Help me and my bruised hands.
December 14, 2008 7:17 PM   Subscribe

How do you control a ridiculous temper?

26 yr old female here, on Paxil and Clonazepam, for what it's worth. I have always had a short fuse but in the last few years it seems to have gotten much shorter. I don't know how to deal with frustration. I get pissed off at people who drive like crap, people who are slow in lines at the store, and when something is continuing to thwart me so to speak.

Yesterday my partner and I bought a Christmas tree that was way too tall. We spent hours with a hacksaw trying to get this thing cut down to a manageable size. We fought and fought and fought it. I am known to scream in frustration occasionally. Or throw things (not at anyone or anything, just throw it down to the ground). I was frustrated to no end after hours of sawing that damned tree and I stood up and whacked my head on a shelf on the wall.

Then I just lost my shit. I slugged the wall (5x according to my wife) in sheer rage. Afterwards I cried my eyes out because it overwhelmed me and I was scared and shaking. As if this ridiculous display isn't bad enough, my partner's last relationship was with an extremely abusive woman. Needless to say when I turned into a spaz and slammed the wall I scared the shit out of her.

She told me she was scared of me at that moment and couldn't handle that feeling again, which I totally understand. She's been through way too much to have to deal with tantrums from me. How do I learn to control these feelings? It builds up inside me and seems to boil over. The smallest frustrations seem to lead to outbursts. Please help. I don't want to be like this and I don't want to drive my partner away.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I get pissed off at people who drive like crap, people who are slow in lines at the store, and when something is continuing to thwart me so to speak.

Everybody gets this to more or less degree. What I have done for years, since I was a teenager, is to create a plausible explanation for someone's behavior that would alleviate my anger and focus on that. For example, if some is moving too slowly up the steps from the subway, I would suggest to myself they were an injured vet or recovering from a surgery. Someone's driving like a fool: their mom died and they're out of their mind. The point is to enlarge your frame of reference to include things other than what you want and what is getting in your way. This change in possible circumstance and focus (away from me, me, me, me) was usually enough to take the edge off. After a while, I really just stopped getting upset by things like that. There are still times when I get frustrated, of course, but I am able to clearly see how terribly stupid it is, which makes it easier to let go.

Unfortunately, I don't have much advise for what to do at times when you're so mad you pound the walls; but integrating this sort of thinking has made me calmer in general.
posted by milarepa at 7:33 PM on December 14, 2008 [15 favorites]

Are you seeing a therapist? If not, that is step one.
posted by piratebowling at 7:36 PM on December 14, 2008

I was going to suggest a therapist, but those meds sound like something you would have had to have had prescribed. If you are seeing a therapist and still having these behaviors, then something needs to change in your therapy. Maybe via a new doctor.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 7:38 PM on December 14, 2008

I'm really glad you reached out and I'm really, really glad you know you need to take action on this.

The pharmaceuticals may help you sustain motivation to move forward but as you probably know you'll still have to do the work to make this change. My suggestions:

1) Therapist - call a few and find one who has experience with anger issues and/or queer folks. This person can help you explore the underlying causes, and make specific plans for how to behave differently.

2) Anger management classes or support group. Ideally one for queers or women but depending on where you live that might be really hard. Talking about this with others who share your experience may give you practical ideas and help you to get past shame or embarrassment talking about it.

3) I bet there are good books about anger management too. I'm sorry I don't know one.

4) This may seem cheese ball, but developing a meditation or yoga practice could be a helpful part of your healing process. A lot of what I'm learning from meditation is how to pause before I act or even before I think. Meditation could give you a "pause" button you can press before things get out of hand.

I applaud your bravery doing this and I believe you can and will stick with this issue, you won't brush it under the rug. This is for your partner but also for yourself.
posted by serazin at 7:56 PM on December 14, 2008

I quote my own answer to a previous question:

H.A.L.T. is a recovery slogan that I think is a perfectly useful reminder that our immediate feelings may not reflect the reality of our situation. It stands for "Never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired."

