Why do I get angry with people close to me and how do I stop?
May 21, 2006 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Why do I pick fights with people close to me and how can I stop? I'm not like this with friends, just relatives and S.O.

I am a nice person to friends and strangers. I'm often complimented on my laid back friendly nature and my ability to stay even keeled at all times. But somehow with my parents, siblings, and boyfriend, I am very quick to get angry and pick fights. I've been this way my entire life. My parents NEVER fought in front of me, but I use to fight with my siblings a lot and throw tantrums. Now as an adult I still do this. I pick fights with my parents and siblings quite easily when I am around them in person (one time a year). And with my live-in boyfriend, I pick fights with him, get easily angry, and throw mini tantrums. One of these things happens about one a week. I'm like Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde. Why would I do this? I want to stop. I don't have a normal relationship with anyone. PS, I have ADD but keep it very controlled in my public life (people usually are shocked to hear that I have ADD.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
if you're laid back with people,you might just be minimizing your negative feelings and taking it out on the people you know think will "take it". that's wrong. you should be honest with everyone, although not necessarily "angry" with acquaintances. you only hurt the ones you love, but then again, your SO is not your psychologist and (s)he doesn't deserve your crap - all the time, anyway.
posted by kcm at 7:56 PM on May 21, 2006


And with my live-in boyfriend, I pick fights with him, get easily angry, and throw mini tantrums.

Are you aware at the time that you are throwing mini-tantrums? Can you step back from yourself, and realize what's going on, and just leave the scene to think about things?

I know people like this, and it appears to me that there are certain "triggers" that set them off. Triggers they would usually tolerate or ignore with strangers or casual acquaintances, but which essentially make them lose control of themselves when in contact with people who are close to them. These people, after a period, recognized that they went over the top for no sensible reason, and apologise later on.

If you're able to recognize (a) the exact moment you started to get angry (b) the exact thing that made you start to get angry (c) that you are throwing a hissy fit at this very moment, then simply leaving the scene, taking some deep breaths, and thinking about what the hell just happened may help you solve the problem and learn something about yourself. If you are completely out of control, and are unable to recognise the problem as it's occurring, then I'm sure a bunch of people will turn up here soon to offer remote mental health diagnoses and possible pills to take.
posted by Jimbob at 8:43 PM on May 21, 2006


Try to remind yourself of how insulting this is to your SO and family... that you care more about the feelings of people you don't know well. Do you have many intimate friendships or are they more casual? Can you try to follow Jimbob's advice, and add this reminder, "This person is very important to me, why would I treat them more roughly than a stranger?" Very often, people's sore spots, the things that make them really upset, turn out to be deep insecurities. Think about what sets you off, and if there's an underlying fear there. That gets you a step forward. Instead of getting angry, you can share your insecurity or fear with someone who loves you and who is in the best position to reassure you. It's not like these are people who would use this knowledge as a weapon against you, I would hope?

If you pick fights about trivial things, maybe it's intimacy in general that you're afraid of. The question is why.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 9:47 PM on May 21, 2006


This may be way out there, but rage like that can be an indicator of mania. It might be worth having a chat with a psychiatrist just to check it out.
posted by Serena at 9:57 PM on May 21, 2006


Everyone is different, but I think if you pay close attention you'll find that these tantrums don't happen to you, but rather are a, albeit briefly, considered response to some irritatating stimuli. Perhaps if you're aware of what those things are, keeping in mind they could be big or trivial, you're more likely to have the presence of mind to choose not to throw a fit.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:12 PM on May 21, 2006


I've found sometimes that the stress it takes to maintain an even keel all the time, even when it doesn't feel stressful at the time, can build up and explode when it feels "safe" to do so.

As kcm says, part of fixing that is getting comfortable with being angry or grumpy or in a bad mood whenever it happens, without trying to talk yourself out of it; not to the point where you're a bitch on wheels and "venting" or exploding *all* the time, just so that you're comfortable saying "I'm angry" or "I'm in a foul mood" when it's true.

And I've found it remarkably easier to avoid blowing up when I just acknowledge, out loud, that I'm in a bad mood. It tends to dissipate a lot of the negative energy, or at least make me slightly more aware that anything I might say is probably due to my own problems rather than something inherently bad with the current situation, and to some extent it gives the people around me a bit of license to ignore whatever comes out of my mouth for the next half hour or whatever, which can take some of the pressure off.
posted by occhiblu at 10:18 PM on May 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've found sometimes that the stress it takes to maintain an even keel all the time, even when it doesn't feel stressful at the time, can build up and explode when it feels "safe" to do so.

