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Out-of-Control Anger

By Dr. Linda Sapadin

Anger boils at different degrees. Yet, once it reaches its boiling point, it's pretty much over - whether it's a toddler screaming and stomping his feet or a Mel Gibson cussing up a storm.

"Volatile and juvenile," we declare, as we witness Gibson's' meltdown. Yet, we conveniently forget that at some point in our lives, most of us have had a meltdown too (though, hopefully, with less naked aggression). Or, we've been so close to an explosion that we 'got the hell out of there' before we erupted.

What happens when people have a meltdown?
We accuse, we threaten, we rant, we rave;
We curse, we name-call, we belittle, we vilify;
We throw, we smash, we whack, we slap;
We're rough, we're nasty, we're harsh, we're abusive;
We say things that we can never take back;
We do things that will never be forgotten;
What a species we are!
What triggers such an avalanche of anger?


Betrayal (real or imagined) tops the list. Followed by a parade of "D's" - being denigrated, disillusioned, disappointed, dismissed and disapproved of. And when the D's are accompanied by the "F's" - frustration, feeling another's been unfair or unfaithful, watch out. The avalanche can reach biblical proportions.

With so many possibilities triggering anger, how come we're not all Mel Gibson act-a-likes or adult toddlers acting out with spite and malice? The short answer: we mature; we gain control over our emotions. We learn how to calm ourselves down. But how does that happen?

Do we receive the gift of maturity by receiving a verbal whipping? Or by a jail sentence? Or by being publicly humiliated? Or by a transformational insight?

Sorry, it doesn't work any of those ways. We acquire maturity laboriously, step by step, layer by layer, spread over time. Though growing up takes time, time alone doesn't do it - not if behavior is simply repeated and nothing is learned. To learn, you've got to become introspective. Reflect on what happened. Figure out what went wrong. Take responsibility for your emotions. Express your anger - before it becomes rage. Search for a solution. Take reasonable action.

And when that doesn't work, go back to square one and start all over again.

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email

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