Turns out, I'm an asshole
April 20, 2015 12:39 AM   Subscribe

It's become abundantly clear that the way in which I lose my temper and the frequency with which I do so is (and it's hard to admit this) abusive. My wife has rightly given me an ulitmatum. I need a plan and I have no idea how or where to begin.

I know it's long, but I'd be very greatful for those who stick it out.

I've struggled a lot with anxiety and in the past I figured all the "intensity" was just my panic and that if I would treat that, the rest would stop. I'm having some success reducing the axiety but I now have to admit my outbursts are not litmited to when I'm having panic attacks.

I've lost my temper and lashed out verbally for as long as I can remember, even as a child - never physically, never with name calling or an intent to cause emotional harm, but with very real intensity and rage. Add to this the fact that I'm a big guy with a big voice and this is assuredly terrifying.

Growing up, this kind of behavior was commonly exhibited by my parents, and its feeling of normalcy caused me to push back against my wife's objections for years. That said, I knew this behavior was toxic and I had always resoved to keep such things from my children. I have absoltely failed at this.

This has been an ongoing issue in my marrage for over 14 years. I lose my shit, her feelings are hurt, I calm down, I promise to change, absolve to internally, and then either nothing becomes of it (most common) or I do something like make appoiuntment to see a therapist or get us in with a couple's therapist for a few sessions and then sort of decide that everything is fixed and shortly thereafter, the patern repeats. In a steady state I lose my temper at least once a week. Naturally my wife sees this as a lack of commitment to her happiness and our children's well-being.

This came to a head today. We're on a two-week family vacation. Right before we left I had a fit about not being able to find socks (really). Through the last week I've been "moody" at times (mostly about money), and this was causing her great stress because she didn't know when I would snap. We ended up in a fight about something profoundly stupid and I ended up getting in her face, she made a mocking, sarcastic comment, and I took the bag of clothes I was holding and threw it across the room... where it bounced off the bed and onto my crying 9 year-old son.

It was soft, it didn't hurt him physically, but I have truly never been more appalled, embarrased, and ashamed in my whole life. The worst part is, he started apologizing to me. My wife later informed me that my 1st grade daughter shared with her that she doesn't want to spend 1:1 time with me because she's scared of my yelling.

My wife then tearfully laid out that she can't believe that this is her life, that she's embarassed that she's put up with it so long, and she won't take it anymore. She's graciously given me a month to make a plan and convince her this will change for good. Given all my past promises, she's not inclined to believe this will somehow be different. In this moment, the pattern is so clearly analogous to that of a physically abusive spouse I want to puke. How do you build trust when the essence of the abuse is the fear around the unpredictability of sporatic and intense outbursts?

I feel like I have ruined my wife's life. I have ruined my children and stolen from them an early childhood of peace and calm. I don't know how to proceed. Has anyone sucessfully turned something like this around or been with a partner who has? Therapy seems like the right thing to do, but how do you find a good therapist and what kind am I looking for? Are there any other resources I can leverage? What can I do in the immediate term? I don't want this to be my family's life anymore. (I'm in Seattle, if there are any geography specific resources or therapists).

Many thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (70 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Mod note: Important note: I've deleted an @mailinator.com contact from this post because anyone with the address can access the mailbox (so, ie, a note like "Hi, I'm UserX from Mefi, and I have a similar problem..." would not be private, likewise originating email addresses viewable by anyone, etc). Folks are welcome to contact mods to have an answer posted for them here anonymously, and we'll edit the post to add a new secure email if OP wants to update.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

I didn't have rage issues, but did have the anxiety/fear issues and REBT (Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy) was both helpful and effective for me. It was very pragmatic and focused on making a plan for the things I needed to change. What I liked about it was that it was more about giving me the tools to affect my own change then it was about an endless talking cure.

REBT is a form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), so you should be able to find someone working in the broader CBT space if there isn't a REBT therapist near you.

Not for everyone, but it worked for me. Good luck to you.
posted by frumiousb at 12:51 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

If there's any way you can make peace with and accept the fact that you will not contest your wife for custody, and accept a settlement where she retains primary custody: I think letting go and making the process of divorcing you less terrifying will be the kindest thing you have ever done for your family.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [49 favorites]

I do something like make appoiuntment to see a therapist or get us in with a couple's therapist for a few sessions and then sort of decide that everything is fixed

This seems counterproductive. Learning to change the way you react to something takes a long, sustained effort, and I don't think it's realistic to expect a "quick fix." (To be clear, it would be totally reasonable, given that you're in crisis here, to ask your therapist for techniques you can practice immediately -- I just mean going from where you are now to the person you want to be is not likely to be something that is accomplished in just a few weeks.) Is there a particular reason you're so quick to stop therapy? You kind of gloss over it here.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:35 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

My sister's exhusband had similar sounding rage issues. she called the cops once and they held him for 72 hrs in psych care. He got a referral for inpatient treatment. he never went, but it might be worth looking into.

whats so bad about divorce is that theyre so often uncivilized. civilized, where you respect their mother, show upon time, pay child support, etc is way better than continuing woth things as they are.

also apologize to your son and maybe all of them generally. google how to apologize well and do it right.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:46 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Growing up, this kind of behavior was commonly exhibited by my parents, and its feeling of normalcy caused me to push back against my wife's objections for years. That said, I knew this behavior was toxic and I had always resoved to keep such things from my children.

Therapy, definitely. Talk therapy as well as something that will give you tools to change, as frumiousb wisely advises. Why talk therapy – you seem to be saying that you grew up in an abusive household, and are repeating those behaviors. Yet, you are aware of them, recognize their effect on others, that others make their choices (you have empathy), and you want to change, both for yourself and for others. Those are all essential to making effective change, so you've started off on the right foot to recovery. I'm just noticing that you may be glossing over the depth of how your own childhood has affected you, and you will need to go into that in therapy.

Avoiding the deep hurt of an abusive childhood can be a major element in adult rage. You say it without perhaps realizing it: "its feeling of normalcy caused me to push back against my wife's objections for years." It's not normal. Facing it can be terrifying, but deeply therapeutic, when done with a competent, compassionate therapist. A skilled one won't let you wallow, but will instead guide you through things and towards healing. This can take a long time: you should aim for a year, minimum. FWIW, I don't have rage issues, but nonetheless a lot of anger surrounding my abusive childhood. I've been in therapy for years, and every year gets better. We're a team: we evaluate it, have reduced frequency, and I'm probably going to stop soon. But: years. It has absolutely been worth it. I am so much happier and at peace. Indescribably so. I was unable to conceive of such peace a few years ago.

Accept that even if you do change, your wife may still decide to divorce. Working on yourself will be continue to be the best thing you can do, both for yourself and others. Your children will always be part of your life.

Include in your plan:
- relaxation techniques. You're in Seattle, so it should be relatively easy to find a Qi Gong and/or Tai Chi place. I give these as examples because Qi Gong and Tai Chi are physical and meditative. You engage both body and mind, which can really help with the physical element of anxiety. (I was a very anxious person, and Tai Chi has been a lifesaver in ways that neither meditation nor sport have been, in spite of how wonderful both meditation and sport can be.)

- some sort of regular, cardio-involved physical activity. Running, cycling, walking; something that gets you out, in the fresh air, or in a gym if you prefer that environment. I find nature better because, again, it involves the mind more. Some people don't like the unpredictable Pac NW weather; I always saw it as a testament to the power of nature and our humble participation in it. This can turn philosophical pretty quickly, which may be helpful for you. Cardio, because it is very effective at taking the edge off anxious energy.

The "philosophical" psychological side of these suggestions are that you need to build up your healthy, humble, empathetic sides. These things can help. Together with therapy and what you learn from it as related to your own personal experiences and needs, it can be extremely effective. First and foremost: therapy, for the long-term. Print out this question and give it to prospective therapists. It's a good intro to your background and needs.
posted by fraula at 1:47 AM on April 20, 2015 [24 favorites]

What you have described isn't like abuse, it is emotional and verbal abuse, as well as physical abuse, when you throw objects at or near people (even if you don't hit them with the object). You decided that therapy was complete (or maybe ineffective), dismissing or manipulating your wife or the counsellor (most likely). Look to therapists or programs with experience in treating abusers, because not every counsellor is equipped to help you.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:25 AM on April 20, 2015 [69 favorites]

I'm sorry you've ended up here, and it's obvious you have a lot of shame and regret about how you've been acting. The good news is that if you're ready to take full responsibility for your actions then you stand a chance of changing. Talk therapy, definitely, to work through your childhood issues. But I'd also consider anger management , if possible in the context of domestic violence. This is a link to some therapists who work in the Seattle area (you can refine the search if they are not in your location). People can change when they are given the tools to do so and have a genuine will. But you may have to accept that this is too late for your wife. You need to focus on making these changes for you because it's the right thing to do for yourself, and hope that the bonus will be your wife staying with you rather than make that the goal. It will take a long time for her trust to be rebuilt but it's not impossible if you clearly show over the long term that this is your absolute priority. I wish you the best of luck with this.
posted by billiebee at 2:29 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

or I do something like make appointment to see a therapist or get us in with a couple's therapist for a few sessions and then sort of decide that everything is fixed and shortly thereafter, the patern repeats.

You have a track record of proving that you are not committed to real change, so I would suggest you allow you wife to be in charge this time. You need to stay in couple's therapy until she is confident real change has happened. This is not a matter of a few weeks; you may well be there for years.

Additionally, you need to find an individual therapist who specialises in anger management, and possibly a group - your therapist may make attendance at group a mandatory part of therapy. Again, this is not a short-term fix.

All of this will be time consuming and expensive. It will be less time consuming and expensive than divorce, and better for your wife an your kids as well.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [57 favorites]

If I was your wife, here are some things I'd need to see to stay:

1. You commit to therapy for at least one year, maybe up to two or three, and right back to it if you stop after any amount of time and then start falling back into the old behavior. No "quick fixes." You are going to keep going, even if it feels like you're totally fine. This is both one-on-one and couples therapy, IF she wants to go.