That's absurd. Being relaxed isn't stressfull.

Negative emotions arn't like steam heat that builds up untill it explodes unless it's released.

It's more like a fire. You put it out, and it's gone. The more you suppress it, the more it goes away. But if you let it burn, it will just get worse and worse.
posted by delmoi at 10:29 PM on May 21, 2006


"Being relaxed" and "maintaining an even keel" are not anywhere close to synonymous, and thanks for telling me my feelings about my own life are ridiculous.

While I agree that acting like an angry jerk all the time just makes you more of an angry jerk, acting like an easygoing person all the time around strangers, and then exploding around people you like, doesn't do you any good, either. Since that was the question that was actually posed, those were the constraints I was addressing, rather than some hypothetical jerk-24-hours-a-day situation. Notice I didn't say "Act like a jerk when you're in a bad mood; it'll help," but instead said, "Tell other people when you're in a bad mood so that you get more comfortable about being angry occasionally; that will take some of the pressure off which will both keep you from exploding and keep other people from taking you so seriously if you do explode a bit."
posted by occhiblu at 10:37 PM on May 21, 2006


I take antidepressants for severe chronic depression, but they pretty much eliminate my irritability, for which I am deeply appreciative.

Off the meds, I just get pissed-off, and it's the people closest to me that have to deal with it. My dad was this way, to the point of being abusive, so when I first found myself behaving the same way to my wife, I was mortified.

However, one day while being a complete irrational asshole—I decided, because of a fight the night previous, that me and my wife were leaving the ski lodge we were staying at, and I told her that if she didn't want to leave, I'd leave without her—so, as I was saying, in the middle of this irrational enormous jerk behavior, I suddenly saw myself from the outside.

That is to say, rather than being completely inside this anger I was feeling—an anger that was making its demands and completely twisting reality to its needs—suddenly I saw myself from the outside and realized that I was being very irrational and, more importantly, I suddenly saw the anger as something that was happening to me, not me being me. As soon as I saw the anger as some kind of external imposition on me, then I was able to distance myself from it. And from that distance I was able to change my behavior. Instantly, almost. And once I had that epiphany, it came much easier in the future.

After that, I eventually largely stopped acting like a huge jerk when I got irritable. I still got irritable, you understand, but I didn't lash out at people (mostly my signigicant others).

I don't know if that's helpful to you. But it might help you to think about your anger, when you're feeling it, not as some fundamental expression of your being, but something that's happening to you, like a mood-swing caused by a medication or PMS or something where you are aware that what you're feeling doesn't necessarily reflect reality.

Even though I learned to be a much nicer person, I still would very often get irritable. I can't emphasize enough how much I appreciate the meds making this not be necessary. I don't like being irritable or angry.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:53 PM on May 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I forgot to add that it's really great that you see the problem so clearly and want to fix it. You may need to try many different things to find what works for you. One resource could be Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, here is an article and a book devoted to anger and how to deal with it.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 11:04 PM on May 21, 2006


Is there any pattern to when you pick fights?

I know that I tend to pick fights with my wife when I haven't eaten in awhile. I don't always feel hungry, but low blood sugar seems to make me real cranky. We used to always get in fights about where or what we were going to eat. Now that I know this happens, I just tell her that I am being cranky because I need to eat.
posted by jefeweiss at 5:50 AM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think there is a reasonably strong chance that this is at least partly related to highs and lows caused by caffeine and sugar. You may just be picking fights because at that point you're suffering from caffeine withdrawal or an insulin spike, or even worse, both at the same time. Add dehydration to that and you have a powerful recipe for mood swings. If you're drinking a lot of sugary caffeinated beverages you're really setting yourself up for this problem. It may be helpful for you to read Kathleen DesMaison's book Potatoes Not Prozac, your library will probably have it.
posted by teleskiving at 5:57 AM on May 22, 2006 [2 favorites]


I have seen occhiblu's technique work well for someone who behaved exactly as described in the O.Q. She could not stop herself, when her response was to blast the person she'd targeted. When she said out loud, "I'm very angry," or "I'm in a bad mood,"resolutions were possible. When she went on the attack with "Why did you," or "I hate that," or "I can't stand," there was almost always a big, escalating fight.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:14 AM on May 22, 2006


