So I Threw My Phone in Anger. Now What?
April 7, 2021 10:43 AM   Subscribe

(This post mentions Covid but is not about Covid.) Today, during a stressful phone conversation, I threw my phone in anger and broke it. Nobody was present, I did not harm anyone, and I do not plan to harm anyone. Please suggest ways I can cope with the aftermath of this situation. The direct issues have been resolved, so I am seeking advice for longer-term coping strategies and insight about my mental state.

I was on my phone telling my dad the details of my upcoming Covid vaccine appointment, because he had agreed to drive me there. My mom, who will not be going with us, expressed unhappiness about an aspect of the appointment (not an ethical or Covid risk concern), and she initially wanted me to cancel it. Because of my existing dynamic with my mom, her reaction made me feel triggered and extremely ashamed and angry. Twice, I threw my phone in anger, breaking the screen and causing further, serious damage (it is functionally unusable and may need to be replaced). I broke down because I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame for my decision to book that particular appointment, feeling I had been criticized and rejected. I felt like I can't do anything right, and can't trust my decision-making because I might unexpectedly find out another person doesn't like it.

I have thrown my phone in anger a few times before, but previously caused no damage. I have CPTSD and sometimes experience extreme anger, and every once in a while I express my anger by lashing out at physical items. This increases my stress and makes me feel guilty, but even though I am making conscious decisions, I feel unable to talk myself down from fight mode.

I have resolved the immediate situation regarding my phone (final outcome TBD after my Apple Store appointment tomorrow). I have resolved the situation with my parents, apologized (they remained on the call throughout the incident), and treated them with respect and kindness. I am pleased with how my parents responded. The drive to and from the vaccine appointment is a nonissue. I qualify for the vaccine at this time and it was fine for me to book the appointment that I did. I am not concerned about escalating violence, repeat incidents, or anything else catastrophic; this is not an emergency situation.

I am asking for your advice in how to cope with this incident.
-I don't want to associate bad memories with what is commonly seen as a happy and exciting event (getting vaccinated).
-I don't like to be seen as so weak and vulnerable, even though my parents can handle it and our relationships are intact.
-I'm concerned about what this might indicate about my mental health. I believe I am suffering from symptoms of depression. I have anxiety, which is probably severe. I have CPTSD from childhood experiences in which I was victimized. I have severe, untreated ADHD, and there is every indication that I suffer from rejection sensitive dysphoria. I am experiencing a manageable level of life stress. I stayed up very late last night and did not sleep well. I am not taking any medication.
-I felt triggered because my mom has spoken to me in similar ways in the past. I react severely to situations in which I feel guilt and shame, especially when I can't say that the other person was completely wrong (or wrong at all) to say or do what they did. The unexpected transition from feeling happy and excited to feeling worthless and awful is another common source of hurt. This has happened to me throughout my life, with a variety of people, and I commonly react poorly. I experience these occurrences as traumatic and can take many years to recover or to feel neutral about them. Memories come into my head daily at the slightest provocation (or for no discernible reason), causing me to feel deeply ashamed and angry. More serious traumas have shown me that I cannot trust people, leaving me to wonder "What will it be next time?" knowing I will inevitably be blindsided by a possibly-ambiguous conflict, whether it involves a stranger or a person close to me.

I can access limited free counseling through my college. I do not have health insurance (I will attempt to enroll soon), and I cannot afford any expensive treatment. In a few months, I plan to enter a situation where insurance is required, and there is a plan I can sign up for if I have not secured one by then. I enjoy reading self-help books. I do workouts and a little yoga at home, and have access to local parks and trails. I do not have a social life. I am in the US, live with a partner, and do not live with my parents. Although they have hurt me in the past, I have strong relationships with my parents that I will continue to maintain.

