#717: “My internet buddy: THE HULK.”

A still of the Hulk in a pile of rubble from The Avengers

Dear Captain Awkward,

One of my friends gets angry a lot. To be more specific: one of my friends gets angry at things that are not me, and vents to me a lot. I don’t mind being available to vent to in the general case, but.

Bruce, let’s call him, gets especially angry when anxious. When he gets angry, it generally takes the form of explosive swearing. Even though I know where he’s coming from, there’s only so much tirade I can handle before getting anxious (in-person anger scares the crap out of me, online anger not directed at me takes a while longer to do that) or exasperated. I don’t feel this is something I want to abandon this friendship over, but I also am pretty sure that I do not need to let him expound on how enraged he is over some mishap with something he’s nervous about for extended lengths of time.

My question is one of diplomacy: How can I ask him to calm down without pissing him off more? I just want a little less freakout time here. (I think he would benefit too, but that’s really not within my control.)

(For the record: This is an online friendship, so I am not getting any of this in person, and I do not feel threatened or unsafe; no threats are even being made, just a lot of directionless swearing. I’m just not especially comfortable with it past a certain point.)

–Frets in the face of Frustration

Dear Frets:

Keeping your hilarious subject line, thnx.

“How can I ask him to calm down without pissing him off more?”

You can’t. If he’s in #$%@!@#$%-mode, being challenged on his behavior probably isn’t going to make him feel or react better. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask him to calm down, or better yet, since “calm down!” has never induced greater calm in any situation, validate the feelings, ask him to knock it off, and if he won’t, de-escalate the situation by leaving it.

  • Bruce, I can see that you are really upset about x, and I’m sorry about that. But can you save this rant for later? I want to keep talking with you, but I’m not here for being All Caps Screamed At.
  • “BUT I’M NOT SCREAMING AT YOU.” “Cool, but you’re still doing the equivalent of screaming, and it’s making me wicked uncomfortable. I’m gonna go, let’s talk tomorrow.”
  • Bruce, I can see that you are angry, but I don’t have the energy for a rant right now. I’m gonna log off, hopefully we can catch up later.
  • When in doubt, ask: “Bruce, I don’t like leaving you when you are feeling this upset, but I’m also not here for a full Hulk-rant right now. What can we do so that you get what you need, without the swears, etc.?” His answer might be: LISTEN TO RANT and yours might be: SORRY, BRO, I CAN’T and that’s okay, but giving him a choice and some responsibility in what happens gives him the chance to surprise you.

If he does calm down, yayyyyy! If he doesn’t, you can say “Sorry, friend, I’m really not able to hang out for this right now” and then go *poof* out of whatever chat program you are using (or set your settings to invisible) and try another day. Don’t ask permission or negotiate, by the way, just, “I am going” + GO.

If you do this a few times and nothing really changes, and you are close enough friends that you feel like you can say “Hey, are you managing your anxiety okay? Is it time to see someone/adjust some dosages? Because lately you seemed maybe to not be okay,” then throw that out there during a calm, non-ranty period. Getting him to seek help isn’t your responsibility, and managing the behaviors that come with his unhappy feelings isn’t your responsibility, but a good friend can sometimes offer an outside perspective along the lines of “Do you realize how often you do this thing? This thing that annoys and troubles me and also doesn’t seem to improve your mood any?

One reaction he may have is embarrassment and shame, which may come out as a question to you along the lines of “If this is how you felt, why did you ‘let’ it go on so long?” Like “calm down,” that question can really make a person feel defensive, so one thing you can do to de-escalate is to try not get defensive. “I don’t know, Bruce. I never loved that aspect of our conversations, but I knew it was just you harmlessly blowing off steam, and I hoped that once you finished a rant you’d feel better. After a while, I felt like I needed to say something, because it was making me uncomfortable and I’d like you to stop.

Bottom line: Don’t try to fix him or his behavior, release yourself from responsibility to not accidentally piss off a person who is ALREADY INTERNET SCREAMING AT YOU, take care of yourself when it gets to be too much for you, come back another time with an open mind. Just because it’s happening through a screen doesn’t make it okay and doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you. You are absolutely correct that you don’t have to hang out all the time every time listening to this stuff.

It seems like a good time to remind everyone of the art of HULK-KU, which are haiku written in the voice of the Incredible Hulk.





















Channel your rage and write your own! Also, if this image of a little girl dressed as the Hulk for Halloween in a purple tutu doesn’t bring you joy, you might be dead inside, so get that looked at.

172 thoughts on “#717: “My internet buddy: THE HULK.”


  2. I love Hulk the Poet!! Soooo happy-making! On the subject of the letter, what about telling Bruce, in a non-heated moment, “Hey, friend, I’m getting a bit emotionally worn by the ragey rages. I’m here for you, but I can only take the SHOUTY CAPITALS for 10 mins (5? 2?) before getting anxious myself. I’ll listen and support you for that long, but then need to peace out for my own wellbeing.” This is also helpful for those times when there’s any long term negative situation (illness, terrible person in your life, sucky job) and you don’t want those negative conversations and complaints to co-opt an entire relationship.

    1. Yes, I strongly agree with this comment! I was surprised not to see this in the letter; I think boundary-setting in a non-venting moment is very important.

      I’m someone who needs to vent a lot, and some of my friends were really dishonest with me about how comfortable/uncomfortable it made them and why. That meant there were long periods of time where they were shutting me down and I was increasingly walking on eggshells because I couldn’t predict or understand what was happening. It also meant that I couldn’t tell whether they didn’t want to hear the content of what was going on with me or if they were just bothered by the delivery. Those people are not people I trust or am close to anymore.

      LW, I totally agree with the Captain that it is not your job to manage this Hulk’s anxiety or to listen to him when he’s Hulking if you don’t want to; but if you value you the friendship and want to preserve it, I suggest having a heart-to-heart about what *specific behaviours* you are having trouble with. If you think about it and decide that it’s not just the yelling that’s bothering you, I advise being honest with yourself about what additional boundaries you might want to set. Good luck!

      1. FYI, I think that a non-ranty time is absolutely the right time to talk about the overall pattern of behavior and the friendship. “LW MUST HATE ME SO MUCH” is an extreme reaction, but “WHAT DID I DO?” is not – Q: “What did I do to make you leave off talking to me?” A: “You got super-yelly and I don’t like it.” Either person in a friendship can start the “so here’s what’s going on” talk.

        1. Yes, I totally agree! Sorry, I must have misunderstood the letter. I originally read it as saying, “During downtime, talk only about Hulk’s anxiety,” which to me is a big, possibly unfixable thing that puts an unmanageable burden on Hulk; as opposed to, “During downtime, talk about LW’s dislike of the Hulking behaviour,” which to me is a smaller, probably fixable thing that makes it about what each friend wants and needs.

    2. This. Yes please. It will prevent the LW from just vanishing, then Bruce thinking “OH MY GOSH WHAT DID I DO, LW MUST HATE ME SO MUCH” because LW just…disappears every time Bruce needs them. Actually having a not-heated-moment conversation about this is essential to good communication and not having Bruce get the impression that he’s alienating LW completely and their friendship is awful or some other Jerkbrain thing. This will make it clear to Bruce how much of the ranty-rants that LW is willing and able to handle, and they can work out further boundaries on a friendly basis. It will hopefully keep everyone fully informed while helping the situation.

      1. I support having a non-ranty-time conversation absolutely, but I think the LW gets to leave when they are uncomfortable even if this conversation hasn’t had time to happen.

        1. Ah sorry, I didn’t mean to say they don’t get to leave. They absolutely do. I figured an out of rant conversation would help smooth over the situation as well. 🙂

          1. Glad we cleared it up. Walking on eggshells is no good in a friendship, and I find that being around a yeller will make me do that just as much if not more than having a friend who cuts conversations short for what feels like no reason.

        2. LW just…disappears every time Bruce needs them

          Except that’s not LW’s job – LW does not exist to be the person ranted at. LW does not exist to serve Bruce’s needs. Nor does LW exist to explain to Bruce why LW is disappearing.

          I am not patient at all with that sort of thing. If we do not have a solid friendship already, where we have had good times and where you support me when I want to rant, I am not going to put up with your ranting. I am not your therapist. I am not your venting wall. I am not the one you get to dump on.

          (Which was my response when my husband wanted me to be friends with his mom. “She doesn’t have anyone to talk to,” he said.

          “That’s because all she ever does is complain,” I answered. “I take complaining from my friends because it is part of the friendship balance, but your mom and I do not have a friendship. She just wants someone to complain to and I am not going to be that person.”)

    3. Yes, this would be my suggestion too. That and make sure that if you are ever going to be in meatspace together, he knows he can’t do it there ahead of time.

      Tapping out mid-rage may be hard for him to deal with, but it’s better for him to know that it’s for your own well-being than to think you just have better things to do.

      1. “Yes, this would be my suggestion too. That and make sure that if you are ever going to be in meatspace together, he knows he can’t do it there ahead of time.”

        Yes. Although some people do vent aggressively in writing as an outlet partly BECAUSE they’re nonconfrontational and mild-mannered in person. But for others text is just the tip of the iceberg. And I’m not sure if I’d even be willing to meet with someone in person if that was their online behaviour – the idea of being in the same room with someone shouting and swearing like that makes me feel anxious just thinking of it…

        Personally, I think I would have a hard time remaining friends with someone who expressed their anger so aggressively in my presence. I think leaving such conversations very quickly would honestly be the thing most likely to allow me to remain friends with them.

  3. It’s funny because I find myself wanting to immediately analyze his anxiety and find ways to help him navigate it. But you know what, That is NOT your job. You are friends.

    I have a good friend online who’s depression and low self image is really a problem, and I SO want to help him. But I can’t. Only he can help himself. I did recommend that he check out moodgym to try to help him see how he’s rationalizing his own low self esteem. But I really can’t do any more than that, I just can’t be your one woman self esteem booster. So I’m going to try to follow some of this advice, instead of getting sucked into his “I’m just a terrible person who can’t do anything right” cycle. I know I can’t fix him, but it is hard to see someone you care about hurting.


        1. Bruce cross-stitches this,

  4. If you want to bring it up before he gets going it might be easier to speak (write) up in the moment, too. Like, here’s an invented conversation in my style of chatspeak:

    you: hey what’s up
    him: oh nothing just slowly building up my ire until my next rant
    him: you know, rubbing itchy things all over my skin so i get really itchy and annoyed about it
    you: cool cool
    you: now that it’s a lull in the conversation
    you: i wanted to mention that i’ve been thinking about your rants a little bit
    him: :0 ???
    you: in person rants like that make me suuuper anxious and i’ve been realizing that all-caps sweary rants do the same
    you: so i may send you a sympathetically angry meme and then take a break from chat
    you: i care about your feelings but i’d much rather chat about whatever it is instead of reading a hulk-out
    you: totally! i’d just rather talk and not read yelling
    you: anyway i just saw a fifty foot tall cardboard cutout of dana scully and figured you should know

    **end scene**

    The great thing about chat is you can always be like “whoops, gotta go clean the kitchen” and instead browse tumblr and no one will EVER KNOW. I can’t emphasize enough the value of strategic breaks. Responding with longer and loooonger times. As the Captain said, if nothing you say gets through to him, you can always fire off a “sorry gotta go” and then do whatever else you want. You can ignore the rant early on and browse back (if it feels ok) to see if there is anything you missed. I get the feeling from your letter that he’s a decent but shouty guy.

