Anger Management

Over the short history of this blog I have repeatedly commented on the difficulty I have writing about depression. In order to keep things making any sense I said I would pick a single piece and focus on that. In the past week I spent a great deal of time talking about loss. I even experienced a small, but significant, loss last week that though I didn’t write about it specifically, highlighted in my own mind a lot of what I was trying to say. In this blog post I want to talk about the day to day consequences of feeling that you have lost so much. There is the obvious sadness that comes along with all this, but I am talking about anger.

A lot of people that experience depression and a sense of loss carry that “angry at the world” attitude, and having been down this path myself I can see how that could easily be. My anger has never really been focused in that direction. I learned lessons about fairness at an early age, the take away point basically being that there is no such thing. I could write an entire commentary on what I consider to be the lack of truth in the world’s most dangerous four letter words, fair and free, but that is probably not a topic for a surviving depression blog. The point here is that I developed an understanding of how the world works long ago, and my life has repeatedly reinforced this model. I accept this with resignation not anger. There are specific circumstances that have left me angered, but to generically focus my anger at the world has never been part of my depression.

The anger that I fight with comes mostly from the fatigue of making it through the days, months, and years of trying to live moment by moment, breath by breath. The fatigue of living a life filled with depression and anxiety. I am short tempered, but passive. I know that sentence makes little sense, but I feel a lot more anger than I show. I swallow much of it. Occasionally it will show itself in an argument, but I carry most of it in my guts. If I am alone I may release it in a shout or tirade of yelling and cursing, but even that is rare. I often have the urge to throw things. In the moment it feels like if I could grab something and heave it across the room all the pain inside me would be released through my hand and be sent traveling away attached to whatever object had the misfortune of being within reach. When I was a kid I have memories of going into my back yard and throwing rocks at a tree when I was upset about something. As adult throwing things is not an option. This is not a grown up way to deal with problems, and cleaning up whatever mess get made isn’t going to help my mood at all so I exercise restraint, and despite the urge have never thrown anything in anger as an adult.

Anger and short temperedness actually seem to be family traits. Most of the men in my family are short tempered, and can be flat out mean. My Dad was that way when I was a kid, and I swore I would never be like that. I have seen what it can cost a family unit and I refuse to put my wife and child through what I went through. I spent a lot of time trying to find alternative ways to argue, and learned to put on a calm passive front even when I was boiling inside. Before my wife and I were married she would get upset when we argued because I appeared not to care. The angrier she got the calmer I became. It made her feel as if whatever we were fighting about wasn’t important to me which would cause her to become even more upset. I hate fighting with my wife. My “what if” brain takes me too scary places having to do with the end of our marriage, which gives her all the power in every argument. Every fight is a failure in my mind, and we don’t fight very well. There are ways to fight in a marriage that are not as destructive as others, but I have never felt that we have been very good at that. The result is I avoid arguments at almost any cost. Those that I cannot avoid I seek to end as quickly as possible. A harmonious domestic life is more important to me that being right. Of course this has the obvious downfall of leaving one feeling like their opinions and feelings are insignificant in the relationship, leading to further sense of loss. The cycle of depression is cruel.

Like Sadness and loss are my nearly constant companions so too is anger a frequent visitor to my world. Some is an understandable result of my circumstances and some is undoubtedly genetic. The way I deal with it, or don’t deal with for that matter, is all learned behavior.  It has become increasingly clear over the years, and even more so as I have tried to write this, that I don’t deal with it well. I need to find some way to vent this energy and these feelings in a constructive rather than destructive way. The challenge is I am not sure I can tell which is which. So I will pose the question to anybody who may be reading this. Can you relate to what I have written? How do you manage anger and arguments in your relationships? How do you manage any generalized anger you may have at your circumstances? For many carrying around too much anger can be dangerous, making dialogue on the subject important. My availability to moderate and respond to comments is somewhat limited, but I would love to hear what people have to say about this, and will try to get comments and responses up quickly.

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15 thoughts on “Anger Management

  1. What really triggered my own battle with anxiety and depression was my wife’s severe depressive illness back in 1995-1996. Hearing my wife crying as I closed the front door on the way to work, you bet I was angry. The worst anger is when you have no one to lash out at except God. The loss was very real…the loss of a normal marriage and our ability to have children.
    I still get angry when I feel out of control in any situation (like traffic). My Dad also was quite the blowhard so I learned to bitch at traffic from him.
    They say depression is anger turned inward. It’s certainly part of the picture.
    Regards, Jim.

