Off the wall anger


Off the wall anger


your avatar   Conner, 15-year-old man

I grew up in a house filled with drugs until I was 9. My mom ended up dying when I was 13.

I really need help with my anger. Whenever someone tries me or says something behind my back, I go off the wall. It literally makes me sick when I get so mad. It's starting to affect my life and my education. Can someone please help me?


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear Conner,

I think you are very mature to have identified your problem so well at 15 years of age. When your anger is not being triggered you can think clearly, and make decisions about how you want your life to be. Also, I can see that you do not approve of drugs, and hope your reaction is to avoid them in your own life. You can build on these positives.

From your brief statement, I cannot tell what lies behind your anger. I suspect you have every justification for being angry with the life you have had until now. And it's OK to feel anger. You did not ask for the feeling. You don't go around saying to yourself, "Right, I've decided. Now I'm going to blow my stack." It just comes uninvited.

So, you can't be blamed for it. You are not responsible for these inner explosions. What you ARE responsible for is the way you act when the anger hits you. There, you do have a choice. So, firmly tell yourself that it's OK to feel angry, but it's not OK to act on it.

To achieve this, you need an early warning signal. Start paying attention to the following:

  • What are the exact situations that trigger the anger?
  • What thoughts go on in your mind just before the angry feelings come?
  • Where in your body do you feel some muscular tension just before the anger?

It will help if you carry with you a pen and a little pocket notebook. Whenever the anger strikes, turn around and walk away so you have a bit of privacy. If there is no other way, go to the bathroom. Then think about these three questions, and write down the answers to them. You will find a number of benefits:

First, by turning yourself into an observer, you will have far more control. As you look out for the anger, you will actually reduce the number of times it comes.

Second, getting out of the immediate situation that provoked you will ensure that you don't do or say something you'll be sorry for afterward. It gives you a time out.

Third, after a few episodes, you'll have gathered some useful information regarding what lies behind your anger. Look for patterns in your records.

Fourth, you'll soon become aware of muscular tension in some part of your body BEFORE you are actually aware of the anger. Then you can tell yourself, "Hey, my hands are forming into fists again" (or "Hey, I'm hunching my shoulders, or clenching my jaw", or whatever the pattern you've identified). "That means I'm getting angry again. It's OK to get angry, but I'll act with decency all the same."

All this will be easier if you do it with the help of a competent therapist. Your school may have a counselor. If so, go to that person and take a copy of your question and my answer with you.

Have a good life, my friend (you can).


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


Practice mindfulness. Your point of power will always be the present.
"Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to help mom do the dishes."
P. J. O'Rourke
You can't control how other people behave, but you do have power over how you react.