Abusive anger is the use of anger to permanently and systematically control, humiliate, and break the spirit of another person--man, woman, or child. The first consideration must be the 'safety' for the target of the abuse. Only after safety has been established can anger management be used to teach the offending individual how to control his or her anger.
What is abusive anger?
Since men are typically physically stronger, or in a stronger financial position, they are frequently the perpetrators of abuse. They use their 'power' to control, humiliate, and break the resistance of their partner. This is why men are often more dangerous and destructive.
However, both men and women abuse and both men, women, and children are victims.
People quarrel. Although that is unfortunate, it does not necessarily include the desire to control another person. If the fighting--this may even include rare physical contact--is for any purpose other than trying to 'impose control,' in most cases it is not abuse.
Bitter and destructive fighting between two individuals living together does not automatically constitute abuse; often only a trained professional can make that assessment.
The following brief stories of abuse are from my files with significant details changed to protect confidentiality:
True vignettes of abuse (some details have been change to protect privacy):
Intimidation and cruelty
When Darrel, a respected chiropractor, got angry with his wife, Vanessa, he threw things at her or punished her by imprisoning her in a bedroom. Vanessa believed that she was 'bad' and deserved Darrel’s harsh punishments.
Isolation and humiliation
When she was angry. Debbie would grab her partner Bill and force him out of the apartment. She would then lock the door. Bill spent many nights sitting in the apartment hallway humiliated and isolated. Bill was so afraid of his wife that he just accepted her cruel treatment and made no effort to challenger her punitive behavior.
When Becky’s mother became angry with her, she would lock her in a closet. As a child, Becky did not realize that this was wrong, she did not know that her mother was acting inappropriately. When it happened, Becky just thought it was normal, thinking that this is what 'all angry mothers do' to punish misbehaving children.
Jason feared his father. When Jason’s father thought he was lying, he would put a large sign around his neck that read, 'Liar,' and make him stand on the front lawn for people passing by to see. Jason felt ashamed and worthless, but he dared not challenge his 'powerful dad.'
Instilling fear Ann would routinely slap her young daughter, Sandy, telling her, "This is what happens if you disobey." When Sandy became a teenager, she fought back. By seventeen, Sandy had become an alcoholic and had many boyfriends. She was always looking for ways to escape her family.
Terror and humiliation
When Howard's dad was angry with him, he would gather Howard’s brothers and sisters in the living room, pull down Howard's pants and spank him. Howard grew up dreading his father. As an adult, Howard moved to a different continent. Although far away from his father, he still lived in constant fear. In fact, his fear grew to a fear of 'all people.'
Recently, Howard has befriended horses and is working in a stable. He avoids having anything to do with other people--he doesn't trust them.
Physical violence is an extreme expression of anger, whether to control another, to hurt them or due to a loss of self-control, regardless, it is not to be accepted. Assault by a man or woman, or both should not be tolerated regardless of what it is called!
If two individuals find that one or both use physical force, for whatever reason, to assert their position, they should not live together. They should separate, establish safe living arrangements and then consider their options.
The very first step--without exception--is to ensure the safety of the victim(s) of violence and abuse. Only after the violence and abuse has completely stopped, with the victim’s safety and respect fully restored, can other options be considered such as relationship therapy.
If you are continually injured by expressions of anger, and your partner won't stop, you must first and foremost protect yourself from additional injury. This requires eliminating all expressions of anger in your presence. This is the only way to achieve safety. For some individuals this may require qualified professional assistance.
The means to this end is different for each person depending on his or her situation. Achieving safety may be accomplished by the violent and abusive person applying old-fashioned self-control, restraining himself or herself from expressing anger and aggression. If this is not possible, or even doubtful, physical separation is necessary.
Anger management therapy may be necessary. However that might take months to complete and may not even work. During this time, victims of assault cannot and should not be furthered injured waiting for the abuser to 'change.' The safety of everyone involved is the overriding criteria that must be used to determine the best way to proceed.
After safety has been established, it may be possible to recover, if desired, from past injury and injustice by reconciling and establishing, perhaps for the first time, a healthy and respectful relationship.
People can and do change--but not always. It is your choice to attempt reconciliation when the abuse has stopped, but be prepared to end the relationship if the abuse resumes. If you decide to repair the relationship, anger management is essential.
Regardless of the form — anger injures!
If anger is a part of your life, regardless of how the anger is manifested or what it is called, it injures you and others. The stories in this article may have horrified you, but they are there to make the explicit point--anger is destructive!
It is my hope that you have gained insight into the many ways anger is manifested and what can happen to victims of anger. Let this awareness serve to motivate you to seek a life for yourself and your family members that is peaceful and anger-free.
If you believe you (or one of your children) are being abused by anger, here are three immediate things you should do:
1. Make sure you are safe: Depending on the details of your situation you may need immediate assistance from the police, a lawyer, or a caring relationship therapist. Consult with this individual with regards to what you need to do to be safe.
2. Nourish your self-worth: Get some therapy from a caring professional who can help you clearly understand that you are not the cause of your partner's anger and that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
3. Make a decision: Decide if you are going to remain in your current relationship with the person who is abusing you (or a child) or decide to leave.
If your answer is not to stay in the abusive relationship and you decide to leave, you must find a safe way to gather your things and leave. In some situations consulting a lawyer is necessary to make sure you don't diminish your matrimonial rights.
If the answer is 'yes,' you want to stay, make your decision 'conditional.' Inform the 'abuser' that either he or she gets help for their abusive anger problem and puts an end to it, or you will change your mind and exit the relationship. You must take this stand for your own dignity, safety, and sanity.
When it comes to abuse, you cannot compromise on your wellbeing or the wellbeing of a child who is dependent upon you. Be aware that if you do not take a stand and hold to a 'zero tolerance' policy for abuse, nothing will change! Don't be complacent and indirectly become part of the problem.
Abuse needs to be stopped immediately!
Perpetrators of abuse can stop and those who were injured can be healed — but to achieve, this strong action needs to be taken and it needs to be done immediately before it is too late!
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About the author
Abe Kass, MA, RSW, RMFT, CCHT., is a Registered Social Worker, Registered Couple and Family Therapist, Certified Hypnotherapist, and award-winning Educator. He has a busy clinical practice in Toronto, Canada and throughout the world using the phone or Zoom.
After many years of clinical practice and research, Abe concluded that practical solutions requiring a focused effort of no more than a few minutes a day for very specific relationship problems were critically needed. GoSmartLife Publishing House has been created to fill this need.