So at times when I feel myself flipping out, I mentally run through the checklist before deciding whether to make decisions based on my feelings. And guess what? Usually I'm just tired. Or frustrated from work. And I don't actually care whether we see the movie at 7:20 instead of 9:30 like I thought I did a moment ago. And having become aware of this, I can stop punishing you for it (whoever you happen to be).

Honestly, attention to this kind of thing has probably saved some of my relationships.
posted by hermitosis at 8:00 PM on December 14, 2008 [51 favorites]

There is medication that can help. Once in the morning, once at night, and any time during the day you need it. It will calm you down and help you stay more peaceful in the face of frustrating events. It's psychologically addictive but not harmful. But it takes time to consume and to benefit from - around 5-10mins minimum each dose. Although you can take mini-doses if you are stuck in traffic a minute or two. These mini-doses can really help you get through your day.

Did I say medication?
I really mean meditation.

anonymous, I really feel for you. I hate being in the space you are in now where every act of daily life can seem like a saw edge. You've probably heard it a thousand times but really, meditation is perfect for helping with these moods.

I have found books by Eric Harrison helpful. Here's one: Flip the switch anytime anywhere. I learned from his Do you want to meditate? which seems to be out of print. Another is Teach yourself to meditate in 10 simple lessons.

What I like about Harrison is that
a) he's been teaching meditation in a very generous way for over 20 years,
b) he's taken meditation out of the religious/spiritual frame and teaches it from a perspective of health and wellness, and
c) he focuses on people in the busy world, like you, learning to meditate to calm themselves down.

If you want a treatment that will benefit today and for life, it's meditation. Cheers and cyber-salve for the hands.
posted by Kerasia at 8:11 PM on December 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

The HALT suggestion above is pretty good, I think. I know people with temper issues, and I find that the anger is often related to something completely aside from whatever the triggering event is. Many times its Hunger, Anger, Lonely, or Tired. The other one I'd add is lack of physical exertion/exercise. Being aware of what the actual issue is -- and talking about that issue, and the way it effects you -- can really really help.

Now that I know my friends triggers, I can sometimes see it coming before they can -- I know she hasn't eaten since lunch, I see her being more irritated than normal with whatever situation, I can help steer her out of that situation, and get her some food. And I'm not afraid of her anymore in those situations.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:23 PM on December 14, 2008

Imagine you awake early one morning overflowing with enthusiasm for the day. You feel good. You are happy and have plenty of energy to face the day. Then at breakfast, you have a fight with your spouse, and a flood of emotion comes out. You get mad, and in the emotion of anger you spend a lot of personal power. After the argument, you feel drained, and you just want to go and cry. In fact, you feel so tired that you go to your room, collapse, and try to recover. You spend the rest of the day wrapped up in your emotions. You have no energy to keep going, and you just want to walk away from everything.

Every day we awake with a certain amount of mental, emotional, and physical energy that we spend throughout the day. If we allow our emotions to deplete our energy, we have no energy left to change our life or give to others.

The way you see the world today will depend on the emotions you are feeling. When you are angry, everything around you is wrong, people are in your way or going too slow, nothing is right. You blame everything, including the weather, whether it's raining or shining, nothing pleases you. When you are sad, everything around you is sad and makes you want to cry. You see the trees and feel sad, you see rain and everything looks so sad. Perhaps you feel vulnerable and have a need to protect yourself because you don't know at what moment someone will do something to upset your emotions. You don't trust anything or anyone around you. This is because you see the world with eyes of fear.

The problem with many people is that they lose control of their emotions. It is emotions that control our behavior, no us who control our emotions. When we lose control we say things we don't want to say, and do things we don't want to do. I have learned over time that if I practice The Four Agreements, I can have better control of my emotions. By speaking with integrity, not taking things personally, and not making assumptions I can remain more calm and serene rather than succumbing to fear-based emotion.