In summary: please let me know some coping methods or ways I can start to process and feel better about this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if some of the resources (especially books) from this recent Ask might be useful to you for the anger piece? Hang in there, hopefully others have good advice for other sides of your question.
posted by Paper rabies at 10:53 AM on April 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Your mom is trying to be inappropriately controlling and you need better boundaries with her. If you can't talk on the phone to your dad without talking to her, that means stronger boundaries with him, too. Setting better boundaries with my mom improved my relationships with both of my parents after some initial drama.

I went to therapy provided by my university for this, among other things, and it was super helpful in a short time (10 sessions). I also recently read Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, and it's basically a plan for not letting your parent's poor emotional skills affect you like this any more while maintaining a relationship that works for you.
posted by momus_window at 10:55 AM on April 7, 2021 [13 favorites]

Look into deep breathing techniques. It’s a very flexible and free skill to practice and useful for times when I feel my control or calm starting to crumble. I like a simple inhale four count, brief pause, exhale eight count, brief pause. You might like “seven eleven” breathing, or square breaths, or something more directly aligned with a yoga practice. It can be a lead in to a more structured meditation practice, or like in my case it can be a go-to coping technique to force my physical body to temporarily act appropriately when I feel like it’s veering out from under me, or to give myself an achievable task. I try to practice it when I’m not spiraling so I can more easily access the skill when I am.
posted by Mizu at 11:03 AM on April 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have anxiety, which is probably severe. ... I have severe, untreated ADHD, and there is every indication that I suffer from rejection sensitive dysphoria.

As someone who suffers from anxiety, depression, and ADHD (which are mostly manageable finally because I have decent medication), I would encourage you to ask a moderator to post your location (nation/region if you are uncomfortable with listing a city) so that we might be able to give you more help. Honestly, I think getting your ADHD treated might be a good first step because that is a useful place to start dealing with a bunch of your issues and there might be resources you are unaware of that can help you do that. If I can get a better idea of where you live, I am happy to do some digging because getting an ADHD diagnosis and treatment really helped me.

Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:27 AM on April 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have done this. Threw my glasses across the room so hard they broke. Then I had a NEW problem on top of whatever it was that made me that frustrated. Sometimes you are between a rock & a hard place & the conflicting information hitting your psyche with no acceptable option can cause a meltdown. I think you should consider the phone-throwing as a symptom of being in an intractable situation, rather than something you need to feel bad about. It's just something your body did. Just like you wouldn't feel bad if circumstances prevented you from getting to the bathroom so you peed your pants a little. You would recognize that you don't need to be potty trained again or perform some kind of apology to society for breaking the rules, the larger issue that caused the symptom is what needs to be addressed.

That being said sometimes we encounter intractable situations and it's worth it to develop your mindfulness skills so you have the ability to work through the situation without lashing out. I know that the word "mindfulness" has a complicated connotation, but it has helped me with learning how to slow down, identify my emotions and how I'm feeling before immediately reacting to it. This TED talk might be helpful as a starting place.
posted by bleep at 11:27 AM on April 7, 2021 [8 favorites]

P.S. Also, what bleep said. You broke your phone. You didn't chase anyone with a knife or dangle a toddler out a window or do any number of other dangerous and destructive things. Given your relationship with your mom, consider dealing with your dad more and your mom less until you get in a healthier place emotionally.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:30 AM on April 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

You might enjoy (as in feel connection and relief) looking at some material (generally targeted at people with ADHD and/or neurodivergence) about rejection sensitivity (or Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria). Here's a longer discussion. There's lots out there on youtube, and probably a good bit written about it at this point too.

Here's a quick video on a method for processing those feelings from the author of a book about it - I haven't read this book, but I see it's relating rejection sensitivity to attachment styles, which might be additionally useful to you since this seems to have an especially sensitive trigger with family members.

Right now you're in probably a little bit of a shame spiral and I just want to say that yeah, it's not good to throw your phone, but you're working it out and it's not a massive permanent failure or indictment of you as a person. You recognize you've got a trigger here and you're looking to work it out so it's not so sensitive.

