How to stop taking your anger out on those you love the most

Noemi J. Mullins

You may not even realize it is happening. The simmering irritation you’ve had for hours can reach a boiling point when your partner doesn’t bring home the ingredient for a recipe you specifically requested. You may have asked your child to pick up the toy left in the middle of the living room, but they still didn’t. On a bad day, your loved one may occupy your space and make you angry. You’ve already said it (or screamed) within minutes. You may have said something rude, only to realize later that you didn’t mean it.

The mix of shame and regret that often follows a fight with your mother is toxic for you to consume repeatedly. The mixture of guilt and shame, which often follows anger, is a toxic mix you will drink continually.

It is important to note that anger is not a moral failure or something you should eradicate. The therapist, Lisa Marie Bobby, Ph.D., LMFT, and founder of Colorado’s Growth Self Counseling & Coach, tells SELF that anger can be a powerful energy to help people feel empowered and legitimated to take action. Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, based in Colorado, is led by Lisa Marie Bobby, Ph.D., LMFT. She says that anger can be the catalyst for setting boundaries, expressing no to harmful behaviors, and ending toxic relationships.

To stop taking out your anger on your loved ones, you need to become more familiar with the inner landscape of your emotions and how they influence what you say and do. Dr. Bobby calls this “emotional-regulation skills training.” “Many people who get lash-y aren’t connected to their feelings,” she explains. On a scale from 1 to 10, where ten means throwing a chair through the window, productive communication happens around a 2. “Many people who are angry don’t start talking about their feelings until they reach a score of 7 or 8.”

You’re likelier to say things you don’t mean in the heat of the moment. When you are in a cycle where you cannot stop saying or acting things you regret later, Dr. Bobby warns: “You will eventually damage or irreparably ruin your relationships with those you love.”

Why You Might Be Misdirecting Your Rage Towards Someone Undeserving? There may be several underlying causes. Experts explain below how identifying these triggers is part of breaking the cycle – and offer strategies that can help.

Take a look at your mental health.

According to Dr. Bobby, untreated mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can lead to a misdirected cycle of anger. She says that people will often beat themselves up for how they treat their partner and fail to realize they need treatment. This should be done first to determine whether the problem can be adequately resolved.

Listen to others, even if they don’t seem to be experiencing noticeable symptoms (like restlessness due to anxiety or hopelessness when you are depressed). Listen when someone close to you says you have been acting more aggressively lately. They may be able to see your behavior better than you, says Sadaf SIDDIQI, LCPC, a therapist in New York City specializing in emotional regulation.

Siddiqi explains that it’s difficult for people to admit they have anger issues. Siddiqi says, “Admitting anger issues to yourself is the first step. Then, if possible, admit it to someone else.”

Recognize your patterns.

Dr. Bobby and Siddiqi emphasize that learning what sets you off is essential whether you seek professional assistance or not. They also stress the importance of understanding your feelings viscerally when you start getting worked up. Siddiqi says that the things that anger you will likely make you angry again. It’s not a one-time thing. You can better manage your feelings by identifying the things that make you mad and noticing early signs, such as tightness in the chest or an increased heart rate.

Siddiqi gives this example to address a pattern: If you are aware that you bring stress and suppressed rage home from work, asking your partner for 15 minutes of alone time when you arrive can help you deal with those feelings in a healthier way. You can use this time to write a journal or listen to a chilled playlist. Or you can sit on your bed and take deep breaths to calm your nervous system.

Exercise or a brisk stroll can also help you reduce your anger. Dr. Bobby says that because anger is a physiological reaction, exercise can help reduce it. This can be particularly helpful if there’s an underlying mental illness: According to research, exercise can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.

Dr. Bobby suggests that if you are prone to lash out at your loved ones, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), may help you identify why anger comes up. These popular therapy models will help you separate anger from other feelings and understand why certain situations make you angry. You can then start to develop coping mechanisms or set boundaries. The therapist director on Psychology Today has a search feature that will help you locate a therapist trained in CBT or DBT or a professional who mentions these treatments in their bio. Inclusive Therapy can be a great place to begin, especially if you have a marginalized identity and find it difficult to find therapists who understand your situation.

Find out if you are prone to angry outbursts.

Unresolved feelings about a difficult situation, such as a health problem, grief, or burnout at work, will surface. They may manifest as a sudden outburst at home or an inability to control the urge to silence someone over a perceived slight. Siddiqi explains that psychologists refer to this as “displacement,” and it is a form of defense. She explains that “you redirect your anger over something you can’t change to another thing which is less threatening”–like an unsuspecting partner or parent.

According to Dr. Bobby, situational anger is one of the most accessible types of misdirected rage. She says the first step to overcoming anger is recognizing you are not yourself. You’re going through a difficult situation that makes you feel and think angry. It’s more helpful to tell yourself that you’re not going to be tricked by your feelings than to follow them.

Imagine this: you’re recovering from surgery, and the pain has made you so irritable that you ca be unable to see clearly. A slightly messy house looks completely squalid. You’re angry with your partner, whether or not they’re to blame for the mess. Ask yourself, “How is my emotion coloring this story?” Before accusing your partner of chronic disrespect, they will be hurt, confused, and defensive.

Rewriting your angry narrative can help you create a space between yourself and those hot feelings whispering in your ear, “Slam your cabinet doors really loud and go OFF!”

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