Anger Management or Potential Abuser
May 17, 2022 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm posting this anonymously because I'm scared of it coming back to me. I have a bad temper. A short fuse. I have a wife and two college-aged children. One just graduated this last week. My wife has told me that my behavior borders on emotional abuse and has pointed out times in a previous relationship where I have engaged in violent behavior. I'm looking for help and have caveats galore. Potential Trigger Warnings.

*Trigger Warning- Abuse*

I am a negative person. I am usually grumpy. I have bipolar disorder, am a male who was raped by a woman around 20 years ago. I have a lot of pent up anger in general.

Just about anything sets me off. Someone moving my toothbrush or hair products. Someone using my car and not putting things back the way that I like them. Me not having control over the television. I make comments, mean ones. I hate that I do. Sometimes I explode verbally.

In my first marriage (I don't remember all the details, and I don't know why), my wife had retreated to a bedroom in a condo that for some reason had a inside deadbolt lock when we moved in. I kicked in the door and damaged the frame during a fight. I have never struck someone, but I think I may be an abuser. I, thankfully, have never been physical other than this instance 12 years ago.

So often on metafilter I see posts about those who are victims of abuse, and my heart goes out to them. I am so afraid that I might be someone perpetuating this on other humans.

I have a therapist. A new one. I've switched a few times recently while trying to find someone who I felt a connection with to address both my bi-polar and anger management with a focus on the anger management. I don't have a lot of money. Our wages are being garnished due to horrible financial decisions. I work in a position that is unrewarding both mentally and financially which makes it hard to get help that costs money such as group or class anger management groups. My insurance covers the therapy and my medicine (or some of the medicine) though.

What can I do to be a better man? What should I do to break the cycle? I don't want to step into the trap that so many men and women do of being an abuser. I feel so tired of myself.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I know financial stuff is so hard. But your family is a really high priority.

It's great that you are in therapy. Stick with it. You do need a good fit, but trying to find a perfect fit can be a way of not-doing-therapy if you know what I mean.

First, make sure that you are doing your level best on: sleep, eating high-quality food regularly, getting outdoors, building in decompression time (for example, stop at a park on the way home and take a walk between work and home), consuming lower-adrenaline or joyful media and not plugging into things that make you angry.

I would also would really looking at everything in your budget, together with your wife, to see what could fund at least one round of anger management classes. Could you all remove one streaming subscription, not eat out at all for 6 months, move some activities around, etc.? Does your workplace have EAP? Sometimes they have something that is lower-cost. I did an anger management workshop under guise of "educating myself" in my mid-20s and it gave me tools I've used consistently - to the point that I can't always even express them over.

My other suggestion is to be sure you are exercising often - it helps spend the adrenaline (it is not a cure, it's a support.) Normally I would recommend something like martial arts classes or boxing but it sounds like that's out of the budget.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:40 AM on May 17 [6 favorites]

Seconding sorting out a way to afford anger management training. Another low-cost avenue for support might be linking up with a research group that is an appropriate fit for the behavior change you are seeking. Full disclosure-I work in the same building with someone whose research is published in Psychology of Violence and The Journal of Interpersonal Violence, which may be a step beyond what you are seeking.
posted by childofTethys at 10:56 AM on May 17

Is there a domestic violence center near you? The one near me offers support groups for men, specifically targeting positive masculinity, I believe.
posted by eirias at 10:58 AM on May 17 [15 favorites]

The researcher I referenced also works closely with several relationship violence centers. If you contact the centers it’s helpful to be upfront about this being about self-improvement and not court-mandated.
posted by childofTethys at 11:03 AM on May 17

Thank you for your honesty and lack of defensiveness.

My wife has told me that my behavior borders on emotional abuse ... I am so afraid that I might be someone perpetuating this on other humans.

To what extent have you discussed this with your wife? Have you been able to be as open with her as you are here? If the two of you have been able to discuss this, you should know whether you are "perpetuating this" on her.

If not, she might be worried about the consequences of telling you how your actions are affecting her, and potentially your children. Can you ask her, at a time and place when you are both calm, that you are worried about your anger and want to understand her perspective so that you can work to address the problem?

Also, avoidance is is not ideal, but leaving the room or the house is better than exploding verbally. Can you say, "I am upset and am going to go take a walk to calm down" and leave?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:10 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]

Please go get a physical. Your insurance should pay for it, including bloodwork, as part of your yearly wellness coverage. There are medical issues that no amount of therapy can fix, and you need to know if that's something that needs to be part of your plan.

