Posted in domestic violence, Self Regulation, violence

The Anger That Destroys

We teach our children self-control because we don’t want them to become monsters.

Anger is a feeling we all experience but it causes a different outward response in each of us. For some, anger sparks aggression and violence. It is acted out. Volume rises. Abusive language erupts. Arms and legs flail or the gas pedal goes to the floor.

There is a split second between anger and action. This is the moment of decision. For some the impulse to act a certain way has been followed so frequently that it is as though there is no space between anger and the resulting behavior. The two appear to be one and the same. But there is a fraction of time in between, when the body receives instruction from the brain. It says, “Now you do this….” It might even say, “This feeling justifies doing this….”

Anger is dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be destructive.

Unfortunately our anger not only hurts others. It often hurts us. We do things that cause injury to ourselves.

Picture a woman in a movie who has been hurt and becomes angry. What do we see? A man is likely to smash something but a woman will grab the ice cream container out of the freezer and sit down on the sofa and eat it all. This may look relatively harmless. It may even be called “soothing.” Soothing can be good. In fact, it is definitely the better alternative, as opposed to violence. But she is justifying a behavior that she will later regret, when her clothes don’t fit.

I’ve studied my response to anger and I’ve noticed something I’m not proud of. When I get angry I tend to justify behavior I might not otherwise engage in. In other words, I say to myself, “I am angry so I can do this.” What I am really saying is, “My anger is my justification for doing this. My anger makes this OK.”

This is a learned response and it is possible to un-learn it. But we often don’t want to change. It feels good to be angry. We hold onto our anger. This is where we get the expression ‘holding a grudge.’

In the story of Cain and Abel, God warned Cain when he was angry with his brother. He told him, “Sin is crouching at your door and it desires to have you.” To “have” means to “master” or “overpower” you. It connotes ownership. In other words, sin wants to “possess” and “control” us. Cain had a moment when he was still in charge. He could be angry without yielding to sin.

Our anger can be our master. It can overpower us. It can control us. But it doesn’t have to. Cain was essentially told, “At this point I am warning you and telling you that you have a choice. You can yield to this power, this ‘sin’ that wants to control you. Or you can resist it.”

Cain became angry when God accepted his brother Abel’s sacrifice, and not Cain’s, and Cain killed his brother. In one day his parents found themselves bereft of a son and face to face with his murderer, their surviving son.

Cain probably concluded that Abel was God’s favorite. He could also have looked at Abel and observed for himself what was involved in presenting a sacrifice that was acceptable to God. He could have said, “I’ll do as Abel did, since that appears to be the right thing.” Instead, he brooded and his thoughts became darker and darker. He called his brother out to the field where he killed him.

Jealousy and a sense of entitlement, or a perception of injustice, is often behind anger and violence.

Anger distorts our thinking. We get tunnel vision. We become fixated. It becomes all about us, and what we want, and about how others have wronged us, and how they have withheld things from us. Then the illogical conclusion is that we have to destroy, or at least harm the other person.

Recently my sister’s house was broken into while she was away from home. The thieves trashed her house and made off with her valuables as well as her important papers which were locked in a safe. On her recently installed security cameras she was able to see people in her house as she drove home. The police did not arrive in time to apprehend the thieves. She was outraged, and understandably so.

When are overcome by anger we can easily act irrationally. I spoke with an inmate who was serving time because he pulled a gun on motorcycle gang members who threatened his business. He shot and killed one of them.

There is plenty of injustice in the world. There are many things that trigger our anger. When we don’t see wrongs righted, or at least addressed over time, we not only become angry, we can become depressed. We can even despair.

The legal system is designed to punish and incarcerate those who commit crimes, but sometimes even the courts get it wrong. The justice system fails us. Law enforcement fails us. Life does not turn out the way we think it should.

What do we do when life does not turn out as we believe it should? When things are not fair? When we don’t see justice?

If we are wise, and in control of our anger, and resist the urge to seek revenge, we can sometimes be agents of change. Positive change can happen, but it requires vision, a plan, and perseverance over time.

I’ve been married for over thirty years and my husband and I have had our angry moments. There has not been violence, but there have been words, and some of them were very hurtful. It can be tempting to throw up one’s hands and leave. But there is a bigger picture worth considering. Over the years we have worked through a lot of things. It means coming back again and again to the same issues, with a new approach, to see if things will turn out differently this time. We’ve made progress. But progress cannot be made if there is not at least one person who is willing to put in the work and to remain consistent and committed.

The next time you are angry, pause during that split second between when your anger flares up and you react. Ask if you are hurting yourself. Ask if you are justifying your behavior. I know I do things to hurt myself. Maybe it’s eating that pint of ice cream or finishing off that bottle. Or maybe it’s saying something ugly that just came out of your mouth, but didn’t need to be said that way. Or maybe it’s something more serious.

Why are you so angry about this? Pull apart the situation and see if you can put your finger on an underlying reason. For instance, a husband might feel that his wife doesn’t respect his desire to provide for the family by limiting their spending. The wife might feel her husband does not trust her judgment in her spending, or that he is unjustly withholding things from her that she wants. Maybe they have the same goal, of being responsible with their finances, but they are not seeing each other’s dilemma and working together at solutions. Instead, their default is accusation and recrimination when they could sit down and work out a budget instead. But their personal feelings of not being appreciated are clouding their vision and causing them to react. In the process they are ruining the thing that is most precious–their relationship.

