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Anger And Other Forms of Control

By Dr. Margaret Paul
February 02, 2015

If you grew up in a family where one or both parents used anger to control you, then anger likely plays a role in your life now.

Did you grow up with anger in your household? Did one or both of your parents use anger as a way to keep you in line and have control over you?

How did you respond?

  • You complied, trying to be the good little girl or boy and do what your parents wanted, hopeful that they wouldn't get angry so often.
  • You resisted and rebelled, making not being controlled your highest priority.
  • You fought with them, learning to use anger in the same way they did - to control.
  • You used a combination of the above, perhaps overtly complying but covertly resisting in various ways, and maybe getting angry with younger siblings or friends as your way of dealing with conflict.
  • You numbed out by staying in your head and turning to various addictions to avoid your feelings.
  • You turned their anger at you inward, becoming judgmental toward yourself.

Now, as an adult, what part does anger play in your life? Do you use anger to control, trying to get others to do what you want? Do you use compliance to control others, trying to make sure they don’t get angry with you? Do you shut down, withdraw and resist when others are angry, to punish them and not be controlled by them?

Anger, blame, criticism, judgment - these are all ways of trying to control others. Compliance and niceness can also be ways of controlling how others feel about you and treat you. Resistance and withdrawal are covert ways of controlling others and having control over not being controlled. All these behaviors create controlling systems that don't work in any relationship. Rather than creating harmony and intimacy, controlling behaviors make these things impossible.

If You Are The Angry One…

Each person who is involved in this system needs to deal with his or her own end of the system if the system is going to heal. If you are the angry one, you need to deal with the feelings your anger is covering up, such as fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, aloneness, emptiness, loneliness, heartbreak, grief or helplessness over others and events.

Trying to control others with your anger is generally a projection of your own inner child's anger at you for not taking care of yourself in some way. How are you not taking responsibility for yourself? What are you making others responsible for, and then getting angry when they don't do it right?

As long as you believe that dumping your anger on another person is okay, you will continue to do it. You will stop only when you really understand that the psychic darts of anger are just as hurtful to another as actual physical darts. As long as you allow your wounded self to take over when your painful feelings come up, you will act out in anger. Fortunately, when you have practiced Inner Bonding long enough to have a loving adult present when pain comes up, then you will have a choice over your reactions.

If You Are Compliant, Resistant or Withdrawn…

If you are the compliant, resistant or withdrawn one, you need to see that you are not taking loving care of yourself either. Instead of being reactive by giving in, resisting, withdrawing or getting angry in return, you need to address the fact that it is not okay for others to dump anger onto you. You need to speak up and let the angry person know that you are not available to discuss any issue when he or she is using anger as a way of dealing with conflict.

If the angry person is not available to taking responsibility for his or her anger, then you need to lovingly disengage – leave the conflict without anger or blame and take loving care of your own feelings - until the other person is willing to drop the anger and/or explore the conflict with you. When each of you opens to learning about your own end of the system, and you each explore what is loving to yourselves and each other, then you begin to heal the dysfunctional anger/compliance/resistance/withdrawal system.

The person on the receiving end of anger is often very reactive to it - i.e. he or she goes into automatic compliance, resistance, withdrawal, or anger. If this is you, you need to practice being a loving adult to yourself in the face of another's anger. A loving adult is not reactive. A loving adult stays open to learning while stating appropriate limits regarding the anger and taking action based on those limits, such as saying, "I won't discuss this as long as you are angry," and then lovingly disengaging from the interaction. This is far easier to do if you are able to catch it at the first sign of the other’s anger, or your own reactivity, and move into your loving adult self.

Dealing with your own or another's controlling behavior in a relationship can be a rewarding challenge for all concerned as long as each person is willing to open to learning rather than continuing to indulge in controlling behaviors. Each person has much to gain when learning has a higher priority than controlling.


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