Oh, and the person consumes no caffeine and is not fond of sugar.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:15 AM on May 22, 2006


I struggle with this same problem. While I'm calm and patient with most people, all of my irritability gets thrown the way of either my mom or my boyfriend. I understand how overwhelming the feelings of frustration, and anger can be. For me, it's very closely linked to stress in other areas of life, and PMS. I haven't cured myself of acting like this, but because I know it isn't fair to my boyfriend/mom, I have been trying to change. Honesty about my feelings has worked really well for me. I often say: "I'm in a bad mood" when I first start to boil, I try to talk about how I'm feeling before I'm at the breaking point (when I throw a tantrum). Also just letting your loved ones know it's something you want to work on is a good idea. I think it just takes practice and time, but in the meantime. . .

The very best way I've found to stop doing this, is to completely distract myself with something I like, or with other people. Sex, Godard Films, and Marijuana tend to put me in a much more tolerant mood. Talking to other friends who I see less often helps too. If I take a break for any of these things, I tend to get over whatever was driving me crazy.
posted by Packy_1962 at 7:59 AM on May 22, 2006


I was thinking about this some more: I think there's really huge pressure for women to act "nice" all the time, and to take every else's feelings into consideration before expressing your own emotions (I'm assuming the poster is a woman, though I've seen gay men do the "Oh, we all need to get along, I'm not allowed to be angry" thing pretty often, too). And since it's not something that you might actually consciously do, you may not even realize you're working to repress your own feelings or opinions for the sake of being nice or considerate or easygoing. Since the poster mentions that she keeps her ADD controlled (basically hidden) in public life, I would guess that she, like me, may be acting totally easygoing not because she's so relaxed all the time but because she's overly worried about imposing her feelings or opinions on those around her.

I got over it a bit, like I said, by just stating out loud how I was feeling; I think it helps me acknowledge that I'm in a bad mood and that I'm actually allowed to be in a bad mood, which, for me, was huge. I hadn't ever "allowed" myself to be in a bad mood around other people for a long time, which meant that I picked fights because I had to find a logical rationale for being upset. I also did some work to help myself realize that people would like me even when I'm not perfect or nice all the time, that the stakes for getting angry were not as high as I thought -- I can have moments of bitchiness or weakness and most of the time, no one even notices (though I do still apologize for them). And those moments of being human really don't make me any less "nice" of a person overall.

If you can get comfortable with the fact that your feelings are as important as other people's, and that you're allowed to express them, then you may not feel so threatened about doing so that you need to create a big fight. And really, I know how this works; it was my preferred method of dealing with my parents in high school -- get upset about something at school, not want to admit that I was "weak" or uncertain to my parents, pick an enormous fight over something totally inconsequential, and in the teary explanations later I'd finally feel listened to and so could explain what was actually bothering me.

I'll stop blathering now, I just wanted to expand a bit because I think the ways in which women get angry are different from the ways men get angry, and those angers are seen very differently by the population at large, and it didn't seem like many people were really addressing that.
posted by occhiblu at 8:01 AM on May 22, 2006 [4 favorites]


I was thinking about this some more: I think there's really huge pressure for women to act "nice" all the time, and to take every else's feelings into consideration before expressing your own emotions... I think the ways in which women get angry are different from the ways men get angry, and those angers are seen very differently by the population at large

This is absolutely true, and I agree with you it's probably a factor here. Not "blathering" at all—an excellent response.
posted by languagehat at 8:09 AM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of people in your life. Try to spend a little time alone, on a regular basis, doing something you like without reference to anyone else's preferences or desires.
posted by zadcat at 8:25 AM on May 22, 2006


I just wanted to second occhiblu's great answer.

I've been trying to get over the perfect in public / bitch at home method. Reminding myself that my husband is the person that matters most in the world to me, and that I should treat him that way, has really helped. As well, being honest with other people about my feelings/needs/opinions makes it less likely that I'll end up exploding with pent-up rage and frustration on a regular basis. Being more assertive about my feelings has made me more confident, so I feel like less of a doormat and more in control of myself and the situation. Thus, when I'm feeling angry, I know that I can control it better and don't have to resort to yelling and crying as a way to stop people from dominating me - or what I thought of as "dominating me". I hope that helps.
posted by meringue at 8:33 AM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


ADD may also be a factor. IANAD but I know people with ADD who say they often suppressed anger before they began treatment. You say you have it under control only in your public life, what does that mean? You may want to explore some different therapies to see if you can find one that doesn't require you to keep yourself under such (apparently) rigid control.