You can do it too. It won't happen overnight. It takes practice. Just try to keep in mind that others aren't doing what they do just to irritate us, or get in our way, or impede or growth. They are too worried about their own problems, fears, and emotions to even recognize they are causing us consternation. Don't take yourself too damn seriously. There is a lot of goodness and joy inside you just waiting to bust out.
posted by netbros at 8:25 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a filthy temper if the right buttons are pressed. I've never, ever hit another person and I never would. But I've occasionally smashed and punched things (in private, not in front of anyone). I've also literally seen red with anger. And on several occasions I've been so enraged that I've honestly had an out of body experience. Which ended with giving people a, uh, fairly brutal piece of my mind. A piece that while in my opinion was richly deserved, would nonetheless have been much, much better kept to myself. Or at the very least delivered much more calmly. Sigh.

Anyway, there are a few things I do to keep evil_t0astie from making an appearance too often.

First, I know what pisses me off -- what my triggers are -- and I steer away from them as much as possible. Be a bit self aware about what your own sore spots are. Make a list. Avoid what's on the list as much as you can.

Sometimes aggravating people and situations are unavoidable, of course. So if I can, I prepare before dealing with people/things that make me angry. For instance, if I can't avoid speaking with someone who is going to annoy me, I take a second before the call to Just. Chill. Out. And to remind myself that no matter what they say, I will stay calm calm CALM. So, preparation. Sometimes, seriously, I will visualise myself being verrrry calm. If you know something is going to rile you, perhaps you can find a way to pause before going into the situation?

FWIW, I am grumpiest and most likely to crack if I've been drinking a lot of coffee and am hungry and/or sleep deprived. So I try and get enough food, adequate sleep and not drink ridiculous amounts of coffee. If those things aren't happening - two hours sleep, massive caffeine jag, no lunch - I do my best to defer all but the briefest contact with people who are likely to anger me.

And if none of that works, and I find I'm becoming furious and frustrated with something, or someone, I stop. Seriously. Just walk away. Pull the phone away from your ear. Say you've got another call coming through and you'll call right back. If you can, tell someone you're with ''This is really pissing me off. I just need to walk away for a sec and take a breather on my own, OK?'' Go and get a glass of water. Take some deep breaths. Sit down. Whatever it takes. Then go back to the damn tree, or whatever with your blood pressure lowered a bit.

I can't remember who said it, but there's a quote that goes something like ''between stimulus and response, there is a space''. And in that space, you make your choice. Try and find the space. Easier said than done, of course.
posted by t0astie at 8:39 PM on December 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

Well, now you know that she's likely been walking on eggshells around you for some time. It's no fun to live with someone you're afraid of, and (perversely) maddening to live with someone who's afraid of you. Those outbursts that you think aren't directed at anyone in particular? She feels like they're directed at her. The net result is the same whether you aimed the rage at her or not.

One thing to try is to remember how absolutely shitty you feel when you start to regret/realize what you've done and said, and still have all that juice flowing in your veins. Then tell yourself you never want to feel that way again.

I hope that doesn't come across as harsh, but it does take a conscious effort if you want to get a handle on your anger. The fact that you seem to realize this is a positive sign. And it doesn't happen overnight. I'd start by telling her A.) that you're sorry, B.) that you didn't realize how harmful your anger was to her, C.) you want to change rather than lose her, but that it'll take some time, and patience on both your parts and that you're willing to try.
posted by trondant at 10:13 PM on December 14, 2008

Find your triggers, and solve those first when possible. (In addition to hungry, tired, etc as mentioned above... consider whether your monthly cycles affect your temper).

Hungry, for example, is relatively easy to solve-- make sure you carry around something quick to eat. Your partner can help by feeding you when you're irritable (you'll have to learn to accept this help).