2. You do not ever throw anything in anger near anybody in your family EVER again, or I leave and take the children with me.

3. If you yell more than once in a month, again, we leave. You only get the once chance because we know you're working on it.

The crux here is that you must stop doing this in the moment. You act as if you can't control yourself, which is always what amazes me in these cases where people rage out of control. You can control yourself. You can stop yourself from yelling. Just shut your mouth and don't do it. Walk out of the room. Nobody is telling you that you aren't supposed to have the emotions (that part is not controllable without help, I feel), but you must control your actions.

The therapy will help you control the impulse, but in the meantime, just do not ever do it. Understand that it's a zero tolerance thing. Full stop. It's never okay. No matter what your parents were like. Do not give yourself wiggle room, here.

Basically, I agree with DarlingBri about letting your wife decide what you need to do for her to feel okay. But do not go into that claiming that you can't control yourself and asking for leeway.

This is all to say that you begin by stopping the problematic behavior, the yelling and throwing and showing your temper. It's pretty simple. Don't make it complicated so you can get out of it.
posted by hought20 at 4:31 AM on April 20, 2015 [41 favorites]

Your children will probably feel better if you talk to them directly and if they feel that they can talk to you honestly. If you can start doing this now, they may become more comfortable with you. They may not have any great ideas about how they could feel safer, but one or two might think of something -- and if they feel they can approach you, you might be able to hear them.
posted by amtho at 4:32 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

Is it feasible to move out? Until you can control your anger, it's not fair to your wife or your children to be living with them. I bet they feel like they have to walk on eggshells around their own house, in case they accidentally do something that sets you off. Move out, go to a therapist that specialises in abusive relationships, and tell your wife that she gets to decide when you move back in.
posted by twirlypen at 4:36 AM on April 20, 2015 [51 favorites]

Sorry, just want to add two more things:

1. You do seem willing to change and self-aware enough to do it, which is good to see.

2. If you came in here saying "I hit my kids, and I need to learn to stop doing doing that," we'd all say "first, stop freaking hitting your kids." And that's where you need to come from when it comes to raging and yelling. You just stop it.
posted by hought20 at 4:37 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I agree that you need to commit to individual therapy, pronto, and start doing intense and sustained work to heal yourself and have a ghost of a chance to repair the damage you have already done to your children and your marriage.

While that's getting set up, it sounds from your post like you realize that you need to stop blowing up but you really don't know how. You can do something about that right away. This has helped me with coming down from my own intense anger: My strong suggestion to you is to get a copy of Steven Stosny's Love Without Hurt into your hands ASAP and start in the middle in the Boot Camp section. He has developed a technique called HEALS that is really effective for grounding yourself when you are really upset. I can't do it justice in a post and there are a few chapters' worth of lead up that are essential to pull it together so that you can really put the pieces together. But it's a quick read and a simple technique, and EVERYONE in your family knowing that you have this alternative in hand (even literally written out on an index card in your pocket to refer to when you need to cool off) will make a positive difference.

You can learn and rely on this technique so don't have to problem solve how to get yourself back to being grounded while you are feeling really bad (angry, guilty, shamed--I am sure they are all in the mix here). But that only works if you learn it and do it. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

That book would also be really good for your wife, by the way. Get two copies. She starts at the beginning.

Finally, I am going to put in a bid that alongside individual therapy for you, you find a family therapist and bring all of you in for healing support. Your kids need have been deeply affected by this and it's crucial that you all do work not only to change what happens right now but also to repair the damage of the past. If you find that you really cannot ever get your anger under control that leaving would be better than staying, but truly, doing this damage and then walking away is just a different variety of devastation for everyone. The only possibility of a good outcome here is to accept full responsibility for your actions of the past, and commit to healing yourself and your marriage and your children.
posted by Sublimity at 4:59 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have a terrible temper and I used to yell a lot. Here are some day to day things that helped me:
(1) I learned that I didn't have to stop getting angry, I had to stop yelling when I was angry. This was a lot more surmountable to me.
(2) My partner was willing to work with me if I initially got shouty, but within a minute was like "whah, sorry, didn't mean for that to happen." It was safe for me to mess up a bit while I was working on this.
(3) I learned that this was me. All me. It wasn't that life was unfair or that someone was rude to me. Nothing meant I got the right to yell.

Those are just some changes in thinking that helped me. I agree with the comments above about going to therapy and sticking with it. Also, think about doing this for you, not just to keep your marriage together.

Best of luck.
posted by CMcG at 5:03 AM on April 20, 2015 [37 favorites]

Nthing therapy. It's possible that you can get through this.

As a mom and wife who lived with an abusive spouse (who was also "getting help" which never took) I STRONGLY suggest that you move out as you begin your work. Give your wife and kids some breathing room. Give them this first gift, as hard as it is for you. It's possible that you will do hard work, and rewire yourself, and become a safe family member. But it's possible that this won't happen. In either case, I think the kindest thing you can do RIGHT NOW is to remove yourself from their home as you get help. Give them a chance to feel safe.

It's one thing to live in constant anxiety waiting for you to explode. It's just as bad to live with someone who's working on it and STILL waiting for them to explode. Don't make them live through this process. Your wife should be allowed to keep the family away from you. Let her do that.

**Also, a first step is recognizing and saying that you were/are abusive. You're not an asshole. Asshole kind of minimizes the seriousness of this.
posted by kinetic at 5:23 AM on April 20, 2015 [61 favorites]

From a member who would like to remain anonymous:
Look, you're not an asshole, but your time is up.

My husband is a lot like you, and I was prepared to leave him if things didn't get better. I think probably things were worse for us than for you, but less frequent. It's hard to decide if bigger storms less frequently are better or worse than smaller ones every week. He would scream and break things, although he never did throw things at or hurt anyone in our family; I think I would have left if he ever had.

For us, continuing our marriage meant he had to seek help. Not just 'trying not to', or 'seeing what happens', because like you sort of say you do, we tended to have big horrible scenes, followed by a lot of misery, and then a long period of calm. Maybe this time he's stopped for good? No, he hadn't. There was always, eventually, something that would set him off again. He did some amount of counselling, and also took an antidepressant for some time. During the time he took it, we had no episodes. And since then, I don't think I've seen him really lose it like he used to. It's like his anger has scaled back into human scaled anger, instead of Godzilla scaled :)

I sometimes think of him like a Jekyll and Hyde character. He's a wonderful man, a truly devoted and loving husband and father - but when he's Hyde, things can be very frightening indeed. I grew up with a father prone to sudden, apparently unprovoked rages, so you can imagine my horror to find myself contemplating that my children might have that experience too, and how determined I was to prevent it if possible.

I agree with the people above who suggest you might allow your wife to decide when things are ok. You really can't, between wanting to maybe kind of pretend it isn't happening, and whatever part of you thinks you're justified in behaving how you do. I think you truly want to change your life, but you really have to do it - whatever it turns out to be - with your full attention and seriousness. You don't want to be a monster. I think a good GP is a good place to start.
posted by taz at 5:43 AM on April 20, 2015 [18 favorites]

From a member who would like to remain anonymous:
Up until last year my husband could have written this question. His anxiety and associated anger and panic attacks were ruining our family. I felt helpless, angry and depressed as I had no idea what was going to make him snap and when the next outburst was going to be. The stress from his outbursts resulted in our five year old suffering from anxiety and depression and had taken nearly all of the joy out of our family.

Last summer there was a breaking point which resulted in him finally getting the help he needed. A combination of medication (Effexor) and therapy has changed all of our lives. We can pack for a vacation without him losing his shit, our kids can play and do art projects without him suddenly deciding they have to stop because it is getting too messy, and we can talk through problems without him completely shutting me down with harsh words or criticism.

Everything is not perfect. It is going to be a long time before I don't tense up in anticipation of the explosion when the kids spill a drink or when he accidentally knocks something down but things have changed enough that we are enjoying our family, and life in general, once again. When things happen that he used to blow up about he often remarks "I am so sorry I was such an asshole" while dealing with whatever it is in a rational way. Go get the help you need. It will be so worth it!
posted by taz at 5:46 AM on April 20, 2015 [19 favorites]

The city has a list of programs, I know some of the folks at wellspring, and they have a great approach.

I also know some individual counselors, I'll work on a list for you.
posted by Gorgik at 5:47 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Get an appointment with a therapist and become enrolled in anger management classes by this Friday.

Don't honeymoon phase. Apologize to wife and kids. Tell your kids they never have to apologize for your anger.

Next time you get angry: bite your tongue (literally) and count to 10, all while thinking about wiener dog puppies (and not whatever you think is making you angry). Repeat to yourself: I am responsible for my pain.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:08 AM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

I've come back to this question a couplethree times today because I respect you for recognising this in yourself and wanting to change, and because there have been people in my life who treated me this way and I lost respect for them, for two reasons. One was because they never followed through on their promises. The other was because they behaved this way and put so little effort into change, I came to believe they didn't respect me (whatever they said).

Can I ask you to think - do you do this in places where you have less power? Like with your boss at work? Are there people yiu would never behave this way with, police, doctor, mother? Why?

Another thing to think about, deeply and in your own time is what are you absolute values? What circumstances would you steal (whenever, only if you though you wouldn't be caught, only to feed your family?). Think of someone you admire and respect. Would they answer the same way? Would you think less of them (they're missing an opportunity, they're soft) if their values are more strict?

Feel free to relate to your circumstances instead of stealing.

My point is, I think, that behaviour follows thought and belief. Most (not all) people avoid doing things they think are bad enough. Up until this point, you've never really seen your actions as being that bad, and while your question has been asked with a spirit of acceptance of your own wrongdoing, I ask you, do you think what you've been doing is wrong, or are you mostly motivated by the fear you will lose your family?

