How do I stop myself from being abusive?
August 3, 2017 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm not very good at coping with my emotions. I get angry, blow up, cry a lot, say mean things and more recently I resorted to throwing objects around like an angry toddler but worse, because I'm an adult and healthy well adjusted adults don't do that. I hate myself and I'm finally starting to see why. How can I become the person I want to be?

I feel disgusted with the person I am lately. My parents were both really abusive, this doesn't justify or excuse my actions but it explains it I think. My mom probably had BPD and has been in and out of therapy for years for her PTSD. I feel for her completely but I'm also terrified of becoming like her. Some of my actions, especially in the context of a long term relationship, make me feel like I'm just like her which I hate.

My dad is a disgusting, abusive, misogynist man. I don't speak to him or see him because the last time I did he told me "women were put on Earth to serve men." He was a porn addict who raped my mom, and as a result of this I have a huge aversion to porn and have strongly embraced aspects of feminism, to the point where I sometimes feel like a bit of a misandrist because of my perspective on men. I try to take a step back and realize that it's not all men, just my father and my ex and patriarchy as a whole. I made porn into a Huge Problem in my relationship with my loving partner, who's been there for me since the get-go and has been respecting my boundaries re: porn, but it's been stressful because I have this huge fear of being not enough, or being controlling for having those needs or being inadequate and unfair. The ideal version of me is carefree, easygoing and doesn't feel insecure about other women because she knows her partner loves her.

I bounce back and forth between hating myself and feeling like I deserve love and respect, that I'm not this evil being but it's hard to see that when I see myself hurting the person I love. He's never taken that love away from me, even when I'm apologizing and sobbing with snot after blowing up at him. Why does he still love me and stay? I ask myself that question each time I mess up and it leads me down a rabbit hole of horrible thinking, where I conjure up ideas about him liking me for the wrong reasons and I paint him black. But the proof of his love is everywhere, it's in the notes he left at my apartment, it's in the art he's made for me, it's in all the nights we stayed up playing video games and talking and cuddling and loving each other.

I guess I'm lost and I feel like there's no way out of this disgusting rut I've gotten myself into.

In my last year of university I practiced DBT with a counsellor to help me get through the semester after a bad break up and finish my thesis, and I did. That was a little over a year ago and I remember feeling proud of myself for having control over the parts of me that want to throw objects, hit myself in the head or engage in protest behaviour. Are there any good, similar resources to get ahold over these behaviours again? At least until I can get in to see a therapist. I'm on a 6-8 week waitlist now.

I'm aware that my actions are awful and am aware that they must also come from somewhere, but my goal (which seems so unrealistic) is to eradicate those things completely and live a peaceful life. Is this even possible without years of therapy? I don't think I'll ever be able to afford that sort of long term treatment.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you still have any of the materials from your DBT work? Those skills you learned there are made for exactly this. Give yourself some time to practice mindfulness each day. There are a ton of apps and videos available online for free to use as guidance tools. Emotion regulation skills can be a really powerful tool in these situations too. Here is a quick reference to jog your memory. There are some nice self-help books out there that you might use as a refresher as you wait to work with a therapist.
posted by goggie at 8:41 AM on August 3, 2017

I can relate to this and this book helped me resolve my anger issues:
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving

Some of the stuff regarding patriarchy and sexism you won't (and probably shouldn't) get over because it is a genuine reason to be very angry, and it may remain very triggering for you but you can get to a point where your responses are largely rational rather than feeling like hair-trigger emotional explosions.
posted by Polychrome at 8:43 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is this even possible without years of therapy?

Most psych kind of stuff isn't long-term fixable without long-term work, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to be actively seeing (and paying for) a therapist the whole time. Having the negative feelings isn't awful; you need to work on being able to cope with having the feelings in an ongoing way. I have different sorts of problems with feelings, but I had good results with a therapist at one point and now I mostly kind of "top off" with self-help books and online tools. I'd see a therapist again if I needed to, but I'm mostly pretty functional and I haven't needed that for awhile.