I would also say offer yourself some generosity here because this is a super fraught time, and my excitement about my vaccinations has definitely been very tinged with a shitload of complicated feelings and we are all extra on-edge. It is okay to still feel your excitement and relief about vaccination and also acknowledge there's a lot of turbulent feelings too.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:37 AM on April 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

(I somehow missed that you identified potential RSD/RS but in any case, reviewing some of that material might help you stand down right now in feeling so much guilt and shame.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:39 AM on April 7, 2021

I don't have great advice for you about how to deal with the aftermath, but I will share with you that I had a similar moment of anxiety around the vaccine.

The eligibility rodeo in my state has been unclear, and it's been very difficult to figure out how to manage what is best for you personally vs. what is best for everyone. Every random person on the planet has an opinion about it, though, and you're getting blasted with those opinions every single day.

My husband and I got vaccine appointments and we are eligible, but we had been on the fence about whether or not we should wait a little longer or not. We finally got appointments at a site that was a 2.5 hour drive away, but then we had a miscommunication and he cancelled them. I have been handling my emotions pretty well but that miscommunication and all of the stress around the vaccine really got me. I didn't throw anything, but I melted down and couldn't attend a work meeting. I was then super mad at myself.

But here's the thing: We worked it out, we re-scheduled the appointments (got my first shot on Sunday!) and I recognize now that a build-up of over a year of anxiety, stress, misery and general loathing either directed at myself or other humans really got condensed into that single moment. I boiled over. It was a human thing.

So please take it easy on yourself. Certainly do all you can to recognize your limits, and how hard it can be for you and those around you if you get pushed past them, but also recognize that it was an extreme moment and your overwhelm was completely understandable and valid.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

One thing I notice about anxious/guilty people who have been in social justice or therapy-heavy milieux: The tendency to focus on something we think we did wrong and blow that up into the dominant issue, often by using social justice or therapy concepts to overemphasize what we did.

In short, I feel like you're focusing on how bad it is that you were angry and threw your phone when this is a pretty trivial matter, possibly because blaming yourself feels familiar or controllable, possibly because it allows you to avoid the scarier issues with your parents, etc. The problems seem to me to be your actual suffering and your relationship with your parents, not breaking something.

On another note, I'll go so far as to say that I think social justice and heavily therapized circles have exaggerated and harmful ideas about anger and the expression of anger. I think we find anger difficult and frightening so we label it all as bad and threatening, even when it's not directed at a person, is not a threat, etc. And I think we turn around and label people who are pushed to express anger as bad people who are dangerous and threatening. You're justifiably angry at your parents. I don't know what the psychic or material consequences of expressing that anger completely and effectively to your parents would be, so I have no suggestions. But I think that there's nothing wrong with your feelings of anger or expression of anger except for the nuisance of replacing the phone.

Your question really resonates with me for a lot of reasons, and personal experience suggests to me that changing your circumstances and expressing your justified anger are the things that you need to do, not worry about making sure that your mental state is a moral, virtuous, non-angry one (which is what I'm getting from your question).
posted by Frowner at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2021 [32 favorites]

I did this, about 2 years ago. Got so frustrated over a situation I felt I had no control over, that I threw my phone at the wall, breaking it. For me, it was a physical release, and I needed to find a new one. Here's my physical alternatives.
-Dropping to the ground and doing as many pushups as I can.
-A very brisk walk or run around the block or in place.
-A set of "eights." It's kind of like the hokey pokey. Shake your right hand and arm eight times, loudly counting out each shake. Then your left hand/ arm. Then right leg, then left leg. Repeat the process now counting to 6 and shaking 6 times. Then 4 shakes, then two, then one. Each round, you should strive to go fasted and faster, by the end going as fast as you can.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 11:48 AM on April 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've also thrown my phone a few times over the last few years when I was extremely, extremely stressed and triggered by something. Thank you for asking this question, actually, because what you said about your (potential) health issues is something I need to look into. If you're like me, every time someone calls you nice or a good person, you will flash back to throwing your phone and thinking, "no, I'm violent, I suck!" But I think the others who posted here are right - you didn't harm anyone, whereas it seems like your mother is harming you emotionally (believe me, I know what that feels like).

