Why Is My Anger "Bigger" than Normal?

If you've been following my blog lately you know I've been looking at the issue of anger. Many of us struggle with it but we hate to admit it. For some of us, our anger is more visible and recognizable than it is with others. Gary Chapman, in his book entitled ANGER: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way was especially useful to me as I looked at some of my anger patterns both in the past and presently.

I was reminded over the weekend of a most embarrassing moment by my daughter Kellie's friend, Marissa. When Kellie was in junior high she asked if she could go over to a friends house after school to work on a project. I knew her friend, Sanja and the general location of the house where she would be. We agreed that she would be back home around 4 p.m. and because Kellie had shown herself to be very trustworthy, I gave it no further thought. That is until 4:00 came and went. When 45 minutes passed, I got in the car. I was panicked inside that something bad had happened. As I drove up and down nearby streets, I finally caught a glimpse of two girls walking together in the distance. As I got closer, I recognized my daughter Kellie, but didn't know the other girl she was with. In a flash of anger, I screeched the car to a stop, got out of the car and swatted my twelve year old across the behind, all in front of her newly-found friend, Marissa, who was also working on the school project. Kellie was humiliated.

Kellie and Marissa remained friends throughout high school and college and were in each others' weddings. Over the years, Marissa would jokingly recount to others her first encounter with me and all I could do is shake my head affirmatively and "own" my anger. It wasn't until years later that I realized that underneath my explosive anger was a deep-seated fear and anxiety. Due to my own abusive past, I was fearful that something bad would happen to my children and I would not be able to protect them. Instead of processing through my own grief over not being protected as a child, I became hyper-vigilant and extremely anxious over the unknown, which I often expressed through anger. I'm still a little embarrassed over that initial encounter with Marissa, but, at least we can laugh about it now. (By the way, I have apologized to both Kellie and Marissa for my outburst!)

Don't misunderstand me. Being upset with Kellie for being late was legitimate. We had an agreed upon time and she was late. BUT, the intensity of my anger and subsequent reaction was beyond what the situation warranted. I've discovered through counseling that when our reaction in a given situation is "bigger" than the situation calls for, we should look for "historical roots." In other words, we are probably reacting not only to the present situation, but we are also being triggered by past incidents that carry a similar theme, which helps explain our "over-charged" reaction.

Can you think of a time recently when your anger was "bigger" than the situation called for? What was going on? What were you feeling at the time? Is there something from your past that triggers this same feeling? Take some time to write about this in a journal or talk to a close friend about your experience.

In my next post, we're going to look at two kinds of anger as defined by Dr. Chapman in his book. One is definitive anger and the other is distorted anger. You might be as surprised as I was about how to distinguish between these two types of anger.