talk, Trust and Feel Press, 1996.
Namka, Lynne, The Mad Family Gets Their Mads Out. Talk, Trust and Feel Press, 1997. Just found out that my book is on the list of the 100 best sellers on domestic violence and abuse. My book was number 23 out of one hundred! See the entire list.
For more information on mind control, go to the Freedom of the Mind Resource Center.
If you give yourself away in relationship, read my article pertaining to Why People Stay in Relationships with Angry People.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) is the voice for victims and survivors.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has a national data base and is staffed 24 hours a day by trained counselors who can provide crisis assistance and information about shelters, legal advocacy, health care centers, and counseling. 1-800-799-7233.
The State Coalition phone numbers for domestic violence can be reached by following the link.
Dr. Irene’s Verbal Abuse Advice Site has many articles on personality dynamics and abuse.