The thing you can't do is see a therapist for awhile and then decide you're okay and stop doing the things you were doing that worked. It's just like exercise; you don't necessarily need a personal trainer permanently, but if you stop moving, you'll lose the strength and endurance you'd built up, and different people will need different amounts of help to keep that stuff up.
posted by Sequence at 9:17 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Yeah, especially in CBT/DBT, you should think of your therapist as a teacher/coach/trainer. They're there to teach you the skills and help you with your form while you learn and practice them. You're still working out between sessions, though, and you intend to keep working out over the course of your life.

And just like someone who does a sport or hobby, you might periodically seek out additional training, top-ups on technique, new methodologies. So in that sense, yes, therapy for years - but maybe only a couple of sessions a year.

But sometimes people are in an urgent situation at first, or the therapist is a little too present-focused. When you do see someone, make sure you state it as a priority that you're wanting to learn tools for daily life, not just get crisis intervention.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:27 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another thing: sometimes medication is the first line of treatment, just so you can get out of your own way when dealing with your Stuff. If it's possible, maybe see a GP or urgent care doctor and talk about doing that while you wait for therapy to start?
posted by Lyn Never at 9:29 AM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

You've achieved the first step, which is seeing your problem and resolving to work on it.
When I was at that stage, I also couldn't afford therapy, so I spent a lot of time in self-reflection. Most importantly, when I found myself in a situation that was escalating and I hadn't yet learned how to maturely cope, I removed myself from the situation. I'd go for a walk around the block, to give myself time to calm down and think about a better way to deal with the immediate conflict.

Once I resolved to do that, I told people in advance that I'd be walking away when things got too intense, and I'd resume the discussion later, once I'd gotten past my upset.

It took a couple years and a lot of long walks reciting my personal resolution ("I will not be a bitch. I WILL not be a bitch. I will NOT be a bitch.") but I don't blow off the handle anymore.
posted by Lunaloon at 9:59 AM on August 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

I would suggest two things in parallel:

First, treat your tendency to abuse as another bad habit that you are trying to change. Not to minimize the impact on your partner or whoever is bearing the brunt of your anger, but to de-stigmatize it for yourself. Learn what triggers you - treat it as an intellectual problem, if that helps - and then figure out a good response, whether it's taking a long walk, going to the gym and beating up a punching back, or saying your partner, "I'm getting upset now, so I'm going to leave the house/write in my journal/wash the dishes/whatever" to calm down. Give yourself credit when you do these things, even something small like pasting a gold star next to the date in your bullet journal, or something.

For me, it was bursts of self-loathing and journaling that mostly did the trick, although playing trivia games really helped. The other thing I would consider if I were you is some sort of meditative practice, that can help you get back to yourself when you get upset.

The other thing I would suggest is that you work on uncovering and healing the root cause of your pain. This part can take a long time, but it can also be very rewarding, like assembling the world's most crazy and four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. It can even be fun and creative at times - although, at other times, it feels just dreadful.

If you can, find a therapist you like and can trust, and who will help you work through this stuff. I also had good results with reading, writing in my journal, and, again, pursuing a spiritual practice.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:30 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

1) Keep doing DBT
2) Treat anger as a physiological response
3) Become able to leave situations that provoke repeated anger

Um, I'm not an expert but I'll weigh in. I think what helps is to think of anger as a physical response, much like not having enough calories leads to hunger, or eating something unhealthy leads to nausea. Which is to say that anger is a valid response and is going to happen in your body. A lot of times, people could feel sad that something is unfair or scared that something is going to happen or angry that something unfair happened, or all three at once. That is just part of being alive - and I think the only way to deal with it is the same way we could deal with any emotion. Maybe on a good day, with a slight gratitude that we are alive, and our bodies and senses are in working order. Like in the movie Her, when the iPhone character exclaims that she is happy to be sad because she is alive. And maybe on a bad day, just remembering that this too shall pass - be honest, in a week, most things that are infuriating in the moment are usually forgotten.

