Anger Management Course - Anger Doesn't Have to Leave Bruises to be Abusive

by James A. Baker


Anger ManagementMy husband gets angry a lot, I don’tdeny that. It is unpleasant and sometimes even a little scary becausehe screams and says ugly things about me and makes threats. Buteventually he always calms down and things blow over. Sometimes heeven apologizes. He has never once hit me or choked me or sent me tothe hospital. In the meantime, he works hard and makes a good living for me and the kids. I sometimes feel ungrateful because his angerbothers me. So many women have it worse than me. Still, I wish hecould control his anger better. What should I do?

Confused in Rochester

Anger Management Course - Anger Doesn't Have to Leave Bruises to be Abusive

Dear Confused:

I am going to take some extra space here to deal with your question, because I hear frompeople in your situation more often than you would think, and I amdeeply troubled for you.
Some folks have a definite problem withanger, but they always seem to stop just short of physically violentbehaviors. They definitely have a short fuse; their anger can quicklyrage out of control and become irrational. They do a lot ofscreaming, accusing, and name calling and overreact to minorsituations and create a crisis where none really exists, but theydon’t actually inflict physical pain or damage property.

Anger Management Course - Anger Doesn’t Have to Leave Bruises to be Abusive

The fact that these people rarely, if ever, become physically violentactually makes the situation harder to deal with. You tell yourselfthat his anger problem isn't all that bad because he has never hityou or the kids. In the meantime, you and your children walk oneggshells around him all the time, especially if he is under stressat work. You make excuses for him to the kids, the neighbors and yourfamily. When he is having an episode, you try to pretend nothing iswrong, calm him down and wait for things to blow over. Living withthis kind of stress and anxiety takes a very high emotional andpsychological toll on a family, especially on children as they growand mature. But since the anger leaves no physical marks, it iseasier for you to minimize, while the emotional scars grow everdeeper.

It works like this: The rageaholic comes home from work 45 minutes lateand his supper is cold. His wife had it ready on time, because thelast time supper was late he went into a rage. But tonight he was 45minutes late, so she had to go ahead and feed the kids and get the3-year old in the bathtub. She intended to get back to the kitchen and warm up his meal before he came in, but they were out of cleantowels and she had to stop and find some and get the baby in the tub.By the time she got back to the kitchen, it was too late. He is homeand hungry, and the meal definitely does not meet with his approval.He launches into an angry tirade. Soon, the wife is in tears, thekids are all cowering in the bathroom and the husband is just gettingstarted. No one knows what is going to happen next.

He never got around to throwing any punches or breaking any dishes, but, this is horrible for several reasons. First of all it creates adelusion on the part of the rest of the family that his anger istheir fault. They must find ways to do better and think faster inorder to keep him happy. Practically the first thought that arageaholic’s wife will have after an anger event is, “If only”:

Anger Management Course - Anger Doesn’t Have to Leave Bruises to be Abusive

If only she had kept the supper warm, if only she had supper ready ontime, if only she had kept the kids quiet because he had a headache,if only she hadn’t spent so much at the market

The if onlys never stop! They are all lies anyway, because serving a coldmeal to someone who is 45 minutes late and who didn't even call tolet you know is not grounds for severe anger abuse.

However,there is a bigger problem. Cowering in the bathroom are three littlekids, ages 7, 5, and 3. They are all scared, but they are alreadylearning to pretend that they don't hear anything, because they haveheard it too many times before. But for the 3-year-old, it is especially scary. Not only did he hear Daddy get really mad at Mommy,but he also heard Mommy say the supper was bad because she was busyputting the baby in the tub. To a 3-year-old, this is concreteevidence that the whole thing is his fault. He is the reason Daddy is mad; he is the reason Mommy is in trouble. And that can only meanthat heis bad,because he caused this whole mess.

Anger Management Course - Anger Doesn’t Have to Leave Bruises to be Abusive

Children who grow up listening to the tirades of a rageaholic parent are all consumed with this fear of being blamed or punished. They just assumethat any time something goes wrong, they will pay the price. Theirstomachs begin to twist into knots whenever they hear Mom or Dad'scar pull up in the driveway. They run for their bedrooms the minutethey hear that parent’s voice begin to get loud. They try to makethemselves invisible so they won't be the scapegoat for any of theseoutbursts, but it is inevitable that they will be targeted sooner orlater. Remember, a rageaholic is looking for excuses to rage. Thereis nothing you can do, nothing you can fix, nothing you can improveor change or rearrange that will control his anger. He will make anexcuse to blow when he is ready to blow, and the target is likely tobe whoever is closest at the time. Because of this, children from these families grow up infected with what John Bradshaw calls ToxicShame. It is a chronic sense of being permanently flawed, of beingbad, of feeling there is no hope of ever being truly normal. It eatsat these children all of their lives. Most of the time they feelanxious, stressed, afraid, ashamed and, as they get older very angry.As adults, many of them become rageaholics, marry rageaholics ordevelop other addictive behaviors.

So, even if your rageaholic doesn't actually “hit you or choke you or send you to the hospital,” his anger is still extremely destructiveto you and your kids. You may never have to call the police on him,and you may be uncomfortable filing for divorce, but it is importantthat you hold him accountable for his behavior. Ask him to take angermanagement classes; ask him to seek counseling; be willing to leavethe house for several days to dramatize the seriousness of thesituation. But don't sit there and do nothing!