How common is this weird anger management issue?
August 22, 2011 12:40 PM   Subscribe

How common is this weird anger management issue?

Both my parents were raised in physically abusive homes, but semi-successfully broke the cycle when raising me and my siblings. If they were really mad at us, they would stop just short of violence; for instance, they would throw things or slap or grab, but not actually hit. At his most extreme, my father would do things like grab us (lightly) at the throat but not apply pressure.

Somehow as part of this, I think I picked up on this idea that provoking someone to the edge of violence means that you've "won" the argument. I'm a super-stubborn person, and though I try not to, I sometimes wind up in prolonged arguments (perhaps once every two months). If an argument gets very intense, I sometimes have this feeling that I want the other person to hit me. It is hard to describe this feeling exactly. It's a sort of gleeful destructive feeling.

I think I do actually sometimes provoke people right up to the edge (I never take them over). Certainly several very gentle people have become physically threatening. Perhaps this is an illusion due to the need to preserve the false belief that I'm in control of the situation. The reason I think it that it might be related to my upbringing is that it only happens with men (I'm female) and generally only with men who are bigger than me or in a position of power over me. I don't think it's related to sexual attraction.

Anyway, what I want to know is... how common is this? Is this something everyone feels when they're angry? Or is this a reason to be concerned?

I am in therapy but I have not admitted this to my therapist because I'm ashamed of it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would consider this something you may definitely want to discuss with a therapist. I've only ever been angry enough at one person to want to lash out at them, but that wasn't because I was trying to provoke them back, it was just blind rage. Anyone trying to hit me just scared the bejesus out of me.

Also -- in my opinion -- your parents are to be commended for not actually hitting you, but "grabbing you by the throat", however lightly, is still a very alarming thing for a parent to do to a child. Which is probably going to further prompt a flood of "you poor thing, please do tell your therapist about this" comments.

You're in my thoughts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:48 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know exactly what you are saying, though for me it's more driven by wanting the tension to break, and I don't actively want to provoke anyone into anything.

Definitely talk about this with your therapist, please don't be ashamed. And stop thinking about winning or losing arguments—the point of human communication is to transmit knowledge and understanding to those around you, not to win or lose. It helped me a lot when I started telling myself this.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:50 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, grabbing you by the throat is violence. Also, wanting to provoke people is disordered thinking-- tell yout therapist! This is their job.
posted by sweetkid at 12:51 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am in therapy but I have not admitted this to my therapist because I'm ashamed of it.

First of all, your parents did not stop short of violence. Slapping is hitting and being grabbed by the throat is violent, even if there wasn't any pressure. Second: getting grabbed by the throat on a regular basis by your parents as punishment is one of those things your therapist needs to know. I mean like "Hi, how are you" "Good, did I mention that my parents grabbed me by the throat as punishment when I was a kid" needs-to-know.

Therapy is where you talk about things you're ashamed of. I don't mean that's one of the things you can do. That is what you do there. That is what it is for. It is a safe place where you can talk about what you are ashamed of and the only other person there will not ever judge you. They will do the exact opposite: they will help you stop judging yourself over it. If you do not feel like your therapy sessions are a safe place, then you need to address this with your therapist immediately and figure out why.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on August 22, 2011 [20 favorites]


the point of human communication is to transmit knowledge and understanding to those around you, not to win or lose

and, of course, to let others share knowledge and bring understanding *to you*, too, I should have added
posted by peachfuzz at 12:51 PM on August 22, 2011


they would stop just short of violence; for instance, they would throw things or slap or grab, but not actually hit.

This is violence. It is the textbook definition of assault.
posted by anti social order at 12:56 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hmm, well, I grew up with parents who hit, slapped, grabbed, pinched, and so forth, and I can relate to this in a way. Often in a very tense argument, or a situation where someone is very angry with me but we are not arguing, I find myself thinking, "just hit me already." Like I just want to get that over with, not that I actually want us to come to blows. I agree with peachfuzz that for me, I think it's about wanting the tension to break. Because it's true, the tension really would break after that when I was a kid. The dread and the lead-up was the worst part.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Anyway, what I want to know is... how common is this? Is this something everyone feels when they're angry? Or is this a reason to be concerned?