But I bet in the long term DBT will help, and if you can't afford it long term, it really is worth arranging your life in such a way that you can afford it (don't know much about it as a treatment, but this is just to say it has to be over when you're better - I think it's going to be hard to DYI on these issues).

The reason I say this is that good relationships honestly don't just happen when someone is carrying around so much childhood suffering and dysfunction, and I say that with no intent to cause offense. I mean you may meet someone who loves you, but your relationship or marriage will pay for it, either now or later, unless you treat this like the issue it is. Learning about good relationships and how to manage emotions is one of the best investments I can think of.

A very key distinction to make, to me, is between anger and aggression. "Anger issues" is a bit of a misnomer. I think a lot of people who have issues with "anger" actually have issues with aggressive acts. Why is this? Aggression is a numbing agent. It sort of plasters over pain in the moment, and that's why people who deal with pain by getting mad tend to do it over and over and over and over... If you feel scared and unhappy in yourself, it is very tempting to do this. Of course, it's tricky because a lot of aggressive people know this and never change. All you can do is make a choice to yourself about how you want to live. Recognizing that unless you are in a war zone, aggressive behavior rarely results in good long term outcomes. Deciding not to be a person who deliberately hurts others, and not allowing people to stay in your life when they hurt you.

This last aspect is so important though. I think it is a balance, because acting based on anger qua feeling is NEVER a good idea. Then you're hurting others and yourself. But also, lingering in situations that make us angry is a HUGE mistake. Being able to do without people who repeatedly make us angry, or situations that repeatedly leave us with our hands tied, is the biggest key to piece of mind that I can think of.
posted by benadryl at 3:37 PM on August 3, 2017

The ideal version of me is carefree, easygoing and doesn't feel insecure about other women because she knows her partner loves her.

I also really like this - that you have set a value for yourself. I sincerely believe that the standards we set for ourselves guide our lives, even though we might not get there right away. But another very important thing to remember is you won't always be carefree and easygoing, and that is ok too. It is ok not to be ok. It is ok to be scared or insecure. The very important thing to remember is that when things like this are hard, the quickest solution is not the best solution. So by blowing up, saying mean things, crying, maybe behaving self destructively, you can resolve the problem immediately but not well. By waiting a little longer, that opens up a space to resolve the situation well. You may know this already but life experience is a good teacher of this, and if you didn't know I just wanted to point it out.
posted by benadryl at 3:57 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Really good advice here, but, for what it's worth, you sound a lot more self-aware and open than the few people I've known with BPD. You are much farther along than you think, I think - you got this.
posted by Pax at 6:27 PM on August 3, 2017

I had anger issues in my youth, and for me, it was certain scenarios that would trigger my emotional reaction. I wasn't necessarily always angry, but certain things would make me pretty angry. For example; being criticized, or anything I could perceive as criticism got to me. I'd take it really personally, get super defensive and snarky, and if I was in a bad mood, blow up. It felt like their comments were heating a fire under me and I was a pot of water about to boil. Once I'd blow up, I'd get over it soon, but that feeling of a loss of control was something I'll never forget. Once, I got so upset I smashed a hole though my cupboard door. As I stared at it, with my stinging hand, instant regret washed over me. It was then I realized it was a problem, and I didn't want to be that person any more.

So I tried to think long and hard about what my triggers were. It can be anything that triggers you. Injustices in the world, the patriarchy, the news, the way your partner never puts things in the dishwasher, or is messy. Even feeling frustrated and not being able to get emotions out adequately. It doesn't necessarily need to be a good reason, either-- but it something that acts as a catalyst for your anger. Of course, it may be more than just one thing, you may be angry in general-- but for me personally, I realized it was actually kinda specific scenarios that triggered a really volcanic reaction. And of course, anger often begets anger, and things start to escalate, which is never good.