It sounds like you're angry about the energy you spend being "good" and "nice" - and you take that anger out on people who are "safe." I echo the suggestions above about expressing your true feelings (in, of course, reasonably non-jerk ways) when you're feeling them, instead of bottling everything up.

If you can afford it, you might also try some short-term therapy. Behavioural modification therapy might be really helpful - it's not so much "tell me about your mother" as just giving you tools to deal with your emotions.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:01 AM on May 22, 2006


[I am not a doctor, but I read a lot about this stuff]

What you're experiencing is similar to, or perhaps exactly, what is described as an "Amygdala Hijacking". In times of stress, your amygdala is overcome by chemical reactions and "hijacked". The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotion.

I've found that this is true of me as well. I discovered it by noticing my widely differing behavior at poker tables when my brother or a close friend was there vs. when I was with all strangers.

With strangers, I took bad beats (unlucky situations where I was a huge statistical favorite and ended up losing anyway) reasonably well. Sure, I'd sigh and be upset or mutter to myself, but there definitely wasn't an outburst.

With my brother or a good friend, I'd be much more clearly pissed off and irritated, and would occasionally even yell.

Upon noticing this, I've tried to think about why this is.

What I've concluded is that on a subconscious level, I somehow think my friends or family will empathize with and care about my irritation/pain, so I'm more likely to express it vocally, whereas a stranger would just think I'm being an idiot (when in fact I'm being an idiot no matter who's watching!).

I definitely don't consciously think to myself "X person will care, so now I'm going to shout", I think it's just an environmental condition/comfort with expressing rather than suppressing/controlling my annoyance. It's a bad comfort, so "comfort" is maybe not a great word to use, but it's all I can think of.

In order to correct it, you just need to do a few things:
- Remind yourself daily, several times if possible, that the next time you are angry, you will pay attention to how you are feeling physically and recognize what it feels like. It does feel different.
- Also remind yourself daily that after you've learned to recognize what it feels like, that will be a trigger to you to take a deep breath or two and relax, and not speak until you have that physical feeling under a bit of control.
- The first several times you're angry/upset, you are going to fail to control it. Make a point to replay those instances in your mind, recognize "ahh, here is how I felt physically, and I understand that I was running on emotion rather than rational thought so I blurted out an angry remark" .. keep track of these things and recognize them.

Eventually, the cycle will slow down and then stop except in the most extreme of circumstances.
posted by twiggy at 12:19 PM on May 22, 2006 [2 favorites]


I was thinking about this some more: I think there's really huge pressure for women to act "nice" all the time, and to take every else's feelings into consideration before expressing your own emotions... I think the ways in which women get angry are different from the ways men get angry, and those angers are seen very differently by the population at large.

I just want to third this notion. I can remember, during some of my tantrums, wanting people to just accept that I was mad, wanting them to apologize for things they didn't need to apologize for. When my boyfriend would remind me that I was out of line, I would often think very strongly WHY CAN'T I JUST BE IRRATIONAL, AND HAVE YOU BE NICE TO ME. I think a lot of this anger was a result of this phenomenon.
posted by Packy_1962 at 2:56 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


I would say, too, that the idea that any women who's really upset "must have PMS" tends to reinforce the idea (even, maybe especially, among women) that anger can never be rational and must always be tamped down so as not to interfere with anyone else's life.

I used to have a rule that I wasn't allowed to say I was angry until I had thought about the situation for at least a week, because then I would "know" if it was just hormones or if was valid (as if hormones somehow invalidate what you're feeling). Which, of course, meant that I never really got to express any negative emotions, because how on earth can you have a productive conversation that starts out, "So, that thing you did a week ago? After much consideration, I found that annoying."

So I never said anything at the time, and I felt stupid saying anything about it later, so I just never said anything. And resentment would build up until my estrogen levels dropped low enough that the "nice girl" facade cracked a bit -- which of course totally reinforces the idea that women are only mean or negative when they're PMSing.