If you thought what you were doing was bad, could you keep doing it? Can you imagine what it feels like to be each of your family members, the fear, the stress of being on edge? Can you sit there and spend twenty minutes building the experience as if it happened to you, of being a small, vulnerable, powerless child and one of the parents you loved unconditionally would randomly scare you, appear to threaten you, to act unpredictably and with an essence of violence, this person you rely on would behave like you were unloveable and as if they would hurt you?

Having imagined that, deeply and painfully, the next time you feel rage and the impulse to be as you have been, what are your options? When I was a new mother, sleep deprived, without support, I was taught if you think you are going to hurt your child, make sure they are in a safe place like their bedrooms,and remove yourself from the situation until you can calm down. Walk away. Practice deep breathing. Run throught cognitive distortions to see if your anger is irrational.

I suggest you that you learn to value the emotions of your family members and to treat them as if they were (because they are, don't you think?) as important as your own. That when you feel anger rising, you remember your own values, and your concern for the people you love and you excuse yourself until you can control yourself.p, and that you remind yourself of the times you have controlled yourself because the consequences to you (because of the power of someone else) were worse than holding back.

Plus therapy etc, of course. Also, some of my vehemence is because I have experienced what your loved ones do at your whim, and years and years later, it still hurts deeply that someone who claimed to love me, could hurt me so casually and repeatedly. So I'm sorry if I went over the top, but I wanted to tell you this because you are trying to change, and maybe it might help.
posted by b33j at 6:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [41 favorites]

While you look for a therapist who is a good fit for you check out this online program. But please, do not look at it as a substitute for long-term face to face therapy and medication.

I urge you to also you take up some kind of stress-reducing regular exercise, yoga, walking, running.

You're getting some amazing advice here from people who understand what you're going through. Pay attention and follow through and you just might be able to save your marriage.
posted by mareli at 6:13 AM on April 20, 2015

Individual therapy at this point, not couples therapy. This is, to be frank (and I think you realize this), not a couples problem; it's a you problem. I personally think you would be well-served by seeking out a therapist that specializes in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
posted by drlith at 6:18 AM on April 20, 2015 [30 favorites]

i think it's important realize that to work on this problem you have to really commit to therapy. you know by now that while the rage spells may come and go the anger is always there, waiting for a moment of supposed injustice so it can rear its ugly head. this isn't going to be an easy fix, and even if you're in a calm spell doesn't mean the work is done - the minute you quit therapy is the minute you give up on your family.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have my own anger issues. Five years of weekly therapy appointments have helped a lot -- although I still have dark times, I am a better person to other people. FIVE YEARS of therapy and counting. You gotta fully commit. Good luck.
posted by angrycat at 6:48 AM on April 20, 2015 [14 favorites]

As a few others have said, you need to find a therapist who works with domestic violence perpetrators, because those are the therapists most likely to continue holding you accountable for your actions. As you've found out, just treating your symptoms (like anxiety) doesn't stop the abuse; you need treatment specifically focused on stopping the abuse, and that requires a therapist with experience and training in doing so. It looks like these are the programs in Seattle for abusers. You can contact them and see if they offer individual therapy or have recommendations. You may also want to attend the Domestic Violence groups, in addition to individual therapy.

If I were your wife, I would also want you to sign a release of information so that I could talk with your therapist. I would not want to participate in couple's or family therapy with you, and such therapy is usually unethical and counterproductive if there's active abuse, anyway.

You should definitely consider this a multi-year commitment.
posted by jaguar at 7:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [24 favorites]

Like b33j, I'm curious: do you do this with, say, police officers or your boss? If not, then one way to start would be to simply apply the same standards to your behavior at home, to simply not shout or lash out. That will lead to other feelings, which you'll then have to work through.
posted by salvia at 7:50 AM on April 20, 2015 [17 favorites]

It seems to me that you surprise yourself by having an outburst. You haven't been successful in stopping them happening because you haven't seen them coming. What you need to do is realize you are about to blow up and stop before you do.

It may be that there are certain times in your life when you have fewer blow ups - for example if things are going well at work, no blow ups, but if work gets to be a burden the blow ups start happening. Sometimes there are physiological things going on. Depression in men often gets expressed as anger. Overstimulation can cause a melt down. And finally if you are sick or short of breath or short of sleep you might have a short fuse.

Time pressure is another thing that can give people a short fuse. If you are frantically trying to find your socks so that you can leave on time to miss rush hour it could be the situation which tips you over into having a fit. The more pressed for time you get, the more frantically anxious you get, and the harder it is to stop and examine your internal state instead of rushing to get ready and getting more upset as it takes longer.

Examine those things to see if you are in a chronic short fuse state. If you are, work on them with inhalers, meditation, a stress reduction strategy or whatever.

It is probable that you do not blow up and throw things at work where it would get you fired. This is good. It means that you only have to make a paradigm shift to realising that you cannot blow up around your family either. You are capable of controlling yourself.

I suggest a two pronged approach. Firstly, try to be aware of how close you are to blowing up so that the closer you get to blowing up the more slowly you will move and the more softly you will talk. However many people are not aware enough of their internal mental state to be successful at this. They get busy and they forget to keep track of their own well being. You could try checking in on yourself at the top of the hour if you set a timer on your phone to beep as a reminder.

More easily accessible is the method of working backwards. As soon as you realise that you have just blown up make a complete honest turn around. Say you have just bellowed, "Where the ^&^%$#!! are my socks! I can't believe I can never find a $#@%^ing pair of socks!" State out loud what you have done. "I just yelled at my family. I don't want to yell at my family." Put yourself into a non-threatening position physically. You are probably looming over the kids or leaning towards your wife in an aggressive pose. So right away put yourself into a position where the kids could loom over you. Sit down on the floor. Physically restrain yourself so that you are in a position that takes the threat away. Apologize. Demonstrate that you are not a danger to them, nor that you are angry at them.

Every time you blow up try to make the turnabout, collapse, defuse and apology happen sooner than the previous time. You would start by apologizing as soon as you have blown up, learn to break off in mid blow up to apologize, and eventually to cut yourself off before you draw the breath that is going to come out as a yell.

Select an alternative behaviour. Whenever you blow up go do something else. Withdraw from the situation and do something that is less harmful. For example, if you are a smoker trying to give up smoking the alternative behaviour you might pick is to chew a stick of gum every time you feel the urge to smoke. Similarly, every time you feel the urge to yell, go and do something else, something that is non harmful and non threatening such as bouncing a ball in the driveway, or getting into a fetal curl and rocking or taking a walk around the block. (Don't drive - walk.)

There is an inner two year old having a tantrum, so you need to treat yourself like a two year old - not ridiculing yourself for having an inner two-year-old, since a loving successful parent does not use ridicule to help a two year old learn self control. But for example if your two year old were blowing up and screaming you would physically separate them from the person or object they were harming, sit them down somewhere quiet with their solacing object and make sure that they weren't terrified, over-tired, hungry or frustrated. You'd give them a loving time out until they were back in control. So that's what you have to do with yourself.

In the long run it matters less if you are late than if you destroy your marriage. You can take the time to have the time out, even if it means completely losing momentum at what you were trying to do.

If you do something completely different after you blow up it will demonstrate to your family that you have a genuine commitment to changing. This is where the go into a fetal curl on the floor may help you to make a complete behaviour shift.

Remember that this is not about you, this is about them. It doesn't matter if they were aggravating or if you are feeling miserable -the focus now has to go completely onto them. Small son is scared? Priority is to prove to him that it is safe. Spouse is so angry she is crying? Priority is to validate her anger.

You might have some success with an apology token system. So for example make a commitment to your wife that every time you get moody she will get a reward from you as an apology. It's no good saying, well, money is a problem, so it's not my fault I am moody. You're still making her and the children frightened by being less than relaxed and approachable. Being moody is part of the slippery slope to roaring and throwing things. So then what you do is come up with a reward/treat/bonus/apology present for your loved ones. It should be a cheap and inconvenient one. Examples might be a twenty-minute neck and shoulder massage for your spouse, or taking the time to draw a Pokemon card for your son or cleaning up your son's room for him. It shouldn't be something you can do easily and instantly, like buying him a Pokemon card. It should be an act of service that requires you to put your family members in the forefront. Otherwise you could angrily flip your son a store-bought Pokemon card or snarl out a cheap and insincere apology at your spouse.

The only thing to beware with the apology token system is that you could feel you have the right to blow up because you paid for it by giving her a twenty minutes massage. If you end up feeling like that, or resenting doing the apology act, then you are not sincere about wanting to change. It would mean that you treasure the power you get from being angry more than you value your family.

Also avoid making a big deal about your blow ups. Ideally you will learn to control your explosions in a way that your family becomes unaware that you were moody, or that you just took a walk so that you could refocus and calm down. You are doing it wrong if the family has to jump and pay attention to you because, instead of shouting and shaking your fist, you are justifying your anger by explaining that it's not your fault you are mad. They should not have to try to soothe or reassure you or placate you.

Since this is about the abuse of power and dominance you might find giving your spouse more power would help. If she feels it is a good idea you could ask her to have a safeword, which she will use when she gets frightened or anxious because you are acting grumpy and making her dread a blow up. So if you clomp into the kitchen and slam the cupboard door and say, "Damn it, why is the coffee on the counter instead of in the cupboard?" She says the safeword "Daffodil" and you immediately respond by lowering your intensity. Your own mental track would run, "Coffee is a really unimportant thing. I don't need to get angry about coffee." or "Uh-oh, I am starting to seriously stress over that water bill," and then you turn the focus on her and and begin to wonder if she is seriously stressed over that water bill too, and what you can do to make her life easier and more rewarding - you switch from making coffee to nurturing mode, using her safeword cue. The word "Daffodil" tells you to stop being mad and start thinking about her and the kids, and you do that, because she is more important to you than the stupid water bill and your kids are more important to you than the stupid water bill.

