Anger and harming oneself

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My boyfriend and I have been together for 9 months. Before him, I have been in a abusive relationship and was also cheated on. My current boyfriend and I are perfectly wonderful, but at times we argue like normal couples do, the only difference is that I become angry at the smallest things he says and does. At the moment it is happening i’m thinking to myself do not make this a big deal. The arguement will continue and sometimes I become a monsterous person and will hit him or threaten to hurt him. I know I would never hurt him, but I’m afraid of what I become. Sometimes I would threaten to hurt myself so he will feel guilty, but the only issue is he hasn’t done anything wrong. I yell at him and lash out. Sometimes I’m not even sure why I get angry with him and then it’s like I just want him to baby me and give in to me. He has been so good to me and hasn’t hurt me physically yet, only verbally but I understand why he would say such things to me because of my actions. I want to change and am in dying need of a change before I lose him. I’m not sure if it’s because of my last relationship.Sometimes i feel like i become physically abusive because it’s happened before. How do I start changing before seeking for pshycotherapy?

A: You may have fallen into a pattern that is very common, and painful, when someone has been abused. Often people who have been hurt in relationships develop the mistaken idea that there are only two ways to be: either a victim or a victimizer. Having been a victim, the person doesn’t ever want that to happen again. The response is to go 180 degrees and take the other role. Even though it doesn’t feel good to be hurting someone they love, it still seems better than the alternative.

The solution is to learn that there is a whole lot of middle ground between being the one feeling the hurt or the one doing the hurting. People can and do disagree with each other, have arguments, and settle problems without becoming abusive. But if you’ve never had the opportunity to learn those skills, it can feel like an impossible fantasy.

I don’t understand why you would want to change before seeking therapy. Therapy is there to help you identify the problem and come up with different solutions. You might get further faster if your boyfriend would be willing to go along. I’m not suggesting that the two of you are mentally ill. But you may be unskilled in helping yourselves and helping each other know how to deal productively with differences.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Anger and harming oneself. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/26/anger-and-harming-oneself/