Clever disguise (ii)I have a lot of people showing up in my office who are very aware that somewhere down the line they started behaving like their parents. And not in a good way.

The behavior that is most difficult to deal with is anger. When a parent has more than just a bit of a temper and regularly flies into horrific rages, it will affect his children.

I used to see a young man who came to therapy because his girlfriend complained about his unpredictable, angry outbursts. He would easily fly off the handle, even for minor snafus, and the volume in his voice grew gradually scarier the longer the outburst took. He was far from becoming violent, but his screaming started to frighten the people around him.

When talking about his anger to me it became quickly obvious where he had it from: his father was the same kind of yeller who could not contain his frustration and made his environment – most of all his own family – suffer.

At some point the father would even act out his fury on the family dog, and kicked the poor animal into a corner just because he wanted some attention.

There was no communicating in his house. Conflicts were either left unaddressed or resolved in a way that clearly put the children in a powerless position. It was his way or the highway, and no one was able to just get up and leave.

In therapy, my client slowly learned how to communicate. He became aware of the early warning signs of his anger and dealt with it when it was still containable. At the point where he felt he wasn’t able to contain it, he removed himself from the situation.

He became painfully aware that he exhibited the same behaviors as his father and remembered how frightened he was when the old man used to display his rage.

He realized that much of the anger he felt in the present had to do with unexpressed feelings from the past. Even though it was his father who made him feel powerless and inferior to the core, he yelled at his girlfriend in situations when he felt at a loss of what to do and she seemed to have put him there.

After doing a lot of work on his anger issues he was able to let go of the past hurt. He vowed to break the cycle and not continue to impose his anger on the children he was hoping to have one day.

That is why we must confront the destructive behaviors that are rooted in the past. We can’t make them a part of our legacy. We have to deal with then right now.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Kalexanderson