I mean, consider, if you owe $700 on the water bill, would you be willing to give up living with your wife and kids for $700? Would you be willing to let some violent jerk traumatize your kids for $700. Not for an instant. But by having your focus on the wrong thing that is what you are doing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:51 AM on April 20, 2015 [12 favorites]

Some practical ideas, since everyone's covering the therapy angle well:

If I were your wife, I'd want someone else I trusted to help hold you accountable for whatever plans you put in place. Not me, not a therapist. Saying "we'll leave if you lose your temper more than once in a month" or "we'll leave if you stop going to therapy" is great and all, but it puts the onus on her to follow through and to hold you to something you may very compellingly argue against later. Ideally there would be a family member you both trusted with this situation, or a close friend of hers who's not going anywhere, or a member of your religious community. It's a lot to ask of someone not directly involved, obviously, and it has the potential to get messy... but so does an abusive relationship, so if there's someone who loves you guys and wants to help it might be well worth it. This lets you make a commitment to someone other than her or yourself, and your track record suggests this might be a lot more promising.

In a similar vein, if you leave for a while to work this out, it'd be great to include support for the rest of the family in the plan. Set up regular babysitting with a trusted sitter so your wife still gets some time alone, and look into resources for both her and the kids to get help too (although I'd leave any actual setup on that front to her).

When I was a new mother, sleep deprived, without support, I was taught if you think you are going to hurt your child, make sure they are in a safe place like their bedrooms,and remove yourself from the situation until you can calm down. Walk away.
If you're staying with your family, come up with a practical plan for what "walking away" is going to look like. Is there a specific room you can go to? Will you leave the house for a walk? How will you know you need to leave--what things are going to be indisputable signs you need to cool down? Would it help to have a "safe word" your wife can say when she sees those signs, and you'll leave without argument? (What would happen if you didn't?) What are you going to do while you calm down? What are you going to do when you come back (and can you automatically come back, or do you ask)?

Trying to stay focused on the stated question: these are the sorts of details that would make me more convinced you were serious this time. I'd want to see all of these plans in writing, and then be given time (away from you, with the option to discuss with friends or family or a therapist) to think about what concerns I still had before talking them over with you.
posted by cogitron at 8:04 AM on April 20, 2015

I would recommend therapy for all of you. Separate therapy at first, family therapy later. My ex-husband could have written your post and our family is still trying to recover, 18 years later. My daughter has simply blocked most of her memories of her childhood, I suffer from PTSD, and my young adult son has become a more handsome version of his father. Some days I'm afraid to go home from work because something I said might have set him off and the rage and yelling is terrifying.
I see a therapist and I'm getting stronger, but I wish I had done it years ago and found the kids one too. My ex is seeing a therapist now (18 years after our marriage) and his wife says it's helping their family.
posted by black socks with sandals at 8:08 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

It might be possible to change. It's rare, but the few who successfully do so are those who have had a recognition, like you have, of what their behavior truly is... and then follow it up with one hell of a lot of hard work.

It might take more than a month. It might take you separating, but continuing to hold firm to the relationship and the commitment to change. It took a co-worker of mine two years, in which he lived apart from his family, worked his butt off, continued to support himself and much of their income, saw the kids regularly, and did every single thing he said he would. It's been years now, and they've all healed, and he's a happier man than he ever was before.
posted by stormyteal at 8:19 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's hard to write this to you, but I think you might benefit from an approach that frames your behavior a little differently, without excusing it. That is, like it says in the good book, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."
You are not an asshole. Nor are you a monster, a bad person, or, and this seems to be your biggest fear, beyond some kind of redemption. I had a father who was a rage-aholic, and, painful as those memories are, I don't see his behavior now as anything other than a symptom of his human-ness. Your kids may or may not come to that conclusion in time. I commend you for not excusing your behavior until a time where you will find out whether or not that is the case. I commend you because you know that you have a problem. You are far ahead of the pack of people you might think you might become simply because you have taken that one big scary (brave...yes, it does take courage) step. What's more, you know that your behavior doesn't just hurt those around you. Your behavior hurts you. You must feel terrible right now, and, right or wrong, imagining how you must feel makes me feel very bad for you.
OK, your wife has given you an ultimatum. That is a good sign. It means she values your marriage enough to save it. Your marriage might crumble anyway, but you would not have posted this question if you didn't feel the same way. You show tremendous compassion for your family members. You don't want to hurt them. You show very little compassion for yourself. Self-compassion doesn't mean excusing this behavior; it means answering your own question, "Am I destined to continue these abusive ways?" The answer is inside you. No one here--no therapist, for that matter--can tell you what is going to happen.
You need a plan. I am not a therapist, I am not your therapist. You have been given a lot of good advice here, but you don't have anything like what you asked for. Here is one you can adapt. I've annotated it, and I hope you'll excuse the fact that I'm blatantly rooting for you.
1) Sit down with your spouse and children and admit that your behavior is not acceptable. Ask them to tell you how it makes them feel. Listen to them. Tell them you are an adult and that you accept responsibility for your actions. Tell that that you love them no matter what and that you are committed to doing better. Leave your feelings out of this conversation. This is about them, not you. (You will do something for yourself later.)
2) Come up with a plan that outlines the specific steps you will take if you find yourself getting angry. You would benefit greatly from consulting a therapist to flesh out this strategy, but, until you find one, you need something you can do so that your emotions don't boil over into rage. Some people have suggested physically leaving the area, some people have suggested distracting yourself. Both of those ideas are very good, but what is most important is that you find something that works for you. A therapist can help, and I am not one, but until you find one, you might consider mentally rehearsing how you will behave when something upsets you. As silly as it sounds, you might even try role playing it a few times so that it doesn't seem so unusual. The important thing is to remind yourself that you have made a commitment to cease the behavior. For what it's worth, here's a phrase you might consider using, "I'm sorry, but I'm getting upset right now. I've made a commitment to control my anger, and I'm worried that I might do or say something that is hurtful." Then excuse yourself. Then, when no one is looking, cry.
3) Find a therapist. A lot of advice in here has suggested that therapy is very expensive and very time-consuming. It can be but need not be either. I'm afraid that this advice, while accurate, might scare you off from taking this step. A very common form of therapy, called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) traditionally lasts twelve weeks. There are many counseling practices that will work on a sliding scale or work on a payment plan. Lastly, if you have health insurance, don't be afraid to avail yourself of it. You will typically get a limited number of sessions and/or only partial reimbursement, but don't be afraid to fight your insurer if they are stingy on mental health services, or ask your provider for a price you can pay. Your wife and kids are worth it, and so are you. The most important thing when looking for a therapist is finding someone you can connect with. If you pursue a few sessions, and don't feel like you are making progress, then keep looking. Don't give up.
4) Come up with a way of monitoring your emotions, or "checking in" so that they do not dictate behavior that you cannot stomach (and should not stomach, for that matter). A therapist can help you a lot here.
5) Tell your wife you love her.
6) Tell your kids you love them. (The way you should make it up to them, by the way, is not spoiling them or trying to make up for past transgressions... It's by being there for them when they need you.)
7) Tell yourself that you have made a comittment to be a better person. Tell yourself that you love yourself. It appears that you do not right now, and that is a shame.
posted by Mr. Fig at 8:21 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a comment from an anonymous answerer.
I'll come at this from another point of view. My mother was exactly like you when I was growing up: she would explode in rage over small things or nothing at all. For example, when I, a six or seven year old child, would accidentally knock over my glass at the dinner table, that was an occasion for screaming and swearing. She would scream, yell, call names, and yep, throw things (once, when my father did something she didn't like, she threw a book at the window and broke it).

She never lost it in front of outsiders -- only in front of the family. So I grew up assuming that her behavior was normal, and that my friends' parents were also that way when I wasn't around. Of course, they weren't.

I won't get into it too much, because I'd rather not, even anonymously, but all this pretty seriously fucked me up. Just as one example, I went right from home to an abusive relationship that began freshman year of college; that lasted quite a long time and I'm still feeling the effects today, 20- or 30-some years later. Never occurred to me that people who loved you shouldn't treat you like shit. (For this reason, it hit me really, really hard when you said your 9 year old apologized to you when you threw something at him. That is exactly what I used to do when my boyfriend grabbed me or called me a name; I would apologize to him for making him angry. Something to think about.)

Things got much better after I finally found a great therapist, but I was in my early 40s before I finally attained a degree of normality in my relationships. My mother and I eventually reached what I would call a fragile détente, but only after a I had had a *lot* of therapy, and I have had to draw serious boundaries with her. That's her fault, and it's because of the way she was when I was a kid.

One thing I remember very clearly: maybe three or four years ago, I was at the home of a friend of mine who has three children, and one of them, who was perhaps 10 at the time, spilled a glass of water at the table. He said, "Oh, oops" and she said to him very calmly, "Well, don't just say 'oops' -- go and get a paper towel and clean it up," which he did and that was that. Banal as that sounds, I kind of remember having an epiphany right then: nope -- normal, healthy parents who want to raise normal, healthy kids did not lose their shit when kids made tiny, predictable kid mistakes like spilling a drink.

I'm not telling you this to make you feel bad; it's obvious that you already feel bad, and that's actually a good thing. I'm telling this to let you know it's serious and that it's really not optional that you do what you have to do to fix this in any way you can. This is not a "well, just do your best, kids are resilient" situation. To be honest about it, there's no question in my mind that you've damaged your kids already -- that's pretty incontrovertible. But they're still young and you can probably get onto the right path with them. Do whatever you have to do, even if that means moving out, but make sure you deal with this, and by "deal with it," I mean stop abusing your family. Just stop. And yes, it really kinda is that simple. You'll need a lot of help, and it won't be easy but yes, it is simple.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:23 AM on April 20, 2015 [46 favorites]

My experience comes from running a sexual assault program, serving as a CASA, as a personal and court advocate for victims of domestic violence, working with at risk families (child abuse) and some life experience that comes from being only slightly younger than dirt.

