Saturday, 20 August 2011

Dealing with tantrums and uncontrollable anger!

I’m a little bit of an expert in this – since my ex had the habit of throwing tantrums to get what he wanted. I wrote a comment on John’s blog about “how to stop fighting with your spouse” and upon reflection realize that I could have done things a lot better. Hence, I try to share my wisdom and seek feedback from others on how to do even better.

Note: domestic abuse includes anything that creates fear such as throwing things and shouting/screaming. You don't have to actually cause physical harm to perpetrate domestic violence. If you have uncontrollable anger or wish to solve problems constructively there is help and you may well find treating an illness or other stressful problem helpful. You don't have to lose your family and be a criminal.   

Note: if someone is getting wound up don't stick around to argue a point and don't get angry and pursue someone to get your own back or "sort it out" on the spot - discretion is the best part of valour

Note: if someone is being abusive call the police if you cannot handle the situation safely and you are in imminent danger.  If someone is being beaten, call the police immeidately and tell them what is happening. Do not wait - people have died because others have not called the police. One punch can kill. The police are trained to handle difficult people.  

So to my learnings from half a life somewhat wasted:-

In the first place, I should not have accepted the bossy nature, temper and tantrums and found a new boyfriend/partner. HOWEVER, I had grown up with a very temperamental and abusive parent who thought that she was “doing the right thing” by repeating her own childhood experience. Do you detect the “cycle of abuse” thing here? Therefore, if you have issues in your life with other people,  I advise you to read, talk to other people and question your own experience. Remember, you will see things through the lens of your life – you will think your life is normal and simply not see the clues that other people have different and perhaps better lives.

Secondly, I should have detected the clues that my intended spouse thought domestic abuse was an acceptable way to solve problems, e.g. telling me that somebody else smashed crockery during an argument without saying it was a bad thing to do; a door broken in anger; and also a history of arguments in his own parental home.  I should have seen that a problem might exist and I should have spoken out – i.e. “I believe in solving problems peacefully and constructively. I will not marry someone that does not want this. Moreover, the first time you try temper with me you are toast!”

Thirdly, I should have maintained my power base and independence – own friends, own money, options other than staying with him. Once I had options he tried harder to behave in an acceptable way and sought medical help. I also attended a self defense class which was really useful in terms of learning how to avoid violence and how to handle attacks if they did happen (I have never needed to use violence to protect myself).

Fourthly, I should have set my boundaries firmly the first time he used anger/smashing things to control me. A social worker told me this. Also, Awesome says that domestic bullies are cowards and the thing to do is to tell them not to do it otherwise there will be consequences – such as being dragged off by the police or leaving the marriage. He says that a couple of experiences of negative consequences may be necessary.  Instead I ignored, what to me looked like a random act of violence, which he followed by boasting how he had showed me I could “not treat him like that” ….and the pattern was set.  

The first time he threw a tantrum I was so scared I could not think and simply did not know what to do. The learning from this is to read books, talk to people and practice assertion and conflict resolution skills BEFORE you face a test – assertion and conflict resolution will be useful in all aspects of your life. It is also helpful to swot up afterwards, but it takes longer to change ingrained behaviour.

Fifthly I should have looked into why he behaved as he did. I have several theories:
  • He thought throwing tantrums to control others was acceptable and worked well. It did seem to be part of his childhood and subgroup culture.  I countered this by quoting government literature on domestic violence and appealing to his desire to be a good and honourable person.
  • He tended to misinterpret facial expressions and meanings – anything remotely negative was seen as very critical and animated facial expressions were like red flags to a bull.   
  • I reinforced his use of anger to control me by doing what he wanted rather than speaking out or providing direct negative consequences.
  •  As he became chronically ill he could not cope with the frustrations of life and anyway was poorly equipped to solve problems. Hence, the tantrums became more frantic and less controlled. Gaining medical advice and solving a chronic health issue helped this cause.
Basically, he needed leadership to be the best person he could be and I was not able to lead until it was too late for a lot of things. Ironically he'd chosen me because of my quiet nature and natural inclination not to lead.... 

    ANYWAY, I wrote on John’s blog about my way of handling outbursts – I still think this is a good way to deal with anger that a person cannot control as it limits the damage and does not reward the behaviour. Remember this tactic should be combined with communicating boundaries, self empowerment and learning essential people skills.

    I always had my handbag ready to go with all I needed to start a new life – glasses, money, passport, camera, phone etc. I also kept it handy and tried to keep it in a place where it was both safe and where I had two exits and therefore could not be trapped. At the first sign of rage I would stop whatever I was doing, put the handbag on my shoulder and walk out. I found 30 minutes to 60 minutes was enough for him to calm down. I based my tactic on the practice of extinguishing bad behaviour in a child who is throwing a tantrum by simply ignoring the child.

    Walking away rather than engaging also ensures the person does not get wound up further and also does not do something rash that could be regretted later. He used to get to a stage where he was quite out of control and there was nothing that could be done except give him space. I am sure he would have destroyed more property and perhaps hurt me if I’d tried to argue with him when he was getting out of control.

    I always tried to have an escape route, but sometimes he cornered me. In that case I sought not to inflame the situation. I used to avert my eyes, keep my expression blank, adopt a non-aggressive stance and just agree or if it seemed prudent repeat quietly – “this is domestic abuse, you are bigger than me, I am frightened. Please stop. Please let me go.”

