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21 Mar 2003

Anger and aggression problem
Dear C

I have been going out for three months with a man (50 years old) who appears to have an anger/aggression problem. For the first month, it appeared to me that he was very forceful, but despite this, still a fair person. Now as I get to know him better, I see that he blows up over insignificant incidents and that it takes very little to make him shout at people - be these employees or clients. I would go as far as to say he almost 'bullies' his employees (fires them at the drop of a hat) - where is his patience and compassion? He is doing himself no favours be being the way he is - loses clients etc. I have try to point out to him the way that he comes across, but he simply cannot 'see' it - says he is not angry or 'Who wouldn't be angry over that incident?' However, the incident is usually something as small as, for example, the maid forgetting to put an object on the table when she sets it. He does concede though that he has an anger problem and that he has been told by previous friends and girlfriends that this is so. He, however never lashes out at me - probably because he know I will not put up with it and will leave him (I do not live with him obviously).

I believe the anger is caused by problems he has experienced during the Zimbabwe bush war in which he fought when he was much younger for many years, and in which he saw and experienced terrible things (which he has told me about so is not totally bottling them up). He wakes up at night having nightmares about it. (When I look at what is happening in Iraq, I can't blame people for being effected emotionally by war.)

Despite his anger, in many ways he is a decent, competent person and is caring towards me (although not as caring as he initially was, as I now deign to criticise his shouting and say something must be dome about his anger! I kept quiet for a while, but don't think I should any more.) He says if I leave him I will break his heart - no-one has been so understanding towards him before and tried to help him. He says he is 'working on the problem', but this does not seem to have got him very far over the years! Don't quite know what he means by 'working on it'! I believe it is a Psychological problem, and if it can be helped, I would like to help him. My being understanding towards him and trying to discuss the problem with him has not helped very much. I think he needs counselling, but wonder if this really would be enough. Maybe he needs to take something to calm him. I would appreciate your advice and suggestions here.

Many thanks.
Needtoknow

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Expert
CyberShrink
cybershrink

01 Jan 0001

Dear NeedtoKnow,
With behaviour of the sort you describe, it's a bit surprising that he still has clients or employees, and, if he fires people so readily, that he hasn't yet run into legal problems arising from this ! Certainly you do seem to be discussing a problem of undue irritability. This can be simply a personality flaw, where the chances of much change o progress a the age of 50 would be relatively slim. Or it can be a feature of depression or an anxiety dsorder, and respond excellently to compeent treatment of the primary disorder.
But, from what you say about his exposure to horrible experiences in warfare, and his also having nightmares related to these experiences, there's a good chance that the basic problem might be PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a typical consequence of exposure to the sort of psychloical trauma that is pretty common in warfare.
Untreated, it can persist for decades ; and it may develop in later life, having not been noticeable earlier.
This is also a treatable disorder, which can be hekped , best by a combination of medication ( some of the antidepressants, for instance, can make a real impact on reducing the various symptoms ) and psychological treatments.
Would he be amenable to seeing a psychiatrist for a proper assessment and discussion of treatment options ? Many ex-soldiers with such disorders are loath to acknowledge that there might be a disorder, and think it a form of weakness to recognize it and seek treatment, but the results are well worth it, and recommended by every competent ex-servicemen's organization in the world, including SAVA, the SA Vets Association.
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