    And on another note: I don’t know if you’ve met him irl at any point…but if you’re planning to, try it out first with a lot of calls and video chats. He may not be ranty offline, but if you meet him there’s definitely a chance he’ll hulk out in a real, shouty way and it’ll be anxiety-inducing and shitty.

  5. (1) Are you close enough with Bruce, and (2) does he have enough of a sense of humor that you can get away with some deflection? I might even use your own analogy, such that when he gets going, I’d respond with “YES AGREE HULK SMASH,” “MORE SMASHING,” and “SMAAAAAASH.”

    But it’s got to be the right sort of friendship to pull that off. Otherwise one just seems like a brat. Not that I speak from experience, mind you.

    1. Definitely agree. There are certain friends where I have a good rapport, and I know how to joke around in a way that actually makes them laugh and diffuses the tension. Being able to laugh about stressful things really helps, not only because laughter releases endorphins, but also because it helps put the stressful thing in perspective. OTOH, though, I once really hurt a new friend’s feelings because she started venting to me and I made a joke, and she felt like I wasn’t taking her feelings seriously and was making fun of *her*. That friendship quickly turned into an awkward acquaintanceship.

    2. Disagree, unless you know for sure it will work. People trying to make me laugh when I’m angry is as infuriating as being told to “calm down”. It’s not about my not having a sense of humor (I do) or it being the right sort of friendship – none of my friends can make me laugh when I’m angry, that’s simply not a way to deal with my anger.

      1. Oh, good point. I definitely meant “if you think it’ll work,” and my phrase “*enough* of a sense of humor” didn’t really convey that.

      2. I’m exactly the same way. When I’m furious, I just have to power through it, and I’ll do that a LOT faster if I don’t have people trying to jolly me out of being ragey.


        1. I have a rage diary for this. Often not having a person responding with the polite “oh that does sound annoying” or “your boss so cannot do that”, my rant becoming a monologue can lead to it being more of a critical argument where I back it up with evidence. It can actually really help me come to terms with it and the things that led to it.

          It can’t fix it but it could give me some ideas, or it could lead to me deciding “yep I need a new job”.

          Just a thought of what works for me.


  6. “You can’t. If he’s in #$%@!@#$%-mode, being challenged on his behavior probably isn’t going to make him feel or react better. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask him to calm down, or better yet, since “calm down!” has never induced greater calm in any situation, validate the feelings, ask him to knock it off, and if he won’t, de-escalate the situation by leaving it.”

    Cap. Cap, you are my eternal hero. Right now. If I never ever see any more of your advice ever again, I know I can die happy with *this.*

    Exaggeration aside, I know so many people who haven’t learned this, including my boyfriend. He thinks that assuming a very robotic face, refusing to emote at all, and saying “calm down” repeatedly isn’t going to piss me off even further when something has me in a frothing swearing-at-computer-in-a-corner rage. He cannot understand why telling me the most reasonable thing to do isn’t actually going to magically stop anger. (He has social understanding issues.) The more people tell me to calm down, the more I give them a firm, stern look that is hopefully covering my desire to vaporize them with the power of my mind.

    “Calm down” never helped anyone, ever. Validation is what helps here, and once you have formed that connection between yourself and the angry person, *then* you can proceed with attempts at de-escalation, by showing understanding.

    If I could psychically inject that into every single human’s mind as a permanent lesson, I would.

    1. You describe a great strategy for helping someone de-escalate from anger. But no-one should have to do that, and us ragey people need to take responsibility for the upset we can cause. ‘Calm down’ can be read as, ‘I am distressed and I need you to stop.’ It took me a long time to realise that some people find expressions of anger frightening, and their attempts at controlling Angry Me were not necessarily an expression of disinterest in my feelings, or disapproval. So now I try to dial it back unless I know the person I’m with likes a good old mutual ranting session.

      1. I was referring more for someone who was already willing to deal with the angry person. Obviously if you’re scaring someone or whatever, the angry person needs to try to get a better hold on things. Then again, anger is a really hard thing to deal with as well, and learning to do it is a major Process, since it circumvents a lot of the brain’s conscious logic and causes people to think really irrationally and often not make any sense. Both sides, assuming both sides want to be in this interaction in the first place, can approach from their own side and try to meet in the middle.

    2. Maybe he’s not trying to get you to calm down for you. Maybe he’s just trying to handle how your frothing rages make him feel and his reaction is to disassociate from you. Huge rages at a computer only need to happen every … five years or so due to a one in a billion confluence of events. Beyond that, it starts feeling like the frothing person enjoys being angry more than a non-frothing person wants to handle. I get more robotic the more worked up the other person gets and leaves me with a huge ICK DO NOT WANT feeling when someone can’t handle computing or life’s other funny little challenges.

      1. Well yes, these are valid reasons a person would want someone to calm down. Being around an angry person is not really something anyone wants to do. But telling someone to calm down just isn’t going to make it happen (see also: telling someone to “breathe” when they’re crying). You don’t have to de-escalate, you can just leave and eventually they will run out of steam.

        And for the record, I don’t enjoy being angry, I just get in a lot of Sneaky Hate Spirals. Vats of vitriol launched at fonts don’t “need” to happen, but we live in a universe where they regularly do. Funny, that.

        1. Ugh I worded that in a snitty way because grump. Anyway my point is that if you are in that moment the calm one you might as well not do something that’s guaranteed to make things worse, when there is another easy(ish) option available that protects you and doesn’t escalate them. If leave means NOPE OUT FOREVER then that’s completely reasonable.

        2. This. I don’t freak out at minor things because it’s such an enjoyable thing to do, I just have a really low threshold for frustration.

          I also don’t expect anyone to sit around listening to me swear at my computer. By all means disengage, but telling an angry person to calm down is no more effective than telling a crying person to calm down.

          1. True, but in the LW’s case, she can – and so can anyone else communicating not in person. Just step away from the computer/hang up the phone.

            If you cannot “just leave,” then you likely have a bigger problem than someone who rants a lot. I would recommend Captain’s other scripts and strategies for managing whatever that bigger problem is as best you can.

            For example, my mother is one who likes to get angry about things that just are not worth getting angry about – and she often uses it as an excuse to pick a fight with you. I could not leave when I was still living with her as a child so I had to do a lot of things the Captain has described, like disengaging. Once I moved out, I made a point of never moving back in with her. I also follow the Captain’s advice by only engaging with her in avenues where I can escape if she does not respect my boundaries (which I just had to do a few weeks ago). Her bigger problem is the complete lack of respect for other people’s boundaries, not her ranting.

            The solution of “just leave” is simple, although not necessarily easy. It was not easy for me to deal with my mom the last few years I was stuck at home. I knew that I would only be free when I became financially independent. To this day I really hate feeling trapped like I did back then. I really feel for people who are stuck in situations where they are dependent on someone else, like a significant other; they often have to stay in their situation far longer than they want. But unless they have a support system who can help them escape sooner, they have to start a plan in motion to save up and move out (as Captain has discussed in previous posts).

        3. And for the record, I don’t enjoy being angry,

          Gah, yes, this. When I was a kid, I was angry all the time (I’ve come to believe it was a dietary issue, actually) and one of the things my parents, particularly my dad, would say that was the opposite of helpful was “you must enjoy being angry”. No! I hated being angry! I hated it so much. I hated going through the world full of rage, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it and telling me I must enjoy it was (surprise surprise) infuriating. It also made me feel helpless, because there was really no way to argue against it, since it just made me…more…angry…

    3. My boyfriend did some things that pissed me off yesterday and decided he would rather confront it than just let me calm down quietly on my own. When I was explaining why I was mad, he started smiling (probably trying to de-escalate because I have told him multiple times that being told to “calm down” has the opposite effect, which my sister has never grasped), but all it did was make me see red. Then I really did lose it because I felt like he was laughing at me and refused to see why his behavior had made me angry in the first place. He stopped smiling when I explained that to him (well, after he finally started listening).

      Validation definitely helps. If you do not want to listen, that is fine – I won’t trap you in a rant if you don’t trap me into an anger loop.

      1. Quite often when I’m injured I *am* ok – the injury has happened, it’s stable, I’m waiting for medical attention or pain to subside, and I don’t need you to do anything else. Sometimes I’m not ok (and not necessarily injured), and I need someone to stay with me and talk me down or let me vent or otherwise give me their attention or do a specific thing for me.

        1. I hate the question. I’m not ok, I’m injured. Now, do I need help? That might be a useful question. Or, Where does it hurt?

          But “Are you ok?” They already know I’m not!

          1. It can be so validating to just say “NO” in those instances. There’s so much cultural conventional pressure to say yes, I’m okay, everything’s fine all the time. The first time I truthfully answered “no,” I was in 5th grade and had just fallen very awkwardly while ice-skating. It hurt. I didn’t want to perform happiness for a stranger.
            Lately I’ve been trying this more with my husband, and it feels pretty good to be honest that no, it actually really fucking hurts when the metal lid of a cooking pot lands on one of your metatarsal joints.

          2. Cactus, you are so right.
            One time, I feel down the stairs in my house. Like head over heels, tumbling down the wooden stairs and smacking into wall at the bottom fell down stairs. My husband (who had still been sleeping), jumped up and ran to the top of the stairs, and promptly asked if I was okay. I thought about the question–I was so disoriented that I had not yet evaluated if I was okay. My brain was still processing what had happened. Upon a moment of reflection and realizing that I was, in fact, in pain and unable to really move, I declared “No.” My husband was just relieved that I said something–a friend of a friend of his had fallen down the stairs in a similar way and died, so he took ANY response as a good sign. Apparently the real question behind “Are you okay?” was a combination of “Are you dead? If not, do I need to call 911?”

            My firm “No” and ability to slowly untangle myself from the knot I ended up in at the bottom of the stairs was very reassuring to him. I ended up severely bruised all over, but managed to not break anything. So by one standard, I was “Okay” just hurt. For me, those things can exist at the same time. For example, I’m allergic to the entire family of -caine medications. So a bunch of dental/medical procedures must be done on me without any numbing. While this is happening, I am generally “Okay” in that I am not worried and I am coping with pain (such an allergy makes one good at coping with pain!). I wouldn’t, however, say I was “Good.” “Okay” to me denotes “Things could be better, but I do not need immediate assistance with my current situation.”

            After I fell down the stairs, though, I needed assistance! Therefore, not okay. But I understand different folks have different standards for the words.

          3. Yeah, it’s such an automatic question; I’ve been trying to remember to say “do you need help?” instead, since that’s usually what I actually mean.

        2. My usual response when I’ve fallen or banged myself up or whatever, and am in pain but not seriously damaged, and people ask if I’m okay, is “I will be.” Easier than trying to express the real truth, which is along the lines of, “I am in a lot of pain at the moment, but I am not seriously injured.”