    I never had kids to protect, so I am not sure what you do if there are kids around. I expect one would bundle them up as well and go to a refuge until the rage issue was solved permanently. You would also have to teach them that domestic rage and abuse is not acceptable and teach them alternative and constructive ways to deal with problems.  

    Now I am sure most of my readers are going to think – “crumbs Candice, why were you so naïve and silly”. However, I’ve written this to inform other people who, just like the young Candice, really need to get their act together before half their life is wasted dealing with someone else’s anger issues.

    Note: I don't judge people with anger issues and recognise that with the wrong 'nature' and 'nuture' situation, we could all be the abusive one. Some folks are ill and just can't control their anger. However, hanging around to get abused helps no one. Also, if someone gets angry and then leaves to cool down, don't follow them up and attack/scold them. Let them come back when they are ready to talk quietly.      
    Queen Street Mall flowers August 2011 - there are always flowers and there is always hope! Just love the light in Queensland on these bright cold days. The Council have changed the flowers and they are still fresh and vibrant. 


    1. Hey Candice
      Your wisdom is spot on for dealing with difficult and abusive partners. No one should have to live in fear. It is not only dangerous directly but indirectly as stress is the number one cause of heart disease and ulcers.

      Set your boundaries and stick to them and withdraw when someone wants to violate those boundaries.

      Blessings on you and yours
      John Wilder

    2. Dear John - thanks for your input. I am aware of your relevant life and professional experience, so am delighted to get positive feedback.

      I only have experience with one partner and one parent (and sort of escaped experience of an abusive grandfather and sibling due to death and distance respectively). ANYWAY - it seems to me balance of power and appeal to values are important in controlling bad behaviour.

      A grown child can turn the tables on a parent - but for someone with my value set (respect for elders, non-violence) this is difficult. Also, the parent has the opportunity to build in terror triggers that cripple protective response even after a child is big enough to fight back. On the other hand, if one is sufficiently wise and self-aware, it is possible to identify and control aberrant behaviour in an adult such as a partner.

      As you say, set the boundaries and don’t allow them to be crossed. A social worker pointed out the value of identifying the value set and building on that. For example, most people don’t want to be seen as abusive (hence appeal to official literature). There is also a place in the Bible that says whatever you do to a child you do directly to Jesus (might work for Christians). Also, providing relief from unbearable stress and alternative and more successful ways to handle stressful situations / negotiations are good ideas.

      A social worker also said that aggressive behaviour attenuates in men as they get older due to reduction in testosterone level – something to look forward too!

      Thank you again for your comment!

    3. While I like your idea for dealing with temper tantrums and such there are two facts you totally overlooked:

      A. No Triage. Anger management classes would be good for people in order to learn how to fight things out in fair and safe manners, since some conflict is inevitable in any relationship. However, our society works on the punitive rather than preventive or medical models.

      B. Because of this it is at least possible to destroy your family with a single call to the police. Many states have mandatory "no drop" policies in terms of charging for domestic violence and many people just don't know how legally and financially devastating a single no-contact "temporary" restraining order could be. In short, it is possible to break up a family, remove the children to foster care (and make both parents fight for them)cause the person who has the order placed against them to lose their job (sometimes weekend lockup will do that, esp if they can't make bail ), and basically the wishes of the victim will not necessarily be followed. This doesn't always happen, it partly depends on the laws in your state, but I would not recommend that people call police short of a direct threat of violence, or violence more than of the "shoving" or grabbing types. Instead, they should try your idea, set boundaries, and do the things recommended in Holly's post, and use the police as a last resort, as I guarantee you will get no help from them -you will only get prosecution and maybe some protection should you need to leave the relationship.


    4. Thank you Clarence - your comment really adds value to the post.

      I agree on the first count, but it's not always easy to get people to attend classes. I wish it was! We could all learn more people skills.

      As to point B, thanks for the warning about calling the police in family situations (I assume US). We should all think of such consequences and thus avoid getting the police involved, except where there is a very real risk.

      I don't think we should trouble the police unless we are in real danger and then anything is better than someone getting killed or maimed. For example, someone has cornered someone and there is a real risk of injury and death.

      I know of a case where a person watched a young man intoxicated with drugs and alcohol beat a much smaller, older (sober) lady for an hour before calling the police. There were significant injuries. I'd have avoided the situation or called the police.

      Here in Australia, it's best to call the police if there is imminent danger - they have discretion to act appropriately. In some states they tend to shoot distraught people with guns and weapons, so that is unfortunately an outcome that has to be considered.

      In the case I mentioned, I'd have tried to escape with all the other people in the house before the violence began. I'm sure it would have been obvious that things were getting heated. If I could not protect the older lady, I would have called the police immediately and would have expected them to arrive almost instantly. The man had a record of extreme asault.

      I've once been put in huge danger by a silly person that would not go away while I covered for her. Moreover, the person losing control could have assaulted her and then would have faced criminal charges.

      She rushed in to "help", would not listen to my quiet (non violence escalating) requests to leave (so I could leave also) and then froze when she realised she was facing someone twice her size losing control. The situation started to escalate so I had to move into the danger zone to physically remove her to safety. I was NOT HAPPY about that.

      PLEASE people - do not rush in to "help" unless you really know what you are doing. Similarly, don't goad someone into violence. Your pride may compel you to argue back - but is it really worth it? Just walk away.