It's all been said and said pretty well. I think the best points are ...

1. You're at risk of losing your children. If not legally, certainly emotionally.

2. Your marriage is off the rails.

3. Your self loathing is apparent, but awareness is not change.

The good news is that you have insight into your own behavior. Incredible insight, actually, but again it helps zero if you don't use it.

Everyone can change. While you certainly need some tools and to get out of your own way (these short and incomplete efforts are worthless and self defeating), you can change today. Right now. This minute. You are in control of your own actions. You certainly need help, but you have to stop giving yourself permission to lose all control. Until you understand more, for gods sake man, we all have the power to walk away.

I've seen humans make incredible messes of their lives and more than recover. And I've seen them ride a downward spiral of "I can't help it" right to the bottom. You get to decide your future. I would suggest you do it now.
posted by seldom seen at 8:41 AM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]

I grew up in a house with yelling, and to this day my body actually begins to shut down when yelling is happening. My hands go cold, I can’t process my thoughts normally, I can’t respond. Being around it as a child made it normal for you, but I am more like your daughter— it makes me afraid. Intensely, unstoppably afraid. It didn’t happen in my house as often as it seems like it is happening for you, but often enough.

At some point, after some extended reflection, my father realized how much his yelling and uncontrollable anger were hurting me and my brother (both of us over 18 by that point). I fervently wish he had made his realization earlier, because even though he and I are close (and always have been, even when his anger was at its worst), I am constantly seeing the ways in which growing up with his (and my mother’s) anger have impacted the way I deal with him. I apologize excessively, just as a reflex. I ask permission for insignificant things. I cringe if he stubs his toe and lets out a shout of pain. His anger has not been aimed at me in years, many years but I can’t shut off my responses. They were baked into me.

Our culture has these reflexive claims about anger— “just let it out” type beliefs. For people who grow up in repressive-no-one-has-feelings environments, those perspectives might be healing. But in my experience, people who are always angry use those mantras as reason to become angrier, to indulge their anger, to magnify it. We all know that you get better at habits when you practice them. At this point, you could probably go pro with your anger. You have been rehearsing it for your whole life.

How do you unlearn it? Stop pretending it cannot be controlled. You would not speak this way to your boss, or to the President, or to your favorite actress. You have selected situations in which you believe your anger is allowable. You have decided that certain people deserve to bear the brunt of it. You have not done these things consciously, but you have done them repeatedly, to the point that your instincts now feel irresistible. But they are not. People go on hunger strikes, and their bodies actually WILL die without food, but they are able to control that desire for food in the interest of a cause. You are now on an anger strike. The cause is saving your marriage, and helping your children grow up in a safer emotional environment.

Would you vomit in your wife’s face on purpose, to punish her? Would you pour corrosive poison into your children’s mouths if they irritated you on a day when you were “at the end of your rope”? Probably not, but you need to see that the way you are inflicting your anger on them is just as disgusting, just as horrible, just as damaging. You are humiliating your wife on purpose. Your daughter, your beloved daughter, is afraid of you. Your son will never forget the time that his father threw a projectile at him in a rage. I was never physically hurt by my parents in anger, but I remember scenes and incidents that no one else does.

What does your anger defend? Anger is often wounded pride. What do these outbursts attempt to protect from view? Knowing that can help shut down the process of blowing up.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:24 AM on April 20, 2015 [41 favorites]

Others have alread suggested good practical steps to take--therapy, anger management, perhaps moving out for a while. And yes, this will be a lengthy process. But you don't have to focus on the years or even months or weeks ahead. Here you are, today, acknowledging that you have a problem that you can't fix on your own. Take the next right step right now. And the next one after that. And so on.

I would also submit that your shame and guilt have served their purpose and are no longer a useful focus. You have been using the tools you learned from your parents and they have proven to be bad tools. You are now wholly responsible for acquiring new ones. Another poster said "we all have the power to walk away." I don't believe that's true. I don't think you've had that power, and just chosen not to use it. I think you can gain that power, though, provided you are willing to do a lot of hard work, and doing so will serve you and your family (if you still have them) well.
posted by generalist at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was married to a guy exactly like you and I left him for precisely this reason. Best decision I ever made and I wish I'd done it much sooner (we were together ~10 years). I wish she were writing this question, but since I have to talk to you - I'd advise you to give her some space via a temporary separation. Go stay with family or sublet an apartment. You are a danger to her and to your children. They are being damaged, perhaps permanently, by this. Both of you should get separate counselors, because couples counseling does not work when there is abuse in the relationship.
posted by desjardins at 9:47 AM on April 20, 2015 [27 favorites]

P.S. I don't know if you can turn it around - he never did - but at least you are acknowledging the problem and that is an important first step.
posted by desjardins at 9:48 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't have much to add, but I do want to say that the idea of a reward system that was mentioned above is not a good one. Please do not put the onus of your behavior on your wife or your kids like that. That just perpetuates the horrific honeymoon cycle, standardizes it, and makes it seem like it's OK.

The first step towards fixing a problem is recognizing it. Saying that you're abusive is very, very, very hard. But it's the most important first step that many people in your position never take. Keep moving forward. I wish you and your family the best of luck.

And yes, separate therapists for now. Don't push your wife to get therapy. Don't try to "convince" your wife that you've changed over the next month, as you mention in your post. Ultimately, this is not really about your wife or your kids. It's about you and about the way you treat people that you supposedly love.

I never got through to my ex, who was exactly like you, but... one thing I never understood was why he would never, ever, ever treat his mother the way he treated me. Would you treat your mother this way? Would you be OK if your dad treated your mom this way?

You know, my final thought is that one thing I've learned is that walking away is so much better than yelling. If you're upset? Walk away. I think a lot of abuse comes from not being able to understand the feelings that are happening inside, and it's just like a pressure cooker in there and it explodes out. Working with a therapist might help. But for now, just walk the hell away. Every time you want to yell, take a breather.

There is no difference between an abuser and someone who acts abusively. You don't have to get bogged down in the semantics here, but rather than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and feeling guilty for being, as you say, an asshole, get up and do something about it. This is not inevitable. Change is possible. Check out the Anxiety and Phobia workbook and get a therapist and start walking away instead of screaming. Start meditating. Learn how to translate your inner turmoil into action that is constructive and loving. Start working on this and keep working.

Seriously, best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:03 AM on April 20, 2015 [13 favorites]

or I do something like make appoiuntment to see a therapist or get us in with a couple's therapist for a few sessions and then sort of decide that everything is fixed and shortly thereafter, the patern repeats.

In my experience, people who assume a few therapy sessions will fix a longstanding problem tend to think that they're smarter than their therapists and to confuse insight with behavioral change, so it may be helpful to be aware of these tendencies if those types of thoughts pop up for you when you begin therapy (or, if you're reading the answers here and thinking to yourself that the insight you're gaining is enough for now and you don't need therapy). Just as knowing how to do a push-up doesn't increase your upper body strength, having insight into your problems or motivations doesn't change your behavior. Therapists are like personal trainers -- they help guide you, but you have to keep showing up and doing the work, even when it's boring or uncomfortable or difficult.
posted by jaguar at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2015 [33 favorites]

It might be helpful to draw a distinction between "I'm an asshole" and "I behave badly and don't seem to be getting a handle on it" It's easier to look at this as a behavior you have to change than an immutable part of your personality. I grew up in a house with yelling parents and I spent the first ten years of my life figuring that I'd probably eventually make a mistake and one of them would kill me for it. They were so angry all the time. Turns out they were in a bad marriage and were managing stre4ss poorly and once they split up things smoothed over. I also grew up and now no one gets to talk to me that way. And I have my own anger management issues to deal with. Things that helped me

- Differentiating between being angry and acting angrily. I bet you don't yell at the mailman or people in traffic or police who pull you over. You have to figure out why yelling at your family is okay. Being angry is what you work on LATER acting angry is what you handle now.
- This is your problem and if it were me I'd treat it like such and not like a "family issue" for now. Don't go to therapy with your wife, you go for you right now. Apologize to her and your kids. Don't make them responsible for :keeping you honest" Handle your shit. You're not an asshole, but you're in a bad place right now.
- Do all the stress management things now: exercise, sleep, meditation (or whatever), eating right. If you have big bad areas in there deal with that.
- Save the self pity and focus on results. Right now you have to manage how you are treating other people. As this smooths out you can deal with how you treat yourself. They are linked but one is mission-critical and one may take some more time. It's easy to wallow when you get to this point and I'm sorry because I know it feels bad. At the same time, show your capacity for change by changing, not by talking about changing.

You can change. You need help. That help needs to come not from the people you've hurt. You build trust by building a track record of not being That Guy and showing appropriate remorse that doesn't make it all about you and handling your shit. You can do it.
posted by jessamyn at 10:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]

Continuing on in this vein, you've gotta look at this as a discipline you're going to have to learn and practice the rest of your life, rather than a solution to a problem.

I grew up in an emotionally, physically and psychologically abusive household. I had zero conflict resolution skills, massive amounts of repressed anger, and no understanding that yelling, criticism, gaslighting and withholding were not normal ways of relating to other people when I emerged from my home into the world at 17. I functioned very erratically with untreated PTSD for years until I hit a wall and decided I was sick of how I felt and wanted to learn how to be a better person.

It's taken years of therapy and a bone-deep determination to love my husband, son, remaining family and friends and myself to keep me motivated to do the work every day. Every day I have to remind myself that my life is, cliche as it sounds, a work in progress. I would rather die than have my son feel dread and panic at the sound of my voice, as I feel when I even think about my dad.

