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Don’t Let My Anger Drive You Away

A destructive relationship pattern in which pain becomes rage.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Are you a person who lashes out in anger when you’re hurt? Does your partner recoil from your behaviors when you most need him or her to fight for you? Do you feel hopeless and unseen, desperately wanting to be rescued in the midst of your attacking behavior? Does your partner ever understand what has driven you to that point, or own up to his or her part in that outcome?

If you’ve found yourself repeating these no-win interactions, you can change your own behavior. But you can’t do it alone. You must have a partner who acknowledges the fact that your reaction doesn’t take place in a vacuum, and is willing to do whatever is necessary on his or her end to turn things around.

How These Relationship Patterns Evolve

When I talk to the partners who are on the other end of hostile venting, they tell me that they feel the attacks are exaggerated and unjustified. They rarely see how their own behaviors contribute to the desperation their partners feel, seeing themselves as innocent victims of unstable reactivity.

They are certain that they’ve tried everything they can to neutralize or control the attacks and feel unfairly victimized by them, ultimately withdrawing and giving up trying to make things better. And, they simultaneously tell me that they still love their partners and don’t know what they are doing wrong.

Conversely, when I talk to the partners who have become hostile and desperate, they often tell me that they didn’t start out behaving that way. They tear up when they share the difference in who they were and who they have become.

They feel that they gave everything they could to fulfill their partner’s every need, often beyond what was asked. But, over time, there was no reciprocation or willingness on their partner’s part to acknowledge the pain they were causing. Eventually, their feelings of being devalued and erased drove them into a helpless rage, giving their partners ammunition to blame them for the failure of the relationship.

To turn these painful interactions around, both partners must recognize their individual responsibility in the parts they play in these downward spirals. Instead of blaming the other, they must understand what makes them both continue to participate in this zero-sum game that will eventually destroy their relationship.

Who Are the “I Hate You/Please Fight for Me” Relationship Partners?

They are typically passionate people who live life to its fullest. When they feel safe and understood, they bring bountiful aliveness and excitement to their relationships.

Conversely, when they feel misunderstood and dismissed, their passionate nature becomes their downfall. With the same depths of emotion that they live all parts of their lives, they now are captive to their own pain.

They often tell me that they have tried in every way they could to get their needs met before that aliveness turned negative. They are so cumulatively wounded by that time, that they actually want their partners to feel the anguish and grief that they do. They know their aggressive and mean-spirited attacks are not going to get them the love and value they so desperately need, but they are no longer able to contain their frustration and loss.

During a battle, they may seem like “dirty fighters,” using whatever they know about the other’s vulnerability to “hit below the belt.” Inwardly, they are crying out in anguished distress. “Please push through my anger and see the terrified, lonely person I have become on the other end of you, and, Godd****t, fight for me.”

The core of what drives most people into becoming this way is the realization that the partners they once trusted to love them are not the people they presented themselves to be. They believed that what they had to give was fully worth the price. As their partners keep seeking out their positive aliveness but didn’t reciprocate with appreciation, they felt betrayed.

Many tell me that they were not angry battlers when their relationships first began. All they wanted was to be understood and valued for what they brought to the relationship. But, after many unreciprocated attempts to connect, their feelings from those multiple invalidations intensified, and their cumulative frustration and disappointment turned into anguished rage. They could no longer rationalize their partner’s passive/aggressive innocent presentation and insensitivity to their pain. Emotional homicide/suicide eruptions feel like their last chance to be heard.

What they really ached for was to be tracked, to have felt sought after, and for their partners to understand and respond to what was underneath their helpless rage.

Who Are the Partners Who Are Attracted to Them?

The people most drawn to passionate, magical, emotionally responsive people often are unable to create those alive emotions by themselves. They tend to be more passive people who are conflict-averse and love the sureness and confidence of the people who exude those qualities. They are fascinated by that risk-taking, adventurous spirit and they want to capture it.

Because passionate people often have so much available emotional and physical energy, they can “play all the parts” in a relationship, providing more excitement and stimulation than their counterparts, who are often incapable to create that on their own. As a result, the people in relationships with these partners can easily get lazy, no longer doing their part to help refuel them. Because their partners appear so high-energy and un-needing of external emotional nourishment, it is easy for them to just “sit back and enjoy the show.” That lack of vital participation eventually causes their partners to feel exploited and alone.

At first, many of these partners tell me that they initially tried to match that energy, or, at least shared how much it meant to them. But when they could not reciprocate in kind over time, they felt overwhelmed, feeling that the partner they once were fascinated by now “requires too much.”

Over time, people who are attracted to passionate, high-energy partners and then find themselves unable to manage them, cannot handle the hurt/powerless/angry reactions that occur when they become unavailable and patronizing. Instead of taking charge and facing what is happening, they become passive/aggressive, saying anything in the moment to appease as a way to ward off an anticipated attack, but more often do not follow through with their promises nor change their behavior. Their partners begin to flail in confusion and dismay, finally erupting in frustrated wrath, pushing away the very caring they so desperately need.

Many times, this descending heartbreak-loop can go on for years. The relationship begins to fall apart as more and more toxic interactions occur. What once began as an adoring admirer seeking passion and aliveness and a bountiful adventurer seeking a secure and loving haven, becomes a saddened failure for both.

Here are some examples of what outward rage combined with inward anguish looks like:

Expressed Message: ‘‘I hate you.”

Inside Anguish: “Why do you let my lashing out in pain keep you from seeing how I feel inside?”

Expressed Message: “You are avoiding me like I was a leper, and blaming me. I don’t want anything to do with you.”

Inside Anguish: “I’m dying inside. I need you to be stronger and pull me in close instead of abandoning me.”

Expressed Message: “I can’t stand it when you act so helpless. Why don’t you just own up?”

Inside Anguish: “I need you to fight for me. Why are you letting me die of loneliness?”

Expressed Message. “You run away from me like a coward.”

Inside Anguish: “I’m starving for you to claim me. You are torturing me.”

The partners who are overwhelmed and in retreat will only hear the first message and respond by invalidating what the other is feeling inside and not see their part in how those reactions were provoked over time. The unexpressed, desperate message goes unheard.

The partners lashing out in pain can no longer speak their internal message without wrapping it in sarcasm, disgust, disappointment, and blame. The partner on the other end uses that behavior as a rationalization for his or her lack of accountability and continued avoidance.

If those cycles repeat and intensify, the partners who are expressing rage but feeling agony are doomed to remain isolated and anguished, more intensely pushing away what they most desperately need.

Can These Relationships Work?

When I observe these relationships in their later stages, I know that both partners are likely to walk away from them blaming the other for the failure of the partnership. And, predictably, will repeat those mistakes in future relationships.

Yet, I have seen couples on the brink of disaster come around. If their attraction is still there, and they are willing to do the work, they can not only recuperate what they’ve lost but build a relationship that continues to regenerate. It all depends on how much they mean to each other and their willingness and capacity to stay the course.

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