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  1. When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    Hello,

    I hope it's OK to ask for advice in the forum. I am usually a cool, calm and collected kind of guy, but every so often -- if I'm stressed or annoyed -- I can get pretty angry. The thing is, I can feel it coming from a long way away. Suddenly, I feel this sensation in the pit of my stomach which tells me, without a doubt, that I am going to be fighting with my girlfriend anytime soon. I don't want to, but it feels (and is) inevitable.

    The longer I let the anger boil away passively inside me, the worse it can become. What can begin as a simple niggly annoying feeling can grow into anger, and even into rage.

    On two or three occasions I have reached this 'rage' level around my girlfriend (we have been living together for 4 years, I should add) and I just can't stop it. Even when I'm in the situation, I can feel myself rationalizing about WHY I am so livid, and screaming these reasons at my poor girlfriend, even though the reasons are more or less completely fictitious. I just got going and I can't stop myself.

    I can also see this behaviour, when I'm in a 'regular' fight, albeit to a much lesser degree. I will tend to prolong a fight just to allow myself to be angry.

    I hate this part of my personality and desperately want to work with it. It is extremely counter-productive and not at all easy on my girlfriend, when it occurs. Any suggestions?

    Many thanks in advance,

    Phil

  2. #2

    When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    Even when I'm in the situation, I can feel myself rationalizing about WHY I am so livid, and screaming these reasons at my poor girlfriend, even though the reasons are more or less completely fictitious.
    You are aware that you are rationalizing and that the reasons are "fictitious": What is it you say to yourself at these times? What are the reasons you give yourself to justify what you are doing? In general terms, what is your "self-talk" at those moments?

    I can feel it coming from a long way away. Suddenly, I feel this sensation in the pit of my stomach which tells me, without a doubt, that I am going to be fighting with my girlfriend anytime soon. I don't want to, but it feels (and is) inevitable.
    I just got going and I can't stop myself.
    I don't doubt that it may feel that way, but it clearly isn't true. If you can feel it coming on for a period of time and you can rationalize why it's okay to be angry, that tells me that there are sufficient opportunities for you to change the self-talk to something that avoids the outburst.

    The first step is identifying and gaining control over the self-talk. See:

    Good books on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): David Burns
    Feelings and the Thoughts That Control Them
    The Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking

    The second step is to determine what it is that is "building up" as you approach these episodes. It may start with minor frustrations or annoyances that you try to inhibit or ignore until one last thing happens and it all comes out in a major outburst. Or it may not be anger per se at all that triggers the sequence -- it may be something like anxiety or stress that you have learned to release in this way.

    The CBT resources will help. See also Anger Resources. I think it would probably also be helpful for you to consider seeing a counsellor or therapist, if that is feasible for you.

  3. #3

    When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    Hello,

    Dr. Baxter makes really good points in his post.

    If you can (when you're calm) break the incident down into smaller elements, you can see where you started escalating past the point of no return. That's where you want to work on slowing it down, and doing something different from what you normally allow yourself to do.

    Some alternatives could be, warning your girlfriend that you're getting very angry and need to go away and cool down. Also, tell yourself, "This is escalating and I don't want to go there." Slow it down if you can.

    I'm wondering if you may find reasons to be angry because you aren't "allowed" to feel other emotions, like sadness, fear, tenderness, disappointment. Because of earlier conditioning, you're "allowed" to express anger but not much else. So you use anger to express a lot of things. But maybe you can start practicing a wider variety of emotions. That was part of my problem.

    nutmeg

  4. When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    Hi again,

    first of all, a HUGE thank you for yor constructive and excellent responses!

    Dr. Baxter -- about my "self-talk" at the time, it's a little hard to characterize. I do have a clear memory of "trying to think of a reason to be mad" while I was shouting at my girlfriend, but I also felt both justified and comfortable with these reasons at the time -- although they later turned out to be complete hogwash.

    A very nasty and unsettling side to this last rage episode is the memory of saying hurtful things, seeing the crying and tears as a result, and feeling *nothing* - a strange coldness, almost a twisted form of manipulative victoriousness... like "I cracked her", although on a subconscious level.

    Maybe I should recount this last rage incident. Remember that I have only reacted as strongly as this two or three times in my life, but I really want to do what I can to prevent it happening again, along with the lesser temper outbursts.


    My girlfriend and I were moving apartments and had gotten 4-5 of our friends to help us with that. It worked out that the men would drive back and forth between the apartments, moving the heavy objects, while my girlfriend, her female friend and a little wimpy male friend would stay behind in the new apartment, unpack a little, make room for the new stuff etc. Fair enough.

    Anyway, when we returned with more stuff, the 'unpacking crew' had hardly done anything, but were instead playing Scrabble on a moving box. At this point I don't even notice or care. It's only when I'm driving back that one of the other guys remarked that he found it a little offensive that they hadn't done more work, and if he had been them, he would certainly have done more.

    This is where the seed was sown. That's all it took (which is exactly why it frightens me).