If you start this work, it will never be finished. You have to know that going in. You're not aiming for "well"; you're aiming for awareness, sensitivity and constancy in managing your feelings and being respectful and careful of those of the people around you. It requires stamina and commitment, and it can't be contingent on saving your marriage or having your kids forgive you. It has to be because you are tired of living with a sewer of self-loathing and rage inside yourself and you want to learn how to do things differently.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:46 AM on April 20, 2015 [13 favorites]

Someone said "Anger is often wounded pride". I disagree. Anger is not an original emotion. We aren't born with it. We come into the world with only a handful of emotions... Joy, fear, hurt and frustration.

Anger is typically the expression of one or more of the latter three. It covers up, puts off, pushes people away and has a function, but it comes from somewhere and there is always a pay off. It serves a purpose.

I could go on, but all the psychobabble in the world is worthless to you right now. Get help and get it fast. Your actions have to change now. Stop letting your emotions run your life. You have convinced yourself you can't control this, but until you can find out more, I want to encourage you. I'm not trying to be insulting - you ARE in control. Stop giving yourself permission to complicate yourself out of it.

You are not an addict in need of detox before treatment, one who needs to continue to use until help arrives. Be as angry as you must, but commit to walking away very early in the process of ramping up. You can... if you choose to.
posted by seldom seen at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Habitually-wrathful, yelling, sometimes-throwing son of a habitually-angry, yelling, thrower here: I came to your realization a while back. Good on you for recognizing your problem, but please realize that's only like 1% of the way to recovery (though concealment is probably a better word, since I don't know how one completely recovers from such an easily-manifested, long-standing bad habit).

There are good points above; for example, you only treat people this way because you have power over them and don't fear the consequences--of course, unless you're a total psycho, you'd never act like this at work or to a cop or to the TSA agent who threw away your brand-new but too-big toothpaste and your wife's bottle of water. But those good points really make too big a psychological issue out of something that is truly just a bad habit you've kept since toddlerhood: Because temper tantrums are really just a bad childhood habit most people grow out of, just like they grew out of diapers, stealing toys, and booger-eating. And those of us that no longer soil ourselves, steal, or eat our boogers likely didn't grow out of temper tantrums because their parents never grew out of them, and therefore failed to model the alternative, adult behavior for them. We're failing our own kids in this way, too, when we fail to pass on and model the appropriate conduct to them.

You're probably deceptive and/or super-convincing, and your wife probably knows this, so therapy might not even work for you (or make her think it's working for you). What you're looking for is habit-management. Sure, go to therapy if you want (I'm not a Scientologist or whatever) or if that's what your wife wants in order not to leave you (avoid this at all costs); but I'd get some advice on breaking a bad habit and see if that works for you. And the best way to break a bad habit it to replace it with another one, preferably a good habit. In Late Antique and Early-Christian thought, the virtue corresponding to the vice is wrath is, of all things, patience. (You'd think it'd be 'being nice' or whatever.) It makes sense, I guess, because think of how immediate our wrath is when it comes on; one minute you're packing and the next minute you're throwing stuff because, Lord, the banality of that final straw on your marriage-camel's back....socks. And the reason I think the more psychological aspects of our problem aren't likely to help is that there are always....socks.

You need to break that bad habit and practice the corresponding good habit of patience. But patience is so broad, so it needs to be something more concrete. A smoker trying to break that bad habit doesn't just "not smoke," they do something else: they vape or meditate or eat sunflower seeds or whatever. How does one concretely practice patience? For me, as someone recommended to you above, "walking away is so much better than yelling. If you're upset? Walk away." Agreed; it's the only thing that works for me when a bigger episode threatens. Walking away is the only way I can be "patient" sometimes. Even if your face puffs out and you're visibly about to destroy the world with your inner H-bomb, that's better than being an idiot in front of your kids. The goal for minor episodes--and, when you have practiced it enough, major episodes--should be a total poker face of patience.

tl;dr: only go to therapy if your wife wants you to; you need behavioral / habit management: commit to the concrete task of walking away with a poker face when you're tempted to give air to your wrath. Only in this way can you break the bad habit you've allowed to manifest to the point of destroying your family.
posted by resurrexit at 11:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to add:

I've lost my temper and lashed out verbally for as long as I can remember, even as a child - never physically, never with name calling or an intent to cause emotional harm, but with very real intensity and rage. Add to this the fact that I'm a big guy with a big voice and this is assuredly terrifying.

Your intent isn't unimportant, but the effects of your behaviour, which you've finally grasped, are really what make it abusive. As is the fact, which others have talked about, that your anger is (likely) selective - there are probably some people who are being lashed out at - your wife and children - and not others (your boss, coworkers, others).

On preview: you only treat people this way because you have power over them and don't fear the consequences - right, that is also what makes this abuse. It isn't just the once-weekly yelling; it's the whole dynamic that arises around it and establishes you in a certain role in the family, and others in other roles, in a robust and persistent manner, outside of those episodes.

That involves behaviours like denying others' reality, and other things people have touched upon. "Abuse" =/= some metaphysical evil; it describes a range of behaviours and habits that have the kinds of effects on people you (and others here) have described, OP - including violating their sense of safety. And that persistent dynamic, those longer-standing power relationships, need to be addressed, not just your habit of rage. And you are at the centre of that dynamic, so dealing with it really has to start with you, with a therapist who understands how to deal with someone in the habit of using abusive behaviour to establish power over others, as jaguar has explained.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:29 AM on April 20, 2015 [19 favorites]

And (sorry, last one) - your intent might not be to hurt others, but you are doing it nevertheless, and you've learned that lashing out gets you what you want - it's a way of controlling others, conscious or not.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hey, sorry to hear that this has happened to you.

I think you should at the very least separate from your wife and move out so that your kids can have a peaceful home. Do visitation elsewhere.

You can't change the past. But you can change from here on out.

First priority is giving your wife and children a safe and loving home. Right now, that means you can't be in it.

Good luck.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:08 PM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also, you need to apologize to your kids. I suggest doing this in writing so they won't feel scared or feel the need to placate you while you're doing it. You should unreservedly apologize for how you treated their mother, how you treated them, and how long you've let it go without doing something about it. You should tell them that it is never, ever their fault and that it's not okay for anyone to treat them like that, and you moved out because they have the right to be safe and not to be screamed at. This is, again, a bare minimum thing to do, and does not make it ok to reenter their daily lives.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:10 PM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

I hope to come back to this question in 6 months to learn that you moved into temporary quarters, have started some effective form of anger management, had some family therapy and talked to your wife and kids about your anger, and seriously, meaningfully apologized.

It's behavior. You can change it. Expressing anger makes you angrier, better to stop, go for a run, and talk to yourself about what's really important - details or the safety of your family.

Don't forget to look at what works in your family, and do more of that. Have more fun, express more love, praise, gentle humor.

Being an asshole doesn't have to be a life sentence. You have the gift of learning what's not working before divorce or somebody getting a broken arm. Be thankful for this gift and change.
posted by theora55 at 12:36 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

My husband has (had?) this problem. At Christmas I was making mental plans to leave him and take my daughter with me. He now taking anger management classes and is on an SSRI. There has been a vast improvement. Vast. You can change this.

You sound like your problem is worse than my husbands. I expect that you would do anger management, one-on-one therapy and possibly meds. And then, once you're more stable, family therapy would be good or at least individual therapy for your family. I'm sorry, I'm sure this is very hard for you, but as I think you know, you need to take some very, very serious and concrete steps towards fixing this. And it will have to stay fixed for a long, long time before your wife and children feel safe with you again.
posted by kitcat at 12:57 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

As a temporary measure while you're working on addressing the anger in a more real way, redirect your anger to something physical, away from your family. Go for a 3 mile run. Hit the gym and beat on the punching bag until you're exhausted. Go lift weights. Hell, you should probably do this any time you find yourself becoming at all moody.

It isn't a fix, but at least for me it helps.
posted by zug at 1:24 PM on April 20, 2015

I also think that you should read Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men - not least of all because it's not clear that you realize that you are abusive. You will recognize yourself in there.
posted by kitcat at 1:27 PM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Use a rubber band. Every time you feel anger rising up, snap the rubber band. Its done wonders for me and expressions of annoyance and frustration.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:39 PM on April 20, 2015

How did you reduce the anxiety? If not with medication, you might want to try a low-dose antidepressant (e.g., Zoloft) for anxiety. I did and my anxiety AND outbursts went away. (I know you say your anxiety has lessened, but there may be more you can do for your anxiety AND your anger.)
posted by easter queen at 1:49 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a comment from an anonymous answerer.
A lot of people here have suggested leaving the situation when you feel yourself on the verge of exploding. I think this could be good advice, but you need to rehearse how exactly you are going to do it. When I was a kid my dad would often blow up at us in much the same way you describe here. But sometimes he would then abruptly leave in the middle of an argument, usually slamming doors, taking the car, and refusing to talk to us as he left. This left us to wonder where he was going and when, or indeed if, he was planning on coming back. In other words, he turned leaving into another way of punishing us for "making" him angry or upset.

My dad never really admitted how out of control his temper was or apologized for it to us in more than a half-hearted, embarrassed way, and he definitely never saw a professional about it. I really wish he had, and I think your situation is already more hopeful for being willing to do both of those things. That said, that hope can't be a substitute for the sustained hard work you will still have to do in order to make real changes. Best of luck to you.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:17 PM on April 20, 2015 [16 favorites]

You can't change the past. But you can change from here on out.

First priority is giving your wife and children a safe and loving home. Right now, that means you can't be in it.

This is absolutely step #1. Whatever it takes, you owe it to your family to make sure they are safe and happy, period. Then start in with the therapy and anger management course and (possibly) medication. First things first: you are creating an emotionally and physically unsafe environment and it is your responsibility to change that today.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:44 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

From a member who wanted to remain anonymous:
I'm really glad that you have acknowledged your responsibility for your abusive outbursts, a lot of people don't get that far.