Just about anything sets me off. Someone moving my toothbrush or hair products. Someone using my car and not putting things back the way that I like them. Me not having control over the television.

This is extremely indicative of severe anxiety, and these are potentially sensory issues that are driving a sort of trauma response. They may even be neurodivergence issues, and it's not that neurodivergence automatically makes you an abuser but if you are experiencing sensory or processing challenges and YOU DON'T KNOW THAT and you have no management tools for it, you will very likely encounter explosive emotional decompression because nothing else is happening to intervene.

Be very, very wary of "anger management" as an industry. What you are going to find outside academia is for-profit business mostly oriented to making money from court fees and jail/prison systems. It is pretty inherently racist and isn't necessarily meant to succeed at anything but keeping certain people hopeless, and collecting fees.

I do not think that "anger management" treats emotional dysregulation. Outbursts are the end result of the emotional dysregulation, it's not the thing that needs to be solved for. Talk to your therapist about emotional management and trauma response.

What I don't hear you saying at all is the paranoia and attempts to control very specific behaviors in others that is normally the justification for abusive violence. Maybe you know better than to say those things, but you are describing extreme reactions rather than actions. I hear you struggling with your own sensory input and personal autonomy and an intense reaction to having those boundaries violated. I hear you saying you have disassociated in the past when you have reached the point of complete emotional regulation collapse.

Yes, it is domestic violence to not be able to control your explosive reactions, and you are committing it and you have done so in the past. Explosions are a threat of violence if not violence committed non-specifically as a threat. I'm not arguing that, I am just arguing that pop culture plants ideas about the problem and solution that are never meant to succeed and so are deeply unhelpful for you to internalize if you actually want help. We don't like to let men have trauma responses, we don't like them to have anxiety, we don't like them to have conditions. Or feelings. All they're allowed is anger.

See a physician for a physical.
See your prescribing doctor if you are medicated for bipolar as you may be experiencing intense agitation as a symptom or as a side effect of medication.
Show this question to your therapist. Ask your therapist if they feel qualified to work with someone with bipolar, sexual assault trauma and potential post-traumatic treatment requirements, and potential sensory or whatever additional challenges are raised by the testing below.
If your prescribing doctor is a psychiatrist, ask about referrals for testing for AD(H)D and exploration of possible neurodivergence.
Ask one or more of the above for a referral to an Occupational Therapist (you probably won't get as many visits as you could truly benefit from covered by insurance, but you should be able to get enough covered for some answers and strategies) for potential sensory issues.

I've had a couple of people in my life who were like this and it took both medical and therapeutic (including treatment for PTSD plus skill-building in emotional regulation) interventions to get to a place where the explosions stopped. You have to learn to manage it, and learn how to defuse what is effectively a phobic reaction to minor triggers. You can learn that! You are not inherently incapable, men are not inherently incapable, people of any certain skin color are not inherently incapable. But you do need supportive treatment that's going to take into consideration the whole realm of whatever all is going on with you so that you can learn the best skills for your situation.

This all sounds really scary but it all promises various forms of relief. You can feel better, in the near future! The people around you can feel better too! You are not a lost cause and this situation is not unchangeable.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:28 AM on May 17 [81 favorites]

I am emotionally abusive due to reacting out of fear, frustration, and anxiety. Didn't understand it and ended up apologizing. A lot. I'm not proud of how I behaved and looked to change into someone who responds appropriately instead of from a place of emotions.

Based on recommendations I received here, I'm currently taking Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT for short. My training includes people who are bi-polar as well as people like me who are not but do respond at an emotional level.

Through the training I've learned to extend the time between having an emotion and responding to it. This space of time is invaluable to me as it helps me to delay my initial response (based on emotions) to consider context and appropriate reactions.

I'm sharing as I never heard of DBT until late Fall after also anonymously asking for help via Ask MetaFilter. DBT requires that I continue with my therapist as this training brings up questions about myself, how I got here, and where I want to be. Not a doctor or mental health professional; just some guy who wanted to share an option.
posted by bacalao_y_betun at 11:29 AM on May 17 [21 favorites]

The times my temper has been most difficult and sometimes impossible to control have all coincided with exacerbations of one or more of my multiple autoimmune disorders, some of which (such as celiac disease, pernicious anemia, and vitiligo) are associated with issues of brain inflammation.

NMDA receptor blocker memantine reduces excitotoxicity in the brain, and has found a role in treatment resistant bipolar disorder, has recently been shown to be an effective supplement for treatment resistant OCD, and has also proved effective in treating borderline personality disorder.