    Anyway, I'm thinking about this and becoming mildly annoyed about it. (Period of stewing no. 1). When I return, my girlfriend is still playing board games and proudly announces that the wimpy male friend has invited us all to eat dinner at his house. This annoys me, and I say: "what about all the unpacking we need to do?" to which she replies, "well, you've got all day tomorrow" (she had work the next day, but I had the day off).

    I state that I don't think it's a good idea and half-storm out of the apartment to take a walk outside. This was intended to cool me down but achieved quite the opposite. (Period of stewing no. 2) At this point, I am quite badly behaved and don't go back in the apartment, instead I wait for our guests to come out to the car so I can drive them home. There is an element of pride here, as well - I don't want to go back and face them after having walked out.

    I drive them home in silence, which takes about 20 minutes. My girlfriend is also in the car. (Period of stewing no. 3) Once we are alone in the car, it doesn't take more than a minute or so before I start telling my girlfriend that I'm pissed off.

    I remember at this point being surprised at my self and the speed at which this escalated. Within two or three sentences I am shouting so loudly and fiercely that I actually became instantly hoarse. The content of my shouting is, at this point, basically a screamed recap of what I have just told you now.

    My girlfriend says "pull over the car, I'm getting out", and I do so without hesitating. She gets out, and I drive away. I don't get far before I remember thinking " I can't let her go, I can't mess this up" (meaning that I certainly don't want to lose the relationship). I drive around and find her, partly by chance. I park the car and catch up with her.

    This is where the self-talk begins. I am maybe cooling off a little, feeling a little surprised about the outburst, a little guilty, but still livid with anger. I say to my girlfriend, in a rather calm voice, "We can't just walk away. If you walk away from me now, you won't see me again. I'm serious, damn serious about this."

    I don't know why I'm saying this at the time. It isn't true, certainly. If she had walked off, I would have put the heavens and earth into motion into finding her and patching things up. I now think it was a case of me not wanting to admit that I had overreacted, so I tried to inflate and dramatize the situation, and manipulate my girlfriend into thinking that there was some actual good reason that it suddenly had come to this.

    I can't begin to imagine how my girlfriend felt about this. Poor girl. I feel terrible about it still.

    She stops, anyway, crying and looking distraught, but she doesn't walk away. This is where I feel my aforementioned 'coldness'. I remember just watching her tears with no emotion of my own.

    The next 20 minutes or so pass with me turning the fight into different things which has nothing to do with the reality of why I'm furious - mentioning her weird family and 'how she obviously takes after them' (a sure-fire button on her) - even saying that all this was about her not saying 'thank you' to me for agreeing to move to the new house! (What?!)

    I am clearly grasping at straws, trying to find new reasons to keep the fight going as long as I am on fire inside. I seem to remember half-believing these reasons myself at the time I was saying them, but also being aware that is was bull.

    I end up apologizing, telling my girlfriend the truth, which is that I had a rage which I couldn't control, that it scares me and that I want to avoid it happening again.

    That's why I'm here. That's my I wrote all this.


    Thanks for your eyes. Sorry for length. I appreciate your attention.

    Kind regards
    Phil

  5. #5

    When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    Okay, here's how I see the situation: You and your male friends are busting your humps moving heavy furniture and boxes. Your girlfriend and two other friends are playing board games on moving boxes that need to be unpacked to make room for the things you're bringing in. Tell ya what...I'd be pretty darned miffed myself. I probably wouldn't fly into a rage, as that isn't something I do, but I can almost guarantee I'd have wondered aloud why some of the people are doing all of the work, and when those who are playing board games intend to do their part. Having dinner, while a lovely idea, should have been the culmination of a day of effort on all parts to get the job done.

    That said, it sounds like you could benefit greatly from some anger management training and therapy. You had a reason to be angry, but you need to learn how to express that anger proactively and effectively. :o)

  6. #6

    When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    I agree with ThatLady -- your girlfriend's behavior during the move was kind of egregious. I've never been in a moving situation where some people did all the work and others did virtually nothing. I would have been really angry.

    With that said, here's what I think happened. You did a "slow burn" where the anger escalated to rage. Your girlfriend somehow didn't perceive your changing mood. Hence, she kept doing provocative things, making it even worse. Then you exploded. When she left the car, that was ABANDONMENT which can send an angry person over the edge and make them panic. At that point, both of you were probably fairly irrational and unable to know what to do. Been there myself. It isn't the end of the world and there are ways to avoid it.

    When you see yourself in stewing period 1, that is probably the time to take action to stop the "bad situation," to "go away," to "get support from others who understand," or something. This is when you still have a chance to de-escalate and think about what to do. The problem with ruminating and getting more and more angry, is that thought goes out the window. And impulse takes over.

    nutmeg

  7. #7

    When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    It seems to me this isn't a question of whether you had a right to be annoyed or even angry -- of course you did. The issue is why did it escalate to out of control screaming. That reaction was out of proportion to what triggered the anger. What you need to examine more closely is what intervened.

