Temper Outbursts and Verbally Abusive…Is this a Psychological Problem?

Reader’s Question

I was browsing your website and saw that it is possible to ask the psychologist a question. This isn’t exactly for me but for a family member, but it is a problem that’s been bothering me for a while. I know someone who has been with her husband for about 15 years now. He treats her very badly, he has an anger problem and he takes every little thing out on her and yells and swears at her in ways he shouldn’t be. He is fine at some point and then all of a sudden he goes ballistic and always at her — it’s like he thinks everything is her fault. I’m sure he has hit her here and there but he is mostly verbally abusive. They have two kids, a twin boy and girl, who they had after 14 years. A lot of the fights happen over the kids because he thinks she is always trying to exert control over them, but he’s not understanding that she is a first time mom. He will stick up for his family anytime before his wife and anything they say he will fight with her and as usual, she is always left alone. His anger isn’t understandable to me; he does have a good heart but when his anger takes over it’s like nothing else matters. He is unemployed and every time his wife tells him to look for a job he goes crazy, like literally CRAZY. His temper seems to be out of his control, and I don’t think he realizes how bad it is. Could he have some sort of psychological disorder, that at one point he is completely fine but the smallest things will instantly tick him off?

Psychologist’s Reply

What you describe may be a two-part psychological problem. First, it sounds like he’s always had difficulty with not only his temper, but his maturity as well. The combination of immaturity and an anger problem produces an individual who is easily threatened by comments and questions, verbally abuses those around him, and is too immature to accept personal responsibility for his bad behavior or bad decisions. Immature folks feel entitled to verbally abuse those around them when their selfish demands are not met. It sounds like this pattern has been present for many years at this point.

With his unemployment, assuming he’s not been unemployed for many years at this point, the additional stress has now increased the family difficulties. Stress of any kind amplifies our normal personality. Shy people become super shy under stress. Immature and angry people become more immature and angry under stress. Many months of stress can also produce a depression which then causes more problems and can lead to aggressive outbursts.

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Yes, there is a psychological problem here. At a low level it may be immaturity in personality as well as poor anger control. In the worst case, he is now experiencing stress and depression at some level which has amplified his already-existing behavior problem. In this situation, it is unlikely that he will “grow up” on his own. If the situation calms, marital counseling might be suggested although he is unlikely to be cooperative. Immature folks always justify their misbehavior and often see little reason to seek outside help.

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