          And if I’m writhing in pain, it seems silly and dismissive to just say I’m okay — but I don’t want a too-helpful person to go and call an ambulance, either. (Still annoyed at the gym employee who did that when I did something painful but temporary to my back.)

      2. When I did first aid the “are you OK?” query was sort of a way to fill space while checking to see if the person reacted to you and you looked at their eyes to check pupil dilation, but I know what you mean about there being social pressure to go “I’m fine!” at that question. “Do you need help?” sounds like it might be better.

    4. I agree so strongly with this comment, oh my god.

      One time a wannabe mansplainer told me to calm down, and without thinking I shot back, “Don’t tell me how to feel.” He got really quiet after that.

      But that’s what ‘calm down’ is at its heart – an attempt to impose someone else’s will on your emotions. It’s fundamentally controlling, especially when your anger is the result of the other person’s words or actions. It doesn’t matter what the speaker’s intentions are in saying it – if an argument is a fire, ‘calm down’ is a hand grenade. You can’t just throw that in on top and not expect damage.

      1. I love every part of your comment – it really is a hand grenade!

        I always knew something was very wrong with “calm down,” but I never put together that it is a control attempt. I really hate to be controlled, so that explains why I basically explode when it is said to me.

    5. I find this so uncomfortable. You are asking for validation of your rage, and taking no responsibility for changing your behaviour. If your partner does validate your rage and de-escalate, what is your motivation to change your behaviour?

      I grew up in a house where my dad thought that flying off the handle and shouting and swearing was an appropriate reaction to anything he was frustrated by, from our table manners as six-year-olds to where the tape measure had been left. What I learned was that this was a valid way to deal with frustration, and that if I was angry about something, other people had to drop whatever they were doing to calm me down and placate me, because my anger was the most important thing in the room. I carried that through to my late teens and early twenties when I had a couple of partners who taught me very clearly that explosive anger was not an acceptable way to vent my frustration with a situation or force my will on people. Once I knew that, I found that it was actually pretty easy to calm myself down: my problem wasn’t controlling my anger, it was feeling that I didn’t have to control it because it got me what I wanted.

      From the OP’s point of view, she has to figure out how to deal with her friend’s anger and how to de-escalate in the moment and choose the right moment to set boundaries about anger being unacceptable is the right way to go. But nobody should HAVE to do that, in my opinion: that is not “how to deal with a hurting person”, it is “strategies for dealing with someone who has not learned acceptable behaviour”.

      1. I’m not questioning your conclusions about how controlling explosive anger can be, but I am questioning how you’re getting explosive and indiscriminate anger from Aurora’s comment. The scope of what they’re talking about (as I read it, anyway) and what you’re describing do not sound like the same thing at all. Your situation sounds like borderline emotional abuse – and yes, it’s great that you took responsibility for that and stopped recreating your father’s behaviour. But reading that into Aurora’s situation, as they’ve described it, is a hell of a leap. Expressing anger is not always a way to exert control over other people – it can also be a way of externalizing an internal problem in a way that helps a person deal with it. It’s not always a call for others to placate you. I’m not comfortable drawing that conclusion from Aurora’s comment – and shaming them for it – without a lot more information than what’s been provided.

        1. “frothing swearing-at-the-computer-in-the-corner rage” “a firm stern look that is hopefully covering my desire to vaporise them with my mind” – I mean, I assume Aurora is exaggerating for effect, but that definitely sounds like they are talking about how they externalise their rage, and simply the fact that they are saying they want their boyfriend to change their behaviour in response to their rage.

          I don’t think there are any situations where I would consider it someone else’s job to adopt the correct behaviour to calm me down. That’s what I’m uncomfortable with. Calming me down is *my* job.

          1. I don’t think there are any situations where I would consider it someone else’s job to adopt the correct behaviour to calm me down. That’s what I’m uncomfortable with.

            I had a different take on what Aurora was saying: just that she wanted her partner not to do a thing that made her feel worse. I mean, if someone who struggled with anxiety asked their partner to please not do x when they’re having an anxiety attack because it makes them more anxious, wouldn’t that be pretty reasonable? (Anything can be taken to a horrible controlling extreme, but let’s imagine hypothetical anxious person is asking for something small like please hold my hand instead of hugging me because a full body hug makes me feel trapped when I’m in the middle of an attack).

            So by that token, wouldn’t it be reasonable for a frustration-prone person to say “please don’t do x while I’m having an anger attack, it makes me feel worse”?

            My problem with “calm down” is that it means “stop being angry.” NO. I have the right to have emotions. I feel very strongly that it’s totally okay to tell an angry person that you need them to stop yelling, or to physically back off, or ease up on the swearing, etc, etc, but it is absolutely never okay to tell people that they’re not allowed to be angry (not that you’re obligated to care that they’re angry. if an abuser is using their anger to control you, it’s totally cool to not care and walk away).

            The reason I feel so strongly about that is because I had a shitty childhood and one of the worst parts was that it was totally unsafe for me to ever in any way express anger about it. I spent my entire childhood terrified of my abuser and terrified on my sister’s behalf and I wasn’t even allowed to be angry about it!!

            It’s totally okay to ask for specific behaviours to stop, it’s totally okay to ask the angry person to be angry elsewhere, it’s totally okay to say you’re too angry to be my friend/partner/business associate/?, but it is never ever okay to tell someone they’re not allowed to feel anger.

            Within reason I think it’s fine to ask people not to do things that make you feel worse when you’re already having a bad time, and I think saying “please don’t use the specific words “calm down” when I’m angry” is pretty reasonable.

            Aside from that, as a few people have said already “calm down” does not work. It simply does not work. I can’t blame people who don’t know what other words to use, but expecting “calm down” to make a person less angry is like expecting a fire to go out when you pour gasoline on it. To be clear it’s not okay either to explosively rage on someone because they told you to calm down, but if you’re going to tell someone which emotions they’re allowed to have you should be prepared for the relationship to be badly damaged.

        2. I mean, I don’t know, maybe I am reading this completely wrong and there are other details that mean this is not a bad situation. Hence me saying I’m uncomfortable with it rather than “omg you’re obviously a terrible person.” All I am saying is that going purely on that comment, there are a lot of red flags for me there.

      2. I also think if someone needs to be incentivized not to scare or upset their loved ones, there’s more than anger management in play here. The incentive for a reasonable person would be knowing that they’re being a disruption and a threat. If they sincerely don’t care about being a disruption and a threat…well, that’s another story, and probably grounds for ending the relationship. But that’s not because the person gets explosively angry. It’s because they’re a selfish jerk.

        Validating feelings and talking people down is supposed to be a cooperative, mutually respectful effort with a willing (if temporarily incapacitated) subject. This is why it works when control-based strategies don’t: nobody likes being cast as The Problem and manipulated into other behavior, so when they realize that this is happening it understandably tends to make them even angrier. Validation shows common respect for the triggered feelings and helps move the person back toward full brain capacity…hopefully with an eye toward both solving the triggering problem and changing the pattern in the relationship. It’s hard for the listener to do when they’re already feeling triggered themselves, and it takes practice; but it does work.



          HULK IS suddenly Bruce again. With hugs.

  7. Frets, I completely relate to in-person anger scaring the crap out of you. For me, it brings back feelings of being yelled at when I was a kid, before my father decided to seriously work on his issues and stop flinging indiscriminate anger everywhere. I can’t even handle hearing other people get into shouting matches that have nothing to do with me. It’s incredibly upsetting, and if my boyfriend ever yelled at me it would be an instant Deal Breaker.

    I understand that some people can shrug off this kind of anger the way water slides off a duck’s back, but to me, yelling at a person is a Huge Deal and not something you just forget about or pretend never happened.

    Online anger is different, just like you said, although at a certain point it gets to you. And I know from my own experience that sometimes there aren’t any meatspace people that you’re acquainted with who will understand what you’re angry about and why, so there’s no one BUT your online friends to vent to. Relationships fall into patterns, though, and if the pattern of your relationship with the Hulk is that he is only the Hulk when he talks to you, it’s going to take some time to build a new pattern. You can validate his feelings, change the subject, and then bow out if it doesn’t work, and try again later. Be honest about what you want from him, and what you like about being his friend. It will take a little work, but I think that it will happen if having a friendship that is not 100% shouty is what you both want.

    1. I could’ve written this pot, mythbri; I also just can’t be around in-person anger much due to angry father screaming at me.

      This post was really timely for me as well; I’m currently dealing with someone who is angry, it seems, *all the time*. and it’s also very hard to deal with because often his anger is directed at people I care about or am also friends with, and his expressions of anger are about things that I just…I don’t agree with his interpretation at all. It’s very very hard to listen to, and I don’t want to disagree with his interpretations but I just *can’t* see it; it feels like he deliberately looks for the most uncharitable read on a situation.

      I think of it as a rollercoaster of rage, and once somebody gets to the top there’s no way to stop it other than waiting for them to stop ranting. I also feel that for some people ranting/venting doesn’t actually help get past it but just makes it worse because it’s giving more fuel to the fire.

  8. I’m biased because I spent all of 12 hours yesterday listening to screaming, but I would recommend dropping the friendship as an option, if you want. It’s not reciprocal, balanced or fair if you’re tiptoeing around someone who has no grace. There are plenty of lovely people who dont hulk out when they’re angry and passionately upset.

  9. LW–does your friend reciprocate the chance to rant? I feel like he’s violating ranting etiquette in more ways than the all caps swearing. Being able to vent to my friends and let them vent to me is an important part of two or three of my friendships, but those moments always have to be followed by the willingness to engage with the other person in a non-ranty way. This is to be benefit of the ranter as much as the rant-ee since focusing on something other than what’s making you want to smash things is always a good idea.

    Or in Hulk-ku form:


  10. How much engagement does Bruce really need when he is ranting? Sometimes for me something builds up a lot and I JUST. NEED. YELLING. So I online chat with a friend or rant in person to my significant other or heck, even my cat because it’s not that I’m looking for support or wisdom or advice I just need to explode into a ball of feelings to clear my system. And while I’m doing that, my bf can be playing video games, my cat can be licking her butt, my online fiends can be doing god knows what because I don’t actually need their undivided attention. If it’s just that Bruce needs an outlet (and you’re ok being an outlet) when he starts ranting can you get up an make yourself some tea, go read a book, whatever but just step back and ignore him until the rant is over and then reenter the conversation with “glad you got that out of your system? Have you seen the latest tiny hamster video?”

    Of course if you don’t want to be his outlet, or feel like you are his outlet too frequently this absolutely needs to be addressed and is probably best done divorced from a rant (so not while he’s in one, and not immediately following)

  11. I can’t handle being yelled at like, at all. I fall to pieces. I can deal with yelling directed at X issue that is not me but yeah, major uncomfortable.

    My strategy is jokes. I have a massive repertoire of terrible, awful, forces you to groan and laugh type jokes. All PG rated. They are wonderful for distracting people from their inward rage focus. (What’s long, brown and sticky? …. A stick!)

    See, a request for a ceasefire is important because it’s good to be up front about how you need to be treated. But you can also take steps to defuse Bruce before the Hulk takes over completely and as a side benefit, laughter is excellent medicine for anxiety and stress, which is awesome friendship.