    "Stewing Period" is a good term. What's happening during those periods is a great deal of negative self-talk which serves to feed the anger into rage: Who do they think they are? They're takiong advantage of me. She's taking me for granted. She's not treating me respectfully. She's not treating me the way I deserve to be treated. If I don't stand up for myself, it will go on like this. I'll end up like that "wimpy guy". A real man wouldn't stand for this. My friends will look down on me if I don't take a stand on this. They'll think I'm a patsy, a wimp, whipped. She's got to learn to treat me respectfully and not take me for granted. How can she do this to me? Don't I deserve better than this? etc., etc., etc.

    Does that resonate at all?

  8. When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    First of all, thanks for all replies and the lateness of mine.

    Dr. Baxter -- what you write resonates with me 100%. These thoughts about being taken for granted and not being treated respectfully often crop up in situations when I start stewing a little over something. (The thoughts about what my friends will think only appear to a much lesser extent - I primarily focus on the 'respect me' factor).

    This is probably one of the primary underlying factors of these anger episodes - that they start off with this sort of negative self-talk. I clicked on the "Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking" link you provided and recognize myself almost exclusively in this form:

    3. Mental filter
    You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.
    Although I would say that the word "obsess" is a little strong, the mild negative criticism certainly has a very strong impact on me compared to the positive. A case in point: I recently wrote a short screenplay as part of a screenwriting forum I frequent and received a lot of very positive comments, such as "I liked the story a lot, it was well crafted and I wouldn't expect what happens in the end" - "Brilliant, yet disturbing, short! NICE!" - "I think its great. Really, really good. The pacing, plot and characters are great. As I was reading I was compelled to read right til the end to find out what happened. " - "great, great script. 9/10" - "Your story is great" etc. etc.

    These comments, albeit appreciated, basically rolled off me like water off a duck's back. But one, single-word comment by someone who I don't know at all - "Awful" - sent me reeling. I instantly became downcast about it, even felt a physiological reaction in the pit of my stomach on reading it, and that one word stuck in my mind for the rest of the day. It turns out that what the poster found awful was my screenwriting formatting technique, which I know little about, since I usually just write straight fiction (there are a lot of unwritten rules about the form and composition of a screenplay which are completely independent of the storyline and descriptions). The thing is, that one word, out of context, affected me deeply.

    A similar point can be made in the music that I write and record. I have posted many songs in a songwriter's newsgroup and usually get glowing reviews for them. But if I receive a criticism or simply a luke-warm review, the song loses almost all meaning to me. When I listen to the song after reading such a review, I will simply remember the criticism and not recall the process and joy I had in creating it. It's nuts. It can take a year or more before I have the urge to listen to the song again.


    As I write this down, I find that I'm not overstating my reactions, but they sound very extreme. I know that by expecting only to hear positive things about my work and behaviour, I am setting myself up for failure, but it's *clearly* a part of my psyche which needs mending. Because it's the same part that will focus exclusively on a negative, annyong action of my girlfriend and inflate it out of all proportion.

    I would truly appreciate any comments (don't be scared to give me the negative ones - I need to hear them! :-) ). This thread is helping me a lot, and it's becoming quite a catharsis for me.

    Kind regards
    Phil

  9. #9

    When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    Hi Phil,

    What you describe reminds me of the old saying about a perfectionist seeing only the tiny black spot on a white page. I think in creative endeavors, it's very hard and demoralizing to hear even one negative thing about one's work. THAT one thing will ring true. It may even have some truth to it. But it will be taken very personally because you put your stuff out there (vulnerability) and someone rejected it. And they might even be rude about it. That's a big risk you take to put your work out there. I suppose in this case and in others, a thicker skin can be developed. Also if you could think of ways to prepare for situations where you'd feel disrespected and how you would protect yourself, or soothe yourself afterward. We may assume we'll "know" how to deal with difficult situations if they come up but it's not always the case. It can help to have some plan As and plan Bs.

    nutmeg

  10. When anger gets started, it just keeps going

    Quote Originally Posted by Nutmeg
    I think in creative endeavors, it's very hard and demoralizing to hear even one negative thing about one's work. [...] [I]t will be taken very personally because you put your stuff out there (vulnerability) and someone rejected it.
    I see what you're saying, and you're right - it is a very vulnerable position to place yourself in if what you've been working means something to you. It's a lot easier to be ironic and let the sharks slaughter something you never really loved than to receive a wound in a painful place.

    The thing is, my hypersensitivity reaches further than just to creativeness. I will blow a small criticism out of all proportion, if it's to do with a trait about myself that I like. It's hard to say this without sounding pompous, but I'm used to getting compliments on my personality and my abilities. When I get something else, well, I focus solely on that negative.

    This can lead to a fight with my girlfriend, if she for instance trivializes an achievement of which I am proud, or accuses me of acting in a certain way that contradicts my (warped) self-image. It could be a fair comment, but it falls neatly into that "negative comment about something I hold dear"-category, which starts me obsessing about it and initializes the self-
    talk. It comes out as the diatribe about "she doesn't respect me, takes me for granted", etc.

    Does that make sense?

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