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Anger Makes Love Invisible

Anger Makes Love Invisible

One of my patients is a divorced dad with a 17year daughter. He loves his daughter dearly and often worries about her-self care and the level of supervision his ex-wife provides. Recently his ex-wife and daughter went to Disneyland for a school vacation. He was called one evening when his daughter let him know she had passed out twice in the amusement park. She assumed she was dehydrated. His daughter became impatient as he quizzed her about her day, what she ate, what she drank, how much sleep she got etc, She commented, “Maybe next time Dad I won’t call”. He got angry and proceeded to lecture her about her poor eating and sleeping habits.

The following week he received a text from her saying she was going to a drive in movie with friends. He asked what time she would be home as he was concerned since she was scheduled to play in two basketball games the next day. She mentioned the movies would be over at 1:30am so she should be home by 2am or so. He immediately felt angry and sent a text to her and her mother expressing his frustration. He went to the games next day, could barely control his anger, and when the games were over he lost his temper in the parking lot. He threatened to stop child support, implying that his ex-wife was self centered as his daughter slammed the door before him as they drove away.
Later in the day he collected himself, feeling remorseful he sent his daughter a text message apologizing. His daughter responded by saying, “Dad, no one has the right to talk to another human being the way you talked to Mom”.

Needless to say my client entered our session with tremendous regret and pleaded with me to him find a way to re-establish his relationship with his daughter. I remarked that I realized how hurt and worried he was and I knew that in a calmer moment he realized that when we begin an interaction with accusatory anger it is likely to go poorly. It makes the other person defensive and seldom produces an exchange of useful information.

I commented that he might want to talk to his ex-wife in person; after all she had no history of being neglectful to their daughter. Most importantly he had no idea what was really going through her mind in Florida, his anger precluded any discussion of depth and blocked his capacity to be empathic. He realized in subsequent conversations with his daughter that she feels uncared for when he gets angry. She didn’t realize that his emotion actually comes from a position of love not easily seen behind his cloud of aggression.

My client grew up in a household where his father would frequently be impatient and dictatorial with his mother. He felt diminished each time his dad would approach him with anger rather than with understanding. It’s ironic how we often repeat the patterns we dislike the most growing up. He couldn’t see his father’s love behind his aggression; his daughter feels the same way. Fortunately my client comes to group coaching to change this pattern, I applaud him for having the courage to reveal his mistake and for his commitment to change an old story that has caused him pain for many years.

Anger is often a cover up for hurt, disappointment, loss and the lack of faith in oneself to successfully resolve conflict. We all need to increase our awareness of the anger cycle or else we alienate those we truly wish to bring closer.

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