    I have a friend who can be defused by giving him skittles and milk. It’s also a gentle reminder to him that if we’ve busted out the skittles during a rant then it’s time to take a breath and chill. Cues can help people change behavior that is difficult to change.

  12. Adding to this advice, specifically focusing on the swearing may be helpful. I personally read swearing as someone being extremely angry, but some people have saltier tongues or watch lots of movies with profanity to the point it seems like a normal mode of expression to them. (Plus it is a lot easier to swear with abandon in one’s non-native language, I’ve found. Dunno if that is an issue here.)

    I suppose this is in the vein of trying to rule out a problem that’s easier to solve. Cf.: “Mom, I got gum in my hair!” “Are you sure it’s not shampoo? Because that washes right out!”

    Also, I would like a cross-stitch of the “Hulk cannot smash brain weasels” Hulk-ku from the comments. 🙂

  13. Dear LW
    I hope that you and Bruce have things to talk about other than his peeves.

    Because if you don’t, following the Captain’s advice will be difficult.

    I wanted to add one thing: I can’t bear yelling, in person or online. I retreat. Sometimes I say “Please rant elsewhere”, sometimes I just leave with no notice at all.

    From my perspective, one warning “Bruce, I can’t and won’t listen constant rants. So stop. ” is enough. If you offer more then he should sniff flowers in joy and gratitude.


  14. So this hits home. I’m studying for the bar exam, and it’s so stressful. Growing up, I was never an angry person (and I’m normally not), and was always taught not to express anger or sadness. But, as I’ve grown from my parents’ toxic ideas and gotten comfortable with my wife (married for about a year and a half now), I’ve gotten more expressive. Unfortunately, expressing them has not led to expressing them constructively yet.

    End result: I am Hulking Out on my poor spouse on a regular basis! Usually not at her, but the yelling and swearing is hard to be around. Sometimes, I also yell at my pets, and once or twice, I have hit walls, slammed doors, or thrown books (not AT anyone, but still kinda scary). Occasionally, if I have to do a chore (am studying 14 hours a day), or she’s making a lot of noise, I yell at her, too. I hate myself for it. I guess it’s just a really bad confluence of huge exam stress and letting out suppressed feelings. I don’t know what to do.

    1. Here’s a little bit of advice just off the top of my head:

      1. See what you can do about talking to a professional counselor. They can help you learn to express your anger in non-destructive and hopefully non-scary ways. You will have someone to talk to about what makes you angry and frustrated, and they will hear you and help you put things in perspective and manage it appropriately.

      2. Find a non-destructive, possibly physical outlet for your anger and frustration. If you feel like you might be about to yell or break something, leave your house. Go for a run. Go to the gym. Go to the local activity center and buy some time in the batting cage. Imagine all of your anger and frustration leaving you as you exert yourself.

      3. Tell your spouse that you are trying to work on this and apologize for taking your anger out on her, the pets, and your possessions. Tell her that with your new strategy of leaving your shared living space when you are angry, it’s because you have to deal with your emotions and you’re trying not to make it her job. She shouldn’t feel badly if you need to leave, and she shouldn’t be afraid when you come back.

      4. Be sure to practice self-care. Obviously this is a stressful time for you, so treat yourself properly. Get the appropriate amount of sleep and food that you need. Maybe schedule some break time, which could be just-you-time or you-and-spouse-time or you-and-spouse-and-pets time. Break big tasks down into manageable steps to keep yourself from being overwhelmed, and this includes the work you want to do on changing the way you express and deal with your anger and frustration.

    2. D: Oh man, the bar exam. AAAHHH!

      I am someone who has always had something of a short fuse and walks around with a lot of sort of non-directed anger that can come out in really weird, destructive ways if it’s not channeled properly.

      My suggestions, which I know will probably seem insurmountable when everything feels like a massive weight bearing down on you, BUT:

      1. Prioritize self-care, in whatever form that takes (eating stuff that makes you feel good, sleep, time to read, whatever)
      2. If you are like me, you get antsy when you don’t get any physical activity, even though I hate the gym and sports, so if I’m feeling jittery and unable to focus, I take off for a walk around the block
      3. Give yourself permission to say no to things that tap your energy when you need it for something else

      It might be a good idea to have a conversation with your wife when you are not stressed or freaked-out and you have time to talk. The bar exam will come; this phase is not forever even though it probably feels that way. I think it is 100% ok to say, hey, I have this huge thing that I am doing, so for the next X amount of time, can we reshuffle chores/change schedules/agree that I have this block of time to be alone/whatever you need to do.

    3. Oh wow… I don’t want to make you feel worse when you clearly already feel terrible, but being under stress doesn’t make it okay to yell, swear, and worst of all, intimidate someone through acts of violence like hitting walls. Please see if your university offers counseling.

      You are responsible for your behavior. That feeling of self-hatred isn’t helpful because it doesn’t help you stop… but if you can use those bad feelings of shame to motivate you to get help so you can change your behavior, that would be awesome. I read once that studies over shame show that _feeling like a bad person_ isn’t helpful and doesn’t lead anywhere good, but _feeling like you did a bad thing but are still worthy of love_ is what leads people to happiness. I’m writing this as someone whose husband used to kick empty boxes and slam doors. He doesn’t engage in that behavior anymore. Our relationship had changed for the better. You _can_ put a stop to this. Please just don’t excuse it due to stress. We all experience stress.

      I know I’m being pretty blunt here… I truly wish you and your wife the best!

      1. Does it matter/make a difference that I’m physically much smaller than she is? And we’re both women. I’m not leaving holes in walls, and I don’t touch her stuff when I’m mad. But still, I see your point. You don’t have to be physically imposing to have big emotions. I’ve left school (you take the exam the summer after graduation), but we do have basic insurance. I’ll have to see about copays- we were thinking of getting me someone anyway, because anxiety is also a problem for me.

        1. Yes, it makes a difference. My husband was bigger and stronger than me, and that added to the intimidation factor. However, I at all times truly felt that he would never hurt me, and he never did. His escalation was from kicking stuff to engaging in self-destructive behavior. I never fully understood that dynamic until I came to this site and learned that it’s a way of punishing somebody. “It’s your fault I’m angry, so I’m going to go wander off and maybe I’ll just wander into traffic. NOW don’t you feel bad??” Also, part of my fear came not from him, but from childhood memories of being yelled at by my father when I was small and powerless.

          I didn’t mean this as a guilt trip. Actually, guilt isn’t helpful at all except in that it can be a motivating force! My concern was that sometimes people rationalize, and then they acclimatize. I’m sure you don’t want yelling and slamming doors to become the new normal! I’ve never been to law school so I don’t want to minimize the stress… but at some point, you’ll hit other sources of stress. Parent in the hospital, financial crisis, work crisis that hits at the same time as you’re sick…and your spouse will hit these crisis points too.

          I know it’s easy to say “get counseling,” and in reality it’s not always that simple to find the right person or to find the time and money. But counseling was so dramatically effective for my husband, and he only went once a month for a limited time. Sometimes things really can be simple! I started to write more, but my husband’s issues probably aren’t the exact ones you’re facing. I just wanted to put out there that sometimes counseling isn’t some huge time suck that goes on forever.

          1. I hope I didn’t run out of threading… one more thought I wanted to tag on. When you get a lot of responses on a forum like this, it can stir up a lot of emotion and feel overwhelming. But people who are posting can’t always see all the other responses right away. I don’t think anyone here is trying to pile on! Try to pretend you’re getting us one at a time 🙂

          2. Nthing all the advice above. I used to have major issues with managing my anger to the point where I’d scream, punch walls and threaten self-harm – especially during stressful times – and starting therapy worked wonders in a surprisingly short time. The key for me personally was to really feel the angry feelings before reacting, learning to just let my anger wash over me.

        2. I just wanted to ask whether you feel that, now you’re in a place where it’s safe for you to express anger, you feel like you’re owed it, like you have a lot of expression of anger to catch up on? I’ve struggled with this in the past. I’ve realised that I don’t have the right to do anything that affects others negatively, even though I have the right to own my feelings.

          It is possible to find ways of expressing anger that don’t hurt others – for me mindfulness is important, so that I acknowledge anger before deciding whether or not to express it. I take opportunities to get it out of my system when I’m alone. Rage-fuelled housework is quite a positive way to get that energy out.

          1. I do feel like I have a lot of anger from before that’s coming out now. I’m angry about how stifling my upbringing was (literally punished or screamed at for crying or being angry), and how controlling my family was (and still tries to be). Basically, picture Amy Chua as a WASP, and you have my mom!

            We also are really tight on money. That doesn’t make me angry at my spouse, but I’m generally angry at the political situation and the job market now, because there could be changes to student loans or other things that would help, if everyone would just get out of each other’s way! (Bernie for 2016, btw!)

            We also don’t have enough friends to be able to use the plural! We moved to a new neighborhood, but stay home a lot, and I’m the type of person who can make acquaintances but not friends. And as an introvert I don’t have a lot of patience for shallow talk.
            So I understand that my behavior is wrong, but I do believe I definitely have reason to rage.

          2. Expanding on the mindfulness-thing: I was also taught never to show any negative emotions (anger, sadness, tiredness), and am just now figuring out how to deal with these feelings. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the time I let these feelings build up until they explode* because I’m just not aware enough of what I’m feeling at any given moment to notice them before they get huge. Could this be something that is happening to you (notcryingonsundays), too? Especially with all the added stressors you mentioned, it seems like it could be really easy to just keep missing the warning signs that indicate building anger.

            What I’ve found helps me catch angry outbursts early is to keep checking in with myself regularly, which ties in with what other commenters have said about taking breaks and making sure to rest. I usually stop and ask myself whether I have slept badly, skipped meals or if there have been any unexpected stressors that day that I hadn’t mentally budgeted for. If the answer to any of those is yes, there is a problem that needs to be remedied (nap, meal, quiet relaxation time) before I proceed. If what I said above about not recognising feelings seems familiar, maybe this could be helpful to you, too?

            * Although in my case exploding tends to manifest as finally voicing clumsily worded criticism while physically shaking like a leaf. It’s a work in progress.

    4. Counseling is a great option. Someone trained in handling intense emotion can help you learn to handle it too.

      As someone who has lived with a person who did all these things you’re talking about, “not at her” “not AT anyone” and that kind of thing is not even remotely a positive. This stuff is terrifying to live with. Whether or not you mean it to be it functions as a threat. Keep me happy or I will do this to you. Don’t make me angry or I will throw/break your belongings. You are terrorizing your wife.

      I’m glad that you see it as a problem. Now it’s on you to find solutions, and to find them now.

      1. FTR, I’m physically much smaller than she is (we’re both women), and I don’t do damage to the apartment or her stuff. Still, it’s a problem. I know she worries about our pets being afraid (we’ve discussed boarding them for a short while if I can’t stop Hulking, but I have not been as bad lately). Sometimes, she leaves the apartment (because I have my entire study setup at home and need to keep to it). I also have a lot of mood swings, so I know I’m being unpredictable (e.g. I’ll get angry and then suddenly realize I’m being awful or just get overwhelmed, and start crying, or realize that X thing I’m Hulking over because I can’t find it was right there all along, and just find that hilarious). Not excusing it either, but she used to yell and swear a lot too, so I think it kind of got passed on, or I at least saw that example. But, it’s not an acceptable way to behave for either of us. And I don’t want my two favorite animals to start running from me or anything!

