Always write angry letters to your enemies.
Never mail them. -James Fallows
Extreme anger hurts everyone.
Follow Mary's journey from extreme anger to peace and harmony.
True Story (Details changed to protect privacy)
Mary often screamed uncontrollably at her two young children. She often reacted with extreme anger
Mary had high expectations about how her children should behave.
For example, after playing with their toys she demanded that the children immediately put them away. If not, she became angry, screamed and threatened. When dressing them, she became furious if they resisted putting on the clothes she had selected.
Mary's husband Dan tried to shelter the children by telling Mary not to yell at them, or suggesting that he take over.
Mary felt Dan was interfering with her already difficult parenting job and that he was also sending a message to the children that she was not a "good parent."
Often Mary and Dan would argue in front of the children. Sometimes their disagreements would escalate to the point of extreme anger which included shouting and name-calling.
Mary felt guilty about her anger. She wanted to be a perfect parent and knew her anger was wrong.
After an anger outburst tried to make it up to the children by being extra nice. During these moments, when their mother was very nice, the youngsters could get away with almost anything.
As a result, Mary’s parenting was inconsistent and the kids didn’t always know what the rules were because they changed according to her moods. This contributed to the children behaving in ways that Mary inevitably disapproved of, which then led to her becoming angry.
When Mary was a child, her mother treated her harshly. Her mother routinely degraded her insults and slaps. She grew up having to constantly defend herself. Now, as an adult and mother herself, when she wanted something and was opposed she would immediately get defensive and resort to extreme anger.
These strong reactions were a legacy from her past when survival as a child depended on mounting a strong protective defense. However, she was no longer a child in her mother’s home. Reacting angrily now, using the same coping strategies she did as a child, put her marriage at risk.
Mary's anger injured the children's self-esteem and cause them to be frightened of her. Mary's extreme anger also caused tension in her marriage.
Mary had never got over t her anger at her mother and was committed to being the opposite type of parent; she tried to be the perfect parent. She created unreasonably high expectations for herself and her children. Having high expectations meant she was often disappointed and angry.
Mary ended up with the very thing she had pledged to avoid – parental extreme anger.
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I advised Mary to lower her expectations as a way to reduce her anger triggers and extreme anger outbursts.
With lower expectations, she would have fewer reasons for getting angry.
For example, I recommended that she accept that the children do not have put away their toys immediately after playing with them. This would eliminate the judgment that the kids were misbehaving, as well as an effort to force them to clean up, which could lead to an angry confrontation.
I helped Mary realize, to her surprise and horror, that she was becoming in many ways like her own critical and harsh mother.
After about six months of sincere and consistent effort, Marry changed her parenting style, becoming calmer and more patient.
Dan no longer felt he had to protect the children from Mary's anger and was able to play a more supportive role in Mary’s parenting of the children.
As a result of, eliminating conflicts over the children, Mary and Dan became much closer.
Fortunately, Mary had the courage to face her problems, even though she was sensitive and vulnerable to perceived criticism and accountability.
Counseling and analyzing her parenting approach was painful and risky. She easily felt threatened and embarrassed and wanted to be the perfect mother (counseling required she acknowledge certain deficiencies).
Mary succeeded in changing herself and thereby strengthened her self-esteem, improved her marriage and acquired better parenting skills. Her efforts increased the likelihood of raising emotionally healthy children and she reduced marital stress.
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