I then tried to figure out why this was making me angry. So someone criticized me, or my work. So what? Why did I care? Why did I feel like it reflected on me? Why was my knee-jerk reaction anger? I really looked within and came to the conclusion that being criticized made me feel small, and insecure. Because I felt insecure, it made me defensive and I lashed out. So I worked on feeling more secure in myself, on my self esteem and my confidence and not caring so much what people thought of me. In the event I was faced with something triggering, I tried to take a step back from it emotionally to the best of my ability. If I couldn't do that, then I'd remove myself from the conversation before I felt like my pot was boiling. And I tried to figure out if my anger was rational or irrational,or justified or not. Even if it was justified (I recall verbally berating the racist, sexist, awful boyfriend of a friend of mine in our late teens because he said something he thought was clever but he was being massive bigot). It did not go well. F-yous were said, with lines drawn in the sand between my friend and me. We got over it eventually, and I apologized for losing my temper. When I analyzed the event later in my mind, I thought to myself, 'well, was that the right approach to take? Is he somehow not racist now because I yelled at him?' Fast-forward 10 years later he is both still racist and my friend is now married to him, so... In light of this, I realized, welp, righteous anger isn't really working for me anyway and not accomplishing what I wanted. It just isn't a healthy adult way to deal with the shit life throws at us, even if those things are ugly and awful.

At the time, for me, personally, anger felt like passion, too. Like I was really passionate about this, thus it made me angry, thus it meant I cared. The more vehement I got the more! I! cared! Once I thought about this properly, I realized that mindset was false, that being calm didn't mean I didn't care, and if anything I was doing the cause, and myself, a disservice to be so irrationally angry about it. So, I tried to feel disconnected from the event that was getting me angry, like how would I feel if I was an outsider looking in, instead of feeling like I was at the forefront of the issue. I tried to step back to eliminate this weird anger tunnel-vision that was occurring. Again, for me this boiled down to caring less what people thought. That, and having a more 'zen' approach to things really helped. It sounds awful and kinda nihilistic, but honestly not giving a shit as much -- thinking 'In the grand scheme of things, did this irritating thing really matter, if one day we're all going to be dust?' also forced me to calm down and gain perspective.

I also try hard to recognize when an argument is escalating, and trying to stop it by taking a moment, or diffusing the situation by reminding myself what I love about the person, saying something silly or funny to snap us out of it.

It worked well for me. My brothers called me B.A. Dimes (Bad Attitude) growing up, and my brother was commenting to me the other day how I'm really not that person any more at all. Although I'll admit, it is a continual process, I noticed that once I started playing MOBAs regularly, it kinda stirred the volcano and they are especially triggering for me, and I have to work pretty hard to not let it get to me. They are designed to be frustrating though.

I hope that helps somewhat.
posted by Dimes at 12:05 AM on August 4, 2017

I don't have a degree in psychology or anything like that but mom "volunteered" me as an emergency mover at a woman's center after my mom came out about her abuse and I'd answer the phones if everyone else was tied up and I was good at talking people down or getting them to come in and one day I emergency subbed for a group therapist. I was so nervous but they told me I could do it so I did and it became a 3 month gig.

The group was really good for these people. It was pretty evenly divided between people who react as you describe yourself and people who react the opposite way. Withdrawal, submissive, meek, too nice. They kind of came towards the middle by being honest with each other. Those were some of the most interesting hours of my life and they felt that way too. We all learned so much. I saw so much growth and change happen. Try finding something like that.

So many people can't imagine themselves opening up to a bunch of strangers but you will. Somebody will say something and you will think they sound so much like your own internal monologue and you ask them if they also think about X or Y and suddenly you are not alone anymore. Please do this. Please.

My dad raped my mom too. I didn't find out about that until after mom died and sis and I were going through all her writings.

C'mon! Be well. Virtual hugs. Go find this and do it. Please?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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