If you can do the free therapy, it might be worth a try. After all, it's free, right? Maybe try some meditation as well, if you're up for it. But also, if someone consistently causes you to enter crisis mode, maybe something about the relationship has to change, be that setting boundaries (if you can) or getting more distance.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:13 PM on April 7, 2021

Not really going to mention the phone since that’s a thing that can be fixed and doesn’t have feelings. I’m glad you are on it though, broken phones are the WORST.

IANAT(herapist). I am an allied mental health professional. I am not your allied mental health professional (but memail me if you need one)!


You sound like you need a break.

COVID has done a HELL of a job on us and in ways we haven’t realized yet that will surface in time. It’s ok - there is no way of knowing everything ahead of time because none of us have been through something of this magnitude before. Not only has this been difficult on us as individuals it also has done a number on ALL relationships. Pre-covid ‘fuck you I’ve got mine’ mentality and even lesser forms of acting in self-interest were VERY easy to hide under a layer of pleasantries which quickly went out the window some time last summer when we realized this was serious stuff and would be with us for awhile. The same goes for other behaviors in relationships that pre-covid we found annoying, but the relationship was worth more so we put up with the behavior. Now, with just our baseline stress levels being higher than previous this is enough to create conflict. I’m mentioning this because as I read your post it seems like there is a bit of external validation being sought from a relationship that is dealing with its own stresses and dynamics. While it sounds like your relationship with your Mom is worth exploring, that might be more of a long-term project. In the meantime, I actually think reflecting is great, but too much of a good thing is possible and it can give way to rumination which is like, lighter fluid for depression and anxiety.

To help flip the script, perhaps consider that the entire interaction can be broken into pieces. Each piece contains valuable information and YOU are the sole decision maker of value. This is a way of constructively thinking about the interaction and salvaging what was helpful. Way too often do we have a negative experience and then go whole-hog throwing the entire baby out with the bath water. So your Mom was kind of a jerk which left you feeling awful during a happy time for you - this is information. It tells you that you might want to work on that as a long term project, and it also tells you that maybe this is a relationship that is not meant to go deeper than pleasantries. What else does this piece of information tell you?

Try doing this with whatever replay of that conversation that is on repeat in your head and actually write a list - pen to paper. Write down a bit of information, then write down what it is telling you. Here’s the kicker - for each piece make sure you have at least one positive thing about each piece of information for every piece that seems negative or disappointing. This is important because nature has duality to it - everything that exists can be viewed through dual lenses. Then, when you feel like you’re done writing, put the list in an envelope, back of a journal, or somewhere for later. Then go take a break and give yourself permission to do so...anything that makes you feel happy and calm...for the rest of the afternoon.

When you are feeling better and/or ready some future day to revisit this, pull out your list and start from there. This will give you time to let the flash of emotions diffuse and will give you peace of mind that you won’t forget the discussion (hey - it’s written down!) AND will help you give yourself permission to stop thinking about it and to take a break.
posted by floweredfish at 12:15 PM on April 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Sometimes you're just so overwhelmed you need a physical release. You damaged a thing, which while isn't great, can also be replaced. You didn't hurt anyone. I remember when I was around 20 punching a hole in the wall (drywall isn't very hard to punch holes into, I'm just glad I didn't hit a stud) when I was really annoyed at my brother for bailing on something. I haven't thrown my phone at anything but I can totally understand why someone would, I mean it's already in your hand.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:20 PM on April 7, 2021

I wish I knew more about what your mom’s concern was and what she actually said. I can’t really imagine a reasonable thing another person would say about a covid vax appointment that would make someone feel so angry or ashamed (since you said it wasn’t about ethics or safety).

So - that leads me to wonder if what she said was actually quite unreasonable and horrible and you were quite normal for feeling triggered and angry. If you want to share that part of the story via a mod, I bet people would have useful insight.

