It’s normal to feel angry sometimes. Everyone feels anger at one time or another. Anger becomes a problem when you aren’t able to manage it or you act out because of it. It’s also problematic when someone gets caught up in anger they aren’t able to process and move forward.
Anger is a natural emotion that everyone experiences. But even problematic anger isn’t always abusive. If you struggle to control your anger or you feel angry more than you’d like, you might want to seek support and change, but this doesn’t make you an abusive person.
Anger becomes abusive when it causes you to lash out, intentionally at someone else.
How do you know your anger has crossed the line into abuse?
If you find yourself frequently yelling at or belittling your partner, if you regularly resort to physical intimidation even violence, or if you make threats of violence, then your anger has become abusive.
It’s also important to note that not all abuse is rooted in anger. Abusers often feel angry and don’t know how they control their anger. However, don’t assume that behavior can’t be abusive unless there is anger involved. In some cases, abusive people act out for other reasons not linked to anger.
According to Steven Stosny, Ph.D., resentment is a very common emotion behind abusive behavior. “Resentment is a misguided attempt to transfer pain to someone else, specifically the shame of failure to feel good, i.e., to create more value, meaning, and purpose in our lives. Blaming this core failure on someone else justifies a sense of self-righteousness, along with low-grade anger, which temporarily makes us feel more powerful.”
Differences between the Feeling of Anger and Acting Abusively
There is a big difference between feeling angry and acting abusively.
When someone is feeling angry, they may feel like they are out of control or they may worry that they will lash out at someone. However, they usually don’t act on those feelings.
On the other hand, when someone is being abusive, they are deliberately trying to hurt or control someone else. They may use threats, intimidation, or physical violence.
There is nothing wrong with feeling anger. It only becomes a problem when someone is unable to manage their anger and control behaviors linked to their anger.
Abusive behavior, on the other hand, is always harmful and damaging and it is never okay to hurt someone else. If you are feeling angry, there are healthy ways to express that anger without resorting to abuse.
What is Patternistic Abuse?
When we think of abuse, we often think of a single act of violence or control. However, abuse is usually not a one-time event, but rather a pattern of behavior that escalates over time. This pattern can be difficult to recognize, especially if you’re in the middle of it.
Patterns are behaviors you return to time after time. You do them without thinking. They aren’t habits, but they are similar to habits because they are repeated without much thought.
Here are some signs that you might have developed an abusive pattern:
- You put your partner down often, calling them names or making them feel less than whole
- You regularly threaten or bully your partner
- You try to control your partner, preventing them from going places or seeing other people
- You physically hurt your partner by slapping, hitting, pushing, punching, kicking, or choking them
- You try to control your partner’s finances or limit their access to money
- You prevent your partner from getting a job or interfere with their ability to work
- You force your partner to have sex when they don’t want to or you force them to do sexual things that make them uncomfortable
- You threaten to harm your partner or someone or something they care about
What is Situation-Specific Aggression?
Situation-specific aggression is a type of aggression that only occurs in certain situations. It is different from a pattern of abuse, which is a series of abusive behaviors that occur over time.
Situation-specific aggression may be caused by many factors, including stress, anxiety, and frustration. It is often directed at people or objects that are perceived to be the source of the stressor.
Situation-specific aggression is usually not premeditated, and it does not involve a desire to cause harm. Instead, it is an impulsive reaction to a stressful situation. While situation-specific aggression is not typically harmful, it can become dangerous if it escalates into violence.
3 Anger Mediation Strategies
There are several things you can do to mediate your anger before it becomes abusive. For example:
1. Recognize your anger triggers. What are the things that tend to make you angry? Once you know what your triggers are, you can try to avoid them or be prepared for them.
2. Interrupt Your Reaction – Count to 10 (or 20 or however high you need to go to calm down). This may seem like a cliché, but it does help. When you start to feel yourself getting angry, take a deep breath and count to 10. This helps feel calmer and think more clearly.
3. Walk away. If you can, remove yourself from the situation that is making you angry. Sometimes, all you need is a little time to cool down before you can deal with the situation in a more constructive way.
If you believe you’ve begun acting abusively or you are involved in a relationship that includes abuse, it’s important to seek professional support.