        1. Another smaller-woman-in-the-two-woman-relationship who sometimes struggles with anger here, and yeah… what you’re doing isn’t okay. It’s never okay. Understandable, but… not okay. Do look into counselling or even a self-help book, and do try to practice more self-care as well.

          I learned my horrible temper from my mother, and now that I see the effect it has on my wife and her son, I am trying to unlearn it as fast as I can.

        2. Honestly being smaller or being a woman doesn’t make it better. Our cultural narrative of abuse tends to be one of ‘large angry man who controls with physical strength’ but that’s just one small group of abusers.

          Right now you’re priming your wife to be okay with your outbursts, so while it’s currently in the realm of throwing/punching things and yelling around her it could easily escalate to pushing/throwing things at her/hitting her. And she could easily react by defending your actions because “she doesn’t usually do this/she’s just really stressed out/I was making noise when I should have been quiet”.

          I’m sorry if I sound harsh, I’m not saying that you’re intentionally headed down that path but you’d be surprised what a short jump there is from your current behaviour to abusive behaviour.

          1. Right now you’re priming your wife to be okay with your outbursts, so while it’s currently in the realm of throwing/punching things and yelling around her it could easily escalate to pushing/throwing things at her/hitting her.

            Not to take away from your overall point, which I think was good, but something about this bothered me–making the choice to violently assault someone is a choice, it’s not something that you just randomly do sometime because you’re in the habit of pitching a fit. I’ve struggled with my temper my entire life, and I’ve certainly slammed a lot of doors and raised my voice when I shouldn’t have (I’m working on it), but I’ve never hit anyone who wasn’t actively in the process of assaulting me, and unless aliens take over my body, I don’t think it’s likely to ever happen.

            What the previous poster is doing is not okay at all, and is in fact emotionally abusive, but I get really uncomfortable when we talk about assault as the natural outcome of anger issues. It isn’t. What she’s already doing is reason enough in and of itself for her to get help.

        3. It’s still a threat, no matter whether you’re smaller. At the very least, it’s an emotional threat to your wife and a physical threat to the pets (which is also an emotional threat to her). I’m a queer lady too, I took the last bar exam, I KNOW how stressful it is — but it’s a stress that is entirely within your own power to control in healthful, non-destructive ways. And I mean entirely. What you are doing is very likely emotional abuse, threatening to become physical, and emotional abuse alone is NO JOKE. It doesn’t become okay because you’re less able to land a solid punch. You need to stop this pattern immediately. There will be other periods of stress in your life and your marriage. Fail the exam if you have to. Give yourself permission to take the bar in February instead, if that’s what it takes — going right into law practice isn’t going to help you destress anyway, so embrace the idea of taking a break either now or before you start work. And find a therapist for yourself, or some form of support group (like Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers). Normally I’d say “if you can reasonably afford it.” Here, I’m not qualifying that advice. Yeah, you probably need money, and the legal job market is shitty. But more than that, you need to do whatever you can do to stop terrorizing your wife.

          Don’t be ashamed. Be proud that you’re recognizing this behavior and seeking advice and help. And cut this shit out before it becomes just the way you always deal with stress. You survived being a 1L, you can survive the bar exam too. And if you don’t pass the bar, it’s seriously not a big deal, compared to passing the bar but failing as a wife. Do better. You absolutely can.

        4. You being bigger, you being smaller, zero difference. Your behavior is the issue, not the specifics of the situation surrounding your behavior. There is no situation in which this behavior would be right.

          Don’t look for reasons for why this behavior is not so bad. Deal with the behavior.

        5. Getting angry and frustrated probably means that you are not learning effectively either. I would recommend taking 2-3 minute breaks every half an hour, and moving around (taking a walk) every now and again. Also, I highly recommend a Coursera MOOC called “Learning how to learn”, which talks about effective learning, and delves a bit into the neuroscience involved.

          One of the takeaways from the course is that people try to stay focused for so long that it becomes counter productive. Another is that exercise is important for learning.

        6. Being smaller does not make this behavior harmless or okay. Since as long as I can remember, my mother has often vented her negative feelings through screaming, swearing rage tantrums, including screaming at me, my brother, and my father. My father is 6 inches taller than her and perhaps 100 pounds heavier. He has been subjected to her rages longer than any of the rest of us (>30 years).
          And you know what? He is a broken man. So broken that he never even tried to defend my brother and me from her.

        7. Ditto what others have said here. Is it at all possible to figure out a study setup and routine outside your home? Compartmentalization, while not a successful long-term or standalone strategy, can be helpful in situations like these (when paired with professional counseling, self-care, etc.). Maybe this setup/routine can be somewhere within walking or biking distance so that you can have some exercise/wind down/mindset shift time.

          You have a lot of responsibilities here, and it seems your current strategies for addressing them aren’t working. Try some new things. Get some help. Apologize to your wife, do your part around your home, and take care of yourself (including figuring out some “indicator feelings” before you hulk it out–and then intervening/redirecting/doing what you gotta do to not hulk off). You can do this.

        8. Can there be certain times during the week when you and your study setup are at the library? I find your description of what’s going on in your household terrifying (part of which is on me due to my experiences with my mom’s unpredictable explosive anger), and it’s not really fair for her to always be the one who has to leave if she can’t deal with it anymore. The idea of having to choose between “be at home and not know when spouse is going to erupt” and “not be at home” all the time, every day, sounds exhausting.

        9. I know a lot of people have already said that being smaller doesn’t make this OK, but I’m going to jump on that bandwagon as well.

          In some ways, it probably does help make your behavior less physically threatening, but in other ways I think it might even make it worse. It’s possible that your wife will make more excuses for you and let you go further than she would if you were bigger and more conventionally dangerous.

          If a large man shouted and ranted and lost control the way that my mother-in-law did (and presumably still does, though no longer around me), I think I would have known it was threatening. But MIL is a frail little old lady, how scary could she be? Surely, I thought when we were all living under one roof, surely I am just having a disproportionate emotional reaction when she yells in my face until I cry. Surely excuses can be made for her? Surely she has a point when she says I’m being ridiculous, how could she ever frighten anyone? (Spoiler: turned out there were very good reasons for me to be scared.)

          She was gaslighting me all along about this “disproportionate reaction” thing. But even without the gaslighting, I think I would have realized sooner that we were in a House of Bees if it had been, say, my large father-in-law doing the shouting instead. It would have seemed more appropriate to be scared of a man twice the size of my wife and I. (We’re another couple of ladies, BTW.)

          Being small and female isn’t a magic talisman against being an abusive asshole. You and I and all the other small women still need to take responsibility for handling our own shit and not taking out our stress on our partners/other people/pets, in sickness and in health, good times and bad. I don’t have a lot of hope that my MIL will ever change, since she still doesn’t seem to understand how she could possibly be powerful enough to be a threat. I’m glad you recognize that your behavior is scary – hold on to that knowledge. You are capable of causing harm to your loved ones without ever raising a fist to them, and your violence does not cease to be dangerous just because you’re female. I’m not trying to say you’re a bad person – we all get overwhelmed by feelings at one time or another, it’s part of learning how to Person. But you need to treat this thing you are doing as if it matters, as if it has real impact, and really put in the work of figuring out new strategies instead. You probably have more strategies for managing your temper than you’re accessing at home right now – you probably wouldn’t hulk out during your actual examinations, would you? How would you avoid that? Can you do that (or something similar) at home, too?

          Also, are you by any chance someone like me who tends to forget to eat while working? It’s easy for me to assume all my emotions come from my head, but some of them actually seem to come from my blood sugar levels, and a snack and a glass of water can go an embarrassingly long way towards fixing them. YMMV.

    5. > 14 hours a day

      Check your bar prep program or system, whichever vendor you’re going through. After your daily lecture(s) you shouldn’t have your nose in the books and practice tests so much that you’re adding up to a total of 14 hours of bar prep per day. You’re seriously risking burning out before you walk into the exam venue.

      Studying for the bar is a full-time job, but it’s not a 70-plus hours per week job. If you have a learning difference and need accommodation, then seek it out. But don’t kill yourself with your bar prep.

      Bar exam war story: I blew the deadline for registering my laptop for the computer-based testing, didn’t realize it until I was in my seat 20 minutes before the start of the exam, and had to take the exam with pencil. The muscles in my writing hand gave out somewhere in the last third of the last essay question and weren’t completely back in time for the MBE the second day. But I passed on the first try with a very comfortable margin of points. Point is that the bar exam is a test of minimal competency and a good attitude will go a long way toward getting you past it.

      1. I just barely got registered an hour and a half before the deadline! Totally forgot until then. I just am having trouble remembering the facts/elements enough to do the essays well (scored 138 on the MBE midterm, but essays are killing me!)

        1. Welp, I really do think that 8-10 hours a day, with a little time off on the weekends, following the bar prep program schedule for the next 3 weeks will almost certainly do you better than barrelling for 14 hours a day, nonstop, until Barpocalypse Day. Test of minimal competency.

          Bar exam war story II: After the first day, I went out and met some pals for our usual mid-week bar night. “What the hell are you doing here?!” they said, knowing it was a 2-day test. “Friends,” I answered, “I’m tired, I’m thirsty, and if I don’t know the material by now, I’m not gonna learn it in one night. What’s the special tonight?” Don’t get me wrong; I called it a night pretty early and headed home after only an hour. But it was nice to chill and socialize for the evening, even if I had to use my non-dominant hand to lift my beer glass.

        2. I’m with glomarization. Our brains are funny things. The frustration and hulking out is almost certainly impeding your ability to remember. Try taking more breaks. The bar exam is going to be stressful, but you may be creating additional stress with your study methods.

        3. Speaking as someone who has also taken the bar exam, you’re going to do better than you think. If you put the work in while you were in law school, and are putting work into the prep, you’ll be *fine*.

          That being said, since your anger is largely coming out in physically aggressive and/or shouty ways, you may want to find something to do that will let you do both to get it out of your system. A lot of people I knew who are/were taking the bar exam neglect self-care. They don’t eat decently, they might drink too much at night, they’re not exercising or taking any time for themselves. Maybe find a kickboxing DVD and take an hour a day to beat the air and yell loudly and get all sweaty. Or bake, or crochet, or anything that gets you out of your head for a while.

          You still have almost a month to go before the bar exam, yes? You’re going to get it. It’s going to come together. Everybody who takes the bar exam (except for the few hardy souls who never have a moment’s self-doubt) thinks they’re going to fail. Depending on where you are in the country, a good portion to a vast majority pass the first time out.

        4. I did not take the Bar, but I did take my own Boards. I can second everyone who is advocating for taking a break and taking care of yourself more.

          I have been “over-achieving” since before high school and still am. The only way I made it through my tough programs while overloading with classes and working part-time was because I took care of myself. I knew that if I burnt out mentally and emotionally or broke down physically, I would never achieve my goals.