  2. I was like you as a child. I was alone all the time, and I was not allowed to show emotion. So, at times, I would become overwhelmed with anger. I remember taking a rolled up newspaper and beating the hell out of the couch. I think I was 8 years-old. Do you know Gossamer, from Looney Toons? The big, red monster who gets his nails done by Bugs Bunny? Well, there’s this episode where he’s heaving and raging and panting. Sometimes I feel like that, but I’m helpless. What good will that do? My anger? I’ve heard anger defined in so many ways, but it’s often a protective emotion. It’s our last bastion of strength, protecting us, because what lurks underneath often brings us to our knees. Lately, I’m a mixture of mild anger, I suppose. Angry because there are things I cannot seem to change in my life no matter how much I try, and I’m not used to that. My back is against the wall, and I feel helpless. Being helpless makes me feel angry. Being faced with circumstances that won’t move causes anger to rise up. Being treated in a way that devalues any part of me causes me to feel angry.

    As for how I argue? My husband and I don’t really. I’m so introspective. i’m like the barometer of the marriage. If something is the least bit off, I know. Plus, I’m also the active one. He’s the passive one. This is why we are approaching gridlock. We could argue, I suppose. But, he does what you do. The more emotional I become, the less invested he begins to look. I know what he’s doing now–after 16 years. And, I’ve learned not to look to him to tell me that “I’m okay”. I could write a tome here. But, arguing does us no good. And, I, too, avoid it like the plague. I grew up in a hellish environment where fighting was the norm as did he. So, if we go about things in a backward way? So what. We get there eventually. We just do it without the bitter fights. Of course, there isn’t much passion either. It’s a lot me drowning in my own feelings and introspection and feeling completely disconnected from him because of his passivity and tendencies to perseverate. Once again, I have to do it all, in so many ways. But, I’m determined to find a way to communicate in a way that is respectful, empathetic, and effective. If I can’t? Then, I’ll wait until I can. If he can’t? Then, again, I’ll wait.

    I may sound like I’m full of shit and completely unhelpful here. BTW, I “heard” you.

    • I get what you are saying about being angry at the inability to change your circumstances. I never failed at anything until I was nearly thirty. I may have been just about thirty when I went to a post tug boat job interview and didn’t get the job. That was the first time things hadn’t gone my way sense the service academy turned me down. Of course when I was 18 there was a life’s worth of options ahead of me, by thirty doors were closing. My wife and I both want out of our current living circumstances and I want out of my professional circumstances, but there is nothing either of us can do to change it. Helpless and angry are the only words to describe that really. I could go on and on about the arguing with the spouse. I have no power in those situations which isn’t so much her fault as the way I process, but I abhor the entire process.
      You are not the first to comment on my self awareness. It is something I know about myself, and empathy is something I have always been good at. I can see the pain in people’s eyes, and I can hear it their voice. I can see it in the words they write when I read these blogs. I can literally feel other peoples pain in my own body. It is a useful but can be painful. I am not aware of the earworm type thing you are talking about, but that doesn’t mean its not there. I do get stuck on an idea and play it out in my head over and over. Its almost like seeing myself die, but not as scary. Say I get this idea to move to a new state. I can play the entire process out in my head almost living it to see if it is something I want, see the pitfalls and advantages. This process may play out over days or weeks. I know its not the same thing, just something though of when I read your comment.

  3. I also meant to point out that you are very self-aware. This is a gift whether it feels like one or not. The dark side of self-awareness is perseveration. If that’s a new word for you, it means to allow a thought or idea to play like in a loop in the head much like an earworm. An earworm is a song or part of a song that replays itself in the brain repeatedly. I abhor earworms particularly if it’s anything by Whitesnake, Winger, or, God forbid, that one damn song by Electric Six! Anyway, self-aware people tend to perseverate more. I don’t know why, but this steals our sense of personal empowerment and reinforces negative self-talk as well as that sense of helplessness. I struggle with perseveration, but, if I can catch myself doing it, CBT can help. I don’t know if you find that helpful in the least. But, your self-awareness will, I imagine, make you a more empathetic person which is never a bad thing although you will not only feel your own suffering but the suffering of others. A blessing and a curse.

  4. I can relate to a lot of this, but I’m probably not the best person to ask about how to deal with it.

    I tend to mostly be passive also because I want to avoid conflict at all costs. But then it backfires on me because somehow it all accumulates and then I eventually blow up, and the result is worse than the small incidents of anger would’ve been. Personally, I find it frustrating when someone I’m arguing with seems not to care, and it might make me more mad. If I can have a moment to cool my head off, though, usually I can concede to quite arguing. For someone who’s quiet and generally not confident, I can be quite argumentative, so I understand the oxymoron of being passive and angry at the same time.

