How do I control my rage?
May 15, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

In one week, I've turned into a downright angry and rude and unlikeable person. How can I reverse this?

Last weekend I got in a bar fight that resulted in a trip to the ER - totally uncharacteristic of me as I am not and have never been a violent person. As a matter of fact, being the most laid back person in the room was "my thing". But on that particular night someone had pushed me to my limit (physically, intruding on my space and sense of safety) and almost out of instinct I took the first swing. I highly regret taking a swing instead of walking away. I don't like knowing that I've been in a fight, I don't knowing that I hit someone, and I don't like physical violence. Even though all witnesses agree that I was defending myself, that the other guy started it, I still feel guilty since it was me who officially escalated the violence into a full on punching fight.

For some reason though, after being beaten up it was like...I just didn't care about anything or anyone anymore. I've become so much more impulsive in so many ways. If another driver commits what I think is an injustice in traffic, I'm using my horn and flipping the bird and punching my steering wheel when I NEVER so much as use my horn normally. When a friend said he couldn't hang out because he had to hang with his girlfriend I said something completely snide and rude like "gotcha dude, not like you spend every waking fucking second with her so I'll give you your space" and hanging up abruptly. What!? My roommate asking me a favor and me telling him a flat out "nah sorry" without making eye contact and retreating to my room. These are just a few examples but in short, I've been "snapping" at tons of little things all week, at work, at my friends, at my roommates, at strangers. It sucks.

This week I've felt like if something doesn't go my way in the slightest, it's reason for me to snap like I did that night in the fight last weekend. And no one has said anything yet, but god damn do I feel like an asshole. I feel like people are looking at me saying "jesus, no wonder he gets in fights." I feel like people are looking at me and thinking, "Anonymous has some anger issues". Or just "Anonymous is kind of a dick right now."

I don't know what to do. I was in therapy for anxiety for months and months to no avail and when I finally took a break, my anxiety actually went away. I'm thinking about going back but until then - what do you do to control your anger? How can I lighten up and go back to the old me? How can I stop being such a dick?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're having a reaction to a traumatic experience. I don't think you're a different person, but that's a common feeling after a trauma.

Talking to a therapist would probably be a good first step. Until then, I'd let a few good friends and family know that you're feeling off. It's good to talk about it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:11 AM on May 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Rope-rider makes a good point, a lot of people come back from traumatic events (war, car crash or even something as simple as a break-up) really different people. Seeking therapy might be your best option. When you're with your therapist, don't self-diagnose as PTSD or anything like that, just tell the therapist what you've said here.
I could give you a lot of cliches like counting to ten; maybe those will work for you, maybe they won't. Do a google search if you're interested in "tricks" for dealing with anger. Also, as is sometimes the case, there's a relatively well-researched article on Dealing with Anger. It's probably worth taking a look at.
posted by ignorantguru at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2011

I agree that visiting your therapist again might be helpful for you. In the meantime, make sure you are taking really good care of yourself. Get enough sleep every single night. Eat well. Make sure you are exercising.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:21 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry to speculate, also, but maybe the things that used to cause you anxiety are now causing you anger? Just a thought.
posted by ignorantguru at 9:23 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think everyone else is right, but my first thought - while a bit of a stretch - is this: if you went to the ER for a blow to the head, is it possible that you're actually dealing with some kind of traumatic brain injury? I know that brain tumors can cause dramatic personality changes, so maybe it's possible for an injury to have the same effect? Totally ANAD, but you might consider seeing one.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:26 AM on May 15, 2011 [13 favorites]

Anonymous, you are being a dick right now.
But the great thing is, you realize it. And want to take action.

You're being a dick because you were violated. Twice. First by the speech of that guy who provoked you, and second by your own actions. Guess which is hardest to live with?

Far from recommending therapy, I say you need a bit of time off from people. You need time alone in nature. You need to step back, gain some perspective and give yourself a break. You're raw right now, and most encounters with people could spark something off.

Walk on beaches, walk in the woods, read wise words (I advise Buddhist texts), do a little comfort activity (little! no imbibing 10 gallons of ice cream or internet gambling!), see if there's another laid-back dude who you can talk with - but give yourself a general timeout from intense interactions with folks. You need to cool off, you need to forgive yourself, you need to rebuild some of your trust in humanity and in yourself.
posted by likeso at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

is it possible that you're actually dealing with some kind of traumatic brain injury? I know that brain tumors can cause dramatic personality changes, so maybe it's possible for an injury to have the same effect? Totally ANAD, but you might consider seeing one.