          I learned early on that excessive studying got me nowhere – but making sure I slept enough the night before so I could actively pay attention and learn in classes the next day was critical. (As a result, I barely had to “study” the way other kids did – I just reviewed my notes for an hour or two the day before a test and get to bed on time, which resulted in a GPA >3.5.) Making time to eat good food so I felt good and was not distracted by hunger was also key. Most importantly, I took one day completely off every single week. Saturdays were MY day and if I wanted to stay in my pajamas and play video games all day, then dammit, that’s what I did! Because I only had Sunday to study on the weekends, I had the added bonus of a deadline, which helped me really focus on whatever I had to do on Sunday to just get it done and get it done well.

          I can’t tell you how many kids I watched spend Friday night and then all day Saturday and Sunday at the library “studying,” where they wandered around aimlessly, talking to each other without looking at their notes. Or they would desperately cram the week or night before a test after falling asleep or missing 50% of the classes. They would usually pass, but sometimes they would fail because they had never learned the material in the first place, or if they had, they were so exhausted they couldn’t comprehend the questions.

          I barely had to study. I actually played 80 hours of Skyrim (a videogame) during one of my finals weeks where I had 8 2-hour finals over the course of 4 days. I got straight A’s that term. I knew that I already knew the material because I spent time learning it in class, and I did a brief review before each exam. Like glomarization, if I did not already know the material by the last week of the term, I was certainly not going to learn it all in one night.

          That is certainly not to say that you should sabotage yourself though. My neighbor was one of the kids who did not follow my study/life philosophy. He crammed all week before our Boards but freaked out on Friday night. He decided he was going to fail anyway, so he went out drinking and got completely hammered. He was so hung over he actually threw up between exams on Saturday. He was still hung over Sunday. He failed 3 of the 6 tests by 10 points each (if you failed only 2, you can retake just those 2; if you fail 3+, you have to redo the whole set). If he had not been so hungover, I would bet money he would have passed (or only failed 2)!

          Tl;dr version: self-care >>> studying. If you engage in regular self-care, your studying will be more effective. It’s like keeping your living space clean – if you do a little bit every day, you do not have to do a massive deep-clean every time you clean.

      2. I tell everyone to take naproxen before the bar exam, to help with the pain. All day long, all day strong. It’s really impressive how much the test is one of physical endurance.

        I’m sitting for my second one this month because I moved to a new state, but at least I don’t have to take the MBE again.

        1. The physical part of the bar exam is NO JOKE. I think they deliberately get the least comfortable chairs in the world for that thing. Best decision I made was to get a massage before the exam, but after would have been great too. I didn’t really put much stock in the whole “you carry stress in your body” thing until then, but wow is it ever true.

      3. >> “computer-based testing”

        HAHAHAHA! When I took the Bar, there was no such thing. All by hand, all the time (unless you were disabled and needed special accomodations). I took all my notes and exams in law school by hand to build up the endurance.

        On the subject of the comment, though, I definitely agree — 14 hours a day is too much. Take a lunch break. Take a dinner/exercise break. Give yourself time off before you go to bed. Rest is *essential* because the Bar is an endurance test. In my first state it was 2.5 days, which meant that I needed to be as rested as possible going in because I wasn’t going to sleep the night before or the first night of. Your physical health — eating, sleeping, normal exercise — is key for getting through this.

    6. I also have a lot of rage and anger issues. I am dealing with one of the worst times in my life right now and there are days when I just feel a constant undercurrent of rage. I don’t live with anyone and I never act it out in public or when people are in my home. My basement has basically become my Hulk Room where the floor is covered with destroyed cardboard boxes. I run a lot, I eat healthy, I talk to supportive friends, I journal, I take care of myself. I am still angry. All. The. Time.

      But in all honesty, it’s not actually anger or rage. It’s just YEARS of built up hurt. Most of the time this sort of anger is not actually frustration or anger, it’s what happens when you stifle your sadness and hurt for a very long time. From what you said, it certainly sounds like you are also carrying years of worth negative emotions that you never were able to give any room. The only thing that’s actually starting to get me out of this is crying. Lots and lots of crying. Sometimes angry crying. Sometimes saying all the things that caused all the hurt out loud (to no one) while sobbing. It’s feels super dramatic and weird and wildly antithetical to Who I Am (i.e. not a crier!!) but it’s working. After I Hulk-Out I feel . . . just as ragey as I did before. After I cry I feel a bit a relief.

      And yes, get thyself to a counselor immediately. Everyone in your house is suffering and all the self-care and self-control in the world isn’t going to relieve what is actually causing all this anger-pain. Also, take a study break and go see the movie Inside Out. It’s an excellent kid’s movie that basically sums up the sadness to anger progression.

    7. As someone with a bottomless well of pure wrath, my advice is threefold:

      1) Own your actions. Don’t let that self-image of you being helpless to NOT act better continue. Understand that you can and should try to change your behaviour.

      2) Don’t let yourself slam doors, yell at people or pets, or otherwise do bad stuff when you’re angry. Don’t punch pillows, throw, or break things. Doing that when you’re angry will reinforce the connection between ‘I get angry’ and ‘I do inappropriate/intimidating things’ in your head. Try instead to do things like go for a run/to the gym/for a swim, or write it out to yourself. Later, if it’s a legitimate grievance, you’ll reread your writing and see that. If it’s way overreacting, you’ll see that too.

      (BTW, the smaller-than-your-partner thing? Not an excuse.)

      3) This may sound counter-intuitive, but try to take up a hobby like crochet, knitting, weaving, quilting, sewing, cooking, jewelry-making, some other form of art. Not necessarily when you’re in the middle of a rage, but often when you get in touch with how very angry you are, you start to feel like you do nothing but get mad and destroy stuff, which makes you get angrier and destroy more stuff. Making useful, beautiful items instead reminds you that your anger is not the sum total of your identity, and that you probably will not always feel like this.

      1. > (BTW, the smaller-than-your-partner thing? Not an excuse.)

        Agreed. And really, as well: the bar exam itself? Not an excuse. The bar exam is a pain in the ass, 100% true. I will never be licensed to practice in a jurisdiction that does not have reciprocity with mine because I walked out of my own bar exam and swore that as god is my witness, I’ll never take a bar exam again. But you know what else is a pain in the ass? Practicing law. Learn how to deal with it, find a mentor, work with a counselor, call the state bar association’s mental/behavioral health hotline, or something, because having to sit for the bar exam or deal with the stress of law practice is not something you take out on your spouse, or anyone else.

        1. Exactly. And once you start to make excuses to throw things and act badly because you’re mad. Well. The excuses get bigger and bigger. Suddenly it’s not just during finals week or the bar exam–suddenly it’s every time you have a really difficult client. Then a really difficult week. Then it’s every time they do the dishes wrong, every time you get startled, every time there’s even a little bit of discomfort.

          Giving yourself excuses to act inappropriately just means you do it more and more.

        2. Yes, this. My law school actually offered lunch and learns to students about how to deal with being law students/bar studiers/lawyers and having normal relationships with our significant others. It was very useful. We’re in a high stress profession. I’m in one of the lower stress varieties and yet I still have to (will once I pass for this state) sit and look at the grossness of humanity day in and day out, and I cannot take that out on Mr. Celette. The bar exam is definitely a stressful season….but there are many more to come.

        3. I tell people who ask that the Bar Exam is the worst thing that I ever paid to have happen to me.

          And you’re right: yelling and violent outbursts are not the way to be a successful lawyer. I’ve met some lawyers who have that coping mechanism and they are…not good. Because everyone knows that the way to deal with them is to drive them to rage and then they will fly off the handle and react instead of thinking strategically and that makes them easier to beat. And the one I know personally (used to be in the same firm) can’t keep good support staff (despite giving them lavish gifts) and can’t keep good associates working for him. It’s not worth it. The time to start fixing this is now.

  15. I hate being yelled at. It scares me.

    Everyone needs to vent now and then, and I’m happy to listen to certain sorts of venting. What makes being the listener satisfying to me is that usually if I give someone my full attention and sympathize with them, the act of venting calms them down, the venting session is naturally short as they release a little steam. Usually whoever I’m listening to will rapidly calm down, and then choose to either continue to discuss the issue in a calmer fashion, or change the subject, or react positively if I offer a lighter subject.

    But some people don’t seem to get this cathartic feeling from venting. Instead, once they get going, they wind themselves tighter and tighter, and get louder and louder and angrier and angrier. I used to call it “running up the screw,” because I used to visualize their anger as a track that spirals up like the thread on a screw, and the more they vent the more they run up that spiral track, each loop getting louder and angrier.

    I hate that and find it frightening. Furthermore, people in this state will snap at whoever’s listening to them, or will literally yell, and in my experience will later on not even remember or admit how out of control they seemed. Other times, I worry because I’m hearing this from a depressed person, and the whole reason I wanted to listen was to help them feel better, but it seems like it’s having the opposite effect.

    I once had a friend give me advice on how to handle this. Her script was, “I want to be a good friend and listen, but I’m really overwhelmed by now and you seem to be getting more upset the more you talk about it. Can we change the subject for a while?”

    In time I realized that there’s often an almost deliberate quality to this ramping up. Sometimes it seems like people are using anger deliberately because the rush makes them feel good, or because the sensation shuts down their own anxieties, especially if it’s something they can’t or won’t resolve. I always used to think of anger as a feeling that people couldn’t help, something that happened to them without their control. Over time I’ve been astonished to realize how much control people actually do have, and how much people can reign it in if they choose to.

    1. In time I realized that there’s often an almost deliberate quality to this ramping up. Sometimes it seems like people are using anger deliberately because the rush makes them feel good, or because the sensation shuts down their own anxieties, especially if it’s something they can’t or won’t resolve. I always used to think of anger as a feeling that people couldn’t help, something that happened to them without their control. Over time I’ve been astonished to realize how much control people actually do have, and how much people can reign it in if they choose to.

      This ^. In fact, googolplex this.

      You’ve just described my father.

      1. My ex-husband too. He would start over the tiniest thing and wind himself up and up, like some kind of freakish tornado of rage, even if no one said a word.

        I’m sorry that you went through this as well, it’s awful to be around someone who acts that way.

    2. People used to suggest that if you are angry, go hit a pillow. But now that’s not recommended, at. all. because it becomes addictive! You get this release of anger and it’s a rush and it feels good, and then you’re associating violence with release of tension. So yeah, giving into violent urges or yelly outbursts is a reinforcing cycle.

    3. Additionally, I have found that there is nothing that you (the listener) can actually do for this person.

      I used to screw myself up like that because, like you said, it was allowing me to shut down other feelings (usually sadness). But getting myself all worked up and venting did not actually help – I just felt mad at myself and ashamed for doing it on top of still feeling angry. And by winding myself up, I never let go of whatever it was that was bothering me, so I had a constant angry undertone.

      One day I decided I did not want to be like this anymore, that I was tired of feeling this way. Counseling helped, as did acupuncture (your emotions are intricately connected to your physical body and its energy) – but I was the one who had to decide to change it and work on myself. Now when I vent, it is for a very short period of time because I just get it out and move on. I just feel my feelings, express them in a safe or constructive way, and I continue on. I am so much happier now.

