This month resident therapist Douglas Holwerda answers an email from a woman who believes she has an anger problem.

Dear Douglas,

 

I got very angry with my boyfriend recently, yelling at him and saying things I regret. My sister came in the room and asked him if I yell at him often like that. The reason is, that after telling me what I should make him for dinner, he didn’t come or let me know that he wasn’t coming. Instead, he told me after that he had to eat dinner at home with his mother. It has happened several times that he will change his plans and not let me know. We have been together one year and I recently met his parents, but I am not sure if he is right for me. I have strong feelings towards him but he doesn’t talk to me very much and I am worried about that. My sister said that I have an anger problem and the food would still be good tomorrow. Is she right?

 

— Angry and Confused

 

Dear Angry and Confused,

 

Thank you for sharing this question about anger. Often, when people have intense anger, it is a clue that there is more going on beneath the surface. Your story is a good example.

 

The specific situation of your boyfriend planning a meal with you and then not coming or communicating is the tip of the iceberg. It is what triggered the reaction you had. It is what your sister saw and what led her to interpret your anger as an over-reaction. She saw it as a small problem that had a silver lining, that there would be food left the next day.

 

Beneath the surface there is a lot more going on for you. You say that this is not the first time your boyfriend has failed to communicate a change of plans, it is a pattern of behaviour that frustrates you. You also say that things are moving forward in your relationship and that you are conflicted about whether he is right for you. You are feeling fearful and uncertain about the big decision of choosing a life-long partner. You do not feel that the communication between you allows you to trust that problems or disagreements can be worked out.

 

Whenever we try to understand if a person has an anger problem, we look at the reasons behind their anger. Anger is the appropriate response to the perception that something is not fair or right. Your anger has justification. He planned a meal with you, you went to some effort to make it, he didn’t show up or cancel, his explanation was not very satisfying.

 

Almost anyone would be angry about that situation. The intensity of your anger is what points to what is beneath the surface. Your intense anger, and the behaviour you demonstrated — yelling and saying things that you regretted — are a problem because they don’t often lead to the solution you want. But what it can do, once you have calmed down, is to point to the things that have built up in you and that require some sort of resolution.

 

Fear is beneath it all, the fear that you will choose to spend your life with someone who does not understand what it means to hold a connection with you. Communication is the key to resolving questions and calming fears.

 

It seems very important that you and your boyfriend have a calm and productive talk about the pattern of his behaviour and how it generates fear in you. Commitment comes from trust and right now it is difficult for you to feel committed, because the trust is not there.

 

So look at that display of anger you had as a warning flag that tells you that something needs to be attended to. It helps if you can apologize for regrettable words, and it might be the door into an important discussion that seems to be overdue.

 

I wish you well,

 

— Douglas

 

Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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