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For as long as I can remember, my father has had a temper. When we were children, both my parents had a tendency to be hot-headed, actually, and it didn't take much to set them off. There would be some pretty horrific screaming matches between the two of them that usually ended with Dad storming out of the house to cool off, and Mom taking it out on us kids.
To give Dad credit, he never got physical with his anger. Mom frequently did, not with Dad, but with us, until we got big enough to defend ourselves. Then she discovered that words - what is said and the way it's said - can hurt more than any beating, and she got really good at that.
To give Mom credit, though, she's mellowed a LOT as she's gotten older. She hardly ever lets things get to her anymore, and it seems as if she's trying to make up to us for "the sins of the past". But this story isn't about her.
Dad, however, is a different story. As he's gotten older, he's gotten angrier, usually without a good reason. The tiniest thing sends him instantly into a screaming rage complete with insults and profanity. Usually, it happens when someone doesn't do exactly what he wants, when and how he wants it done. Apologizing doesn't help, and telling him something like "You don't have to yell" or "There's nothing worth getting THAT angry about" only prompts him to turn up the volume and intensity. Simply refusing to take this from him and walking away while he's in mid-rant is, at best, a temporary solution.
Mom says she's been on the receiving end of this just about every day for years. They recently separated, but whenever they do get together, he can still find something to scream and swear at her about. His outbursts have also been directed at my siblings and me, as well. Lately, it's gotten so that he even does it in public, and will even cuss out complete strangers, e.g. the waitress at a restaurant who "didn't wipe down the booth right".
Dad has less than zero tolerance for any point of view that is not exactly his own. And, especially from women, he expects complete, unquestioning subservience. Everything must be 100% his way, 100% of the time. 99.99% compliance is enough to send him into meltdown mode.
The man obviously needs help, but how can we get help for someone who doesn't want help and doesn't even believe he needs it? (He would tell you that every one of his tirades is justifIed.) And how do we get through to him that these tantrums are in no way acceptable behavior and will not be tolerated?
Thank you for your time and consideration in reading this. Any help you can offer will be much appreciated.
Response from Dr. DeFoore
Hello Abby, and thanks for telling your story here. Your situation with your dad sounds very challenging for you and your family.
As you know, the only person who can really help your dad with his anger is him, and as you point out, he thinks it’s justified. With that in mind, however, there are some things that you can do that will definitely help you, and could possibly even help him.
For one thing, it sounds like you’re a mature adult, and yet here you are trying to get help for your father. While that is understandable, and I’m sure it comes from your love for him, make sure you’re not falling into any rescuer patterns where you ignore your issues while focusing on the problems of someone else. This comes to mind in light of how you described your childhood exposure to your parents’ anger and screaming.
Do the journaling exercises described on this page to review your personal trauma. Then use these imagery processes for emotional healing to resolve that trauma.
I also recommend that you try seeing your father as you would like him to be, instead of the way he’s currently showing up. What I mean is, every time you think of him, picture the very best of him, being kind and compassionate with others. Every time you have a negative thought or fear about his actions, go straight to that more positive image in your mind. This is the use of positive intention, and it can be very powerful for lowering your stress and possibly sending a different signal to your father.
An approach that you may or may not want to use is to let him know with words and actions that he will not have the pleasure of your company when he is being angry and abusive. It’s like you’re saying to him, “You can act that way if you want to, but you won’t see me much or at all as long as you do.” I emphasize that you have to send this message with both words and actions—or maybe just actions—that’s for you to decide.
The only other thing, Abby, is that I highly recommend that you focus on creating as much joy, beauty and love in your own life as you possibly can. Your dad is making choices that are making his situation exactly what it is. You have to allow that, while keeping your own focus as positive as possible.
Believe in the best of your dad, Abby, and let him go. Find the distance from which you can relax and love him, and close the gap every time you see any improvement.
My very best to you,
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