Identifying Anger Problems

by Dave Goetz, M.S.

Do You Have an Anger Problem?

The following are questions designed to help identify potential problems you may have with anger and/or control. This is not a researched scale, but it can point to serious signs of danger in intimate relationships.

  • Do friends and family feel free to share their thoughts and feelings with you?
  • If a stranger knew everything about your relationship with friends and family, would s/he say you get along well with them?
  • Has anyone ever said s/he is afraid of you?
  • Does your spouse and/or friends avoid conflict with you?
  • Has someone ever received a bruise as a result of your actions during an argument?
  • Have you ever broken an object (glass, chair, vase, ashtray, etc.) during or right after an argument?
  • Have you ever called someone a "bitch," "bastard," "crazy," or some other derogatory name?
  • Has a friend or spouse ever accused you of being angry and you felt you had to prove him or her wrong?
  • Have you ever surprised yourself by how angry you got and by what you did?
  • Have you ever hurt yourself punching or kicking a wall in anger?
  • Have you ever been "blind" with rage, or could not remember what you did when angry?
  • Would a friend or spouse say that you have ever slapped or hit him/her?
  • Have you ever ripped someone's clothes when angry?
  • When angry, have you shaken your fist or raised your hand toward someone?

Conflict Styles

The Avoider: Avoiders refuse to fight. When a conflict arises, they will leave, fall asleep, pretend to be busy at work, or keep from facing the problem in some other way. This behavior makes it very difficult for their spouses/friends to express feelings of anger, hurt, etc., because avoiders won't fight back. Arguing with an avoider is like trying to box with a person who won't even put up his gloves.

The Denier: Not only do deniers refuse to face up to a conflict, they pretend that there is nothing at all wrong. This denial really drives their friends/spouses crazy when they definitely feel there is a problem, and it causes them to feel both guilt and resentment toward the accommodater.

The Guilt Maker: Instead of dealing with feelings directly, guilt makers try to change their spouse's or friend's behavior by attempting to have them take responsibility for causing pain. The guilt maker's favorite line is "It's okay, don't worry about me..." accompanied by a big sigh.

The Subject Changer: Really a type of avoider, the subject changer escapes facing up to anger by shifting the conversation whenever it approaches a conflictual stage. Because of these tactics, subject changers and their spouses/friends never have the chance to explore their problem and do something about it.

The Sniper: Rather than come out and express their feelings about the object of their dissatisfaction, snipers will attack their friend's/spouse's behavior by making sarcastic comments. If their friends/spouses respond in a hurt fashion, snipers might say, "I was only kidding!" Their spouses/friends never know for sure what the problem is because snipers don't share what is really bothering them and the relationship moves farther apart.

The Therapist: Instead of allowing their friends/spouses to honestly express their feelings, therapists go into character analysis, explaining what the other person really means or what is wrong with the other person. By behaving this way, they refuse to handle their own feelings and leave no room for their friends/spouses to express themselves.

The Trapper: Trappers play an especially dirty trick by setting up a desired behavior of their friends/spouses, and then when it is met, attack the very thing they requested. An example of this technique is for trappers to say, "Let's be totally honest with each other" and then when friends/spouses share their feelings, they find themselves attacked for having feelings that trappers do not want to accept.

The Crisis Tickler: These people almost bring what is bothering them to the surface, but they never quite come out and express themselves. Instead of admitting their concern about the finances, crisis ticklers innocently ask, "Gee, how much did that cost?" dropping an obvious hint but never really dealing with what is bothering them.

The Human Freezer: Instead of expressing their anger honestly and directly, human freezers freeze their spouses/friends with silence or frosty replies. When they feel their spouses/friends have been punished enough, human freezers will start talking to them again in a normal fashion. This not only builds up greater resentments in their spouses/friends, but oftentimes the conflict is never resolved and is swept under the carpet.

The Gunnysacker: Gunnysackers do not respond immediately when they are angry. Instead, they put their resentment into their gunnysack, which after a while begins to bulge with large and small gripes. Then, when the sack is about to burst, gunnysackers pour out all their pent-up feelings on the overwhelmed and unsuspecting victim.

The Joker: Because they are afraid to face conflicts squarely, jokers kid around when their friends/spouses want to be serious, thus blocking the expression of important feelings.