Recently I was listening to a science program about concussions, and one of the doctors interviewed spoke about the personality changes that can accompany them. I second you're a kitty's suggestion to see a doctor.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:39 AM on May 15, 2011

iANAD, but I am taking a medical neuroscience course right now. I would strongly recOmmend some kind of scan for traumatic brain injury, especially since you're describing major personality changes after what I'm assuming was a heavy physical altercation. Good luck.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 9:45 AM on May 15, 2011

Was there anything new in your life even before this fight? Stressful life changes? Starting or stopping medications (e.g., steroids)?
posted by salvia at 9:51 AM on May 15, 2011

I've been in a number of fights and lost a few, too.

Losing a fight is humiliating.

Everything you've said you're doing amounts to aggressive self-assertion.

You are attempting to build yourself back up. This is normal, natural, and perhaps even instinctive (a male in a dominance hierarchy who isn't at least posturing and threatening in the wake of a defeat would seem to risk a Humpty-dumpty like fall).

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to avoid destroying your relationships until these impulses subside to a level where they can be consciously controlled-- and they will.
posted by jamjam at 9:57 AM on May 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

3rding what kitty said. If you found yourself in the ER, head trauma may be contributing to the anger you're feeling.

I had a concussion after I was hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street, and for two months I was angry. I would tell people to fuck off. I would snap at my parents who were taking care of me. At the time, it just felt like the world was really pissing me off - I was mad at the guy who hit me, mad at my parents for keeping me cooped up, mad at how hard it was to get doctor's appointments.

But people who know me said that I wasn't behaving like myself, and that the personality change was dramatic. I also coudn't focus on anything, and alarmingly - couldn't read. My neurologist told me to take it easy - that I had a cerebral contusion, and that I wouldn't be myself for a while, but that it didn't seem to serious, and with time I would probably be back to my old self.

After two months, I could read again, but I was still cranky, and still pissed off at the guy who hit me, but other people said I was behaving more like my usual self.
posted by abirae at 10:21 AM on May 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Another one suggesting this may be postconcussion symptoms . I don't think you need to head for the ER or anything like that, but may wish to consult with a neurologist or GP who has experience with mild brain injury. The recommended treatment is rest and time for the most part, but it would probably be worth making sure there is nothing else going on.
posted by goggie at 10:47 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANAD but have read in the press that these days scientists are realizing the brain is different than the computers you and I use. It is not binary, it is not as compartmental and does not "spin up" to handle tasks, but instead parts are running pretty much constantly.

If you dropped your PC you could probably decide on the damage in a matter of minutes or hours by running it through its paces. With the brain it's not as straight forward.

Here's some sources if you want to review the concepts yourself:

   Some info on brain trauma already mentioned by others above

   Scientific American, March 2010, "The Brain's Dark Energy"

   The strange (but at least partially true) story of Phineas Gage

Also, FYI, my own experience with family members growing up sensitized me and prompted me to informally keep up on this area of medical science. If my current mood and behavior became very different than what I ***and*** others thought was normal for me, and it came right after something that sent me to the ER, then I would discuss it with a medical professional.
posted by forthright at 11:43 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

There might be a medical reason why you feel like that all of a sudden. A hormone imbalance maybe or a tumor. I think you should go to your doctor and tell them how you feel. At least get some medicine to calm you down short-term.
posted by meepmeow at 11:55 AM on May 15, 2011

I am also of the opinion that there may be something physical underlying this change in temperament. I would go so far as to say that it may be something that predates even the fight, and played into why you had such an uncharacteristic response to someone in your face. Do have a complete check up, and good luck. It is alarming when our brains are misbehaving.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:04 PM on May 15, 2011

I disagree with everyone else here.

Maybe your anxiety resulted in no small part from constantly putting up with other people's BS and being walked over, even though you didn't like it. I mean, if you were known for being "laid back" but suffering terribly from anxiety, you weren't really feeling laid back, you were going along to be polite and hiding your real feelings. It's fine to say "no, sorry" to your roommate's request, for instance, and not feel bad about it. Other drivers in bad traffic can be really f***ing annoying and being angry with them is a normal, common human reaction. And a friend blatantly saying they don't have time to hang out because someone else is more important can be irritating. So.. you've realized that you don't have to do what everyone else wants or pretend like things don't bother you, which is probably a good thing.