I had a father that, in many ways, sounds a lot like you, abusive and unpredictable outbursts triggered by his anxiety/stress, and which he believed were completely justified because "that was just the way he was feeling at the time." (As other posters have covered extensively, this is completely wrong).

You don't say this directly, but your children are clearly afraid of you. To this day (I am in my late 20s), I avoid being in the same room alone with my father. I don't know how your wife feels about your anger (is she angry? scared? frustrated?)

Intentionally or not, you have been controlling your family with your anger. Unpredictable, irrational and abusive outbursts that can't be predicted means that you are creating (have created) a family dynamic that revolves around you and your emotional responses. And that's so shitty to be a part of a family like that.

Your wife has asked you for a plan. As a part of this, you need to ask your wife what she needs right now for her to feel ok and safe. You have taken and currently have SO much power in this relationship, and you need to find a way of giving a hell of a lot of it back to your wife. If your wife needs you to leave for a month or two, find a way to do that. Whatever she needs right now, you should find a way of giving it to her.

As I'm sure you are aware, your words are largely meaningless at this point, you need to be consistent with your behaviour over an extended period of time to prove your trustworthiness as a spouse and as a father.

The emotional work of managing your anger is on your shoulders, it is neither your wife's nor your children's work to do.

Please find a therapist. Considered starting a regular practise of mindfulness meditation (which you may hopefully incorporate into daily life, providing some distance between angry feelings and your reactions to them). Consider group therapy. Please, please, seriously contemplate how your actions have affected your family.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:39 PM on April 20, 2015 [12 favorites]

My ex did this (and on occasion, worse -- are you quite sure this has never escalated into physical violence involving other people and not just objects?). Eventually he did it around our kid; he couldn't even hold it together enough to not lose his shit on weekend visits, terrifying both of us.

Even though it was just weekend visits it was a lot to deal with. I was terrified of all sorts of things for a long time (after a particularly over-the-top incident with him we went through a drive-through car wash not long afterwards -- being that trapped in a small space with him at that point was scary, and I still wash my car myself or pay for somebody else to do it) and my daughter is still on high alert for any sign of irrational and/or excess anger in others -- and up until recently was quite stressed out (now, further removed from the irrational anger for some time, she's anxious about it, but it's not as bad as it was) the odd time we do see a display of temper from some asshole in the supermarket or wherever.

I agree with the people saying you should temporarily absent yourself from the family home. You are an unfit parent as is. You don't mention anything about your family finances, but if you do not have insurance/good insurance or an income that leaves extra to spare, picking up extra work to finance therapy for the kids (and your wife if she would like it) would be a good idea.

I suspect you can change this. You will need to eat naught but crow for some time, and enjoy it, though.
posted by kmennie at 8:49 PM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

How do you build trust when the essence of the abuse is the fear around the unpredictability of sporatic and intense outbursts?

My husband was another Jekyll-and-Hyde. He'd learned it from his father. It took years (five years of him going to therapy once a week AND demonstrating concrete behavioural progress the whole time) for me to feel emotionally safe around him again, without wondering, "If I say x, will it set him off?" I nearly left him at several points but didn't because, as I said, he made measurable improvements, both short- and long-term.

Regarding your question above, the following paragraph gave me shivery flashbacks. The book it comes from is Stop Hurting The Woman You Love: Breaking The Cycle Of Abusive Behavior, by Charlie Donaldson and Randy Flood, with Elaine Eldridge:
Remember that abusive behavior creates an accumulation of consequences in your partner. Stopping the abuse today doesn't stop her pain, anger, and distrust of you today. She can only begin to heal once she feels safe, respected, and honored. When you can provide her this sacred space, then you are contributing to her healing process. . . . you can't control her healing process. You can't force it to happen. You can't speed it up. The healing process may take years. You have to let go of her with respect and love. To do anything less is to enter back into the cycle. . . . Love, trust, and intimacy are cultivated by acting in loving, trustworthy, and empathic ways.
This book focuses more on physical abuse, but if you check it out, I hope you wouldn't absolve yourself of needing to change because "Oh what I did and do isn't THAT bad, compared to the guys in the book." Your behaviour has been damaging your wife and kids for the past 14 years. It's not exactly healthy for you either.

About your statement, I knew this behavior was toxic and I had always resoved to keep such things from my children, Donaldson and Flood have this to say: "Any man who abuses his partner also abuses the children. . . . because the relationships among members of a family inevitably affect every other member."

You wrote, I promise to change, absolve to internally ....Freudian slip?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:23 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

You are essentially my father. He would turn purple with rage, a vein would appear on his forehead and he would bare his teeth like an animal. He would threaten to throw us through windows and doors and would grab us so hard he left bruises. His anger was terrifying.

I am 44 years old and could easily take my father in a fight at this point, but I have distanced myself from him. I left home at 17 and never went back. I didn't speak to him for years and now, I am civil, but just that. He is 72 and is full of guilt and I don't care. Frankly, I don't care if his heart explodes tomorrow, which I have been waiting for it to do for years. Is this the relationship you want with your daughter and son going forward? Because you'll be lucky if you get this much. My father is lucky I speak to him at all.

If you want to have any kind of relationship with your children, you need to take a lot of the advice here. I highly recommend giving your wife total control over what should happen next and that includes whether or not you leave.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:57 AM on April 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

I was also raised like you, and I lived most of my life with a stew of cruelty and anger inside me. I have horribly hurtful instincts (my violence is verbal and in some ways more terrible than the physical kind). I learned from my mom to humiliate people and use their insecurities to make sure they understand how disgustingly meaningless they were. Everyone around me. I was full of contempt for everyone.

I had to do therapy for YEARS. I am still in a constant battle with myself but with time (and therapy!) you learn to shut up that voice, and most importantly you learn to know that that voice is wrong. People are not losers. We are not contemptible. A sock is just a sock and it doesn't mean...I don't know. Do you think a sock out of place means your family is messy and will never amount to anything? (that is the kind of stuff I would think before).

So first of all, recognize that you are not the victim here. You were the victim before, but not anymore. Your past does not give you an excuse, because then I am sure your father would also have an excuse.

Second, realize that you cannot do this on your own. You would have done it already. You need professional help. Real, long-term professional help. And you don't get to say when it's enough. Your therapist does. This is an issue if you feel contempt for others, because I am sure part of you thinks you know better than your therapist and s/he is probably a loser, too. S/he is not. And besides you have no choice because clearly you can't do it on your own.

Third, talk to your wife. Tell her exactly what the problem is (ALL YOU - not a couple's problem), and tell her that you want to go to a therapist and continue going until he or she says you are officially done. Tell her you might need her help to keep yourself accountable, but you 100% understand if she is not willing to do that. Then make plans depending on whether she wants to stay or not. If you feel you should leave her, then tell her so. I am not sure she will be happy with putting up with your shit for so long and then have you leave her. Talk and decide together. Be a good husband and if she decides to stay it does not mean she is giving you a free pass on being an abusive, violent person. If you live together it better be YOU the one who walks on eggshells around yourself, not her or your children. Otherwise you are knowingly choosing to be an abusive person and being a total scumbag by using your anger issues as a shield from criticism and change.

As the need arises ask yourself: Why are you angry? With the sock incident. What was it that made you lose your shit? Channel your anxiety onto describing your fears. Go to the restroom and say this sock makes me angry because xxxxxxx. Then debate yourself. Think of why the things you fear or the things that make you angry are irrational (they always are). Learn to communicate your emotions in a healthy way. In time, you can do this with your wife. Tell her how you are feeling. It might make it easier for her to understand your fears and anxieties, as embarrassing as they may seem to you.

If your wife ever looses her temper or offends you or whatever, it doesn't give you permission to let your hair down. You learn the phrase: when you [do/say whatever], I feel [actual emotion or anxiety]

So you say: When you don't ask me how my day was, I feel worried that you have lost interest in me.

Not: When you don't ask me how my day was, I feel like you are a selfish cow

VANISH name calling from your house. If you do it, apologize right away very clearly and in public so the whole family can see you. Make the apology about them, not about you. You are not the victim, remember?

You have been an abusive father. Accept it. An abusive husband. But your past does not define your future. You have fucked up the psyches of your family and now you can show them (even if you live away) that people can work on their issues. Show your children because I am sure as hell they will face the same demons you are facing. You have fucked up their perception of what a happy family is and what healthy relationships are like. Now you can work hard at undoing that. Admit that you are wrong. Talk to them about the problems you are facing and the work you have to do. Do not paint yourself as the victim. If they ever tell you that you are being a dick (as they learn to feel comfortable, they will), you treat them with respect and consider their opinions.

Only you can change this. In the future, your kids could say their dad had temper issues, but worked on them for years out of love for his family. They can say their dad went to therapy religiously and turned things around. From how you deal with this, they can learn to use their traumas as excuse to fuck up their relationships and lash out on innocent people, or to work on their issues until they are solved. Be a role model to them.
posted by Tarumba at 7:57 AM on April 21, 2015 [24 favorites]

My dad had terrible anger issues. He didn't hit us except for spanking (which was bad enough) but even now, as a grown-ass woman, I cringe when I hear male voices shouting. I can't watch political shows that feature that sort of thing. But I loved him, we shared a lot in common, he could be a delightful man. But when he died suddenly, there was a vast unhealed gap between us. I could not trust him, even if I loved him, because he could not control himself.

If you need any more incentive, try to think about your kids, grown, silencing themselves and cringing from you. Not telling you things. Never being able to fully relax around you. About a happy family gathering suddenly gone sour because you lost your shit again. Ruined Christmases and resentful Thanksgivings and spoiled vacations. About their spouses and kids dreading coming to see you, because who knows what you will do.

