Understanding the difference between an anger management problem and a domestic abuse issue is important in children’s best interest determinations.
A good place to start the differentiation is to understand that anger is a feeling. It is an internal experience that is natural and normal. Anger is experienced for several reasons including frustrations, perceived threat, criticism and not meeting goals, for example. The situation that created the feeling is not the problem, but the response, when manifest externally in destructive ways, can be.
Individuals who have problems managing this emotion tend to have issues with frequent feelings of anger, low frustration tolerance, impulsivity, and poor stress management.
People with anger management issues do not generally pick and chose when or where their outbursts and angry behaviour occurs.
It can be hard to hide an anger management problem as it shows up when fixing the garage door, troubleshooting problems with the computer, waiting in lines, driving, or in interactions with co-workers, etc.
Abuse on the other hand, tends to be controlled and deliberate. Anger simply operates as another tool to dominate and control. Unlike people with anger management problems, abusers are adept at controlling their anger. This is particularly true if required for impression management or in situations where it benefits them to do so.
Domestic violence is a choice. It is the choice to use wrongful conduct to demonstrate and exert power and control over one’s intimate partner and children. It involves the choice to exert power behind closed doors and away from where it can be seen. A perpetrator of domestic violence is not likely to chastise or degrade their partner at the dance recital in front of other parents, but rather will do so on the ride home where no one other than perhaps, the children, witness it. This makes collecting evidence of domestic violence difficult.
Domestic violence as a choice, is seen in the fact that perpetrators choose to abuse select individuals. Choice is evident when perpetrators assume a ‘cool, calm and collected’ demeanor when the police are called to intervene. Choice is seen and ironically not seen, when perpetrators maintain a calm demeanour in mediation or parent coordination and during parenting assessments.
Abuse is not an anger problem. Abuse is control problem. Treatment for anger management is different than treatment for domestic violence. In fact, confusing the two and assigning inappropriate treatment can put the victim at greater risk of serious harm.
Written by Glenda Lux M.A. R. Psych