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Anger

Question:

Hi Dr. Schwartz,

 I’ve feeling this way for most of my life. Everytime I get angry as a result of disrespect, my thoughts ALWAYS result in actually killing the person in my mind. The whole scenerio plays out in my head, including the way im going to do it and it’s really horrible. The older I get the easier I feel I may act upon these thoughts, seriously. Im generally a very nice person. I’m, for most part, very happy and care free. I get along with everyone, nothing really bothers me and I’m an all around nice person. My question is, why are my thoughts so extreme, from happy to killing, in an instant. Thanks, Craig

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Answer:

Hi Craig,

You are asking an interesting question and I take it very seriously. It is fairly common to read, in the newspaper, of a person who has suddenly committed a murder over some minor incident. The profile of the person who committed the impulsive murder is often that of a nice guy whom everyone liked. That is what you are describing about yourself, so, lets look at why this happens. By the way, I am not implying that you are someone about to commit murder but you seem worried about this.

The “Nice Guy,” carefree, happy, outgoing and optimistic, who never gets angry, is often the individual who goes home, closes the door to his house and either kicks the dog or beats his wife and children. The “nice guy” is paying a price for being so “nice.” What I mean is that he tends to someone who is passive. In his passivity, he takes a lot of abuse at work. He has difficulty being assertive and firm with people. He submits to those who are senior to him at work and rarely, if ever, states any objections. As a result, he is holding back lots of anger that accumlates and gradually builds into rage. The fantasies of murder are a result of that suppressed anger and rage.

You see, the problem is not that you become angry when you are disprespected. The problem is that you do nothing about it: either the disrespectful behavior or your anger. Anger that is never expressed builds up until it reaches the point where a person could explode or “implode,”(depression and suicide).

Expressing anger does not mean yelling or becoming abusive. This is what teh Nice Guy fears. There are ways of expressing anger that are actually helpful to everyone.

I remember a Michael Douglas movie from about ten or more years ago, where he lives in Los Angeles, it is the summer, brutally hot and lots of traffic jams. He plays a character who is always a “Nice Guy” but, things are now boiling over, much like the heat. He ends up getting a gun and killing lots of people, if I remember correctly. At one point he yells out, “I can’t take it anymore.” The movie is very troubling because it is not difficult to indentify with the main character, in some respects. In addition, this man felt helpless and helplessness leads to depression and rage. If only that character had known how to handle his anger in ways that are healthy.

So, what do I recommend:

There are a couple of approaches you can take to helping your self find relief from what you are experiencing:

1. Assertiveness training would be a good idea in helping you learn cope better with difficult situations rather than submitting. In other words, you need to learn to be less of a nice guy, but in socially appropriate ways.

2. Psychotherapy: In my opinion, Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy would be an excellent way for you to learn to be more assertive and learn to express your anger in ways that are appropriate.

In fact, if you could do both, that would be helpful.

Best of Luck

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