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Dr. Kenner: Here is an email I got from Suzanne. “Hello Dr. Kenner. Lately I’ve been struggling with anger. I am so hot and cold sometimes. I’ll be happy all day and then I come home. My family treats me very well, yet sometimes I literally hate them. I am so cold and short and mean. I wish I knew what was wrong. I can’t seem to help being so angry all the time. What do you think? Thank you, Suzanne.”
I wish I had a whole lot more information form you Suzanne, but given what I’ve got, I can give you some possibilities. The first is, you want to know that anger, the emotion of anger, is not like sadness. Sadness means you’re dealing with loss. Guilt means you’re feeling like you let yourself down. But anger means that you’re detecting something that is unfair. Now, whether that’s true or not, that’s a separate issue. Sometimes we think things are real unfair when they’re actually very fair. Also, your anger, if I could – you said you get hot and cold – I would say that you have a highly intense emotion, which means that you’re dealing with something very important to you. When someone says, “I don’t know what the problem is,” like someone just didn’t steal your car and you’d be angry at that, it feels more elusive, I look for psychological issues. Maybe your family has a different image of you than you have of yourself? Maybe you don’t experience your independence around them? Maybe you force yourself to go back to the old family rules and you hate being in that environment and putting on a nice smiley face and pretending everything is okay because anger is not allowed in your family. Or maybe there’s too much anger in your family, although I doubt it because you’re saying your family members are nice to you. So you’ve got a few clues.
Let’s start with those. You say, “I’ll be happy all day and then when I come home, I get angry at my family.” Why are you happy all day away from home? What do you say to yourself when you’re away? What do you say to yourself when you’re about to walk in the door at home? Those are questions you want to answer. Imagine you and I were sitting down, looking at a video of you coming home each evening for a week. We taped it. We would look at who do you snap at most? Is it your mom, your dad, a sibling, or if you’re married, a husband? What do they specifically do that triggers that anger? What is the moment of anger? Are they too meddlesome? Maybe mom says, “Tell me all about your day,” and you feel like you have no private mental space of your own. Or maybe they’re too weighty. Mom might say, “Let me tell you what happened to me today,” and if you’re like your mom’s therapist and you don’t want to play that role anymore. Or it may just be that you hate to see the way your parents interact. They’re real phony and distance, or as I said earlier they may treat you in a way that you don’t see yourself. They may see yourself as meek or a slob or they may be phony and you just don’t feel they’re leveling with you.
You want to do the detective work for yourself. I’ll recommend a book, which is Dr. Weisinger’s Anger Workout Book. He teaches you how to self-monitor, monitor your emotions, translate them into words. He helps you figure out how to detect whether your anger is valid or not. Sometimes people are really angry at themselves and they project outward at their family. That could be the case with you too. It could be that you’ve let yourself down and when you come home and see your siblings doing so well in school or their lives and your family doing so well and you’re kind of the black sheep of the family, you get real angry at them but it’s more your own self-hatred that you’re projecting out at them and you don’t feel it when you’re away from home. It’s only when you come back into home.
One last point. It could be that your family members are really nice, but it’s a suffocating nice. In a play by Ayn Rand, Think Twice, it’s in the collection of short stories, the early Ayn Rand, one of the characters says about some alleged “nice guy,” the alleged nice guy, “He wants a cripple. He wanted a cripple because a cripple has to depend on him. If you spend your time helping people. You’ve got to have people to help. If everyone were independent, what would happen to the people who’ve got to help everybody?” That’s interesting. What would happen to all of those do-gooders if people were more resilient and had more independence and were able to think for themselves? Think about what would happen to all of the politicians if everyone were learning to depend on themselves and become more self-responsible. Then we don’t need all the welfare programs and all the do-gooder programs and all the feed the people programs. They learn how to feed themselves. What happens to all those people? Some people want a cripple. As sad as it is to grasp that point, some people want an emotional cripple. Not necessarily a physical one, but an emotional one, because then they feel their power, their control, and you need them. You need them in the worst sort of way, a dependency. I hope it’s not that.
Again, Dr. Weisinger’s the people who’ve got to help everybody?” That’s interesting. What would happen to all of those do-gooders if people were more resilient and had more independence and were able to think for themselves? Think about what would happen to all of the politicians if everyone were learning to depend on themselves and become more self-responsible. Then we don’t need all the welfare programs and all the do-gooder programs and all the feed the people programs. They learn how to feed themselves. What happens to all those people? Some people want a cripple. As sad as it is to grasp that point, some people want an emotional cripple. Not necessarily a physical one, but an emotional one, because then they feel their power, their control, and you need them. You need them in the worst sort of way, a dependency. I hope it’s not that.
Again, Dr. Weisinger’s Anger Workout Book is a good book to look to. He’ll tell you again how to figure out whether your anger is valid or not, and how to change it. How to put yourself on pause, think of alternative ways of thinking about the situation, visualizing consequences and evaluating your results.
This is an email, a real quick one on anger also. This is from a father of quadruplets. For any of you who have had kids, two of them, can you imagine having four kids? At once?
Dr. Kenner: Quadruplets, that’s what that means! I just hope he has a very loving extended family and some help. He says, “I am always angry. I yell at my kids too much and they are starting to fear me.” Good for you for writing. “In traffic, I fly off the handle and act out.” Okay, the road rage. “This isn’t me. I’m usually a nice guy, but the anger issue appears to be getting out of hand.” I would seek therapy ASAP. The worst thing you want is for your kids to fear you or to be on the front page because of a road rage incident. You want a much better view of yourself. Anger again, as I just talked about, is the feeling of injustice. If you feel like you are on mental overload with the kids and not just mental, but day-to-day living, functional overload, and you don’t have any private time for yourself, if that’s what you feel is unfair, or if you have some guilt, you have got to work this out with a therapist. Think of when you were last nice. Was it a genuine nice? And try to figure out what were the elements of being nice, assuming it’s a genuine nice, that you’re missing right now? Ask yourself a lot of questions. Who, what, when, where, why and how. And answer them uncensored to yourself, at least, or in therapy. I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner and my show is The Rational Basis of Happiness.
Female: Pay me a compliment Melvin. I need one. Quick. You have no idea how much what you just said hurt my feelings. I compliment is something nice about somebody else. Now or never.
Female: And mean it.
Male: Can we order first?
Dr. Kenner: And that’s Jack Nicholson from As Good as it Gets. Notice you can’t force a mind. You can’t say, “I want an apology or a compliment right now.” I mean, what’s he going to say to her? Can he say, “You look lovely now.” It’s too trite. She’s going to say, “It’s not good enough. It’s too non-specific,” and so he’ll say, “You’re an easy person to get along with.” That’s not good enough, and it’s certainly not going to feel true at that moment. Or, “I love the tone of your voice.” That would be sarcasm. Or, “You look cute when you’re angry.” I don’t know if she would crack up at that one, but I doubt it. So you can’t force a person to give you a compliment.