    Sometimes what I really need is to just go be alone for a while. That usually helps me calm down when I’m angry or upset. Problem is, sometimes the other person wants to follow me, and they won’t believe that simply being left alone is what I need to feel better.

    “Depression is anger turned inward.” I can relate to this comment from above. What usually winds up happening when I’m angry is that I ultimately direct all of that rage at myself. Then that’s when I start thinking about self-punishment and whatnot. Obviously not a healthy way to cope with anger.

    Well, I’ve blabbed enough. Suffice it to say that I haven’t found the solution myself though I have the problem.

    • It sounds like you argue like my wife. She wants time to stew about something and with time she is fine. I hate the stress of the fight and want it over as soon as possible so I want to talk it out now and get it behind us. The arguments cause a lot more stress on me than her I think. Either method is fine I suppose as long as compromise can be found.

      • I hate the stress of the fight, too, actually. I just get caught up in it. Sometimes the fight gives me a panic attack. The thing is, I usually want to stop in the middle of the argument and run away to get my emotions together. This is when the other person follows me, wanting to finish the argument when I’d rather just leave things be. I guess we haven’t resolved the issue then, though.

  5. After reading FAs post above, I see some of myself in that. But, it doesn’t work in my relationships( not a slam, FA–I relate to you). I grew up as the family diplomat so I’ve learned to control my anger–sometimes to the point of not acknowledging it. This is, largely, the same with my husband although he can read all my cues now–quiet, sullen, and hand wringing. Since we don’t argue a lot, but when we do it’s largely about choices or behaviors, I’ve found that my husband doesn’t want to talk about feelings. He wants a “spec sheet”. HIs response: “Tell me what I can do to fix it.” A very male response. So, I literally have to type out a “spec sheet” and email it to him. “Stop doing behavior A. Do behavior B instead. This is better.” Example: “Stop using intimidation as a way to parent (i.e. yelling at the children when you get frustrated). Walk away, take a breather, or ask me for help. This is better.” or “Stop leaving your coffee cup on the counter every morning. Put it in the dishwasher. This is better.”

    For some reason, he prefers this. I think it is the weirdest way to communicate with someone, And, he has asked me to call him “asshole” when he’s being one. Like really. If he’s stepped over a line, and he’s really be an asshole, he wants me to just tell him rather than do the “girl thing” and ruminate. So, I do. “Dude, you are now in asshole territory.” He stops. Looks at me, and says, “Oh. Thanks. Okay. I need to regroup.” These two things seem to help us not “fight”. I have asked him to give me things to work on, too, because I want to know…yeah, he gives me nothing. He says I just need to work on not ruminating. Man v woman for you. Does it help? I hate the spec sheet, but it does bypass the fighting. I reserve a lot of my “feelings” for the girlfriends.

    • The family diplomat. I can relate to that. I was probably about 10 when I told my mother that if she was staying with my father because of me she had my permission to leave. After I got handle on my own relationship with my Dad I began trying to stop their arguments. God I hated to listen to them fight. I did this all through college and even after for a few years. I was once at a conference in Chicago mediating and argument between my parents over the phone. As recently as this summer my mother tried passively to pull me into an argument that was highly emotional for the entire family. I refused to take the bait, but have felt blame for the consequences of that argument.
      The spec sheet thing is interesting. It is vey “male” to look at the fix, but you guys have found and organized strategy for dealing with arguments. I wish I could find a way to do that.

      • Aah, yes, being dragged into the parents’ fights. This is where I honed my negotiating strategies as a kid. i’m quite good at it now. My mother is a borderline so she was always threatening suicide. She’d take a bottle of pills, grab her firearm, and lock herself in her closet. I can’t figure out why her closet had a lock on it. Anyway, my stepdad could never talk her off the ledge, so I was called in starting at age 13 (Ironically, I had the same convo with my stepdad–please, leave us. Don’t put yourself through this. You won’t hurt me. Think of yourself. Even then, I knew how awful it was for him). I have talked my mother out of offing herself too many times to count at this point, but, one time, I refused. I realized that a kid should not be doing that sort of thing. And, guess what, she almost succeeded. The ambulance took her away on a stretcher in a psychotic state, and she was admitted into an in-patient facility for most of the summer. The entire neighborhood saw it, and we were then permanently labeled as “that family”. So, I know what it means to refuse to take the bait, put down boundaries which, BTW, are right, and then feel the consequences of attempting to “leave the crazy”. I was the bad guy because I wouldn’t enter into it, and I shouldn’t have had to. Adults need to take ownership of what is theirs, I thought, at the time, that maybe her close call with death would change her–be a wake-up call. It wasn’t. She continued to rage, abuse, and behave in a psychotic manner for years after. She tried to commit suicide when she found out I was pregnant with my first daughter–slit her wrists. And, you know what? I didn’t take her calls from the hospital. Her third husband can “manage” her now. It might sound insensitive. I’m not. It breaks my heart, but everyone deserves well-being and health. So do you, diplomat or not. I get it. I really do.

