Uncontrollable Anger Might Be Indicative of Underlying Mental Health Issues
I was recently forced to confront everything I had been suppressing when my fury frightened a loved one
If acquaintances outside my family heard I had an anger problem, they would probably be surprised. In my normal state, I am known as a calm and stable person. Well, I suffer from intense clinical depression and mood swings, so maybe stable is a stretch. But the calm part is true.
That does not mean I never get angry. To the contrary, I am one of the angriest people I know. I simply internalize a lot of it. Channel it through the novels I write or the paintings I make sometimes. Ninety percent of it goes unexpressed. You could even say I push it down.
But sooner or later, that pressure cooker needs to let off steam. I could count on one hand the number of times I have lost control, when I could not prevent the transition from anger to rage. While I was ashamed of myself every time, I never made any attempt to prevent such outbursts in the future.
Until two weeks ago. Until I scared the person I love the most.
Emblematic of a Larger Issue
A 2015 study found 7.8% of the American population had experienced intense, inappropriate, or poorly controlled anger over their lifetime. I believe that figure must have risen in the past few years. I wish I could say these episodes were isolated, but they are not.
Mental health writer Adrienne Santos-Longhurst says this on the subject:
Anger itself isn’t considered a disorder, but anger is a known symptom of several mental health conditions.
Clinical depression is the most obvious one. From personal experience, I can tell you bottling grief, sadness, hopelessness, and frustration for too long invariably result in an outburst disproportionate to the provocation. How long is ‘too long’ varies from person to person.
A 2011 study concluded approximately 50% of people with OCD suffer from anger attacks and that it also correlates with comorbid depression. People of all ages with ADHD are also prone to anger attacks, as are children with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). Lastly, people with bipolar disorder, going through the manic stage, can also suffer from bouts of uncontrollable anger.
Moving away from strictly defined mental illnesses, extreme anger is also one of the stages of the grieving process. Lastly, a study shows alcoholism is a contributing factor toward aggression and anger attacks. It accounts for approximately half of all violent crimes in the United States.
Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)
Am I a bad person for chuckling at how military personnel would react to that acronym? According to mental health writer Carly Vandergriendt (BSc, MFA):
Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a condition that involves sudden outbursts of rage, aggression, or violence. These reactions tend to be irrational or out of proportion to the situation.
She goes on to explain that while losing one’s temper once in a while is natural, people suffering from IED get angry frequently and recurringly. Episodes involve shouting, physical violence, temper tantrums, rampages, threats, domestic assault, punching walls, damaging property, and so on.
These outbursts are short-lived and might leave the subject feeling guilty and ashamed afterward. At the moment, the subject experiences tremors, muscle tension, tingling, heart palpitations, headaches or head pressure, tightness in the chest, and adrenaline rushes.
A 2005 study found 6.3% of its subjects suffered from IED at some point in their life while 3.1% met the criteria for a current diagnosis. A 2006 study with nine times the population sample of the 2005 study found those numbers to be 7.3% and 3.9% respectively. IED is a much more common phenomenon than doctors had previously anticipated.
The causes of IED are apocryphal. However, it is generally accepted that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible for it. Males under the age of forty who grew up in an abusive household and experienced multiple traumatic events as a child are the most vulnerable to IED.
Suffering from other disorders that cause impulsive behavior, such as ADHD, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder also increases one’s susceptibility to IED. Ultimately, though, the exact causality of IED is a gray area in mental health treatment.
Taming the Demon Within
I will be omitting some fine details in this account. The identity of the person who pissed me off, for example. Here, they will be referred to only as J. You know, for Judas. J suffers from the most severe OCD I have ever seen. While that in itself is not a problem, their personality is.
There is no way I could capture their personality in two paragraphs. But I can give you an example. My brother, mother, J, and I had been arguing about rickshaw (three-wheeler public transport in India) prices once. J said they were exorbitant, the rest of us said they were fine.
We begged them to come along. We would pay their fare. But J stayed adamantly behind. Once the three of us had set off, they called and accused us of abandoning them. J is that kind of person. I keep my distance from them, but since we are living together now, that is not always possible.
I had made chicken nuggets at a loved one’s request. When I left for my nightly walk afterward, the kitchen was reasonably clean. It needed a once-over, but that was light work and mom always managed that department anyway. I left. But as soon as I returned, I knew something was wrong.
J was in the kitchen, cleaning. Berating me for creating a right mess (I had not) and making them clean everything up. Their hips and legs were giving way and they were feeling ill and it was all my fault. Nobody had asked J to clean the kitchen. Nobody had even lightly suggested it.
That in itself would not have made me lose my temper. It was the look of pain and sadness on my mom’s face that dug the nail in the coffin. The argument started off lightly. I escorted them out of the kitchen and they, as usual, twisted words and situations to shift blame.
But it kept escalating and escalating until I completely lost it. The sheer volume of my angry screams startled even me. Seeing me in that state, my family took J to their room. I cannot hurt people, but I needed to hurt something. I took a steel chair in one hand and hurled it at the wall.
And throughout, Scooby kept barking. My little brother, a golden retriever I consider more human than most people, was afraid of me.
What That Fury Feels Like
I was shaking. It felt as though I had come upon a higher plane of energy. The adrenaline was so strong it felt like my insides were simmering with fire. Typing these words now, I cannot even imagine that level of vivacity. Do you know how they show a red flame surrounding anime or cartoon characters sometimes? That was precisely how I felt.
Likewise, my strength increased. I threw that chair like it were nothing. Before, I had once flung a wooden dressing table to the floor. I usually require great effort to simply move it. Wrong as it was, it felt good at that moment to finally let loose, to finally express all the anger that had been building within.
I was not paying attention to my heart, but I am certain it was racing. I developed a complete disregard for consequences. I was going to say and do whatever the hell I wanted, fallout be damned. From an objective standpoint, what took me most by surprise, though, was my voice. It was booming and filled the room. Almost like it belonged to a wholly different person.
The Aftermath, and Why Uncontrollable Rage is Usually Indicative of Suppressed Emotions
Once the outburst was over, shortly after I threw the chair, I began crying. And I could not stop crying. I told my mom I have no future. No skill in my hands, no intelligence in my brain. When she refuted me, I asked her why then had everyone left me?
I was talking about two women I had fallen in love with. Both had been manipulative. Both had lied. Both had used and then discarded me. I have been living as a shadow of who I used to be, rarely opening up to anybody because there is no point. They will leave. Everybody lies. Everybody leaves in the end. I had kept these thoughts, these emotions suppressed for months.
But now it was out in the open. It was always going to happen. Either I was going to have a breakdown or an angry outburst. If not the nuggets incident, it would have been something else. For all my knowledge of mental health, I am an idiot. I kept heavy emotions bottled up instead of sharing them.
But that is precisely my point. Whenever you see anger or sadness which appears out of proportion, chances are the person has been grappling with some intense emotions alone. They have bled into the present anger or sadness, amplifying it beyond reasonable limits.
I am no saint. Or even a particularly good person. But behaving in such a way that my little brother should be frightened of me was a new low. I had always known I had an anger problem, but I was not aware it was this bad. Now that I am, I will make every effort to never lose my temper like that ever again.
The thing is, what do you do when you have to live with a relentlessly toxic person who always demands attention and love and takes every opportunity to instigate fights? I can ignore taunts and jabs for only so long. If I see them affecting my mom, I will lose my cool.
That said, I have become far more careful around J. They are afraid of me now anyway. But I need to continue keeping my distance.
For Scooby’s sake.