But I *really* liked what meringue said about learning to be more assertive daily so that you don't fall into that feeling of "Everyone sucks and I hate the world and everyone is wrong and people are walking all over me and I MUST SCREAM NOW to regain control." It's amazing how much control women voluntarily give up in daily interactions just to "be nice," and it's equally amazing how little cost -- and how big a payoff -- there really is to reclaiming it.
posted by occhiblu at 3:20 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


This is me, to more of an extent. Around my family I'm a whiny, demanding, rude, controlling, critical princess (not all the time! I am actually a decent daughter and sister), but if you ask my friends and coworkers, they'll tell you I'm shy, quiet, nice, sympathetic--I never get mad, maybe sad or frustrated, but never truly angry.

You are free to show these negative emotions because your family and SO will accept them, you can express yourself because they'll always love you. It sounds like you're going overboard and venting all your frustrations at times and at people where you know the consequences. Blowing up at people you don't know too well, whether an incompetent coworker or a rude stranger on the street poses many more potential dangers (getting fired, being assaulted) than blowing up at your family (a screaming match, but a hug the next day).

So, be more considerate of your family, they deserve your kindness more than a stranger on the street. And assert yourself so you don't internalize the anger.
posted by lychee at 3:42 PM on May 22, 2006


I think what occhiblu is saying about men and women and anger is very true. However, it's generally true.

It's not necessarily the case that all women who experience strong irritation and anger and express it to the people they are closest are experiencing rational anger that they otherwise suppress because society expects women to be "nice". It might be the case that they're experiencing irrational anger and are taking it out on the people closest to them because they are selfish and lack self-control.

Packy_1962 writes:

"I just want to third this notion. I can remember, during some of my tantrums, wanting people to just accept that I was mad, wanting them to apologize for things they didn't need to apologize for. When my boyfriend would remind me that I was out of line, I would often think very strongly WHY CAN'T I JUST BE IRRATIONAL, AND HAVE YOU BE NICE TO ME."

...which I think is a very childish and selfish expectation. But if I understand what she was saying correctly, then this was a reaction to living in a world where men are "allowed" to be angry and abusive while women are always expected to be "nice" and peacemakers and so packy's was a counter-reaction to this. Which is understandable, but two wrongs don't make a right.

But back to my first point... It's certainly the case that I've known women who were selfish and mean and who took out their anger on those nearby because that's what they used those people for. And I can see those women finding this "oh, women are expected to be nice, but anger is a valid feeling and expressing it is appropriate" as the rationale by which they justify being abusive.

It seems self-evident that someone who is simply selfish and abusive wouldn't come to an Internet forum and ask for advice on how to deal with this. And I think this is probably the case with this anonymous poster. However, it's slightly possible that a selfish and abusive person would ask publicly for help as a sop but with no real intention to change.

Anger is a valid feeling. But it seems to me that when people are angry and express it to their domestic partners and family members, what it's all about isn't really the supposed proximate cause of their anger. And the thing is, taking out your valid anger on someone who isn't a valid target of your anger...is abuse. No one in any relationship ever should be expected to be a punching bag for someone else's convenience.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:19 PM on May 22, 2006


EB, I agree with everything you said. And I think the way to *fix* it, for the OP, is to be more assertive in everyday life, which all by itself is likely to make her feel less need to be assertive/bitchy/angry with close friends and family.

I think the distinction that the original poster made, between being nice and easygoing with acquaintances but tantrum-prone with family and partners, makes the selfishness that you (and delmoi) mentioned unlikely to be the case here.

But of course, had someone posted saying they were a raving maniac all the time, my advice (and I assume other people's) would have been different.
posted by occhiblu at 5:55 PM on May 22, 2006


Sounds like a fruitful line of enquiry. Learn how to say No. And to say no, again. Etiquette advice can show you ways to be perfectly reasonable when people are trying to take advantage, so don't be a doormat.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 6:15 PM on May 22, 2006


"I think the distinction that the original poster made, between being nice and easygoing with acquaintances but tantrum-prone with family and partners, makes the selfishness that you (and delmoi) mentioned unlikely to be the case here."