So I think you might consider asking your therapist about the possibility of adding memantine to your medications.
posted by jamjam at 12:01 PM on May 17

"This is extremely indicative of severe anxiety, and these are potentially sensory issues that are driving a sort of trauma response"

Yep, exactly. This is where my mind went as well. There's something that's causing you to react the way you are, and the key to changing behavior is to understand what it is. This is easier said than done, but what I would do in your situation is to keep a journal of your emotional responses. Record as much data as you can about the situation leading up to the outburst. Things about yourself: How were you feeling emotionally? Physically? Were you in the middle of doing something? Had you eaten recently? Things about the other person: What did they say? How did they say it? Were they doing something else? Things about potential triggers: Did what they did remind you of something? Things about the topic at hand: Was it about money? The kids? And even things that might seem unrelated, like time of day. If you realize that you react worse just after you get home from work, that's information that can help you identify the problem and solve it.

"extend the time between having an emotion and responding to it"

This is great advice as well.

This question is interesting to me, because while I don't ever get particularly angry or physical, a lot of the things you mentioned really set me off too. Someone moving my toothbrush? The mere thought of it makes me uncomfortable. It's just that my instinct is to withdraw rather than explode. From my experience, there's probably one of two things (or maybe even both) at work here: either the things that set you off are touching on pain points from other times in your life (probably but not necessarily childhood), or there's an unrelated issue that's causing you stress and you're exploding on something minor like a toothbrush because you can't let off the stress from what's really bothering you. For the former, I was abused as a child by my dad, who was a control freak. He was pretty big on reminding you that he was the boss and we were gonna do things his way. So when I moved out and was living on my own, doing things "my way" became really important to me. But then when I moved in with my wife, she'd move something and not even realize it was a big deal, because to most people it's not, but it would trigger my sense of "that's not the way I want things, and we're doing things my way", so I'd get upset about it. For the latter, my wife and I are having a little trouble now because there's an aspect of our lives that we're unhappy about, but we're unable to change. So I'm carrying around a lot of stress about that. Then when she moves my toothpaste or whatever, I'll get upset, but it's not really about the toothpaste. It's about this other thing (I'm being intentionally vague) that I can't do anything about.

I hope that made sense. I do think therapy is good for you. Yes to DBT but also more generalized stuff, as much as you can. It is possible to work on this yourself, but the catch is that the skills required to work on it are almost exactly the same skills that would obviate the need for that work. If you have the presence of mind and situational awareness to record information for a reaction journal, you probably also have the presence of mind and situational awareness to react less explosively. So professional help is good.

I wonder if you'd be able to adjust the wage garnishment because this would be an additional medical expense? Something to look into. Maybe more trouble than it's worth, but at least do some research.

One more thing: Try to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy. In your very first sentence of the "more inside", you say you're a negative person. Try thinking of yourself as a positive person instead. Try self-conceptualizing as a patient person with proactive interests. I mentioned I'm upset about something in my life; to combat that, I've been picking up creative hobbies like photography (free; I use my iPhone) so that I can focus on those instead of the negativity I feel. The benefit of this is that it's not in-the-moment like some of the other stuff I'd mentioned. Visualizing yourself reacting positively is something you can do when things are going well and you've got the energy, so that when things go south, you've built up a little cushion of positivity. It's by no means a substitute for real therapy, but it's something to supplement that.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:38 PM on May 17 [14 favorites]

It took me years to realize that I don't have an anger problem. I have an anxiety problem. I had followed the poor example of other men who react to anxiety by just hulking the fuck out and either making it everyone else's problem or having a pretty destructive round of self-condemnation.

I had treated my anger like bad weather: completely beyond my control and to be endured as best as I (and the people around me) could manage. Understanding that most of my anger was really expressing anxiety was liberating. "How can I be less anxious about this?" or "How can I minimize my exposure to this thing that makes me anxious?" or even "Can I just admit that this thing makes me anxious so that other people can help me?" are much more manageable challenges than "Why won't [people/the world] stop pissing me off?"

It's treating the cause not the symptom, and it has helped me enormously.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:42 PM on May 17 [34 favorites]

I am a trans woman but I lived most of my life as a man, and I was seriously physically abused as a teenager by peers. You are not alone. I sometimes have fury burning bright within me.

From what you describe, you are an abuse victim, too. For an abuse victim to be an abuser is not at all uncommon. Donald Trump, for example, is an abuser, but if you read Mary Trump’s biography, he was horribly abused (his brother, going through the same abuse, killed himself). That’s why they call it the cycle of abuse; it continues reinforcing itself.

