Outbursts of anger can ruin lives, but there’s help

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Outbursts of anger can ruin lives, but there’s help


An unemployed man in his late 20s is asked by his girlfriend to stop drinking so much and study harder. In response, he explodes, hitting her several times in the face.

“This will never happen again,” he later says. “I’m sorry.” But the violence and apologies continue. Eventually, he decides to visit a psychiatric clinic.

“I regret it every time,” he says, “but I just hit people when I’m mad. I can’t help it.”

The inability to control one’s anger, and expressing it in extreme and radical ways, is symptomatic of intermittent explosive disorder, commonly known as anger control disorder. People who repeatedly express their anger in a violent way, in spite of being aware of the negative consequences that will follow, are often diagnosed with this disorder.

According to the Health Insurance Review, the number of patients who visited hospitals due to signs of anger control disorder rose by 32.5 percent from 3,720 in 2009 to 4,934 in 2013.

“Society is becoming more complex and competitive,” said Ahn Yong-min, a professor of neuropsychiatry at Seoul National University Hospital. “Yet people don’t have enough ways to release their anger. They don’t have time to relax. Violent movies and games, however, provide them with opportunities to learn toxic ways of expression.”

Consider the case of one unemployed 38-year-old woman who was paid by her younger sister to look after her baby while she went to work. The 38-year-old woman was happy with the arrangement, until her sister began asking her to take care of additional household chores such as washing the dishes, doing the laundry and sweeping the floors.

One weekend, after her younger sister asked her to prepare some food, she suddenly grabbed her sister by her hair, began kicking her and shouted, “You think you can look down on me just because I work for you? How dare you treat me like a servant!”

After this incident, she began to lose her temper more frequently. She even yelled at her nephew a few times. Eventually, her younger sister persuaded her to visit a psychiatric hospital.

“When I think my little sister might be looking down on me, I get outraged,” she said. “I can’t control it.”

According to Kim Byung-su, a professor of psychiatry at Asan Medical Center, anger can be “addictive.”

“When one resolves something by expressing anger, one can easily start to think that everything can be handled that way,” the professor said.

Some of the factors that can lead to anger control disorder are biological in nature, while others may be socioeconomic or cultural.

However, experts claim that there are certain types of people who are especially prone to the disorder. These include people who are sensitive to stimuli, impatient, those who always try to suppress their anger or have difficulty expressing their emotions, and those who have been raised by someone who similarly has outbursts of rage.

“Anger is an emotion that we have to control, not suppress,” said Gong Jin-soo, head of the Donghaeng Psychological Therapy Center. “Because if we try to suppress it, it will spring back. Korean people tend to think that it’s virtuous to suppress their anger, no matter how much they have bottled up inside.”

The problem with suppression, however, is that when it leads to expressions of rage, the extent of the harm isn’t limited to the patients themselves.

“Uncontrollable outbursts of anger can become lethal threats,” Professor Ahn said. “They can lead to assault and even murder.”

If it is evident that someone has been hurt due to anger control issues, it is highly advisable that he or she seek help from experts, such as a psychologist or a counselor.

“Counsel and proper medication can help people recognize their anger and express it in healthy ways,” Ahn said.

It is never easy to treat anger control disorder, but if people address it in its early stages, then with regular emotional training, they will be able to manage the problem.

Professor Kim advises people to be aware of “anger signs,” such as someone getting red in the face or their voice trembling.

Gong suggests that people take a “time out” from the situation in order to refresh themselves.

“If you get into a conflict with someone, back away from it, take some time to yourself and then return to it later,” he said. “That way, it will be much easier to talk calmly about the cause of the tension.”

Sports and other hobbies can also be productive ways of dealing with stress.

“It is helpful if people get more sleep,” Professor Kim said, “Changing lifestyles to reduce unnecessary stimulation works wonders, too, such as cutting back on alcohol and coffee.”

According to experts, learning to control one’s emotions is especially effective if learned at an earlier age. Thus, people are paying more attention to the education of children with regard to modulating their emotions at home and in school.

Starting from the end of April, the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education, using a textbook written by experts, will begin a program for elementary students coaching them on healthy forms of emotional expression.

Through various role-playing activities and games, first- and second-graders will be taught to examine their own emotions, third- and fourth-graders will learn to empathize with other people’s feelings, and fifth- and sixth-graders will learn effective communications skills.

BY LIM SUN-YOUNG [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]
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