'Til Rage Do Us Part
I'm 25. I've spent three years of my life being physically, emotionally and verbally abused by my ex-lovers. During those years, I felt repeatedly abandoned, helpless, criticized, underestimated, under appreciated. I was angry and afraid to show it, because if I did, I would lose them. Instead, I decided that I deserved no better than to be treated like dirt, and I stayed in those relationships.
I got through those years by punching walls and smashing anything within reach. Driving my car down the highway at night, screaming with the windows up, until the tears finally came. When those relationships finally fell apart, I came to terms with exactly how much anger I had walled up inside me. But I never really had a chance to let those people know effectively. And if I had had the chance, they wouldn't have understood anyway. They would have found a way to justify their behavior to themselves.
Even outside of my past relationships, I’ve never really known how to deal with anger. My normal reaction is to run away from the situation and cry later when I’m alone—and then for the next few months, I can’t stop thinking about that situation and how I could have handled it differently, or what I would have liked to say at precisely which moment.
Now, I'm in a relationship with a wonderful man. We were friends before we were lovers, and he's the first person who ever made me feel normal—accepted totally, loved unconditionally, and capable of happiness in the simplest sense of the word. Our relationship is about to turn a year old, and I am terrified that I will do something to sabotage it. I will lose him if I don't stop getting angry. What is worse, I will destroy him, the wonderful, caring, kind person he is.
I get angry at him over perfectly silly things. Things that are not his fault, things that are completely trivial and inconsequential, which I would ordinarily laugh off without a second thought. He's the kind of person who doesn't react immediately. Sometimes, he goes quiet and listens to me rant, offering no response whatsoever. That makes me angrier, and I get nastier. Sometimes, he tries to pacify me and calm me down, even going so far as to accept full responsibility for whatever upset me.
In my head, I know it's not his fault, or if it is, I know that I am blowing things way out of proportion, but the knowledge is not enough to make me stop. Sometimes, he firmly says one or two sentences to remind me of how small the issue is, and I manage to quiet myself down, but I stay crabby and irritable for the rest of the evening.
I know all this is bad for him. He's under a lot of stress with work as it is. He has health issues. Every time I shout at him, I go into a guilt trip later. I think about how much better he deserves to be treated, and how I’ve turned into the abuser in this relationship. He keeps telling me that I’m not a bad person—I just don’t know how to handle anger correctly. He keeps telling me that no matter what I do, this relationship will not fall apart. But I am terrified of the price that he will have to pay to ensure that, if I cannot fix this on my own.
Over the past few weeks, I must have read nearly all the online literature available on anger management, but I just can't stop. I've tried calming myself down, I’ve sat and strategized about what to do when I get angry, I've even involved him in those plans. But once I start, I lose all perspective. Everything he does just makes me angrier.
Response from Dr. DeFoore
Hello Julia. Thanks for telling your story here so that others can benefit. I know for a fact that many people have been where you are, knowing that they are hurting someone they love and feeling helpless to stop it.
You can do this. You can be the person you want to be. You can protect your relationship so that you and your current partner can be safe and happy.
Here is what I recommend:
1) Write the story of your anger, going as far back as you can remember. Your anger has a good reason for being there, and its story needs to be heard. Hear/write it objectively, without judgment.
2) Journal from your anger every day. It needs an outlet, and journaling is a safe and healthy way to get it out where nobody gets hurt. Don't bother about being reasonable--anger is not reasonable. Just give pure expression to only the anger--and no one is to read it but you.
3) Journal daily about what you like and appreciate about yourself and your man-friend, and your life in general. The attitude of appreciation is a very strong and healthy state of mind, and it will help you with everything.
4) Practice these anger management techniques on a regular, ongoing basis until you feel relief.
5) Eat regular, balanced meals, exercise regularly and develop a spiritual practice if you don't already have one. Having something positive to believe in beyond yourself is tremendously valuable.
6) Keep writing on this site until you get to where you want to be. Writing by itself is very helpful and therapeutic.
7) Believe in yourself. You're a good person, and that's why your behavior is bothering you. You know that you're better than your reactions, and you know that you're a good, healthy person inside. Focus on that goodness.
I wish you all the best on your journey, Julia.