In the meantime, though, nthing the therapy mentioned above. You might also discuss some strategies that your partner can help with- for example, you might ask her to understand that when you say "I need a break now" and walk out that it isn't personal. You might also see if she can help you track your triggers. You seem willing to change, and you should show that to her as much as possible.

Good luck, having a vicious temper is no easy trial.
posted by nat at 10:28 PM on December 14, 2008

If you're mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol, that'll do it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:03 PM on December 14, 2008

Oops, that ended up slightly unclear. By "that'll do it" I meant the combination seems to cause an angry drunk, not that this combination would help you.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:06 PM on December 14, 2008

sorry this is so wordy, I'm overtired here.. :)
I don't know what you are taking Paxil for and I am not a doctor, but have you told your doctor specifically about this issue, when it happens, is it occasionally, only at certain times of the month or certain times of the year, etc, as specific as you can be.

Also, if you can't express how you're feeling and bottle it up until it boils over, that's tough - how about taking a break (such as trying to saw the Christmas tree) when you start to get angry and frustrated, instead of insisting on finishing the task, because what makes it harder to finish the task is being angry and frustrated. Just drop it and go back to it later. Try to see the humor in things. You can't make someone else a better driver, you can't make the supermarket lane any faster.. it's counterproductive, actually - you waste energy getting mad at terrible drivers (but come on, everyone gets mad about them! perfectly understandable), you get worse customer service if you handle things by getting angry instead of being calm and keeping your sense of humor about situations that can't be helped. I mean you're able to go to a supermarket any time you want, and you have money for food, and there are a lot of varieties, and you can buy any kind of food that you like, and the wait isn't that long. There are millions of people on this planet who would see that as an amazing luxury..

And maybe think about how others see you & the cumulative effect it has on relationships, not being honest about how you're feeling & then having an explosive temper.. it's hard to get to know people when they're walking on eggshells around you. Even if you're not punching walls yet, stuff like screaming and throwing stuff down is probably perceived by your partner as threatening - she doesn't like it, she probably thinks you should quit trying to saw the damned tree, but she's afraid of what'll happen if she speaks up because you're already acting violent. One of my parents had an explosive temper and eventually.. after I grew up and moved out.. this kind of behavior just came across to me as nothing special - sometimes it's a childish way to manipulate people, sometimes it's just someone acting out. But it took me years to reach the point where I could ignore it and not go back to walking on eggshells and changing my behavior because I had to accommodate another person's bad temper.
posted by citron at 12:08 AM on December 15, 2008

I used to have a similar temper, so I know where you're coming from. First off, as it's said above, you need to know what your limits are. Everyone has them, and it does no-one any good to try and bull your way through situations that you're not good at dealing with. Be sure to eat and drink regularly, and get enough sleep. But, first and foremost, you need to learn when to get up and walk away. So the tree doesn't fit - fine - whatever! So you hack and hack and try and try and it just won't work! Fine - whatever. Just put down whatever you are doing and sit down and take a breath - or walk around the block (my personal favorite). Most times this rage comes from trying too hard and caring too much. You're not responsible for every situation, and sometimes there's nothing to be done. You need to learn when to punt.

When you feel that "tingle" up the spine (your adrenaline rising) - take a deep breath and stop whatever you are doing. Tell your s.o. that you need to step away - and go somewhere by yourself until the surge dies down. If you stay aware of how your body is reacting, you'll be amazed at how you can derail these tantrums. It worked for me.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:10 AM on December 15, 2008

Hermitosis - that pretty much encapsulates my approach to people (including myself) who are having a spin out.

I just kind of thought of it as the 'babysitter to two-year olds' approach. Even 2 year olds don't usually collapse into a sprawling, grizzling mess at say, their toy being taken away, unless there is something else wrong. So you don't take it personally.
NOTHING changes by becoming an adult!