        As for our strategies? Well…it’s better for him, not me. I would very much like to share my feelings with him, but I don’t because he just wants to “fix” it–“Tell me what to do to fix it.” He doesn’t want to hear about feelings. So, maybe, if we’re out, and we’re having wine, I can share my heart, but, on a day to day basis? Nope. It’s like living with Commander Data. I have to deny my heart, share it with girlfriends, or write about it. Sometimes, I turn inward in a bad way, and then I’m horribly sad because, often, to make something work, one has to make sacrifices. I just never knew I’d be sacrificing so much of myself at times. Honestly? It hurts. A lot…

    • I haven’t learned to control my anger so much as to bottle it up. Then it comes out at the most inopportune times. Overall, if someone has a problem with something I’m doing, I’d actually prefer that they bring it up to me in a neutral manner so that I could react accordingly, with logic and a calm head. But then it seems that other people want to argue about things. I feel like they’re attacking me. Then again, I am too sensitive, and I can take things personally when they’re not meant that way, so maybe I’m the screwed up one. I guess I’m contradictory in how I react to things.

      • Aaw, FA, I think what you are describing is probably what everyone wants. I know that it takes a great deal of training and self-control to hear “destructive” criticism. I know that if someone has a problem with me, I really do want them to tell me in a kind way. If they used lots of “You always…” and “I hate it when you….” and “Why won’t you….” statements, I, too, would feel defensive and upset. What’s more, if they wouldn’t let me back away and process, but kept coming at me? Oh boy…so NOT a good thing. I would then feel trapped and attacked. If you feel attacked, how does it NOT become personal? Learning how to “fight fairly” is hard for both parties. The worst time to try to make a point is when one is angry, but that seems to be when people really want to do it. The thing is, anger begins in that reptilian part of our brain-the amygdala. It’s the oldest most primal part. How do reptiles behave? They attack their own kind and eat their young. So, you probably know what it feels like to be interacting with a “reptile”. I know I do. Run like hell. What we need in those moments is our frontal cortex, the seat of empathy and judgment, the place where intimacy works from, which is also the newest part of our brains, BTW. It’s all very interesting. I don’t know if you find it so. I don’t think that you are screwed up. I think that the function of the amygdala, its production of anger, how we process that, and its ability to hijack us, so to speak, can get in the way of our abilities to relate to others particularly in the moment because we so often feel threatened, and we just want to feel safe and understood. Safety is very important to me which is probably why I do so much overcompensating for everyone else. Not a great thing, but sometimes I don’t always know what else to do. For a short read on anger and the brain: http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=5805&cn=116

  6. I read some of your blog and I can relate to the feelings you are having. Depression is cruel the way it turns oneself against its own self. You are a smart, caring & interesting guy. I wish the work force did not stigmatize against mental illness and turn people away if they are successfully being treated.

    It seems if you could get your passion back into your life, such as with flying or boating, you would begin to feel better about your life situation. That is certainly not the whole answer but I saw a psychiatrist who told me that passion for living would help me climb out of a severe depression…Of course, when one is depressed they don’t feel much passion for anything and such is the double edged sword of depression. We can only see the light when we get help moving all the negative crap out of our way. For me, I didn’t understand what the psychistrist meant in real-life terms for quite a few years. I’ve suffered and survived a lot of lonely isolation, anger, loss, anxiety and, what I’ve been best at, self-hate. Life is peeling back the layers by working through the difficult stages until we find the tender sweet center. So, right now you feel anger, sadness and loss — that’s being human — please try to accept yourself for having those feelings and offer compassion and kindness to the true person you are.

    • I don’t disagree with what you have to say about getting my passion back, but it is not just a matter of “me” getting it back. In a marriage with children decisions get made that cant really be undone. I don’t mean necessarily that I don’t feel supported in finding my passion as much as reality just gets in the way. We decided to have a child which led to $600 a month in child care expenses. I don’t wish to undo becoming a father, I adore my son, but that money erased any chance I had of continuing with some of my own hobbies. Despite my love for my son these losses are real to me, but nothing can be done so the feeling of loss remains.

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