Well, I think in my case I have always been very polite and kind and easygoing in my public life. Hmm, maybe excepting the Internet. :)

But the example I'm thinking of is my dad. Here's a guy who everyone loves. He's friendly, he's kind, he's polite. In fact, I learned a lot from his example about dealing with random people. He also was extremely well-loved as a manager. He was a programmer and manager at a company that partnered with a big insurance company to provide a specialized data product. So there were all these people in Philly that worked for his group. But the two companies got into a disagreement and the insurance company pulled out. And all these people in Philly made this video for my dad at a party they held in his honor. They talked about how, unlike any of the other executives, they could always call him on the phone and he'd talk to them and be helpful and whatnot. These people loved him. It was obvious.

And I remember thinking, "damn, I wish that guy was my father".

Actually, even back then that person was occasionally my father and, these days, he's always like that with me and he's a wonderful dad.

But not when I was a kid. He was irritable all the time, had irrational bursts of anger. And he took it out on me and my mom, less so my sister. After my mom divorced him, she found herself at the supermarket stupefied with the realization that she wasn't shopping in fear of buying "the wrong thing". You get my point.

So I'm not so convinced that really nice person in public and work but angry and mean and abusive at home means that the person is suppressing their anger elsewhere. It could just be that they think this is an acceptable way to treat their loved ones. Because it's supposedly their loved ones' job to tolerate their irrationality and anger and abuse. I mean, isn't that what family is for? You see I'm being ironic.

I'm deeply suspicious of anyone who claims, explicitly or implicitly, that it's your job to deal with them properly when they're angry. I'm deeply suspicious because I've been on both ends of that deal. And I learned that other people don't have to suffer just because I'm pissed-off.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:32 PM on May 22, 2006


I think the issue is that I'm advocating expressing anger at the appropriate people and in constructive ways.

Lashing out at random people simply because they're likely to forgive you for it is wrong, whether you're male or female, yes. But I think where the gender distinction comes in is here: You said "But it seems to me that when people are angry and express it to their domestic partners and family members, what it's all about isn't really the supposed proximate cause of their anger," and I truly think that is less true for women.

From my own limited experience, but supplemented by a lot of reading on the issues of domestic life, the major causes of stress in many women's lives are their domestic partners. The stereotypes still mean that men are judged mostly by their career succes, women by their domestic success (whether that's their relationship or their kids or whatever), and I was amazed when I started living with my last boyfriend how fucking stressful it was. I was somehow in charge of all the cleaning and all the cooking and all the social planning -- even if I wasn't actually doing the work, I was in charge of policing whether it had been done. For a woman who lists "feminist" within about the first three adjectives when describing myself, it was pure hell to suddenly find myself acting like a 50s housewife (except also with a full-time job) with no way out. And my boyfriend just dismissed any attempts to right the situation as "nagging."

My favorite comment on the general situation of modern couples was a man writing that modern men do two or three times the domestic work their fathers did, and so pat themselves on the back for how far they've come; which means they're probably doing 30% of the domestic work. Women grew up expecting a 50/50 split, and so find themselves constantly frustrated by the inequality, while the totally well-intentioned guys keep looking around, bewildered that they're not getting more praise for all they are doing; and everyone is unhappy.

After that boyfriend and I broke up, my PMS completely disappeared. Almost all the anger anywhere in my life just totally dissipated. The most stressful, awful jobs I've held have never made me as consistently frustratingly unhappy as dealing with that boyfriend while we were living together.

So yes, people who have not pissed me off should not have to suffer just because I am pissed off. But one still needs to learn to constructively, appropriately, respectfully express anger or other negative feelings with the people who cause them -- and I maintain that for women, in many cases, it's going to be the domestic partners who do so. That's just, realistically, where the stress is coming from.

Of course there are totally bitchy women who just throw tantrums to get their way, damn the consequences, and it has nothing to do with gender roles and modern society and how the two don't always match up. And I never want anyone to think that I'm advocating simply blowing up as a means of dealing with anger; as I've said again and again (and as meringue said better than I), the point is to get angry with the appropriate people so that you don't blow up anymore, and to take action to consciously acknowledge when a blow-up might happen so that you can avoid it. The goal is to be assertive without being an asshole, not to be a bitchy diva 24 hours a day.

In any event, I don't mean to derail if this is nowhere near the case for the poster. I just think people (myself included) have been projecting a lot on this question, so I wanted to explicitly lay my terms out.
posted by occhiblu at 11:21 PM on May 22, 2006 [3 favorites]


Oh, I'm definitely projecting into this question. But what I'm projecting could be true, just as what you are. I did and do agree that what you're describing is more likely with women than with men. But while it's your issue to see that base covered, it's my issue to see my base covered. So to speak.