      I actually make a point of not friending people who are still in this “running up the screw” dynamic because just being around them can suck me back in.

  16. I havent seen Hulk so all the hulk references are confusing / meaningless to me so you wont find any in this comment.

    Coming back to the original issue, I would certainly say that you dont want to hear rants; you know it isnt a rant at you personally, but it is still stressful to hear and hard to engage with in any case.

    However, so Bruce doesnt feel abandoned, at a time when he is perhaps not in control of his emotions and is upset or distressed, before going offline Id say “how about you blog about whats bothering you, and Ill read it later?” Encouraging Bruce to write diverts the focus from you and might make him work out what really is bothering him. Or just get the rant out of his system and give it wings so it can take its own space and stop haunting him. Maybe next day, you can read it and understand why he was ranting, but in a more calm and constructive manner. Or maybe in the cold light of day Bruce will re-read his rant, and realise he was being ridiculous, or at least getting things out of proportion. Or maybe he had a good point but struggled to express it (maybe you could help him to discuss and re-word it).

    So basically, youre disengaging for your own good when things get stressful, but youre still showing support as a friend over the long run.

    Also, this isnt your problem, but if possible as a good friend, I wonder whether you can see a pattern? Does Bruce stress after a few drinks at night? After a partner or kid has just gone home and left him alone? When he drinks tons of coffee? Lying in bed unable to sleep? In pain for some reason? Etc. Youre not there in person but he might drop clues if you look for them. Maybe there is a cause or trigger to his rants which needs support and coping techniques, rather than (just) the anger itself?

    Good luck, and absolutely give yourself the permission to step away and tell Bruce why. It isnt negotiable, youre taking a break, bye, catchya later. But leave him with a suggestion to write it down, or whatever, so he knows you do care how he feels, you just wont engage when he is in full on rant mode.

    Thanks for being a good friend to Bruce.

  17. Hey Cap, this one struck a chord. Whilst usually, I can deal with anything life throws at me pretty well, and take the best of a bad situation, sometimes, just like Bruce, I hulk out. I don’t really need a reason, I mean I’ll find something to be mad about, say a stack of dishes that still need doing, that sort of thing. Some small, tiny irrelevant thing that is wrong in the world but at that time, the most important thing in the world is being mad, all frustrated and angry and full of all the worst kind of stupid petulant spite. I mostly get it when I’m feeling under pressure, or if I’m particularly anxious about something.
    Think of it like a angry hat you can’t take off. You’re perfectly aware that you’re in Angry mode, and that’s gonna impair your judgement for a bit, and generally, you’re not the best person to be around, but there’s not much you can realistically do about it, until the Angry goes away of its own accord.
    Fortunately my housemates understand I get angry and shouty from time to time, often with little forewarning and that I don’t mean anything by it, I’m just a bit mad, and need a few minutes and perhaps some mild domestic chores to settle myself again. It might be that I’m just an angry person, or that I don’t express myself properly otherwise in some way, or that I have to somehow “channel that anger,” (advice I’ve been given, personally, I’d much rather not be angry in the first place)

    ‘Fraid I can’t really top any of the other commenters for ways to help dealing with Bruce, but do try to talk to him when he hasn’t Hulked Out, despite whatever he’s ranting about at any given time, it’s probably something altogether different that’s getting to him, and for better or worse, he’s found that his way to deal with the anxiety is to vent it into anger and frustration, rather than hide under a duvet and rock back and forth.


  18. I know you stated that you aren’t feeling threatened, LW, but for anyone else reading this, I just wanted to say that aggressive behaviour doesn’t have to be directed towards you in order to be threatening. They don’t have to hit YOU for it to be wrong. They don’t have to swear at YOU for it to be wrong. If someone is acting aggressively in your vicinity (online or offline), they are still sending a message about how they react to frustrating situations, and the threat, however veiled, is there. Those feelings of unease and discomfort are real and valid, and you don’t have to wait for the day when you’re on the receiving end to get out.

    1. I think if you take this too literally, the implication would be that me swearing (because I’ve stubbed my toe, or the government have done something terrible) where other people can hear me is equivalent to a threat to swear at them.

      And that I should never swear at all, or never vent to friends about things that have made me angry.

      I completely agree that the LW’s feelings of discomfort and unease are real and valid; she has every right to tell Bruce “hey, this is triggering my anxiety, I need to not be around this” and to have that respected.

      (And I agree with you that aggressive behaviour in the form of swearing *at* other people who are present or hitting other people is a bright red flag about how that person might treat you.)

      But articulating one’s anger about something (to someone who is okay with listening and being a sounding board for it) is not *inherently* threatening or abusive.

      1. Oh, absolutely. Feeling and articulating anger is not inherently abusive. My comment was intended more for patterns of behaviour like being aggressively angry in the vicinity of one particular person all the time, ESPECIALLY when they have asked to not be a sounding board or when they don’t have the agency to remove themselves. I’m mainly addressing that whole, “well they would never hurt ME” mentality that is sometimes a precursor to domestic violence.

        A friend of mine was in this situation, and it was like her partner was testing the waters to see exactly what he could get away with, until his violent outbursts were “just how he gets” and “part of his personality”.

  19. Anger doesn’t have to be aimed at you to distress you. Especially when the situation turns into him relieving his stress by increasing yours.

    You don’t owe him an endless sounding board, and if he’s continuing to explosively vent, then the venting isn’t really helping him.

  20. Okay, a suggestion you might want to offer Bruce for dealing with his frustration and annoyance at “Someone Is Wrong On The Internet” – set up a jar, and every time he wants to rant, he has to put some change into the jar. At the end of the year, open the jar, and decide what to do with the money from there – preferably spending it on something which makes him happy (or putting some of it toward charitable donations to infuriate the people who infuriate him or similar). This is something I do myself, as a way of giving myself permission to avoid the sites my partner labels “Things that Make Meg Mad dot com”. (To the point that these days, he knows when I’m reading one, because he can tell from the sound of the money landing in the jar!)

    Another alternative he could use is writing down his rant in a Notepad (or other text editor) window, leaving it to sit for a day, and then deciding whether or not he’s going to post it on something like a blog or a Facebook wall or whatever.

    I offer these as suggestions – they’re things I use to deal with my own irritation, frustration, and yes, anger at things I see online in a way which doesn’t involve yelling (or “yelling”) at people and things.

    1. I am another poster who learned how to rage from abusive members of her FOO. I RTFFAQ back when Netiquette was still a recognized word (I haven’t heard/seen it in ages) and one of the things the Secret Masters of the Internet suggested was exactly what you did: Save it in Notepad and come back the next day. This has saved me from many flamewars over the years.

      Cussing in the shower also helps.

  21. I’m going to interject a note of pessimism about how well Shouty Friend may react to the sensible, reasonable approaches people have been suggesting. There are people who are simply rage-aholics. I have had to end a friendship with one, and I could see it coming. As I was enduring yet another tirade (not aimed at me–she was ranting about someone else) a couple of thoughts ran through my mind:

    *She is ALWAYS angry at someone. Every encounter begins with at least 15-20 minutes about who is on her list that day.
    *It is just a matter of time until her endless supply of free-flowing fury lands on me, and I am delusional if I think it won’t.

    I was exactly right, and the blow-up happened not long after that day of realization.

    There were times when I tried to gently impart the idea to her that all this anger and rage and shouting wasn’t the best way to handle things, and I did my best to forewarn her this kind of behavior would not be acceptable to me (When suggesting that she might have handled a situation differently, I would say something like “Well, I hate being yelled at…”). She would scoff, and go on ranting. I think she even took some pride in the way she did these things to people, seeing herself as some kind of truth-telling vigilante whose brutal honesty to fallen humanity could not be contained.

    In reality, she is just a mean, sad, angry and (as a result of all of the above) lonely person.

    I want to second Light’s comment, “Anger doesn’t have to be aimed at you to distress you.” In the almost-year since the break, I’ve come to realize how much better and happier my life is now that I am no longer exposed to all that toxicity (even if I wasn’t the target).

    (Actually, I should give some overdue thanks to the Captain and this great community for the help I had in coming to the decision and sticking to it–she did try to manipulate me back into the friendship. LW, you may want to look into these archives for some wise and wonderful advice on The Art of Saying No and getting rid of the Darth Vaders in your personal acquaintanceship. I found a lot of validation for my feelings, ways to understand that I didn’t need to feel guilty, and, most importantly, the courage to say no. The Gavin Becker quote, “People who have no boundaries choose people who can’t say no” made the lightbulb in my head EXPLODE, so perfectly did it describe our dynamic).

    Now maybe the conversation will go swimmingly and LW will be able to re-set the relationship to something more comfortable. Maybe LW’s friend is not as addicted to rage as this person is. But I do want to at least caution LW of the possibility that this perhaps can not be fixed.


  23. There seems to be a ton of “anger is never okay because it makes me feel uncomfortable” above… and, just a reminder that while you don’t gotta deal with other people’s anger that you didn’t remotely cause, especially if it is making you uncomfortable, on the other side of the coin is “you’re not allowed to be angry because it makes me uncomfortable even though the reason you’re getting angry is that I’m constantly stepping on your boundaries” is an abuse tactic.

    Which is not what this letter is about. At all. Just, having been on the receiving end of “you’re not allowed to be angry because it scares me, and that statement is completely independent of anything I do so long as I’m using the sweetest, calmest voice while doing it”, I want to remind everyone that correctly targeted anger is completely legitimate. You are, in fact, allowed to feel anger even if its making other people uncomfortable. Don’t get violent, of course! But you’re allowed to feel angry.

    1. Thanks for this. Anger can be legitimately upsetting, and people like the LW’s friend who are just blowing out omnidirectional rage need to figure out more productive ways to deal with their feelings, but the fact that some people find displays of anger upsetting is not an argument against ever getting visibly angry.

    2. Great point!

      So many behaviors can be abusive if taken to extremes, or if used in a fashion intended to deliberately manipulate people. Despite the comment I left previously, it wasn’t my intent to completely reject an emotion as basic as anger, or to say that it’s always bad to express it.

      What scares me is being around a person who either isn’t in control or chooses to act like they aren’t. It’s possible to express anger without loss of control.

    3. I don’t know, I think you still have to be careful even if the other person did something that made you angry. As an example, many years ago I had recently started dating someone, and one night we were heading somewhere in his car. I casually leaned forward and changed the radio station, and without warning, he hung a screeching U-turn and started speeding and driving wildly, jaw clenched in rage. I was scared and bewildered and said “What are you doing? What’s the matter?” and he said “You changed the radio without asking. My ex-girlfriend used to do that and it’s rude and disrespectful. I might have wanted to listen to that song.” It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that he would mind (I wouldn’t have minded if he’d changed the radio station in *my* car) but I apologized and promised not to do it again, and he calmed down. So that was a situation where I had actually done something that violated a boundary, albeit one I didn’t know he had, but that didn’t mean the way he expressed his anger about it was appropriate or okay.

