Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Must You Be/Such An Angry Young (Wo)Man?

In the movie Anger Management, Adam Sandler plays a man who is actually quite passive and non-aggressive, until finally goaded to rage and then ‘punked’ into attending anger management classes. During the course of these, Jack Nicholson (who plays a wacked-out therapist) eventually gets him to see that he needs to set boundaries and get angry once in a while.

In real life, most people with OCPD don’t need Jack or anybody else to tick off them off - they wear the cape of AngryMan 24/7.  I watched my OCPD boyfriend descend into rages about the stupidest shit, all the time. Often directed at me because I did something "wrong" in his eyes, like picking up a couple of Kmart throw pillows for the couch without checking with him first.

Or, I would get to be on the receiving end of him re-enacting an argument with his sister (a regular favorite - politics was another) or some other person who pissed him off  (an endless supply of those!)  He could re-live the same experience countless times, and unless I physically left the room, he would often roar right past my stop signs:
  • Yes, you’ve told me this before.
  • Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?
  • I know this upsets you, but I don’t appreciate being yelled at.
  • Please don't do this tonight, I'm not in the mood.
Occasionally, he would stop and apologize, or at later times, he would apologize for ‘taking things out on me,’ but I'm not sure he realized how destructive his rages were to our relationship, until I actually told him I was moving out.

I got an interesting front-row seat at this from another angle, spending time recently with my bi-polar niece (actually my nephew’s fiancee.) While she was with me, she worked herself into several rages, which, while not directed at me, were still unpleasant to witness. She even mentioned that she felt a tremendous feeling of relief after ‘blowing off steam’ and thanked me for tolerating it.

I’d remembered reading in Patricia Evans’ works about how those who are verbally abusive actually experience a physical, addictive high from anger outbursts - something those of us who are not constantly angry may find hard to understand. Turns out there’s a fair amount of research on the subject - and it’s constantly referenced in the media.

From this week’s Newsweek :
"Gut-level feelings of tremendous anxiety quickly turn into rage," says psychology professor Drew Western of Emory University and author of the 2007 book The Political Brain. "Men in particular don’t like feeling anxious, so they quickly convert anxiety into anger at what made them anxious."

From the same article:

... psychiatrist Ronald Pies of SUNY Upstate Medical Center wrote in Psychiatric Times. "There is a ‘magical’ dimension in anger: it transforms the world from one in which the person feels helpless and impotent into one in which the person has the illusion of power and control. It is as if to say, ‘If I get angry enough, the laws of physics won’t apply - I’ll be able to plug that damned oil leak through the power of my righteous indignation!"

October’s 'Self' magazine had an article by Deb Abramson who described her regular blow-ups, and the emotional satisfaction she got from them, although she methodically and conscientiously detailed all the terrible effects blowing one’s top has on one’s physical health (Plenty - from high blood pressure to faster aging and earlier death.  Still, I got the impression, that even though she knows it’s bad for her health, even though she knows it’s hard on her husband, and a terrible example for their children, she doesn’t intend to quit all of her tantrums anytime soon.  The buzz she gets from it is just too sweet.

From Dr. William DeFoore’s Anger Management website:

...the problem develops like this:
  • You get angry. You blow up...
  • You feel a rush of takes you right out of the helpless feeling...
More excellent information available directly on the site; Dr. DeFoore also offers a monthly newsletter on the subject.
"Self-stimulation is one of the most common manifestations of anger addiction. For people who are addicted to rage or anger, expressing their anger is self-stimulating. It doesn't matter how petty their anger issues are, these people would express their anger in some ways because it gives them a feeling of satisfaction. Since venting their anger stimulates them and give them a feeling of satisfaction, people who are addicted to anger wants to be angry most of the time. To fuel their anger, these people often resort to alcohol. Unfortunately, such attitude is very destructive. In most cases, the family, friends and colleagues of a person who is addicted to rage often suffer. Children of parents who are addicted to anger and violence often get abused.
Aside from self-stimulation, people who are addicted to anger tend to be compulsive and obsessive. These people tend to dwell on their past anger issues even when these anger issues have already been properly resolved. It is very hard for these people to forgive others that they often harbor ill feelings to people whom they think have offended them in some ways. In most cases, these people do not listen to reasons. Yes, they may attempt to listen to explanations at times and may even agree to make peace with the people whom they think have offended them but when they are alone, they tend to dwell on their anger issues again. As these people continue to dwell on their anger issues, they become obsessed with the idea of revenge. Often times, these people lose control over their emotions. At this point, the person who is addicted to anger becomes dangerous to him/herself and to the people around him or her."

Been there, experienced that. For all you anger addicts out there - trust me, it will only be a matter of time before the person you love, who has tolerated so much, will reach the end of his or her rope. And when you rage, "I don’t like you! I wish you’d just get the hell out of my life!" for the seventeenth dozen time, no amount of apologies and sweet-talking will smooth it over. The person you were raging at will take you at your word, and go.

Because eventually, we just don’t want to be your emotional punching bag any more. Even if you’re physically ill, or mentally ill, laid-off or cross-eyed, we are tired of the excuses you give for ‘going off’ at us all the frickin' time.  We're stressed out, too - and your anger binges are a big part of the reason why!

We decide we want, and deserve, a home where we're not raged at all the time, where we feel emotionally safe.

Even if it’s not with you.