It strikes me that each example you provided was an instance in which a possession was moved (products) or a territory was encroached upon (car). Your possessions touched or altered without your permission. That is – on a very small scale – what you went through those 20 years ago, when a very precious boundary was encroached without your permission.

You say that you have only been physical once. That one instance is not great, but one thing to consider is that the fear of something is not the same as the something itself. Being afraid you will be physically abusive with someone is not the same as being physically abusive: more plainly, the thought or feeling is not the action.

I think there’s a lot of discussion here already about anger management, but one thing I’m going to suggest to you is that there’s got to be a focus on the source of the anger, the original trauma. It’s likely the last place you want to go. But addressing the anger only, without addressing the trauma, is like trying to address a house fire by only focusing on the flames in one room. You’re not addressing the source of the fire; you’re not addressing the source of the anger.

I might be wildly overreaching, or I might not, but as a trauma victim myself, I’m guessing that in some way when the car seat is moved, or the toothbrush is not in the same place, your emotions (not necessarily your brain or conscious, but the FEELINGS) are brought back to what happened 20 years ago. PTSD is when your brain can’t process the trauma to expel it, so it keeps replaying it and replaying it in an effort – kind of like a photocopier who keep trying to push through the feed a piece of paper that is actually jamming it up.

I would suggest that it may require tremendous bravery, but ultimately be the most helpful, to find a men’s trauma group, perhaps one that focus on survivors of sexual abuse. When I went to a men’s trauma group years ago, it amazed me to hear my own thoughts spontaneously coming out of the mouths of other men. It made me realize I was not alone and I was not unique in the way I was coping with it. Men do cope in significantly different ways than women.

Trauma is tricky in that reading is very suboptimal; it's the human connection that helps heal. But if you truly find money is getting in the way, I’d recommend Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD, as well as Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors. If you are closed to that and still specifically looking only for books on anger, I’d recommend Rage: the Step-by-Step Guide to Overcoming Explosive Anger and Cow in the Parking Lot: A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger.
posted by MollyRealized at 1:06 PM on May 17 [14 favorites]

It s not anger management you need, its domestic violence intervention (unless you direct anger at everyone).

If that doesn't work (it works about 20 percent of the time..) borderline personality has likely been misdiagnosed as bipolar.

Your behaviour can be shitty because you feel shitty inside.
Therapy has potential to help with that if you can manage that relationship and tolerate feedback. It s not easy.

You don't say anything about non familial relationships.. are they also volatile?

If you are borderline (we all are a bit but not to an extreme) your best bet is dbt.
Look also at trauma release exercises dr berceli.
We are wired to physically expel trauma we just don't know it.
Read Donald dutton.. and quodos to yourself for taking this honest step.

See if there's support your wife and kids can access.
posted by tanktop at 1:12 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]

Ask yourself this: do you do this to random strangers, like the cashier at the grocery store, or a coworker? Or do you only do this with family members? If you only do it with family members, then it’s abuse. Because if it was anger management, you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from doing it to anyone and everyone.

This is why most domestic violence agencies don’t do anger management counseling - because that’s not what the issue is. But a lot of agencies do what is called offender counseling. Usually it’s for people who have been court ordered to attend, but some will do it for someone who feels they need help. To find an agency near you in the USA, go to and enter your zip code. Outside the USA, got to
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:20 PM on May 17 [15 favorites]

I'm not sure it's directly related but I found this book very helpful to read and I don't think you can go wrong reading it. The book is "I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression" by Terry Real. He tells a lot of stories and I found it helpful to read about other people in similar situations.
posted by aaabbbccc at 6:26 PM on May 17

I am a domestic violence survivor. I am posting here, because my perpetrator was like this, and it took me many years to understand why, and I am hopeful that speaking up here can save people that you will ultimately interact with, as well as, possibly, yourself.

First; you are an abuser currently, not just a potential abuser. Abuse is not confined to physical abuse, though it often escalates to it. The most damage that I suffered from my abuser was not the physical or sexual abuse but the verbal abuse. You want to be better, and that's wonderful.This doesn't have to be who you are. You can fight it, and you can get past it.