One of the most impressive things I’ve ever watched was a TED talk where a woman who received threats on social media actually contacted the perpetrators and went to their homes and talked to them. Many times the result was positive. Rather than respond in kind, she sought to build relationship.

At work I watched in amazement as a fellow employee talked down a very irate customer. This set me on a journey to learn how to understand conflict and anger management.

We will find ourselves at the receiving end of the anger of others. When in such a situation, try to remain calm, use an even tone of voice, and let the other person know you truly want to hear all they have to say and are willing to work with them to find a solution.

Anger is like smoke. It’s a warning. But it doesn’t have to turn into a raging, destructive fire if we manage it early.

Posted in Abuse, addictions, anxiety, domestic violence, Love, Marriage & Family, Self Regulation, women

Reducing the Likeliness of Domestic Violence

horse ridersAs a person with training in counseling, I am writing this for adults in a relationship that tends towards abuse. Tensions rise to a point where there is a real threat of violence.

First I want to explain that violence is not just hitting. It is also shoving and restraining and blocking. Here I will deal with preventing escalation to physical violence. I acknowledge that emotional abuse is occurring in these situations as well. Below are starting points for resolving conflict that escalates. This is by no means a complete anti-dote, but it could provide some help in certain areas.

  1. Triggers. We all have triggers. These are the areas where we are sensitive. We can get angry when someone triggers us. Knowing someone’s triggers can help us to avoid going there. Triggers are areas that need work. However, the work takes a lot of time and effort, usually under the guidance of a counselor. In the short therm, certain confrontations can be avoided if we think ahead about not triggering someone in their sensitive areas.
  2. Bait. If your partner baits you, this is a pathological relationship. This is not normal. This personality actually wants an opportunity to act hostile and feels the need to be abusive. This is a relationship you have to plan to leave. You are dealing with a dangerous person so you will need to plan your exit carefully.
  3. Impatience. A lot of flare-ups can be traced to impatience. Someone reaches the end of their fuse. The answer is to get a longer fuse. The person with the short fuse needs to see this is their problem. Practicing patience can make a big difference. Learn to give the other person more time, more space, more understanding.
  4. Inappropriate Entitlement. We are entitled to respect. But this is not a one-way street. Both are equally entitled. Neither has the right to be demanding.
  5. Competition. A little bit of competition can be healthy. It becomes unhealthy when one person cannot tolerate losing, or being seen as less competent.
  6. Put-downs, insults. Look beneath this kind of behavior. It is a form of non-physical violence that attacks another’s person. Why are you putting the other person down? In some cases this is a bad habit that needs to be broken. It may be how someone was raised, and they don’t know better. They might not even know how their words are effecting the other person. Deflecting by saying you were joking when you hurt someone is a further form of aggression. Ask each other, how much truth is there behind these words? Does the person intend to be cutting? Also examine whether this is in fact a reaction to words or behavior that hurt them earlier? It is not easy to stop any form of aggressive or inappropriate behavior. It requires a person to humbly admit they have a problem and then commit to changing.
  7. Blame. The blame game is never a winning game. Figure out what is the problem, not who is the problem. Focus on solving one problem at a time. Address other issues at a later date.

What are some positive preventative actions to take?

  1. Be kind. Think of considerate things to do for the other person. Do them out of the goodness of your heart, without expecting anything in return.
  2. Give a compliment. People who abuse others tend to have a distorted view of themselves which is often the consequence of how they were treated by others, especially as children. They have developed various forms of coping with feelings of unworthiness. Show you value the person. Compliment good qualities. Start with, I liked how you. I like that you….When you did that it made me happy. People are starved for words of affirmation.
  3. Listen. Listen well. Let the other person finish. Let them express their complete thoughts. Then respond with, Thank you for sharing that. Or, I’m glad you told me how that impacted you.
  4. Empathize. Say things like, That must have been difficult for you to do/witness/go through. Or, I’m sorry that happened to you.

This is only a beginning. Your relationship is at a low point and will take a lot of work to rebuild. It may also be a situation you need to leave, for your own safety.

Understanding how vulnerable your partner may feel, can help you to be supportive. Just because a person is tough on the outside does not mean they feel that way on the inside. If a person is pathological, meaning they do not experience normal feelings of empathy for others and actually gravitate towards violence to get them high then you need to get out of that relationship. However, a lot of progress can be made when two people are willing to work at their relationship by being more open, communicating what you both want in your relationship, and showing you are for the other person.

It must be understood, and expressed to your partner, that violence will not be tolerated. In other words, “I love you and want to be with you, but if you continue to behave in this way, then I will have to leave you.” If you need to say this, then you also mean to follow through.

One last thing, which is by no means the least of problems, is the influence of mind-altering substances like alcohol. Alcohol tends to bring out the worst. If this exacerbates the problem in your relationship you can say, “You lose control of yourself and become a different person when you drink. When you drink to excess, you make me afraid.” In a normal relationship one partner will not want to cause the other person to be afraid and will in fact be willing to take steps to move the relationship in a positive direction.

Harmful behavior must not be allowed to continue. However, moving towards a more consistently loving and caring relationship will require commitment and hard work. It may be well worth it if there is an underlying desire to be together. Your future years together can be better than your past.