The Beltliner: Everyone has a psychological "beltline," and below it are subjects too sensitive to be approached without damaging the relationship. Beltlines may have to do with physical characteristics, intelligence, past behavior, or deeply ingrained personality traits a person is trying to overcome. In an attempt to "get even" or hurt their partners, beltliners will use their intimate knowledge to hit below the belt, where they know it will hurt.

The Blamer: Blamers are more interested in finding fault than in solving a conflict. Needless to say, they usually do not blame themselves. Blaming behavior almost never solves a conflict and is an almost surefire way to make the receiver defensive.

The Kitchen Sink Fighter: These people are so named because in an argument they bring up things that are totally off the subject ("everything but the kitchen sink"): The way their spouses/friends behaved last New Year's Eve, the unbalanced checkbook, bad breath, anything.

The Water Fountain: Water fountains adeptly avoid any hint of conflict by turning on the tears when their friends/spouses express dissatisfaction about anything. The focus is now off the conflict and on the plight of the water fountain. Their friends/spouses never get to express their feelings and the conflict is never resolved.

The Kamikaze Fighter: The kamikaze fighter is not satisfied until both people in the relationship have gone up in flames. The end goal of kamikaze fighters is to "win" and they will do whatever it takes to be right.

Fair Fighting Rules

  • Stay in the present. Don't dredge up things from the past or predict the future.
  • Stick to one issue. Try to identify exactly what triggered your anger.
  • Use "I feel" statements. Stay away from "you make me" statements.
  • Avoid the words "always" and "never."
  • Avoid name calling and degrading or profane names. Name calling and profanity are often the fastest way to arouse another person' s anger.
  • Take time to listen. Don't say, "I know what you are thinking or feeling."
  • Don't interrupt--Wait your turn to speak. Only one person at a time should speak.
  • Don't assign blame. Avoid "I'm right" or "you're wrong" statements.
  • Focus on the real issue. Don't argue about minor or unrelated details.
  • Clarify what you are hearing. Repeat back to the other person what you heard them say. Ask them if you are on track.
  • Don't hit below the belt. Refrain from using intimate knowledge to attack or hurt the other person.
  • Lower your voice. "A soft answer turns away wrath."
  • Take a time-out when needed. If you sense an unsafe situation or your own anger seriously limits your ability to follow these rules, agree to come back and discuss the issues at an agreed upon time.

Anger-Down Talk (Self Talk)

Both research and experience show that when people pay attention to and make positive changes in their self talk, their anger is reduced and they gain control of themselves. When you feel yourself starting to get angry, take time out to get a grip on yourself mentally by the use of anger-down talk. Listed below are some examples. Memorize and rehearse particular "Anger-Down Talk" that is effective for you. Write down the "best" statements on a 3x5 card to carry with you. Anger is a result of thoughts. Take charge of your thoughts.


  • I feel angry--that means I must have been hurt or something.
  • I'm getting angry. I better figure out what's underneath it.
  • I can stay calm.
  • I don't need to prove myself.
  • I don't have to defend myself.
  • I can face this.
  • I'm the only person who can make me mad or keep me calm.
  • It's time to relax.
  • It's okay to be unsure.
  • Nothing says I have to be competent and sure all the time.
  • It's okay to feel threatened.
  • I don't need to be in control of everything and everybody.
  • If people criticize me--I can survive that.
  • Nothing says I have to be perfect.
  • If this person wants to go off the wall, that's their thing.
  • This will seem stupid later.
  • This isn't what it seems. It's just old feelings getting stirred up again.
  • It's okay to walk away from this.
  • I will like myself better later if I walk away now.
  • It's nice if others accept me, but I don't have to have it.
  • People are going to act the way they want to act, not the way I want them to act.
  • They don't have to believe me. We just disagree.
  • I can choose to give in.
  • I want a relationship more than I want to win this argument.
  • All I want to do is speak my mind clearly and appropriately. That's it.
  • I want to respect myself later.
  • That's life. I don't have to let it get me so down.

Editor's Note: The material on anger was put together by Dave Goetz, M.S., and presented in an Anger Workshop my husband and I attended. I hope you will find this helpful in discovering how you respond during conflict, as well as giving insight into how those around you respond. If you have difficulty expressing or managing your anger, or if you are the recipient of someone else's anger that is out of control, please seek the help of a counselor.

Dave Goetz, M.S. is a counselor at Eastside Christian Offices in Kirkland. For information on workshops, etc., you may call him at (425) 823-7066, or write to: Eastside Christian Offices, 1411 NE 124th, Suite 180, Kirkland, WA 98034.