Anyway, throwing things isn’t great but you did throw YOUR item in YOUR home and it wasn’t a threat or risk to another living being. So I think that’s not that bad. Plus, parents do have a way of regressing us to teenagers- I definitely have emotional and behavioural reactions with my (very complicated) mother that I would NEVER have in any other relationship.

Rather than seeing myself as a bad person, I see it as an unhealthy dynamic that I’m basically “allergic” to. I made a list of the things my mother does that I feel are untenable, and when she does them, I say, “I need you to stop doing X. If you continue, I will hang up / leave.” And then I have a hair-trigger for leaving - I’ll literally spin on my heel and leave the property and go home, or I will (fairly calmly) just silently hang up the phone right in her ear, mid-sentence. This has actually worked really well.

The thing about boundaries is that they aren’t actually about the other person’s behaviour - which you cannot control. Your only control is to LEAVE when the other person violates your boundaries. You can choose to warn them that you’ll leave, or not, based on the relationship dynamic.

Recognizing that YOU usually get to decide what kinds of convos and situations you will stay in is a really empowering thing. It might cause drama when you leave / hang up- but remember- it’s not like drama isn’t already happening! Plus, calmly hanging up 10 minutes BEFORE you might have exploded and broken your phone is actually LESS drama overall, so it’s a net win.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:30 PM on April 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you would seek treatment if you had insurance, it might be possible to access ACA insurance for low or no cost, since the marketplace has been reopened. I'm not sure what difference your state of residence might make, but it may be worth exploring.

Please be kind to yourself. You are doing as well as you are able under myriad difficult circumstances. You have crafted plans to move forward, and you are dealing with Covid. Give yourself credit for all the ways you have coped. The phone is, I think, a physical manifestation of your frustration and anger, but a phone is so essential that it takes on an outside importance. The phone was in your hand and the instrument through which you were having a difficult conversation. There's a certain sense in throwing the phone - if you'd thrown a glass you were drinking from instead I don't think you'd be quite so upset.

The feeling of empowerment you will feel after you get vaccinated is, I promise, truly and powerfully wonderful and you deserve that.
posted by citygirl at 12:39 PM on April 7, 2021

I have struggled all my life with expressing anger. Therapy helped a great deal. Recognizing when I started going into a shame spiral and talking myself through it was big. Sometimes your mind gives you poisonous thoughts, but you don't have to accept them as true. Setting up positive thoughts and positive thinking habits to replace negative ones helped, too. One of the exercises that particularly helped me was loving-kindness meditation. Doing this every day helped remind me of all the positive pressure that is around me, and gave me an alternative to my habitual thinking about all the negative pressure.

I hope these things might help. Know that you are a good person, no matter what mistakes you might make. We all commit bad behavior sometimes, that just makes us human. The fact that you're trying to find better ways of coping speaks highly of you. My thoughts are with you.
posted by rikschell at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

It's good to have big-picture thoughts and goals around anger management and emotional management in general but man, I really hope you can stop beating yourself up quite so much for having this reaction. It isn't like you threw your phone because your pizza delivery was going to be 10 minutes late, right?

Some things are legitimately enraging. The vaccine rollout? Legitimately enraging! Life under COVID? Enraging! Life under capitalism? Legitimately, endlessly, UNYIELDINGLY ENRAGING. So you have all of this constant, unending rage and then AND THEN, someone goes and acts a big ol' asshole at you. You're not a saint, you're a person. People feel anger. People aren't always 100% in control. It's okay. Things that aren't ideal can still be forgivable.

But for advice:
Today I got stuck in an endless loop of people refusing to help me solve a very simple, but very expensive, problem. It was a perfect storm of bad technology, very poorly thought out processes, sloppy record-keeping, and ultimately two companies designed to avoid providing the service they exist to provide. After some hours of this I picked up a coffee mug that was on the table (a mug I hate for other reasons entirely!) and only barely stopped myself throwing it into the wall.

