Anger manifesting as criticism

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am 34 years old and a new mother of a 7 month old son. I grew up with two sisters and an angry father. In fact, my parents are recently divorced after a 35 year lackluster marriage, due to my father’s hidden gambling addiction…and his underlying issues of continual anger and non-social behavior. I suspect that he has additional addiction problems as well (alcohol, prescription pills) and I have been in recovery from alcohol and marijuana addiction for 7 years myself. My parent’s marriage was less than ideal as my mother was passive-aggressive and my father simply aggressive. I fear that I have inherited his anger issues.

I have been married for 3.5 years now. My husband is an excellent communicator, entrepreneur and overall solution-oriented person. I see myself wanting to undermine him and want to know how I can end the cycle of anger that manifests as criticism? Also, when I wake up at the beginning of the day…how can I start with a fresh, positive outlook instead of one that is distrusting and waiting to identify problems? Finally, I have never voiced my own hurt, disappointment and anger with my father directly. I will be seeing him in a month’s time. Would it help me (and my young family) to finally let my dad know what it was like growing up with him? This underlying issue of hidden and repressed anger has the power to destroy my marriage.

A: Please give yourself more credit. You’ve been in recovery for years. You have become substantial enough that you’ve found a good partner. That all took commitment to your own health and doing the hard work it takes to overcome addictions.

As I’m sure you’ve already discovered, healing happens in chapters. It looks like you are now ready for the next one. Yes, the tug of the familiar routine of anger, distrust, and criticism is strong. That style of relating was taught to you and reinforced every day for many years. But we are not victims of our childhood unless we let it happen. You didn’t stay addicted. You don’t have to stay angry either.

I’m not at all sure that confronting your father will be helpful. It entirely depends on whether he has also done work on himself so that he can listen respectfully and acknowledge your pain. If he hasn’t, you may be setting yourself up for more of his anger. It seems to me you’ve already experienced far too much of that. Why should you invite more?

It might be more advisable for you to work with a therapist to get to the reasons that you hold onto your own anger and to work it through. With some support and coaching, you can learn ways to manage frustation and disappointment that don’t hurt you and the people you love.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Anger manifesting as criticism. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/27/anger-manifesting-as-criticism/