Know the Difference in Healthy Anger and Manipulative Anger
Over lunch with my friend Sarah, she talked about her father. “He gets angry so easily,” she told me. “My sister and I try to keep him calm by biting our tongues and letting him have his way when we visit.” As I listened to Sarah describe her father’s behavior and the reactions of her and her sister, I realized he uses anger to manipulate and control them. I helped Sarah understand that their strategy to avoid his wrath was having the opposite effect. They were unintentionally enabling his emotionally abusive behavior.
Anger is a healthy emotion that should be expressed appropriately. Emotionally abusive people use anger as a tactic to control others. Being able to recognize the difference between healthy anger and emotionally abusive anger in your relationships will help you to avoid encouraging more abuse.
In the continuation of my series that provides a language to spot and describe emotional abuse tactics and effects, here are four more tactics with true stories to explain how anger is used to control others.
Rebecca & Nathan
Rebecca just got home from her job, and she still has a lot of work to do to get the family ready for their vacation beginning the next day. She walks outside where her husband, Nathan, plays with their dog and asks him to help her out.
Nathan comes into the house and tells her he’s going over to a friend’s house and will be back late. When she reminds him of the work he promised to do to get ready for their vacation, he tells her to get off his back. He gets in her face and screeches, “If it weren’t for me, there would be no vacation. I pay for the trip. You do everything else.”
To keep the peace and not spoil their vacation, Rebecca stays up half the night to do the laundry, pack suitcases for herself, Nathan, and their three kids, load the car, and close up the house.
Hothead: Nathan is a hothead. He succeeds in using hostility against Rebecca to get out of his promise. He intimidates Rebecca into submission so she will do all the preparation for their trip.
Marilyn & Doris
Marilyn drinks too much at a neighbor’s house and embarrasses her partner, Doris, with inappropriate sexual remarks to others. Doris is distressed by Marilyn’s remarks, but Doris doesn’t want to cause a scene, so she waits until they get home to confront Marilyn.
At home, Marilyn rushes into the kitchen to clean and put away the covered dish they brought to the party. Doris follows her into the kitchen and attempts to start a conversation, but Marilyn plunks the casserole dish on the counter and the glass top crashes to the floor. Marilyn picks up the glass top and drops it into the sink. She tosses around flatware, bangs cabinet doors shut, and gripes to herself to discourage Doris from approaching her.
Doris knows that when Marilyn is angry, Doris can’t have a conversation with her. Doris goes to bed and puts off their talk.
Simmering: Marilyn is simmering. She expresses hostility against Doris to avoid being held accountable for her bad behavior. Marilyn’s aggression keeps Doris from approaching her to discuss her disappointment and embarrassment caused by Doris’s conduct at the party.
Edith & Jonathan
Edith suspects Jonathan of having an affair with a woman at his health club. He spends more time than usual at the club and goes away on weekends without Edith to attend athletic challenge events.
One afternoon, Edith drops by Jonathan’s health club without his knowledge. She watches Jonathan as he heaves a barbell at the bench-press station. The woman in question stands over him. He replaces the barbell on the rack, reaches over, and pinches the woman on her behind. The woman laughs and grabs his hand, and they tussle playfully.
Edith rushes home, distraught over confirmation of his cheating. When Jonathan returns from the gym, she confronts him about sleeping with the woman at the gym. Jonathan covers up his illicit behavior by condemning Edith. “First of all, how dare you spy on me at the gym, and then make up stories about what I did?” he yells. “That woman is a friend I’ve known for years. She’s training me for an obstacle race.”
Jonathan’s onslaught is relentless. He goes on to accuse Edith of an affair with a man at her office. He interrogates her about what she does so late at the office and where she went on her recent business trip. “I’m the one who should be suspicious of you!” he adds.
Edith can hardly get a word in edgewise. She is knocked flat by his reaction and questions her decision to confront him.
Steamrolling: Jonathan steamrolls Edith. He uses intimidation and counter accusations to crush her attempt to confront him about his hurtful behavior.
Kathy & Victor
In the car with a small group of friends engaged in amiable conversation, Victor, the driver, swears and yells, “Shut up! I can’t drive with all the chatter.” His conduct is so sudden and unexpected that the conversation comes to an abrupt halt.
Victor’s partner, Kathy, shrinks in her seat and grips the door handle. “I didn’t re … uh … realize we got so loud,” she offers in an effort to ease the tension. The other three people in the car exchange puzzled expressions, but stay quiet as Victor drives home. They are afraid that talking may provoke more of Victor’s anger.
Later, Kathy is hesitant to talk to Victor about his conduct because she knows he will be defensive. The next time they are with friends, Kathy is nervous and preoccupied with the likelihood of another one of Victor’s flare-ups.
Blindsiding: Victor blindsides Kathy. His explosive verbal assault in the middle of a cordial conversation catches Kathy off guard. The effect on Kathy is like a body blow.
In part four of Emotional Abuse Exposed, I will provide more vocabulary and true stories to explain the variety of tactics and effects of emotional abuse. Keep the comments and questions coming. Let’s work together to expose and stop emotional abuse.