I am in therapy but I have not admitted this to my therapist because I'm ashamed of it.


First, it really doesn't matter if it's common or not. It's common for you and that's all that matters. This behavior is alarming and it's anti-social and most certainly pushes people away. It should be addressed.

If you can't tell your therapist because you can't trust them, then you need to find another therapist you can tell. This isn't something that goes away on its own and you do need to tell someone in a therapeutic context so you can start to work on it.

Good luck.
posted by inturnaround at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2011


And yeah, for me it is definitely not about actually wanting someone to hit me or even come close to doing so, or physically threaten me; that would create a far far bigger problem and make everything a lot worse.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:04 PM on August 22, 2011


I don't understand it myself, but I've known a couple people who have similar urges (two different men who would want or even ask to be hit when they've angered or disappointed someone--both of them had been physically disciplined as children). I was confused but didn't think it was something to be ashamed of, and I'm just a layperson. Tell your therapist.
posted by availablelight at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2011


I am in therapy but I have not admitted this to my therapist because I'm ashamed of it.

That is a feeling. It exists. It's just there. It's okay that you have this feeling.

I AM, however, going to tell you that this is nothing to be ashamed of. You remember this strategy from when you were a kid, when you needed to know just how angry your parents were to know if you were safe or not. So this is a coping mechanism that was very smart of you to come up with- it kept you safe!

But! Now that you are an adult, you see that it this strategy isn't working for you. That's okay! Probably the easiest way to change this strategy will be talking with your therapist. If you feel like you aren't sure how to bring this up with your therapist, you can just copy and paste this question into an email right now, and email it to your therapist. At the top you could write, "Hi, Therapist, can we talk about this at our next session? Thanks!" Or you could print out the question and take it to your next appointment and say, "Hi, Therapist, could you read this? It's really been on my mind!"

Also- lots of people might come here to label the ways that your parents treated you as a child. I think you should definitely talk about the dynamics in your family with your therapist, and I just want to tell you that you can decide how you understand your childhood. For instance, after talking with your therapist, you might decide that you feel any of the following things:
-that your parents abused you
-that your parents did not abuse you
-that your parents loved you and also abused you
-that your parents loved you and did not abuse you
OR ANY COMBINATION OF THE ABOVE, including many permutations I have not listed here, and ANY of those ways of understanding your childhood are okay. They do not make you bad and they do not mean that you do not love your parents.

tldr: Tell your therapist about this stuff, but there is nothing wrong with you. You have a coping strategy that isn't working for you any longer, and you are going to work on changing it. It's okay, you're a good person.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:06 PM on August 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Therapist. Now.
You are reliving and replying ancient scenarios that no longer benefit you and will actively prove detrimental to you throughout life. You are wanting to provoke people because you have been a victim and your only way of attempting to gain control of the situation was to provoke your tormentor. You're still doing that. It's complicated. Find a really good therapist - probably a PhD level psychologist at a minimum and get over this mode of thinking which will serve you badly throughout the rest of your life.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:09 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't know how common what you're describing is - but I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of either.

I don't want to overstep the question, but I think of therapy as a good place to address the things you feel like you don't want to or aren't sure about - sometimes those things are the ones you most need to address, you know?

If something isn't working for *you* or if you're concerned about it, I say bring it up and talk through it - even if it's something common, maybe it's not a good pattern or situation for you.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:15 PM on August 22, 2011


...is this a reason to be concerned?

I think asking this question to us here is evidence that you already know the answer: you should be concerned, and you should speak to your therapist about it.

As for how common the behavior is? It doesn't matter. The important thing is getting it treated. Whether or not it's a problem for many other people, it's a problem for you.