Think about dying and leaving behind you those kinds of memories. I'm sure that's not the mark you want to leave on the world.
posted by emjaybee at 9:38 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

So it sounds like you understand that you are abusing your family. That's a good start. I agree with those saying you need to create a safe space for your family by temporarily removing yourself while you work on your behavior; moreover, what I think you need to do right now is to tell your kids you know you have been abusing them. Use concrete terms, apologize to them for treating them abusively, and do not offer excuses.

My dad had a lot of problems fueled by alcoholism and PTSD, and one of the ways those manifested was in screaming and shouting episodes that terrified me as a teenager. The shouting was traumatizing - even though he usually wasn't shouting directly AT me. He also had done a lot of therapy stints like you describe, and had a lot of superficial insight into his problems, and when he was lucid he was very able to "explain" his behavior (he would share those explanations with me at times. They still haunt me today).

As such, my dad's apologies always came wrapped in layers of excuses and minimizations that I think I'm also hearing from you, and that I hope you are saying only to us, not your family - "I've struggled a lot with anxiety" (my dad's version was "I have a disease") - "I knew this behavior was toxic and I had always resoved to keep such things from my children. I have absoltely failed at this" (my dad would say "I love you and I'm trying but I can't help it") - "it didn't hurt him physically" (Dad's was "I have never hit you") ... I loved my dad fiercely so of course I wanted to buy into all of it - even now I remember him as an amazing man who was destroyed by his demons - but all that happened was that I became complicit in burying and vilifying my own emotions. I'm 40 years old now; my dad has been dead for the last 10 years and it's been 15 since I last saw him, and I am STILL struggling with the effects of learning at a young age that my feelings are unimportant and toxic, and that I should direct my energies instead into understanding where the other person is coming from. Until very recently, any time a therapist tried to bring up my past I would reflexively shut down and want to talk about the fact that lots of other people had it worse - because my dad never HIT me, and besides, he had reasons he was the way he was.

All these years later the one thing I wish more than almost anything is that my dad had just once sat down with me and said - no excuses, no undermining explanations - "What I have done to you is wrong and abusive. You deserve to be angry with me, or scared of me, or whatever else you are feeling. I am sorry."

You can do that for your kids, right now.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:21 AM on April 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

So, you're not the only one here who's had issues like that, and honestly admitting you've got problems here is the biggest obstacle to improving things.

First: nothing here is likely to improve all that quickly.

Second: pursue multiple solutions. Different ones work for different people, but overlapping two or three isn't a bad plan until you find what works for you.

Third: your stress is going to destroy your life if you don't work to reduce said stress.

It seems like in many cases, getting rid of the *one* little thing that's bothering you is What You Must Do. That said? You got pissed of at socks. If you rearrange stuff so socks are easy to find, it'll be something else next time. Maybe a dirty shirt on the floor, or the garbage should have already went out, or the window was left open and a fly got in. The little stuff is driving you nuts.

Fixing the little stuff will not work, as there will always be more little stuff.

Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course is scientifically based, medically proven, and offered through hospitals and medical centers. Commitment ranges, but is normally 2h/week in lecture, and ~45m/day in practice, for eight weeks.

MBSR teaches the no-bullshit parts of meditation. At the core, meditation is just spending some time each day (between 5 and 40 minutes) practicing focus without distractions around. Once you're better at being able to focus, you get lots of other positive effects; the little things stop bothering you, and surprisingly, the big things stop bothering you, too. It's not that you don't care - you still do! - but that you don't get crazy-upset about them, so you can just fix the big things and move forward.

That said, apologize to your family now, calling out what you did wrong. Then include them on what you plan to do to make yourself and your relationships better. Then do your best, admitting that things never go perfectly, but doing your best to move them forward. If you both call out yourself as wrong, apologize, and include your kids in the plan, they can look at this experience as you being the best role model ever; you can turn this from being a tragedy to being a solid learning experience for everyone, I think.
posted by talldean at 1:05 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

From an anonymous commenter:
One last comment... it may be that there are actually real problems in your marriage beyond your anger. My dad was, and is, a lot like what you describe here. It is also clear to me now that there were things my mom did (both to me and to him) that were legitimately problematic. But you should remember that these issues need to remain wholly separate from your controlling your tendencies to explode, even if they "feel" related. It can't be "I'll work on not exploding, but you need to really work on ____": you can't use your willingness to make progress on your anger as a bargaining chip, because effectively, that's still a way of holding your anger over someone's head in order to control them. Your wife needs to be able to trust that you will be able to treat her respectfully and without resorting to violence or intimidation, even if she says or does something you don't approve of. That is a basic consideration for a functional intimate relationship, not a courtesy you are extending to her that can be revoked if she does something "wrong." One big problem with my parents' relationship is that my dad doesn't seem to have really reached the point of seriously internalizing and believing this. Had he done so, I think my parents' marriage could have been a lot happier.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:45 PM on April 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

1. Get your family around the table. Tell them you're sorry. Tell them you love them. Tell them you want more than anything in the world to be a better father and husband. Tell them that this is hard, because you have to break habits you've had for a long time. Tell them that this is not their fault.

2. Set a safe word, but call it a 'time out word'. 'If you think Dad even looks like he might think about possibly starting to flip out, use the time out word.' Ask what they'd like you to do when you use the safe word - for example, leave the house for a while, go to your room, sit down and close your eyes and count to ten. Ask what they want you to do after that - ask permission to come back, apologise, give hugs, whatever. Tell them this is like when you count to three for time outs (if you do this).

2a. There are no exceptions to the safe word. You are never in the right if it's used. There is never a justification. There is never a 'but in this case' or 'just this once'. Ever. When you hear it, immediately apologise, say 'I hear you', then do what you've been asked to do, without delay.

3. Set reminders, all around the house. I posted a while ago about putting green sticky dots on everything - the TV, the monitor, the fridge, the mirror. Tell the kids that the colour makes you happy and it reminds you of them, because they make you happy. When you see the green dot, stop and look at your hands. Breathe while you turn your hands over. Keep breathing while you count to ten on your fingers one way, then the other. Ask yourself - am I being a calm, rational grown up? Do this whether you are feeling anxious or not. Reiterate in your head: this is normal. Calm is normal. This is what normal feels like. You are normal. Smile at yourself. Smile at your wife and kids.

4. Make or buy a simple green bracelet. Wear it. Do the green dot thing even when you're out of the house. Tell the kids it reminds you of them, and makes you feel happy. When you look at the bracelet, think of your wife and kids and how lucky you are.

5. When you come home, establish a routine. It doesn't matter what's going on when you walk through the door - crying, screaming kids, mess, whatever. There is only the routine. My keys go here, and only here - very deliberately here. I am putting my keys here. This is where I put my key when I am home. I am home now. The next step in my routine is to put my wallet here. It goes here, and only here. I am putting my wallet here. This is where I put my wallet when I am home. I am home now. Phone, belt, shoes, getting changed, a glass of water. You are home now. You are calm at home. You are calm now. Now look at the dot on the bathroom mirror. You are in control of what happens next. Breathe. Hug your wife and kids and tell them you love them. Ask about their day.

6. If that's not enough, you need to establish 'I am leaving work' and 'I am driving home' routines. An 'I have just woken up' routine helps too. It starts with looking at your wife and telling her that you love her.

7. Get a friend you can text, and who will text you occasionally to ask how it's going. A mate and I text about family stuff all the time. The other person is always calm and rational and will tell you the best thing to do. It's OK to let your wife know that you have this support arrangement. Use it even when you're not anxious.

This can only ever be the start of the journey. Living with somebody who needs constant external triggers to approach a normal level of mindfulness and emotional awareness might seem normal, but this is only by comparison to living with The Hulk. It's not sustainable in the long term. However, it can buy you space and time to become more approaching and approachable. You need to use this time to rebuild relationships with your family through quality activities that build a bond - carefully, slowly, always with permission.

Good luck mate.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:23 PM on April 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

Move out.

Even if this means sleeping on a sofa in the back of a friend's garage. Do not keep keys to your house.

Do this for your family's health, if you love them.

You have decades practice in minimising and justifying abusive behaviour. Real change takes time. What your kids need at this point is complete freedom from your rage, not harm reduction.

Let's say you get real and honest, find appropriate support, and consistently work on your behaviour as well as contributing issues. It will still take years before your kids feel safe around you. So far, you've deprived them of the safety and freedom to develop normally and enjoy a safe childhood. STOP doing that.

Safe words are for consenting adults. Placing that burden on children is just another form of abuse. So is processing your own issues with them as a captive audience.

Authentic, sustainable change is possible. But in the meantime, stop holding hostage those you claim to love.
posted by wonton endangerment at 9:53 AM on April 23, 2015 [10 favorites]

You might want to take a look a place called The Haven up on Gabriola Island in BC. They do a whole lot of personal growth courses ranging from a weekend to 25 days long.

One they do called 'Anger, Boundaries and Safety' was an eye-opening amazing experience for me and truly changed the way I 'do' anger. My anger wasn't something that I could really 'talk' out with a counsellor or therapist so the course was a life (and relationship) saver by teaching me how to acknowledge the anger I had and express it safely, for myself and those around me, instead of pushing it all down inside me the way most people are taught to deal with it.


And good luck.
posted by drinkmaildave at 4:52 PM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I spoke with some friends that run batterer's groups for the local courts, and they verified that Wellspring's group sessions are the best place for someone in your position to start.

Sorry I couldn't get you more, and good luck.
posted by Gorgik at 7:53 PM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

On a purely physical note: my family saw a 10-fold reduction in my father's outbursts when he started getting up at dawn every day and taking a brisk two or three hour walk by himself.

Cold wintery weeks where he stayed in? The brute woke up.
posted by fritillary at 1:44 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older should I stay or should I go   |   Putting a price on web design Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.