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February 19, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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Controlling Anger



I am a 34-year-old mother of two and a wife.

I have been having a lot of trouble dealing with my anger and controlling it. My husband will say something that will just set me off and I'll go into this whirlwind of anger and name-calling. It just escalates and I cannot turn it around. It's as if someone just turns on a switch inside me and the floodgates of anger open up; it's like once I get any inkling of anger I cannot stop it. I don't want to ruin my marriage or my family, but I'm afraid that one day my husband just won't want to deal with it anymore...and why would he? I'm afraid that I am disrupting my family.

I need help and I don't know where to turn or how to do it. I can't keep going on like this - I want to be happy and enjoy my children and my marriage, and at this point, I'm so irritated all the time and easily set off that I cannot be happy or feel relaxed.

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Abby, 34-year-old woman


Hello Abby,

Reading your letter reminds me of the many clients I have spoken with over the years who have told me how they hate themselves, believing that they are bad people for letting their anger take over them; too often hurting the ones they love the most. Emotions at times seem to take over our bodies. I can imagine the guilt and sadness following your outburst. Trying to control your anger though, may only increase it. Anger can be so destructive but doesn't need to be. Anger per se is not the problem but rather, learning how to understand and express it constructively. From what you wrote, I also think that your anger turns into rage; rage is not the same as anger but is rather a combination of feelings of anger with a sense of powerlessness.

The first step is to look back at your childhood and how you were taught to express your anger. Were your able to gain a sense of confidence that people would respect and listen to you? Did your parents, siblings listen to you? Was there a lot of fighting in your home? It is important not to judge or blame but rather to understand and learn (I know that can be hard); understanding is the key to dealing with this rage. Rage is often triggered by some actions or comments that make one feel that they have no voice or are being attacked and are powerless to defend themselves. Rage is often described as that feeling of banging your head against a wall. You need to learn what needs and vulnerabilities are being triggered and how to express them.

How to control anger? This is a very common question. First off, we can start by perhaps creating a different question: how to understand and use the anger constructively to communicate when we feel hurt or disrespected. Control of anger is not always possible and can also lead to the anger festering inside, creating other problems (i.e. health, self-hate). Similar to a physical health problem, we need to understand the root cause. A headache can mean many different things and to best treat it is for the doctor to look at all the symptoms and find the underlying cause.

There are five steps to help you understand your anger. Try to write it down in a journal, as visual memory can help to reinforce this new way of looking at your anger.

1. Simply state the facts around what made you angry with no commentary or judgment (e.g. he did not do the dishes as I asked).

2. What does this mean to you? (e.g. he never listens to me, he doesn't respect me or he doesn't care about my feelings, he doesn't really love me, no one has ever loved me, etc.).

3. What need is being touched here? (e.g. to be loved, respected, seen as competent, etc.)

4. How can you best express this? If you believe no one will listen to you, you would tend to explode, as it would seem pointless to talk.

5. The point of anger is to get your needs met by communication, but if you feel deep down (often unconscious) that it is impossible (no one loves me, I am a bad person, etc), a feeling of helplessness and rage may come over you.

Once you have a glimpse of your needs and realize that you have a right to have them met then the next step is to learn better communication skills through courses, counseling or simply reading. Assertiveness training courses can be quite useful. The best way to deal with your anger/rage is to learn how to feel empowered. Feeling out of control is not (as you probably well know) empowering but being able to calmly state your needs and have them listened to is empowering.

This question was answered by Rivkah Horowitz M.S.W. She is a Clinical Social Worker with a private practice in Ottawa, Canada. She uses a combination of Cognitive-behavioral Therapy and relaxation techniques in her therapeutic approach. Issues that are dealt with vary from emotional problems stemming from childhood traumas to crises stemming from recent events (e.g. divorce). Telephone and face-to-face counseling are provided.

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