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Who Are You Really Mad At?  

What happens when someone you care for behaves insensitively toward you? Do you feel angry, hurt, or fearful?

The words “anger” and “mad” both imply annoyance or irritation. But “mad” can also mean “crazy.” But you can be sane and still be angry at another person, right? Not necessarily!

Some conflict occurs in any close relationship. That’s good news, even though pesky emotions can pop up when we seem to be locking horns with a relationship partner. The upside of conflict is that we grow personally by learning to deal with differences constructively.

Restoring a Sense of Wellbeing

But when we feel locked into a power struggle and start demonizing our “opponent,” we’ve exchanged sanity for madness. In real life, these things happen. Our challenge is to regain our sanity. We can do this by asking ourselves these questions: 

  1. At whom am I angry?
  2. How am I expressing my anger?
  3. What other choices exist for me as to how to deal with my angry or hurt feelings?
  4. Over whose thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can I exercise some control?
  5. So at whom am I really angry?

Let’s take a look at how a woman who was too furious with her husband to think straight used this process to regain a sense of wellbeing.  

Kim’s Story

Kim and her husband Brad, who were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary at a lovely, tropical resort. The weather was perfect, the ocean inviting. On their third night of a week-long vacation, they were watching the resort’s live show when, about half-way into it, onto the stage pranced a line of nearly naked female dancers. “This isn’t for me,” thought Kim. She told Brad she was leaving. He said he wanted to stay. 

Back in their room, Kim was furious. “How could Brad stay at the show?” she thought. “He must be objectifying me if he can enjoy watching women act like sex objects on the stage.” 

How could Kim enjoy the rest of their vacation while viewing her husband as an insensitive lout who valued her only for her body? She feared that she and her husband were about to lose what they came here for, a beautiful, romantic time in a fabulous place. “I can’t let that happen,” Kim told herself. And she didn’t.

Accepting Differences

Kim took some deep breaths. She then talked herself back into accepting with equanimity their differences about watching the show. She did this by asking and answering the questions listed above, as follows:

  1. “At whom am I angry?”Kim recognized she was angry with Brad.
  2. “How am I expressing my anger?”She realized she was showing her anger by withdrawing.
  3. “What other choices exist for me as to how to deal with my angry or hurt feelings?”She thought about her options and realized that compassion and forgiveness might be possible. She remembered learning something like that G-d will show at least as much compassion and mercy toward us as we show to others.
  4. “Over whose thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can I exercise some control?”Kim realized: “The only person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors I can control are my own.”
  5. “So at whom am I really angry?”She concluded that her struggle was not with her husband, but with herself!

At Whom Was Kim Truly Angry?

All of us regular people, not saints, have both a “higher” self, which is of a more spiritual or holy (if you will) nature than the “lower” self, which tends to be more reactive or impulsive. Kim’s initial response, which was to demonize her husband by viewing him as disrespectful of women, and therefore of herself, came from the reactive, quick-to-judge-others part of her being. Her impulse to withdraw from her husband came from this lower aspect of herself.   

Kim reached into her higher self. Her thoughts turned toward compassion and forgiveness. She realized that she too had imperfections, which Brad usually accepted. So, of course, she should allow that Brad could behave in ways that disappointed her. In reality, Brad was a wonderful husband who was usually kind, caring, and compassionate. She knew that many would view his watching barely clad women dancing as normal male behavior.  

Kim realized that she’d never felt objectified by her husband. Her ultimate struggle was between the two parts of herself: her higher, compassionate self, and her lower, reactive self. If she were to be angry at anyone, it would be at herself — for viewing her husband so unfairly and nearly spoiling their good time. 

Should Kim Have Confronted Her Husband?

Perhaps you think that Kim should have initiated a conversation with her husband so that both could thoroughly express and hear each other’s feelings. Kim saw no need for further discussion. She explains, “Considering our longstanding marriage, I know he knows my sensitivities and generally respects them, so I chose not to turn this into an issue. Conversing with myself was enough!”

By going through this five-step process, Kim restored her sanity quickly enough to resume their fun-filled, memorable vacation. She won the war between the two parts of herself by tuning into her higher, more accepting, compassionate self. 

Doing so allowed Kim to release the angst she’d felt that evening about her husband. Instead, she accepted this difference as a small part of the big picture of her long, fulfilling relationship with her husband. She knows that give and take between partners is part of any healthy marriage — and that the best person with whom to have “the talk” is sometimes oneself.

Who Are You Really Mad At?  


Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.


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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2020). Who Are You Really Mad At?  . Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/who-are-you-really-mad-at/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Apr 2020 (Originally: 5 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Apr 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.