But it's going to take some time to recalibrate your social interactions accordingly. So maybe you should work on asserting yourself without being rude, impulsive, or violent. It is possible. One of the ways I think about this in the context of a drunk, belligerent person at a bar is, don't let that person provoke you into starting a fight - you're better than that, they're not worth your time. You can say "no" to people in an assertive manner without snapping at them. Just work on it and you'll get used to it - you're better off saying "no" and speaking up about things that bother you, rather than pretending they don't and getting stressed.
posted by citron at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

Yeah, with all that's coming to light about head trauma and the subtle effects it can have, if you got hit in the face or the head AT ALL, including falling down from being hit, I'd at least have concussion-related causes ruled out. As for how to get through it? Meditate. Chant a mantra of "I am willing to not be angry." Tell all your friends that you're alarmed about your personality changes, and ask for help and support in not being this way. Basically, make a commitment to change. . . even if you largely fail, the thought will go a long way towards helping your friends be sympathetic.
posted by KathrynT at 12:29 PM on May 15, 2011

I don't think it's as bad as people here are making it out to be. (Of course it *could* be a brain injury; but I think that's unlikely.) I think the likeliest scenario here is that you're just angry and on edge. You're angry about having been pushed into a bar fight, and you're anxious and edgy and ready to pop off all the time because of it.

Just apologize to your friends that you were rude to, tell them that you're sorry you behaved that way and that you hope they'll accept your apology because you're freaking out a bit still about what happened last week. When you drive, try to imitate someone whose demeanor you admire. Same before you get on the phone or enter into a conversation - take a microsecond to visualize a person (real or idealized) that you want to act like, and then just match your words to that. You'll be fine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:33 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

consider the possibility of food intolerance (salicylates or gluten) A short trial of the Paleo diet could help with your efforts.
posted by egk at 1:54 PM on May 15, 2011

Even setting aside the possibility of some degree of brain trauma, your sense of self has been badly undermined by this incident. You define yourself as "not a jerk," yet you see evidence that you are indeed capable of acting like a jerk. Treat yourself like a parent would treat a child who's going through a temporary bratty phase after an upsetting incident: with patience, unconditional love and timeouts when necessary. Lots of rest, low-key pleasant diversions, time in nature. And for peace of mind, a medical check.
posted by Corvid at 2:41 PM on May 15, 2011

Nthing everybody who is asking if you had a head trauma. If you get thumped on the head, and then after that your personality changes, the head thump is the most obvious explanation.

The sooner you seek advice about it the better your chances of dealing with it really really well. You might get some reassurance that it's temporary, or whatever; hopefully that's the kind of thing a doctor will be able to tell you.

In any case, you're aware that you're having new impulses and trouble controlling them, and it's really encouraging that you are aware of this. So you can't have changed all that much. If you'd really really changed, there would be no part of your being that thought this was wrong. You'd just think everybody in the world was a jerk who deserved a good kicking. But you know there's a problem. You will be able to solve this.
posted by tel3path at 3:09 PM on May 15, 2011

Losing a fight is humiliating.

Yeah; you're liable to be pissed for a while.
posted by spaltavian at 3:28 PM on May 15, 2011

JamJam--nail on head. OP, listen to JamJam. I think once you recognize what's going on, your awareness will allow you to remove yourself from testy situations when they arise during this, your mend time. In the meantime too, I think letting people close to you know you're kind-of in a funk and to not be overly offended if you say something out of the way is a good idea, as is getting back in therapy and coming to grips with what happened and how to proceed going forward. Good luck.
posted by GeniPalm at 3:48 PM on May 15, 2011

I'm going to go against the grain here and suggest this was a growth experience for you more than a traumatic one. You describe a series of vaguely irritating incidents you've encountered this week, and your response to each of them was something you would probably typically think and feel but not say or do. Though you profess to be upset about being in this fight, be honest: Was it at least a little liberating? Is it nice to know you can get away with responding to someone's bullshit?

Because to me, it sounds like a revelatory experience: "I, anonymous, the most laid back guy around, can also be a guy who gets in bar fights." And look, that's not a great thing to do, but sometimes people are laid back because things really just wash over them, and sometimes people are laid back because they're nonconfrontational. If you're in the latter category, doing something radical like getting in a fight at a bar could open up a world of possibilities – a whole new set of options that you'd never have considered just got added to your decision tree every time you're confronted with a conflict.

By all means, get your head checked (in both physical and psychological senses) if it will put your mind at ease, but I suspect you're adjusting to the realization that you can tell people what you really think, and I also suspect it will resolve itself shortly as you internalize the attendant downsides of doing that all the time and realize that's not who you want to be.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:31 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Or, basically what citron said.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:33 PM on May 15, 2011

What citron said; perhaps this experience has opened a door for you to a new, undeveloped facet of your personality. If so, it's still new and raw and inexperienced, and has yet to be fully integrated into the "total" you.

Adopt a healthy detachment for awhile ... observe it and figure out how it fits, then integrate it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:41 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am also voting for revelatory experience with a side of get your brain checked out, just in case.
posted by Adventurer at 9:34 PM on May 16, 2011

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