And upon re-reading your comments, I'm struck by this one:

"And I've found it remarkably easier to avoid blowing up when I just acknowledge, out loud, that I'm in a bad mood. It tends to dissipate a lot of the negative energy, or at least make me slightly more aware that anything I might say is probably due to my own problems rather than something inherently bad with the current situation, and to some extent it gives the people around me a bit of license to ignore whatever comes out of my mouth for the next half hour or whatever, which can take some of the pressure off."

I really think you should re-read that paragraph and reconsider it. It reads to me as if you've agreed to give a bit more fair-warning when you're about to be hurtful in exchange for your loved-ones being more forgiving. That's a pretty good deal for you.

Unless this questioner is suppressing a great deal of anger outside of the home because of a horrible workplace or something, I don't really think that her problem is an inappropriate and unhealthy suppression of her anger. Sounds more like the opposite to me. She may have a bad life at home, with no particular person to blame. She doesn't seem to think that the people she's being hurtful to have done things to deserve it. Either she's got some big and deep issues—in her life in general or with a specific person—that need to be resolved, or she may or may not have those issues but she has a behavioral problem, but either way the answer isn't to just spread around her bad behavior a little more evenly. The answer is to a) change her behavior toward the people she's hurting; and b) find out why she has a problem with her anger and elminate the source.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:20 AM on May 23, 2006


this was a reaction to living in a world where men are "allowed" to be angry and abusive while women are always expected to be "nice" and peacemakers and so packy's was a counter-reaction to this. Which is understandable, but two wrongs don't make a right.

It's not that I think it makes it right to have irrational anger, or to act it out on your loved ones. I gave this poster some advice about controlling, and reducing her tantrums. My point here was just that sometimes you are in a fowl mood, for whatever reason: hormones, stress etc. And it can really elevate your anger if you feel like your feelings aren't validated by a cause. For me, this is elevated even more by occhiblu's remark about the pressure to be nice. Because I'm aware that nobody likes a bitch, and women are often considered to be overly emotional, my fowl mood can often turn into: I'm frustrated that I'm in a bad mood and there's no obvious external reason for it, and then it can become anger that's directed at my loved ones: why can't you just be nice to me, when I'm in a bad mood why do I have to have a reason for it? These emotions, are of course, just an accompaniment to whatever made me in a bad mood in the first place. I don't think this kind of behavior is excusable, I'm just commenting on how the desire/pressure to be a rational woman rather than a bitch with mood swings can lead to an even more elevated state of anger.
posted by Packy_1962 at 12:55 AM on May 23, 2006


EB, you're completely misunderstanding me on that last quote.

I don't say "I'm in a bad mood" and then blow up.

When I feel myself getting frustrated and about to snap at someone, I realize that blowing up at the person in front of me is neither constructive nor often appropriate. Rather than reacting out of anger, then, I step back from the frustration for a second and just say, "I'm really angry right now" or "I'm in a really bad mood." That statment dissipates the negative energy and prevents any words spoken in anger; I don't also then go on to start yelling.

When I said "It gives the people around me a bit of license to ignore whatever comes out of my mouth for the next half hour or whatever," I didn't mean wheeeee! I get to yell for the next hour, it just means if I'm grumbly and sullen I've just told people that it's my fault and my reactions that are out of whack, not that I'm somehow blaming them for something they're doing, and so my frowns or grumbling don't come across as passive-aggressive.

This is coming out of the realization that when you're around someone you care about who's angry or grumpy, you want to help them not be angry or grumpy, so you rack your brain trying to figure out ways to make them not angry or grumpy, or if they're angry at you, or how your behavior contributed to the situation. That person saying, "Look, I'm just in a bad mood right now, it'll go away, it's not you, just gimme a couple minutes to glare at the TV" takes some of that pressure off -- you still have a grumpy person in front of you, but you no longer have to worry that you somehow caused it (or that the grumpiness is about to lead up to a huge explosion).