An emotional upset doesn't usually have people... genuinely spin out, unless there's something else wrong.
Usually, it's tired. But it's really hard to get other people to take a nap. Sometimes if you're actually looking after someone, you can swing it.

So, I don't take insults, or upset accusations to heart.
I make sure they are fed, have a drink, and are warm (a jacket, a blanket).
A cup of tea is nice. Warm, soothing, sweet, kind of compensates for tiredness without making you wired.

If they are physically wet, or dirty, I do what I can to get them clean. Offer them a shower, or at least take them to the bathroom and get them cleaned up, and some good clothes. I have a friend, who has, on occasion, when someone has been in hysterics, compassionately gotten a warm facecloth, and washed their face and hands.

If they are in pain - painkillers. Bandages. All the good stuff.

Only when all physical needs are met, or as many as you can meet at short notice, is someone capable of dealing with whatever emotional issue they're dealing with.

Thing is - I do it myself. I do that checklist on myself. I know what not to take seriously (my getting worked up about something), and what to take seriously - my physical needs.

You were in pain. Physically exhausted from hours of work. Tired. Probably cold. Probably hungry and on a sugar low. Shit, you might not have even been able to go to bathroom in a while. :/
You were poised for a meltdown. You had one. I'm sorry. It's really, really, really emotionally draining and miserable to be pushed that far, and then to have to deal with the fallout.

For day to day? Check out the recent thread on 'forgiveness'. Forgiving people their minor, their unthinking, and their unintended irritations helps. Destressing. Naps. Meditation. All the good stuff.
That stops minor irritations building up and sapping your physical reserves. Two pronged approach - conserving your physical reserves, and letting go of the mental thoughts that sap them.

Lots of luck.
posted by Elysum at 1:01 AM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

No matter how much your anger seems to be about something "out there" it will much more likely affect something "in here". Keeping that in mind sometimes helps me deflect my anger.
posted by telstar at 2:30 AM on December 15, 2008

For members of my family this type of behavior is a symptom of depression. The paxil might not be the best anti-depressant for you. Try talking to your doctor about a different type.
posted by miss tea at 4:25 AM on December 15, 2008

Learn not to attempt jobs using the wrong tools.

I am normally a very even tempered person, but I can imagine becoming insanely frustrated by attempting to cut a Christmas tree with a hacksaw.

Hacksaws are for cutting metal. They're good for that. They suck at cutting wood, especially green wood. Next time you want to cut a Christmas tree, use a bow saw.
posted by flabdablet at 4:40 AM on December 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

Wow, the HALT approach is just what I'm using to deal with anger and petulance that I struggle with all the time. Except for me, H is usually "hormones". I have to accept sometimes that I am feeling upset out of proportion to the cause, that this is a chemical thing and not a mental failing, and that it's not shameful to take a break, sulk for a little bit, eat something, and just chill out BEFORE I get to the point of eruption.
posted by muddgirl at 7:16 AM on December 15, 2008

Take a structured time out.
posted by bigbigdog at 7:24 AM on December 15, 2008

I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned the drugs that you are on. You sound really irritated. Irritability could be caused by an issue with your meds. Whether that is true or not, you should talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor may change your drugs or offer you a referral to a therapist.

To add to the suggestions you have received, I recommend meditation of some sort of energy practice (yoga or tai chi). They aren't for everyone, but can give you practice at controlling your mind and thoughts.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:27 AM on December 15, 2008

It builds up inside me and seems to boil over.

Yeah, you need to not let it build. Exercise, meditation, therapy - whatever it takes to stop it in its tracks. If you can resolve each minor frustration when it happens, there won't be any major outbursts.

Having lived with someone who never touched me but broke things - you absolutely must walk away from her when you feel like this. Go for a walk (not a drive!). Whether you ever lay a hand on her, she is becoming the collateral damage to your rage.
posted by desjardins at 11:17 AM on December 15, 2008

I think meditation and yoga are good tools for many things but for me the attempted calmness just frustrates me more when I am specifically angry; exercise is a better counter-activity. This might mean when I feel my temper rising and want to exit, going for a fast walk instead of going in the other room to steam. Vastly more productive.