Car Analogy Alert: If something on your car breaks, the important question isn't, "How common is this?" but rather, "How do I fix it?" The occurence in the general population may be one in a million or one in ten, but no matter how you slice it, you're that one.

Don't feel bad about yourself for having this problem. Your behavior is driven by the same basic factors as most other people. You've just had abnormal, extreme inputs, so you have slightly different outputs from other people.

But not that different.

Some people do bait others (push buttons) as a way to reassure themselves that they are in control. Others do this because they find amusement when their victim gets flustered. Sometimes people are baited in order to make them look bad: get the other person to act with what seems to be an excessive amount of emotion, and you will be seen as the calm, rational, correct one. I'm also reminded of passive agressive behavior, which in one shape or another is extremely common.

The hypothetical examples I cited above are very common. People manipulate other people's emotions all the time, and it's not pretty. No matter how common it is, it is almost always unhealthy and unethical.

Unlike a lot of people, you at least have the presence of mind to recognize that what you're doing is problematic, and you have the resources needed to get help. Why not get further advice from your therapist on this? It couldn't hurt.
posted by jsturgill at 1:25 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This exists. I've encountered this tendency. In myself and others.

Seconding that you don't need to have your embarrassment stop you. It's OK. Use your therapist for what you're paying them for.
posted by krilli at 1:42 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, on your parents actions, as you describe them:
"Both my parents were raised in physically abusive homes, but semi-successfully broke the cycle when raising me and my siblings. If they were really mad at us, they would stop just short of violence; for instance, they would throw things or slap or grab, but not actually hit. At his most extreme, my father would do things like grab us (lightly) at the throat but not apply pressure."
Just because you don't get hurt, doesn't mean that it's not abusive. Emotional abuse can be equally traumatic as can the threat of violence. Grabbing someone round the throat at the very least carries the implied threat of further violence, even if it's never followed through. This doesn't make your parents awful people: I bet there are very, very few parents out there that have never raised even the threat of a hand to their children when particularly provoked, even if they would never actually follow it through. It sounds like your parents worked very hard to not re-visit their childhood experiences upon their own children, but that you learnt that if you could provoke them to lose control they would "lose" in your eyes. This really does sound like something you would benefit from talking to your therapist about. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, and even if there was, isn't that what therapists are for?
posted by pharm at 2:37 PM on August 22, 2011


I have the urge to do this coming from a similar background (although it's driving people to lose their temper).

I work very, very hard not to do it because I view it as abusive behavior on my part. At the very least, it's manipulative and it makes other people feel like shit. Not justifiable. If I have trouble controlling myself I do my best to walk away.

Hope that helps.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:46 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh--and part of the manipulation is that once they lose their temper, they're the "bad guy" in the situation and the original issue becomes obscured. It's bullshit, really, and I'm glad that I really work hard to put a stop to it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:48 PM on August 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


If you feel like you aren't sure how to bring this up with your therapist, you can just copy and paste this question into an email right now, and email it to your therapist. At the top you could write, "Hi, Therapist, can we talk about this at our next session? Thanks!" Or you could print out the question and take it to your next appointment and say, "Hi, Therapist, could you read this? It's really been on my mind!"

Yes, writing things out can help SO much.
posted by sweetkid at 3:11 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, just as this is nothing to be ashamed of ... your therapist has heard worse. Let them help, for real.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:42 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, just as this is nothing to be ashamed of ... your therapist has heard worse. Let them help, for real.

My therapist has heard much worse from me. As he put it, if he didn't know the things I was deeply ashamed of, how could he help me begin to put them in perspective and move past them? I figured that was true, so I spilled it. And I can tell you, even just the telling helps.

