Anger And Relationships
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist for twenty-five
years, I deal with the same eight conditions over and over. One of
the most common complaints I hear about is relationships.
(The other seven are mood problems, children's behaviors, ADHD
or learning disorders, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor assertiveness
I deal with anger management problems mostly in
as couples are referred through the courts in domestic
violence cases, or come in for couples counseling,
usually because of poor communication skills or outright
fighting. If anger is not THE problem, it is almost
always involved in some fashion.
I also see it in kids, particularly teenagers.
Kids often have impulse control problems, just because
they are kids. Older kids have those pesky hormones
coursing through their veins (starting a lot earlier than
parents realize). Hormones produce physical changes
characteristic of puberty, starting at twelve years or
so for girls, thirteen years or so for boys. These ages
can vary by as much as three years in either direction.
But the behavior problems associated with hormone changes
start almost immediately after the hormones “cut in.” On
average, this is around age 8 ½ years for girls and 9 ½ years
for boys. At these earlier ages, parents report their
child’s behavior “changes.” Their formerly nice, sweet
little angels, almost overnight, become more “oppositional.”
Parents notice their previously easy-to-manage-children
suddenly saying “no” and not cooperating with even simple
requests, like going to bed on time or turning off the TV.
Some parents refer to this as the second “terrible twos”
period. During this phase, kids take on a more “challenging”
attitude, that if unchecked, will continue to emerge, often
nto full-blown anger outbursts. While the “resistance,” or
perhaps downright defiance, is predictable and normal at this
age, regular anger outbursts are not.
Some teenagers show these (sometimes chronic) negative
behavior tendencies early on. They arrive in my office with
a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). That’s
the terrible-twos syndrome on steroids. Almost everything
is a challenge, trying parent’s patience and pushing parents
to the limits of their endurance. Most of the time, ODD has
some biological basis colluding with a difficult environment.
Frequently there is a family history of some form of learning
or other disorder (ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome,
childhood bipolar, etc.). Frequently there are divorces in
the family history and/or domestic violence.
Whenever a child of any age exudes such problem behaviors,
there is disruption in relationships, whether it is with
siblings, peers or parents. There is usually a deficit in
social skills, coupled with some impairment in impulse control.
Especially when ADHD is involved, there is damage done to the
child’s self-esteem, causing more, often chronic anger.
Children compensate by acting out their feelings, particularly
anger. Often this occurs to their own detriment. For example,
bullying “compensates” loss of control, personal power or low
academic or social status, but if indulged in too often lands
the child in the vice principal’s office, or worse. These are
the classic beginnings of anger management problems.