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Question: My boyfriend and I have been together for a year. When he gets angry with someone other than me, he usually twists it around and focuses his anger on me. Then after he calms down, he apologizes sincerely. He says he doesn't know why he does it - he just gets mad and blacks out and unloads on me. He is talking to a counselor about his anger issues, but it doesn't seem to be helping. I would just like to know why he does it, and what I can do to deal with it. Any ideas? ...Erica
Answer: Anger is a funny thing. Often we focus it on those who have nothing to do with the source of our discontentment. In many cases, those closest to us are the unwitting and innocent victims of our misplaced agitation. Their mere proximity when we are venting, causes us to "take it out" on loved ones whose only crime is being near when we "blow."
You see, most of us feel most comfortable "being ourselves" when we are around someone we feel an emotional closeness with. Unfortunately, because we realize they are "safe," we tend to unload our emotional baggage on them, without regard for how this might actually impact them. It's a classic example of "you always hurt the one you love." And while it is understandable that one's anger might cause one to lash out at anyone who is within earshot, that does not mean it's acceptable behavior, regardless of how upset one may be.
I am glad to hear that your boyfriend is seeking help with his anger issues. At least it shows awareness on his part of this ongoing problem. It also indicates a real desire to deal with the issue. That does not, however, excuse him from his volatile behavior. On the contrary, now that he knows he has a problem, he must make every effort to not repeat past inappropriate behavior, and instead focus on dealing with his anger in a constructive way. If his counseling sessions are not yielding results, then it's probably time to re-evaluate his commitment to "getting better" and/or seek out a new therapist who specializes in curbing such behavior and who has a proven track record of success. This is wise because, for whatever reason, not all therapists have similar success with all patients. There needs to be a certain chemistry between counselor and patient, and when this does not exist, a change of therapist may be indicated.
In the meantime, do not let yourself be victimized by his verbal abuse. When he lashes out at you because of his anger with himself or someone else, don’t engage. Simply tell him that you care about his feelings, but will no longer subject yourself to his tirades. Then leave his presence and don’t return until he’s regained controlled. This is absolutely necessary to avoid potential further abuse. You are sending a firm message that the job description for being his girlfriend does not include being his verbal punching bag. And if you don’t, won’t, or can’t draw the line now, it is foreseeable that his misplaced anger will ultimately cause irreparable damage to your relationship - something that I suspect neither of you want.
If you have any questions about men, relationships, dating or a related topic, please feel free to email them to me at: david@EveryManSeesYouNaked.com. I will try to answer as many as I possibly can here in my column. If you are interested in a more comprehensive compendium of musings on the male mind, check out David's Every Man Sees You Naked: An Insider's Guide to How Men Think.
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