That said, I'm not even sure why you feel so ashamed of your behavior. Do you feel it is manipulative? It doesn't sound like a particularly healthy behavior to me, but it doesn't seem shameful... especially as it may have roots in your rather difficult past. Just tell your therapist; he or she can help.
posted by torticat at 4:04 PM on August 22, 2011


Please discuss this with your therapist.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:12 PM on August 22, 2011


admit this to your therapist. it does not matter if it is common or not. you do it, and that is all that matters. besides, if you cant admit it to your therapist, why are you paying for a therapist?
posted by davejay at 7:24 PM on August 22, 2011


oh, and i personally wouldnt call it an anger management issue. it is an attention-seeking behavior in my opinion...if the most intense attention from your parents came when they were about to lose their temper, then it seems reasonable (although not necessarily healthy) to seek attention in the same way now. you can start by sharing your parents' behavior, but not yours, with your therapist...although if yours comes up, dont lie, that would be counterproductive.

by the way, you seem to think your parents' behavior was normal and harmless. i suspect other folks might not agree. personally, i made little progress with a few issues of my own until i realized how unusual and damaging my father's behavior was, because that helped me realize i needed to stop modeling it.
posted by davejay at 7:29 PM on August 22, 2011


You're not alone. I come from a similar background (I call what I went through abuse; as Snarl Furillo said, it's up to you to decide how to understand what you went through) and I've definitely felt these things and behaved the same way.

When you ask if you have a reason to be concerned, I wonder if you mean that you're worried you might get involved in a physically abusive relationship -- because you "want" to be hit (though I am not suggesting that women who are in abusive relationships want to be hit). I don't know anything about your relationships, but if that is a worry of yours, this is absolutely another aspect of this issue to discuss with your therapist.

Also, if, as Ashley801 mentioned, the slapping/throat grabbing was a sort of tension release for you that you're trying to recreate in your current interactions, then it might be good to consider what other unhealthy ways you are managing anger/tension/stress, etc. and how that relates to your childhood experiences (though you may already be working on these things with your therapist). I have to say, when I read Ashley801's post all kinds of bells went off for me -- I've used various methods of violence against myself over the years as a means of 'breaking' my anxiety and other strong negative feelings. I never really made this connection before. Ashley801 is a genius!

PLEASE tell your therapist everything. I know that it can be very, very hard to share stuff like this, but you really have to just force yourself. Here's a suggestion -- the next time you have an appointment, tell your therapist right at the beginning of the session that you have something you want to talk about, but that it's going to be hard for you to say. He/she will then guide you toward being able to talk about it. I think the single most important thing I learned in therapy was how to talk about what was going on in my head. So try to re-frame that shame you feel about discussing this into another thing to work through in therapy.
posted by imalaowai at 10:27 PM on August 22, 2011


First, you need help to clarify what is violence and what isn't.

You also need help to figure out how to satisfy your needs for reassurance, attention, and expressing your anger that aren't destructive to you or others. A friend did something similar and the only way I could avoid humiliation was not to react. They stopped calling on the assumption I didn't care. When they got back in touch I was afraid to respond. Bye-bye friendship.

Good for you for wanting to get past this.
posted by tel3path at 12:39 AM on August 23, 2011


they would stop just short of violence; for instance, they would throw things or slap or grab, but not actually hit...grab us (lightly) at the throat but not apply pressure.

Somehow as part of this, I think I picked up on this idea that provoking someone to the edge of violence means that you've "won".
...
I think I do actually sometimes provoke people right up to the edge (I never take them over). Certainly several very gentle people have become physically threatening.


It sounds like you are provoking people to the point where they throw things, slap you, or grab you -- that IS over the edge of violence.

I suppose it's your own choice to do this, but you are running a great risk that someone will take this further than you are wanting them to go. Also, you are intentionally provoking others to assault you -- it is still assault even if they do not "actually" hit, which in the right setting may well result in the person being arrested or loosing their job -- of course, these people are responsible for their own actions and should control themselves so this does not happen, but you need to figure out why you are choosing to manipulate people into doing this.
posted by yohko at 10:28 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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