Do you lash out when your spouse reminds you — nicely — to take out the dog or pick up a gallon of milk? Do you fly off the handle when the boss asks you to turn in the next assignment on time?
I know many people who do, including myself. In fact, many of us adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) lack restraint when we think that someone is dissing us. The question is: Are they? Because many of us have low self-esteem — after years of negative interactions — we are hypersensitive to criticism, real or imagined.
Bursts of anger have repercussions that last much longer than the few seconds it takes to vent. Having an argument in the workplace can get you fired. Blowing up at a loved one can strain the relationship. And it all takes a toll on your self-esteem — bringing remorse or shame for days afterward.
Get the Anger Out?
My client, Mike, came to me to learn some anger-management strategies after he realized his ADD tantrums had damaged his relationship with his teenage son, who, like Mike, has attention deficit. Mike had long believed that “getting the anger out of [his] system” was healthy.
Until now. “My outbursts are creating a rift between me and my son that doubling his allowance won’t repair,” he told me. “I need to figure out how to keep anger in check — or I may make front-page news for strangling my son!”
I explained that most teens know which buttons to press, because they installed them. After a good laugh, we identified the times when Mike was most likely to lose his temper — after a tough day at work when he had screwed up an assignment. When he came home to find that his son hadn’t taken out the garbage — again — Mike got upset. If his son had a fender bender, received a parking ticket, or cut out of school early, Mike blew his lid.
Help, Don’t Yell
I reminded Mike that he must maintain realistic expectations about his son, who was easily distracted. Mike came to see that neither he nor his son was perfect, and that he should adjust his own imperfect behavior. Instead of yelling at his teen for forgetting to do a chore, Mike worked on helping him remember to do it by posting a list on a bulletin board in the kitchen and reinforcing it with text messages during the day.
If Mike’s son still forgot — or got into trouble at school — Mike learned to observe his rising anger, and figured out ways to short-circuit it. He took a relaxing walk with his dog and deferred discussions with his son until Saturday or Sunday morning, when he felt refreshed and less pressured by his job. He and his son were able to talk calmly — and productively — during those chats.
Finally, Mike found comfort in a local ADD support group for parents contending with similar problems. It is a great comfort to him to know that he isn’t alone with his anger problems.