Published on ADDitudeMag.com

How My ADHD Anger Hurt My Marriage and Kids

Struggling with anger and sudden outbursts? Learn to manage your hot temper — ADHD meds won't fix it — before you drive your loved ones away.

by Douglas Cootey


ADHD and anger go together like eggs and bacon, or peanut butter and jelly. Those food combinations may not be for everybody, and not everybody with ADHD has anger challenges, but ADHD anger is fairly common.

Take an ADHD adult with his lack of social filters, toss in anger, and the results may be destructive — like lightning bolts that flare for an instant and fade just as quickly, but leave the smoldering remains of trust, friendship, and respect. If you’ve ever had anybody with ADHD go off on you over a seemingly small detail, then you know what I’m talking about.

The Wender Utah criteria for ADHD in adults list five items to identify in potential candidates: inability to complete tasks, impulsivity, stress intolerance, hot temper, and affective lability (sudden bursts of emotion that also suddenly stop). You only need two of the five. I have all of them. The criteria that affect my family the most are the last three.

I talked about this with my oldest daughter recently. According to her, I used to be angry all the time. So angry that she didn’t think I loved her or even liked her, despite how much time I dedicated to her. Apparently, I told her, “I don’t like you at this moment” one day, and it broke her heart. I don’t recall that moment, but I am not surprised that a young teenager wouldn’t be able to see the nuance in that sentence, especially if the sentence was spoken with intensity. Even if all the other moments were wonderful, that one moment stayed with her into adulthood and colored her perception of me.

The truth is that I had learned to manage my hot temper years before my marriage collapsed, but it was too late. In my family’s minds, the die was cast. Also, I still experienced sudden bursts of emotion every time conflicts arose in our marriage. There was much wrong in our marriage that wasn’t my or my daughter’s fault, but I can’t deny that my affective lability and intolerance for stress negatively impacted my family life.

In many ways my divorce reset my relationships with my girls. The friction was gone. I no longer had to work to make the relationship last, nor did I have to deal with the problems that triggered my stress intolerance. I was depressed and miserable, but I was free. This freedom had a profound change: My girls began to see I had changed, even my oldest daughter. I was patient, understanding, and less prone to intense outbursts. I was — and am — a new me.

But do we have to rise like phoenixes from the ashes of our relationships? Isn’t there a better way to learn? Here are three tips for controlling ADHD anger:

>> Seek counseling. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting religious or professional help to learn new behaviors.

>> Calm down. ADDers need to understand that affective lability is the culprit. The constant flare-ups make us seem unstable. For the sake of our relationships, we need to learn to be mellow.

>> Manage the anger. For people with impulse-control challenges, we should fill our heads with new coping strategies, especially if the same old same old isn’t working. Anger management classes can help.

Medicating your ADHD will not fix the anger problem. You’ve got to train yourself to control those angry passions, so that the tender hearts of those you love are not hurt by moments you may not even remember.


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