How I stopped myself was basically (though it happened in a nanosecond):
1) remember how embarrassed I felt the last time I threw something in anger
2) feel the physical anger vibrating through my arm and imagining it traveling through the mug into the ground
3) promise myself that if I was still mad later, I could totally break that stupid fucking mug.

Step 3 is something I adapted from my attempts to control other impulses (around food, shopping, etc.). Promising yourself that you can indulge the suboptimal impulse later is a very effective pressure release! You almost never do actually indulge the impulse later (and when you do, hoo boy, is it satisfying).
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:38 PM on April 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

-I don't want to associate bad memories with what is commonly seen as a happy and exciting event (getting vaccinated). some degree that ship has sailed. I don't want to minimize your feelings, it sucks that your vaccine appointment was impacted by your lousy family. But get to really good later feelings, you have to let things be lousy when they are. I hate Xmas, was abused lots of Xmases, didn't feel that Xmas joy when my kids were little...finally I gave up trying to have a nice Xmas. And they did get better! Then I broke my leg for Xmas 2017. That sucked!

-I don't like to be seen as so weak and vulnerable, even though my parents can handle it and our relationships are intact.

...who is seeing you as weak and vulnerable for getting angry in an angry-making situation, exactly? Like, can you clarify? Is this a way of saying you don't want to feel weak/upset and vulnerable? I don't see you that way. I see you as someone whose anger came through their body and out their arm, and someone who is dealing with a broken phone (THE WORST).

-I'm concerned about what this might indicate about my mental health. I believe I am suffering from symptoms of depression. I have anxiety, which is probably severe. I have CPTSD from childhood experiences in which I was victimized. I have severe, untreated ADHD, and there is every indication that I suffer from rejection sensitive dysphoria. I am experiencing a manageable level of life stress. I stayed up very late last night and did not sleep well. I am not taking any medication.

Those are all legitimate reasons to seek support and help. I am not sure any of them are required to explain throwing a phone in a fit of frustration at not being able to get vaccinated 'right' in the middle of a year long global pandemic. I give you a full pass on this incident being any kind of tilt-the-scales event that indicates your mental health is GOOD YES/NO.

-I felt triggered because my mom has spoken to me in similar ways in the past.

I bet! Lots of people would! WHY MOM, WHY? Just let appointments happen!

In summary: please let me know some coping methods or ways I can start to process and feel better about this.

There are a lot of movies where someone is having a bad day and then they slam the car door and break it (The Incredibles) or jump all over a thing that broke or go chop wood or whatever. It's completely within the range of human reaction.

The fact that you are judging everything on it is actually to my view the C-PTSD; that's the past trauma that tells you if you step off the narrow ledge of Acceptable, the alligators will eat your legs off. So that's true and hard, but that's what you're coping with now - a runaway response in you to having thrown your phone.

So here's my advice and mantra for you: The sun rises and sets on saints and sinners alike. Will you, in your life, find new and better ways to deal with your parents and stress? Yes you will. Will you ever reach a zen state of tolerance where everything slides off your back? Probably not. Who you are right now, is okay. You don't like smashing phones, you don't like that rage, you don't like that loss of control, you're worried about where it could lead...all okay. Keep going, it'll be okay.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:30 PM on April 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

You harmed only yourself, and only financially. You recognize that there is problem. You have identified depression, anxiety, and ADHD as areas where you feel you need help. This is all really a good starting point. We have collectively experienced a terrible year of isolation, fear, as well as an attempted Insurrection. We appear to be on the threshold of being able to do more, but there's a lack of clear information, Covid cases rising in many areas. I am personally stressed because it's really confusing and weird and overwhelming. I got so frustrated with an inept person on a support chat that I pounded really hard on the desk. Then I did some relaxation and breathing.

You change behavior by changing behavior habits. And by recognizing what motivates certain behaviors and addressing the motivation. Rewards help change behavior; try to take a walk 3+ times a week, reward yourself with a star on a calendar or something. Make a plan for how you are going to get help through the college counseling options. You have a lot going on, you are coping as well as you can, possibly better than you think.
posted by theora55 at 5:21 PM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

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