Secondly: this abuse appears to be centered in post-traumatic stress around feelings of helplessness. I wouldn't waste time looking for physical causes; this is pretty much textbook normal for many men who are the victims of childhood or adolescent trauma and who have tried to bottle up their feelings rather than go to therapy. You dislike when your control of a situation is threatened, because on some level, feeling out of control links back to the emotions you felt at the time of your own trauma. You don't know how to handle those emotions, so it links into rage. A therapist once told me: male PTSD survivors tend to lash out; female PTSD survivors tend to lash in.

You can try to control the symptoms, and I will give you one piece of advice that in my experience working with other people who have symptoms like you, has been helpful: walk away. Practice it. When you get the feeling of lack of control and you are around people, walk away so that you can be alone. Do so immediately. Do not stop to explain yourself in the moment (though you should warn loved ones this will be happening in future). Come back only when you are calm. You can work on responses to the feelings and remaining and staying only after you have created a survival outlet that won't hurt anyone.

Secondly: you need to seek therapy specifically about your own trauma. Anger management is just treating the symptom.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by corb at 6:54 PM on May 17 [31 favorites]

Look, dude, I experience a very similar internal dynamic and I straight up took medication with significant negative side effects for 15 years to avoid inflicting this behavior on my loved ones.

This is an option available to you and you should choose it unless there is a overriding reason not to do so
posted by bq at 9:04 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

I'm going to chime in with those above who name this as abuse as it is, not as it might become. When we blow up over small things, we make the people around us walk on eggshells and fear every tiny transgression.

I'll also agree that a large part of what's driving your outbursts is probably trauma and helplessness. But for me there is an added component, and maybe there is for you too. What I had to learn was that someone that I love moving something of mine, or not leaving one side of the kitchen sink empty as I prefer, or not getting my preferred brand of whatever at the grocery store is not an attack on me.

See in my head, if someone knows my preferences and violates them it tells some part of my brain that they don't love me. And the most hurtful thing that someone I love can do is not love me back.

This is why I might be annoyed if a colleague moves something of mine, but there won't be the urge to explode. I might holler while driving at the a****** who just cut me off, but I don't hit rage. But dishes in the side of the sink that is supposed to be clear had to have been put there by someone that I love, and my brain interprets that as a signal that they don't care what I think or what I feel, and therefore do not love me the way I love them.

It's bullshit, of course. You know this, or you wouldn't have posted. Your task now is to learn to interrupt the flow of" my thing has been moved, you know I don't like it when it's moved, you must have done it on purpose, you are trying to hurt me, so I will hurt you."

I started by telling the people that I love that I knew I had been overreacting to stupid little shit. I had the conversation when I was calm, and told them that when I got unreasonably angry over a small thing that I would leave the room.

And I did. And after I left the room, I would think about whatever triggered my rage. How likely was it really that my wife put a dish in the sink expressly to hurt me. Not very likely. It's much more likely that she put it in the sink, ran some water into it to soak it, and got busy with something else. I am overreacting to this. Why am I overreacting to this? Have I felt ignored or unloved today? Am I tired, stressed, in pain, lonely, anxious, today? Then I go back in there and do the hardest part. I tell my loved one "I think I overreacted to the dish in the sink. My broken brain told me that dish was there because you don't really love me."

It will very much help if you can figure out how to flip the script with your brain on love signaling. Instead of focusing on the things that make you feel unloved, you've got to figure out positive things that do make you feel loved. What things do your wife and kids do that make you feel that glow of warmth in your chest? Do they do them often enough? Could you ask them to do them more often?

The more you practice interrupting the cycle of rage, figuring out its source, and asking for information rather than punishing the person who accidentally triggered you, the easier it gets. I am now at the point where I recognize those flashes of rage as they happen. I'm able to clamp my mouth shut for a minute, identify what is going on with me that set the stage for me to be volatile, and state calmly" I just figured out that I'm over sensitive today. I'm going to try to stay on top of it, and maybe ask for a little extra love, today." And, my guy, it is so much better.

Cuz let's face it. We really don't want the people that we love to be afraid of us. We've made them afraid of us, because it feels better to be angry than vulnerable. But being feared by people you love still really sucks. What you've got to do is prove that you love them by protecting them from your trauma responses.

You can do this. And it will make your relationships a hundred times better than they have been. Your loved ones will trust you more, they will quit flinching away from you, and I guarantee that you will hate yourself a lot less. And as you hate yourself less, it will be easier for you to believe that they love you, and you will be less often triggered by stupid little crap.

Feel free to memail me if any of this hits a note for you. You've taken a good step by admitting that your behavior is unacceptable. You can do these changes. Good luck!.
posted by Vigilant at 11:55 AM on May 18 [8 favorites]

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