But I'm still not that good at finding that space between stimulus and response (thanks, t0astie!) so I am also focusing on keeping my baseline stress lower. Yoga, meditation, blood sugar, sleep ... these are all part of the package, but again exercise seems to be a really powerful change. If I'm doing something regularly, even without pushing myself too hard, I'm on a more even keel day to day. I can tell a difference between doing a little vs doing none, so I don't put off a short walk or 10 minutes of Wii thinking I might get to the gym later because I know that 10 minutes is useful. Think I'll get up right now and do some cartoonish boxing, in fact.

Hoping you're treating your hands too, maybe rest em in a bucket of cold (not ice) water for 10 minutes or so, every couple hours? You can use that time to meditate too!
posted by olecranon at 12:07 PM on December 15, 2008

When I am panicked I tend to get pretty owly too- I take a couple of different meds for GAD and when I am feeling panicked or scared, etc- I can get really aggressive. There are things that I do when I feel that way. Number one, is to let people know what is going on with me, especially those who will try to help me feel safe. When I am upset I will say something like "Right now my heart rate is going up and I am upset/scared/hungry. I think I may have an outburst" Next thing is to Try to remove myself from the situation, as politely as possible. Sometimes getting out for a breath of fresh air helps. Breathing is good, oxygen in deep breaths. I count and tell myself that I am safe where I am and tell myself I can handle what is happening to me. Cognitive behavior therapy is helpful too, I know of people who have had great success in having it. Cultivating a good sense of humor helps me too, especially when I am frightened because it helps me calm down. For example, the other week I had a bad reaction and terrible side affect to a medication that just totally knocked me for a loop- couldn't use my hands, I was in pain, I was scared as h*ll . I told people about my fears, said I needed help, asked to get to the ER. During that time I had to joke about how I couldn't get dressed, how many times they took blood and even joked about how my ride almost had to shove me out of the car because they wanted to abandon me (joking!!!) Everyone had a good laugh and I felt better because I could laugh at the fear instead of cowering in front of it.
Also, I have cultivated a habit of meditation- nothing like the Soto Zen Style but I sit in a comfortable place on the edge of a chair, back properly aligned, look at a wall and focus on my breathing while letting the thoughts drift in and out of my head. After 20 minutes, I feel like a new woman.
posted by agentsarahjane at 12:23 PM on December 15, 2008

follow-up from a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous.
Okay, I know that anecdotes are pretty much useless in situations like this one, but you sound like you're feeling exactly, eerily like I did when I was taking Paxil: it almost totally removed my ability to deal with trivial annoyances without completely losing my shit. I regularly punched walls, cried, scared my girlfriend, broke stuff, etc. I tore the screen clear off of an obstinate (and largely blameless) laptop. Luckily, it was fairly easy to correlate the change in my temper to a change in my medication, and once I was off Paxil I was back to having something like a short-normal fuse within a month.

Notably, it wasn't a failure of anger management, low blood sugar, a "trigger event," poor coping strategies, hormones, lack of meditation, etc., which seem to be the foci of most of your answers, though I suppose I could have handled it in those ways if switching my medications up wasn't an option. It was, I'm convinced, something that was different about how my mind worked on Paxil (Too much serotonin? Your guess is probably as good as mine), and maybe a little of the underlying depression.

Of course, be skeptical of medical advice from strangers on the internet, anecdata, etc., and talk to whoever's helping to manage your medication if you decide to change anything—I stopped taking Paxil the way that you aren't supposed to stop taking SSRIs (cold turkey) and was horribly worse for about a week, doing stuff like kicking down my own door because I'd misplaced the key.

Anyway, I hope you work this out; good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 5:44 AM on December 16, 2008

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