A 15-Year-Old Girl — How Can I Control My Rage?

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Reader’s Question

Alright, so, I’m a fifteen-year-old girl currently doing grade ten. I eat far too much in the way of carbs, but other than that, I’m not too unhealthy. I procrastinate; I’m not the best friend to have due to my laziness; and I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere.

My problem is this: why do I get so utterly furious so often? Sure — teenage girl, raging hormones, blah, blah, blah — but the tiniest things can set me off, then I’m crying and yelling, often with a mixture of utter rage and guilt boiling in my gut. If this were ‘normal’, the world would have torn itself to shreds by now.

There is no history of abuse of any kind in my family, no alcoholics, nothing. I can’t be myself around my family, but then again, can anyone? However, with my father sometimes the sound of his voice literally makes me want to hit him. I love him dearly, but he makes me so mad at the tiniest comment, it’s ridiculous!

Is there anything I can do to control my rage (especially with my father!)?

Psychologist’s Reply

You began your question by mentioning a few things: a tendency to procrastinate, a sense of not fitting in, an idea of yourself as lazy, and the sense that you cannot be yourself with your family. I understand that these are not the issues you are concerned about, but I mention them because I wonder if they contribute to the bigger picture of your mood and reactions.

Procrastinating can create stress as the deadline approaches. And I wondered if you have gotten negative feedback from peers about being “lazy.” Conflict with peers, feeling as if you do not fit, and feeling as if you cannot be yourself with your family: these things put together seem to me to leave you with few places or people with whom you are at ease or even happy. If academic stress, a lack of satisfying social relationships, and disconnection within your family do not leave you feeling irritable and/or angry, I would be surprised! For teenagers especially, school and friends are two very important arenas that contribute to both how you feel and how you think of yourself. If you are feeling less than successful with friends, as well as with schoolwork, it would make sense to me if this was spilling over into your mood and temper.

Now, with that said, while it could be these experiences causing you to have a short or intense temper, it may be something else. Without ruling out more concrete medical or mental health causes for your anger and rage, we would not be able to say for sure.

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You stated that you have not been abused or had to deal with alcoholism in your family. This is good. But I wonder about other ways that your experiences and your family’s mental health history could be playing into what you are experiencing. You did not mention whether mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder) or other mental health problems (such as ADHD or other impulse control disorders) run in your family.

So, I have mentioned circumstances as well as biological causes. However, most often it is not either/or. Typically, it is both/and. What I mean is, what is inside you (neurochemistry and hormones) and what is going on outside you (situations and relationships) interact together to cause behavior. For example, if depression runs in your family, you might be predisposed to have a low or irritable mood. This may never occur, but if you were to add in an ongoing stressful situation at school, conflict with friends, or a culture of perfectionism and criticism in your family (just as an example), you might find that depression symptoms are triggered.

So, regardless of the cause, you are wondering what you can do to control your temper. Sometimes it can be helpful to identify a pattern with regard to what is making you angry. For example, when your father says X, Y or Z, it really sets you off. If you can start to see how certain kinds of comments he makes or ways that he interacts with you trigger you, then you can consider speaking with him about it. Often in these situations, it is best for people to approach a sensitive topic when they are feeling calm, rather than mentioning it in a moment of anger. For example, one might say, “I’ve noticed that when you comment about X, Y, or Z, I feel really frustrated.” Often when approached calmly, people are willing to discuss ways of changing the problem together.

However, sometimes they are not! Let’s imagine that your father is going to continue to say the things he says that make you mad, no matter what. There are a few strategies you can use in the moment. Deep, abdominal breathing can help your body move from the physical agitation that anger can bring, over to a more relaxed state. Breathe, filling your belly with air, as you count to three. Hold the breath for three counts, and then blow it slowly out as you count to three again. If you do this several times, you might find that you feel more calm. Another anger management technique is to “talk back” to your anger in the moment to avoid acting out in a way that will worsen the problem. For example, you might say something in your head to yourself such as, “I am feeling really angry, but I can wait to say what I need to say.” You can also search online for additional information about anger management for teens.

It is absolutely normal to have feelings of irritation, anger, even rage at times. However, if these feelings are beginning to feel like the norm instead of the exception, you might find that speaking to an adult and obtaining help is a next step. For some kids, parents are the first people in whom they want to confide. If you are not comfortable talking to your parents or other family members, your pediatrician or school counselor might be a neutral, safe adult who can offer ideas or point you in a direction to get some help.

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