“My dad has anger issues. What can we do to help us not get angry either?”
Nice work, you’ve already begun.
You’ve recognized that your dad’s anger is a separate thing from your dad, and you’ve begun questioning how to improve that situation.
Deconstructing Difficult Emotions
Any time you’re dealing with emotions or thoughts that are creating problems for you, there a process to identifying, understanding, and changing them.
Here are the 4 steps to my process for dealing with a difficult emotion or thought.
#1 - Objectify it.
Recognize that this emotion or thought, are a separate thing that is not part of you. It’s something else.
This includes the emotions and thoughts of others- see them as separate from that person.
#2 - Externalize it.
Maximize that separation.
Recognize that this thought or emotion is an unwelcome house guest. It is unwanted- but it may be difficult to capture and get rid of... like a cockroach.
#3 - Question it.
How did it get there? Why is it staying? What are its motivations?
How is it causing you difficulties, and are there any benefits? How would you prefer your relationship to be with those emotions and thoughts?
Are your reactions helpful, or are they causing you issues? How could you be reacting differently, and more usefully to your future?
#4 - Challenge & change it.
What can you do differently, when these thoughts and emotions arise?
What works well, what doesn’t? What resolves the problem, and what buries, delays, and causes it to build up... until you explode?
How Angry People Feel
Almost certainly, some part of your dad is aware of the anger, and doesn’t like it.
He doesn’t want to feel that way, but he doesn’t know any other way to react.
So he probably tries to contain it, suppress it, keep it under control, until he can’t any longer. and then… kaboom.
Anger is our reaction to feeling threatened… and for someone with anger issues, even the anger itself is a threat.
So you perceive a threat, you feel anger, and then you feel threatened by the anger… more anger…
It’s like a nuclear chain reaction, with a hair trigger.
How You Can Help [ Maybe... ]
I can pretty much guarantee that your dad doesn’t like living this way.
It’s exhausting. It’s embarrassing. When you have anger issues, it destroys the very things you love - including your own self-respect.
The question is, is he willing to confront it, and go through those 4 steps above?
Unfortunately, you can't make that happen.
But you can invite it, step-by-step.
Begin objectifying all emotions in your conversations
Objectify both his emotions, and your own. Show clearly that you see all emotions as things that are separate from people as individuals.
Adding the word "feeling" also helps create that distinction. Rather than "Are you angry?" changing the question to "Are you feeling angry?" distinguishes the emotion from the person.
It's just a feeling... not part of them directly.
Question the causes behind emotions
When the opportunity arises, draw his attention to the emotion and what's behind it.
“You seem a bit frustrated, what’s going on for you today?”
Observe & appreciate positive emotions as well
“You’ve been really happy today dad, I love seeing you smile.”
Even when things are quiet and calm...
"You seem thoughtful today... how have you been feeling lately?"
Set a good example
Let him see you doing things that help you understand and manage your own emotions in a healthy way.
Two ways in particular-
- Journaling. Journal about your own emotions- things happening in your life, at school, with friends and teachers. I recommend that you do not journal about your dad's emotions, or issues you are having with your dad. You want him to be able to read this journal without feeling attacked or judged. Leave it where he can find it.
- Read books on Stoicism. Stoic philosophy includes developing a healthy relationship with your emotions, so that they do not control you. Journaling is a central practice, but you'll learn a lot as well. Your dad may ask questions about what you're reading. Use that.
"I find the discussions about how to deal with strong emotions very interesting."
Take conversations deeper
If he successfully progresses in engaging in this new perspective, you can essentially head him through stages 1 and 2 of objectifying and externalizing his own emotions.
One he's at stage 3, you may have the opportunity to question those emotions more directly and openly.
“How’s your anger been this week?”
"Dad, I want to learn how to react better when I feel angry. Can you give me some tips?"
Depending on your dad, this can be a powerful one- because it will cause him to reflect on how he responds to his own emotions of anger... and how he could ideally be better at it. It also shows your appreciation for him as a role model, and someone who can teach you.
All of this depends on how well, or how poorly, your dad can deal with his emotions. It will also depend on your relationship with him, and your ability to communicate.
Some people have hair triggers and are angry and defensive all-the-time.
Be patient, and be careful not to provoke them. You want your dad to feel like you are someone safe to talk to, who doesn't judge him, and wants the best for him.
If you succeed, you'll completely change his life, and your own, forever.
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