And the amazing thing is, stating your negative mood out loud, acknowledging that it's something happening to you and not somehow a rational response to an unjust world that's out to get you, makes the bad mood disappear. Realizing that the anger building up in your chest is an emotion, not an inevitability, and acknowledging "I'm angry" (without trying to explain it or justify it; just stating it) makes you less angry. That's basically what viapassana meditation does, makes you acknowledge that all emotions are temporary waves in your psyche, and they'll pass, and the longer you hold on to one of them as if it defined you rather than recognizing it's something happening to you, the longer it will control you. Admitting "I'm out of control," rather than swinging and yelling and hollering to try to grab that control back, is what lets you regain control.
posted by occhiblu at 8:05 AM on May 23, 2006


And I should mention that I'm not always perfect about applying the techniques above, but I'm trying!
posted by occhiblu at 8:08 AM on May 23, 2006


And uh... "viapassana" meditation is all the rage in Italy... or something. Sigh. "Vipassana." Should not post pre-coffee.
posted by occhiblu at 8:10 AM on May 23, 2006


Ah, thanks for the clarification. I apologize for misunderstanding you.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:12 AM on May 23, 2006


Not a problem. I was just starting to worry that this thread was going to go down for posterity as evidence of my raving lunatic anger-whore ways. Glad I got the chance to clarify.
posted by occhiblu at 9:07 AM on May 23, 2006


It's so interesting reading other people's experiences with anger. For the longest time I felt like I was the "only one" who behaved this way (nice in public and grumpy in private), and that it was somehow an indication that I was truly a crazy person, not like all the civilized people out there, who didn't seem to struggle with their emotions.

When I was growing up, both my parents acted the way Ethereal Bligh's father did. My father is a professor, and he would do anything for his students. He used to work right through Christmas marking exams, so his students would be able to see their grades as soon as possible. Everything he does is for external recognition and validation. My mother has been similar; everything she does is aimed at making sure how everyone knows she has the most expensive house, most selfless job, etc. Everything, in short, is about "face". Of course, this puts enormous pressure on them, and when things didn't go perfectly, they had to find someone to blame other than themselves. This would be my brother and me.

When I got to be in my early twenties, after some years of living on my own and (I thought) developing my own personality, I came to a realization that I was acting exactly like my parents. At work, I was the star. I was my boss's favourite; I would do anything to please. I worked overtime with no complaint, and then I would come home exhausted and bite my husband's head off if he dared to ask if there was anything to eat. I felt put-upon, undervalued, never-good-enough. It was everyone's fault but mine.

One day my husband told me that he felt like he always had to walk on eggshells around me. I was shocked. Me? Gentle, accommodating, reliable me? It couldn't be - because I had built my whole identity around being the one that always gave in, made nicey-nicey, was the peacemaker. What I finally realized was that I hated this person, this role. At first, I blamed my parents for making me into that person, blamed my job, blamed society. It took a while for me to take responsibility for my own feelings and actions, a two-steps-forward, one-step back kind of journey that I am still on, but it has been the best thing I have ever done for myself.

As I have become more confident, I feel more capable of defining my boundaries with other people, expressing my feelings in a more neutral way, and recognizing what provokes me, so when I do get angry, I can deal with it more constructively. I still get that white-hot anger sometimes, but I am far better at defusing myself before I take it out on someone else.

Figuring all this out has made me feel like much less of a social maladjust - I'm not a freak, I just didn't know any good coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, I had to go through an eating disorder, depression, and near-alcoholism before I realized this, so I hope that sharing my experience will help someone else. You can do it, anon, you have more control over your life than you know. I wish that I had been as proactive in asking for help as you are.
posted by meringue at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2006 [2 favorites]


Hi Im really interested in your story cause im exactly the same. I know it was may when you said your story but just hoping you will see this. I also interested to what help you have had. Just broke up with another boyfriend of a yr & half due to it, so your lucky to have someone who can put up with it. But how long for??

Im seeing a hypnosis about mine. He says that it a lot of build up inside could be from a lot of things in life which is at the back of your mind with out knowing it. Mine is due to a bad childhood before i was adopted.

After looking had on the internet for more help to control myself i came up with a lot of information. Eating a high Carbohydrated food helps, it produces a natural chemical in your brain called 'serotonin' which gives you energy, a pick-you-up.

I also found '12 Ways To Get You Out Of A Bad Mood' which really works. I recently came back from Minorca with my boyfriend but i was constantly SNAPPY and Negative to everything he said, He was like the victom. Im now trying to control my life & he may give me another chance.
Its all about 'Thinking Positive'.

Im really interested to hear from you by email. debbie.pieters1@virgin.net Feal free at anytime. Tc. X
posted by mistique at 8:28 AM on October 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


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