Anger Management Courses - Anger Versus Control

by James A. Baker
(March, 2010. Recovery Today)


anger managementA friend of mine showed me your website. I wish my husband would look at it but I know he won’t. He won’t do anything I ask him to do. I am at my wit’s end. Sometimes he can be really nice, and he is a hard worker. But he has this mean streak that just won’t quit. He yells at me and makes fun of me for even the smallest little mistakes. He doesn’t hit me (well, not often), but if I try to stand up to him when I think he is wrong, he goes completely nuts, breaks my stuff, threatens me with awful things and sometimes grabs me or pushes me and keeps me from leaving the room until I apologize and tell him he is right.
A couple of weeks ago, I told him I was going to visit my sister for the weekend and after he yelled at me he took the car keys away until I promised him I would stay home. In spite of all this, I think I still love him, but I am not sure how much more of his anger fits I can take.

Desperate in the Woodlands

Anger Management Courses - Anger Versus Control

Dear Desperate:
You are truly facing a very serious situation, and I wish I had better news for you. It seems to me that your husband doesn’t just have an anger problem, he has a control problem and, while the two are related, control issues are sometimes much harder to deal with.
Anger progresses across a pretty wide scale. One end represents normal, healthy expressions of anger and the other end represents angry behavior that has become pathologically dangerous. Most people with anger problems suffer from underlying issues like fear or shame, and they use anger as a defense mechanism to protect them from further pain and loss. However, this kind of anger can become addictive; it often works because it makes other people back off, and because it releases these wonderful chemicals into your body that make you feel - at least for the moment - like you are very powerful and important.

Anger Management Courses - Anger Versus Control

However, like any addiction, the addict comes to rely on it more and more as a source of power, safety and - ultimately - control. An anger addict fears rejection, abandonment, punishment, and failure, to name just a few. Anger gives him the energy he needs to cope with these fears, but of course the fears never really go away. The anger just gives him a temporary sense of power and control over them.

What you are seeing in your relationship with your husband is his attempt to control you through anger. What he is really trying to control is all those fears I just mentioned, but the focus is on his relationship with you. He doesn’t want you to know he sometimes feels weak or worried or ashamed. He doesn’t want to appear vulnerable. Anger makes him look and feel strong in his relationship with you. It makes him look big and better in his own eyes (which is why he demeans you all the time).

But here is the really worrisome problem. One of the things he fears most is losing you. I wish I could say the reason for this is because he really loves you, and he may, but the truth is that losing you would represent more weakness and failure on his part. He can’t afford to face that, so he is now in the mode of doing whatever he can to restrict your ability to stand on your own two feet. No going to your sister’s, no using the car unless he says you can. This is likely the start of a progressive pattern to isolate you and make you dependant on him so that you won’t be able to leave him, even if you wanted to. In a word, this is now all about control. In extreme cases, this need to control leads to stalking and severe physical violence that can be fatal for people in your situation.

Anger Management Courses - Anger Versus Control

I understand that you think you still love him, but sometimes love isn’t enough, especially when it tricks you into thinking that if you just stay and work harder on keeping him happy he will eventually get better. Believe me, once you slide into that mentality you will end up just as sick as he is; maybe even worse. The situation isn’t completely hopeless, but if the relationship is to have even a small chance of succeeding, you have some hard choices to make, and you must make them soon. IF, under all that fear and anger, he really does love you, he might be motivated to change in order to keep you in his life. Up to now, he has been accustomed to using anger, fear and even physical domination to intimidate you into submission. And he will continue to do those things over and over and over again as long as you let him get away with it. However, if you are willing to stand up to him, using a variety of options that are accessible to you, his overwhelming desire to keep you in his life might be a motivator for change. The options are not easy or simple. They include:

  • Calling the police and filing charges against him whenever he is violent.
  • Demanding that he leave the house and filing for a protective order to keep him out.
  • Strictly observing the rules laid out in the protective order.
  • Turning him in to the police when he violates the protective order.
  • Demanding that he receive counseling or enroll in an anger management program, assuming a judge hasn’t already done so.
  • Refusing to let him return home until he has demonstrated, over a significant length of time, that he is committed to change and has already made significant changes.
  • Filing for divorce.

Anger Management Courses - Anger Versus Control

Services for victims of family violence (which is what you are, whether you realize it or not), including temporary shelter and regular counseling, are available in most areas. It is a good idea for a woman in an abusive relationship to be in some sort of counseling or support group, even if her husband refuses. You will need wise, consistent support to hold up under the stress of making these changes. It is very easy to fall for his old charms and new sob stories, and end up letting him come home too soon. You already know what that is like. You have probably already been through it at least once. This strategy is not guaranteed to work in all situations. But it will work better than whatever it is you have been trying up to now. You are the one who must decide what you want to do next. Your focus should be on safety first, and then work on the relationship.

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