This article was first published on KSL.COM
My spouse has anger issues. She has been mad at me for years and can’t seem to let it go. She also expresses a lot of anger towards other people. She can invent reasons to be angry at anyone. I don’t understand her anger and it concerns me, especially when I’m sometimes the target of it. Is there anything I can do?
First, I want you (and I believe it would serve us all) to better understand the psychology behind anger. It usually comes from these three factors:
A victim experience can even be created when someone has done something wrong themselves and you have just called them on their bad behavior. Because they don’t want to be responsible for their behavior, they subconsciously focus on how mean you were for bringing it up. (Many of you have experienced this with your spouse or significant other.)
I experienced this recently when I was pulled over by the police for running a stop sign. It was a very interesting anger experience. My first thought (driven by my subconscious programming) was to think of an excuse that might get me out of being responsible for that partial stop. I hoped that this police officer would be nice (and not be a jerk) about my very slight offense and let me off with a warning, but the officer did her job, handled me in a very matter of fact way, and gave me a ticket.
I was not happy about this and I honestly felt mistreated. I experienced a great deal of anger towards this officer because I felt wronged. I did stop at that stop sign, just not long enough, apparently, but there was no reason to be so rude about it — that was my thinking. There was even a part of my ego that wanted to say something mean to her about what a rude person she was. I didn’t, because I'm pretty emotionally mature and nonreactive, but my ego side sure wanted to.
Instead, I sat in the car for a minute and really experienced my angry emotions. The amount of anger I had towards this officer, who was just doing her job, was amazing. I realized this experience could help me to understand why some people, who have more police “interactions” because of their skin color or ethnicity (which is a reality) would start to feel a great deal of anger towards the police.
I also understand it because I have an African-American daughter who gets followed around stores by nervous employees all the time. This can create some anger in both of us, but fortunately, we are able to see that it isn’t really about us (it’s about their fear) so we strive to ignore it.
I tell you this because I want you to understand that your spouse probably suffers from a general fear of being insulted or taken from all the time. This may come from her past and is a part of her subconscious programming. She probably also suffers from low self-esteem (though again, she might cover this with pride and ego) and to compensate for this she will subconsciously look for offenses to be angry about, because being angry at “them or you” makes her ego feel powerful and somewhat better about herself. By casting you or someone else as the bad guy, it feels like by default, that makes her the good guy.
So, now that you better understand her psychology, your question was is there anything you can do?
First, understand when the anger is directed at you that it isn’t really about you. It is really a projection of her fears about herself and need to feel powerful and right by making others wrong. You must see her anger accurately for what it is, so you won’t let it bother you too much. It is her problem. Don’t take it on and suffer over it.
Second, be nice, kind, calm and logical and treat her with all the respect and love that you can, even when she doesn’t deserve it. Praise her and validate her whenever possible too (about any good behavior you see). This is the last thing she expects as she is subconsciously hoping you will behave badly back, so she can further cast you as the bad one. Being kind will throw her off her game, and it may actually force her to see she is the one behaving badly. This is what you want.
Don’t cast any stones or point out that she is in the wrong. You want her to realize this on her own (it’s much more powerful this way.) Having said that, if a lot of time goes by and she just isn’t seeing her anger issues or working on them, you may need to get a professional involved who can help her to see how her behavior is a problem and show her how to change it. It works a lot better if a third-party professional, not you, is the one to point out her need to learn forgiveness.
I also mentioned in last week’s article (about the most important New Year's resolution you could make) that we all need to start seeing other people as the same as us, and not cast them as the bad guys, because this is the real answer to stopping hate and anger. Make sure you read it if you missed it and remember that we are all imperfect, struggling, scared human beings doing the best we can with what we know and we all have the exact same value.
If you would commit to see other people (and especially your spouse) accurately this year and never see yourself as better, it will take your ego out of the picture and bring love, tolerance and acceptance back in. We must stop casting our spouse, neighbors, the police or people who are different from us as the bad guys. We must remember that anger towards another person or group of people will hurt you more than it will hurt them.
Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; but you are the one who gets burned.”
Understand that every experience where you feel wronged or insulted is there to help you grow, learn to forgive and become a better person. It is your lesson on forgiveness, tolerance, understanding and becoming more mature (not theirs).
Even in situations when a wrong needs to be brought up, you must do it from a place of love for the other person, not seeing them as the bad guy. It must be handled from a place of forgiveness, seeing the other person as the same as you, as a struggling human being who has much more to learn.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a coach and speaker.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.