I would like to decry, declaim, and holistically reject the frame of Anger Management Issues, a frame so clinical as to create its own pathology: our collective inability as a culture, still and after all these years, to name and shame abuse within our own relationships and those of our loved ones.
Anger Management Issues were invented as a mechanism for abusers to save face, to give them an out for which there is learning and functioning and the bland speak of corporatese. Anger Management Issues seem to be deployed as a couple’s issue just as much as an individual Yosemite Sam’s, for anger is often used within the context of multi-person concepts such as arguments and disagreements and rows.
But when a partner or family member is kicking the living crap out of you — whether physically, sexually, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, financially, and/or otherwise1 — it’s not an Anger Management Issue. It’s an abuse issue. And we hate to say that someone is being abused especially when others have known about the so-called Anger Management Issues for awhile, because then we are all, in some way, culpable for being part of a society or family or neighborhood that allows this Anger Management Issue to occur in plain sight, or at least behind closed (but porously loud) doors.
We hate to say that someone is being abused because too often the judgement of abuse is made, in part, by reviewing the actions or intentions or discernment (oh, please) of the person being subject to another person’s willful violence. “She’s a strong woman and we don’t need to worry.” Or: “She can hold her own,” they’ll say as he is clearly abusing her irrespective of the strength of her will as a person to not be subject to violence. Or “that would never happen to me because I respect myself too much to find myself in that situation,” the unhelpful “model strong woman” will say on the television on the ladies talk show or to her friends over a glass of wine.2
The reality is not really like that. I once purchased a book in hopes of helping someone deal with his Anger Management Issues, and together we sought couples therapy to address his Anger Management Issues. But they weren’t Anger Management Issues. They weren’t couples therapy issues. They were abuse issues that belonged to the person perpetrating the abuse.
What I want you to know is this: No one should yell at you and break you down to pieces. No one should whack at your self-esteem with a machete for sport. No one should break things or punch holes in walls or destroy your property in the hope of scaring you into submission. No one should force or guilt or coerce you to sex. No one should withhold money or health insurance from you, or try to cut you off from participating in the public square or relationships with other people. No one should break your spirit or punch your face or bend your hands back or burn cigarettes into your arm or do any manner of physical things.
If you hear that someone has Anger Management Issues, I ask that you slow down and start thinking really carefully about what behavior is being described, and that if you are the person dealing directly with that person that you develop a plan to get away safely, and if you are a person whom the target of the Anger Management Issues feels they can trust, that you make yourself available non-judgmentally to support them as they navigate their way out. As you go about your life, please question the use of the term Anger Management Issues, and start thinking in your head, is abuse actually what is being described? Even if we haven’t called this behavior abuse in the past, is that actually what it is? Give peace the benefit of the doubt, that peace is in the right on this on this question of what is abuse — the targeting of an individual — and what is a mere issue of executive functioning gone wrong — an inability to control one’s own emotion of anger.
1Please don’t ask the question if abuse is “physical” or “something else.” It is all horrible, and this question and hierarchy sets up a respectability for forms of abuse that can equally threaten (as well as lead to) physical destruction. I know you mean well. but please don’t ask this question as the answer is irrelevant to whether a person would benefit from no longer being subject to abuse.
2Is it always men doing abuse to women and girls? No. Women do abuse to men and boys. Women do abuse to women and girls. Men do abuse to men and boys. There is more than the gender binary and abuse happens in all ways and directions. Gen Z is leading on the ridiculousness and inapplicability of the gender assignment concept as a mandatory checkbox on the birth certificate, driver’s license, and estimate of life potential, and I tend to agree, gender itself is a made-up farce that systematically advantages some over others. I shun all relationship violence. And yet I am unable to resist using she and he as I did in the paragraph above to describe abuse because men are conditioned to expect subservience from women and men’s violence against women is an unavoidable pattern that goes on and on and on and on. Enough!
One thought on “Anger Management Issues Are Abuse. Just Say That.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I would go a step further and hold all abusers accountable, regardless of the origins or “causes” of their being abusive, and employ active vs. passive voice at all times to drive that point across: “He hit someone” vs. “someone was being hit”; “she stalked and shamed her ex” vs. “the woman was terrorized and humiliated by her ex”; “the abuser used weapons and fists to hurt those targeted” vs. “they were being abused with fists and other weapons”; etc.
A great sentiment to get someone unsure of leaving an abuser to leave: “You can’t fix or stop this abuse, so how bad does it have to get for you to get out?”
Best to you.
Sally Ember, EdD