6Wed

From anger problems to anger & relationships

In my previous post, “Anger: Behavior account-ability and response-ability,” I described the components of problematic anger responses: high levels of physiological arousal, strong emotions, thinking traps, and aggressive behaviors. Particular emphasis was placed on thinking traps, such as perfectionistic, mind-reading, blaming and/or overgeneralizing thoughts. Finally, I made the point that in any problematic situation a person could become account-able for their behavior and response-able as a first step to modify their responses to anger (which is very different than attributing a situation to others as a source of their angry behaviors).  In this post I’m describing how anger affects interpersonal relationships and how aversive strategies destroy what people crave the most: intimate connection with others.

Generally speaking, anger is characterized by a quick emotional response that is hard to let it go of; some people describe this experience as feeling like a bull that only sees red, which makes them unable to stop reacting. The above description makes total sense, since anger comes with an adrenaline rush that fires up, and unfortunately masks the hurt. Underlying the anger responses there are core principles that are seriously violated in the eyes of the angry person, which are characterized by thinking traps: Perfectionistic, mind-reading, blaming, and/or overgeneralizing thoughts. Unfortunately, as S. Stosny (2009) described on his post “Living with an angry partner,” “angry people see themselves as merely reacting to an unfair world; they often feel offended by what they perceive as general insensitivity to their “needs.’”

The bottom line is that anger is masking a primary, uncomfortable emotion, such as hurt, sadness, frustration, disappointment, or a mixture of them. But instead of speaking from a place of hurt, an angry person speaks from a place of anger, which in turn leads to verbalizing painful words to those around them, and hurts their relationships in the end. An angry person is actually a sensitive person that feels people “wrong them” more often than not if they don’t follow or agree with their standards. Therefore they constantly feel disappointed and build resentment towards others. In the voice of an angry person they usually ask others to modify their behavior as a way to deal with their own difficulties, “Stop doing the things that upset me,” “Don’t make me upset.” As S. Stosny (2009) highlighted, “It seems only fair, from their perspectives, that they get compensation for their constant frustrations.”

If you continue reading this post, there may be some relevant information for you here; either because you’re struggling with anger or dealing with an angry person. If you struggle with anger and find yourself wondering why you experience constant disappointment or why some people continue to withdraw from you, maybe it’s time to pay attention to how anger may be driving aversive strategies in your dealings with people.

3999709_f496Anger, in the context of relationships, could be driving you to solve conflict or get what you want by using threats, denigrating others, or guilt-tripping them, as some example of aversive strategies; all of them are effective methods in the short-term, they inflict pain and fear in others to the degree that they pull back, but in the long-term they completely damage your relationships. Some people struggling with anger hold the belief that “I need to make sure that whoever upsets me faces the painful consequences of their behaviors so they don’t do it again.” Most common aversive strategies include:

Discounting: This strategy involves believing your partner’s needs, desires, and wants are not important as yours, either because they’re not intelligent or good enough, or simply because that’s not how you see them. The bottom line is that whatever your desires, concerns, or wants are they are valid and make sense to you; if people disagree with them that means that their needs are simply not of great value or significance. An example of this strategy will look like:

– How can you tell me you’re stressed about changing jobs? Everyone does that, everyone on earth has to do it; I did it myself. You actually should be happy that you have an opportunity to do it and not like others that are stuck at their jobs. You really should stop saying you’re stressed about it, come on!

Threatening: This particular aversive strategy could take the form of threatening with leaving, abandoning, or withdrawing from the relationship or whatever was offered to the other person. A person using this aversive method could easily say, “I tried to give you what you want but nothing is sufficient; if you want to take an expensive trip I want to see where are you taking the money from and see the extra money you’re going to bring into our budget before you take this trip; otherwise I may have to use the same rationale and buy myself a nice jacket.”

Making your partner’s needs his/her own fault: On the one hand this aversive strategy looks like blaming others’ behaviors as a source of your anger, but it could also show up as suggesting that the other person’s needs or desires are their fault. For instance, an angry person would say, “If you didn’t ask me to go with you to your boring professional gathering as a couple, we wouldn’t be having this argument.”

You may or may not even be aware of how you’re using these strategies; it may be that friends or significant others have pointed them out to you here and there. Nevertheless, if you continue to find yourself with an ongoing degree of disappointment and you deal with anger it maybe time to pay close attention to how your behavior is affecting your relationship. It’s natural to not want to look within; most of us would rather focus on the other person’s behaviors as creating our anger. However, “externalizing” responses or looking at others as a problem will take you only so far in your relationships; in fact, angry behaviors would only lead to lack of intimacy.  The emptiness and loneliness that comes with lack of intimacy won’t change unless you do something about it; in fact, feelings of emptiness and loneliness may grow faster and larger with time.

This information can make a difference of course, only if you’re willing to face your anger issues from a place of courage. As R. Archer (2013) eloquently stated, “Courage is not the absence of fear, after all. It is being able to look straight at your darkest demons – straight in the eye – and refusing to back down.” If you’re dealing with anger issues, and want to change them, you won’t regret it. It won’t be easy, but it is not impossible.

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Sources:
McKay, M., Fanning, P., & Paleg, K. (2006). Couple skills. Making your relationship work. Oakland, Ca: New Harbinger.
Stosny, S. (2009). Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/200904/living-angry-partner.

Featured image: http://lovestruckguru.com/dating-tips/three-simple-ways-to-control-anger-in-relationships/

Patricia E. Zurita Ona, Psy.D. is a psychologist at the East Bay Behavior Therapy Center. Dr. Zurita Ona can be contacted at ebbehaviortherapycenter@gmail.com.