      1. You did not violate a boundary. He had not told you there was a boundary, so it’s not on you for crossing it. You did something he didn’t like, but you did not violate a boundary.

        And after that little performance I guess he had you on notice to be very careful about every little thing, lest he explode anew.

      2. o.O Holy crap, that is all kinds of not okay. My reaction to that, now, would be something like, “Woah, okay, clearly this is a massive problem for you. I’m sorry you’re upset! But what is a massive problem for me is you driving recklessly because you’re mad. I don’t feel safe right now. Please pull over.” And then I would have gotten out of the car and called someone to pick me up, because like hell I’ll be riding with him immediately after that episode.

        My reaction to that as a young teen would have been to shake the rest of the car ride and ask someone at the location to drive me home. Cars are terrifying when driven by mostly-normal people. But raging assholes who terrify their passengers as punishment for things they didn’t know were unacceptable to that driver? Nopitynopenope, that is too much of an added risk for me. But young me wouldn’t have been assertive enough to say anything at the time.

      3. I think this falls under “don’t get violent”, as driving recklessly is clearly correlated with, well, death. (I mean, I also think this falls under “blaming your anger on the wrong person”, if he felt that in the past someone had constantly done something he’d repeatedly asked them not to, and then took it out on a future person).

        1. Same. And being legitimately angry isn’t an excuse to express it however you please, but being visibly angry isn’t always abusive, either, and abuse isn’t always about explosive anger.

          CN: emotional abuse

          I had an ex who had excellent control over his temper. He’d never lose it, never raised his voice, almost never cursed. Not when he threatened to leave me on the side of the highway at 3AM in January because we were arguing about music. Not when he spent two hours telling me what a stupid, worthless needy child I was because I’d asked him not to go out drinking with the girl he’d repeatedly cheated on me with. Not when he called me in the middle of the night and told me that he was going to kill himself, then laughed when I showed up in a panic. Not when he thew my laptop out the window in a rainstorm. Not when he tied me up ‘as a game’ and wouldn’t let me go. I can’t say the same thing; I definitely raised my voice, and cursed, and even called him names. Once I threw a tissue box across the room (after he’d dropped it in my lap and told me to stop crying and clean myself up before his friends came over) and he would use this as evidence that I was abusing him, because look, aebhel, you’re the one throwing things and screaming at the top of your lungs, I’m just sitting here.

          Ironically, I did learn pretty good control over my temper after that.

          I realize that this has very little in common with the LW’s situation, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s experienced it, either. Anger and abuse don’t always go hand in hand; there’s the question of proportion, too. Slamming doors and shouting at people because they ordered the wrong kind of pizza is disproportionate and kind of suggests a lack of control; slamming doors and shouting at people because they’re methodically destroying your possessions is, I would say, a pretty normal response.

      4. Also, I am SUPER sorry that happened to you, especially so while trapped in a vehicle with someone else. Car etiquette, like elevator etiquette, should be extra polite because the other person is stuck in there with you and can’t just leave as a way of saying they don’t consent to continue interacting. 😦 😦


    This is an insight I was amazed to read about on Shakesville that so many, especially privileged folks and especially men, have not learned to sit with their fear/anxiety/etc., instead they react with anger. Not saying that anger and rage don’t have their place, they do for sure, but someone that is consistently angry and enraged is usually someone who needs to learn to sit with their emotions instead of just lashing out as soon as they get a bit uncomfortable. Men especially are socialized to react this way to certain emotions which sucks for everyone around them and them too. Anyway, great advice, hope it helps you out LW!

    1. Shoot, even anger itself is a thing to sit with. Don’t fear your feelings, people! They are just another part of you trying to tell you something, possibly very important. Poor things only know one language each, though.

  25. This is a really appropriate question for me right now, any i’m reading all the replies with interest! I would love some personal advice though along a similar theme. I’m just cooling down from a 12 hour session in which a friend came into my house and proceeded to work themselves into a frenzy of stress and anxiety and anger which has left me feeling really violated in my own space.

    The problem that I have is that, like the op, I *hate* people being angry around me and I am particularly worried that they are going to turn their anger onto me if I say or do the wrong thing. This makes it very hard for me to ask them to leave or to leave myself. Does anybody have any suggestions for how to talk to this person now that it has all calmed down and they have no idea that they did anything wrong? I want to be able to set some boundaries for the future but also have some way of saying that If they get that way again, I cannot be there for them, especially not in my own house.

    in other news I’m so pleased to realise that I’m not the only one unable to deal with angry people, hugs to you OP, you are definitely not alone!

    1. Possible script:

      Jeannie: “Friend, I wanted to talk to you about the other day.”
      Friend: “Sure, Jeannie. What about it?”
      Jeannie: “You were a bundle of anxiety and anger for 12 hours at my house.”
      Friend: “I know, and I really appreciate your willingness to listen.”
      Jeannie: “That’s the thing. I wasn’t. I wanted you to leave after the first hour, but you were so worked up I didn’t know how to say that. My home is my refuge from the stress of the world, and having you bring it there left me feeling cornered.”
      Friend: “I am so sorry. That’s awful of me and I wish you HAD said something at the time.” [let’s hope!]
      Jeannie: “Next time you need to vent, can we meet somewhere and have a coffee or a pint and agree in advance that after two cuppas or pints, the session is over? I want to be there for you, but I can only handle those strong emotions in small doses.”

  26. I had sort of this issue with a real-life friend…not explosive anger per se, but I just felt like every. single. one. of our conversations was 90% her ranting or complaining about something. Some of it stuff that was genuinely bad (i.e. personal life difficulties, etc.), but much of it ranting about things like “Can you believe TV show Y did that to Character Z!” or “Bikers are so evil!” Which I can be up for from time to time! But not as the entirety of our relationship! Ultimately, a conversation where I said — “Look, I get that there’s stuff in both your personal life and the world at large that sucks, but I can’t be your complaining to friend right now.” And to her credit, she was really great about dialing it back and making an effort to have our interactions be more balanced. We’re now in a much better place where we both get to rant/complain when we are in the mood for it, but are also able to say – “can’t do this today! Let’s look at YouTube videos of adorable puppies instead!”

    Just to say — I can’t predict how a conversation with your friend will go, but it is totally possible that he doesn’t realize how much the ranty rants bother you, and in fact may just be ranting out of habit (I know I have gotten into that pattern with certain people because our main form of entertainment together is ranting about politics or movies or whatever). If this is the case, he may be okay with changing modes away from that form of interaction once he knows it really bothers you.

  27. Twelve hours – wow! That’s a really long time for a venting session.

    This is a case where I don’t think there’s a single perfect answer, because someone who is an an angry frenzy for twelve hours is in a state where they probably need help from a pro. Now that the crisis is over, I strongly suggest asking if they’re okay, saying it freaked you out to the point where you were scared of them, and asking if there’s a way for them to get help. This is both for your sake, for their sake, and for the sake of the relationship between you two. Someone who acts this way is not in a healthy state of mind, and they’re not doing anything which improves their state of mind.

    You can mention that anger upsets you to help them understand where you’re coming from, and that might at least direct them to approach a different friend if they need venting space… but twelve hours is really a sign of concern. At its core, this isn’t some weird personal issue of yours. It’s a mental health issue.

    Until you have this conversation (in person or by email), I suggest not letting this person in your home, and not meeting them anywhere where you’re a captive audience.

    If you’re afraid to do this? That’s a sign that you need to end the relationship. This site has tons of advice on breaking free from people who scare you. If you’re afraid but you’re sure it’s your imagination? Get really busy for a couple of weeks, and see how you feel then. There’s a good chance that either you’ll feel confident raising the issue, or you’ll feel confident taking a big step back from your friend.

    BTW, I’ve been in much less dramatic versions of this, where I had no fear for my safety but couldn’t get the other person to temper their behavior. One person refused to leave and refused to leave when it was time and past time for me to go to bed. I knew it was due to anxiety. She’s still a good friend, but that type of behavior does take a toll, because it meant that for months after that, I felt I had to be careful about when I would invite her over in the first place. The difference was, I was never scared of her, just frustrated.

    1. Thanks so much of this answer, it has really allowed me to work out my thoughts and it’s good to know that my instincts are right. I am actually going to be really busy over the next few weeks which i’m really quite glad of, and hopefully that means that when I next see him i’m going to be a lot calmer and more able to properly set some boundaries. I like the idea of choosing a neutral space with a finite time limit next time they need to vent, I’ll have to suggest that.

      I think you are right though, he really does need to see a pro about all of this. Unfortunately i’m pretty sure the only way he ever will is if he comes to that realisation himself. As you say I don’t really feel like I can’t give much more support just as a friend, and at a point (about the 2 hour mark) its obviously not even helping anymore, all we are doing is him getting angrier and me getting more and more anxious. Your story at the end really resonates with me at the moment, I do feel really nervous about getting back into a situation that i can’t get out of again. I think as you say, i’ll just leave it a few weeks and then try and set some boundaries.

  28. Thank you, Captain and Awkwardeers, for this post and all the comments!
    Do you have any advice for what to do when you are physically unable to leave a situation where someone is shouting? Because when someone shouts at me or shouts around me, I just freeze. I can’t move, can hardly speak, sometimes not at all and I start shaking. So I can’t get out of the situation until someone else ends it.
    I have strategies for processing it afterwards and avoiding a repeat – but I just wish I could learn some better ways of dealing with the situation in the moment?
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. And thank you all for making this such a wonderful community!

    1. The way I dealt with that was….hrm, I’m not quite sure if one can do this on purpose, but something in my head shifted and suddenly a lot of yelling was really narmy to me. I actually would start to laugh at the whole “WHY CAN’T SOMEONE EMPTY THE FUCKING DISHWASHER FOR ONCE?????” rants, which defused the tension and would get my aunt to stop screaming and start laughing.

      Obviously, that does NOT work well in all situations.

      Other things I did include reminding myself that the yelling person has an anger management problem and it is not my fault, and of course after a certain point I just started yelling back. It would lead sometimes to bad loops–uncle yells, I yell back, uncle gets offended and screams more, I get on my feet and scream back, nobody backs down until it almost gets to physical violence but not quite, we both storm off and get no actual work done.

    2. Jedi hugs. Could saying something like, “no” or “I don’t listen to yelling” (if you can speak), then shutting your eyes for the rest of the tirade work? I ask because shutting eyes might be more visible than freezing and shaking–which seems pretty invisible to others when I’ve been reduced to it. And for the subset of yellers who care, they might notice eyes closed even if they don’t notice trembling, and reevaluate this interaction. For those who WANT to intimidate, the choice to close your eyes might be a message that you still have agency.
      It sounds like a tough situation, and we are with you in solidarity however you handle it.

      1. Thank you! That’s a wonderfully helpful suggestion. Closing my eyes is something I can probably do even when I am frozen. I think I’ll try practicing that in less stressful noise-related situations, instead of my usual leaving/avoiding. And thank you for your kindness!

        1. Would plugging your ears with your fingers also be possible? It might or might not be a safe thing to do, depending on the circumstances, but it makes it easier for me to focus on the sounds my body makes (heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, etc).

          1. Thank you for the suggestion; something to help me focus on myself and block out things around me would help a lot.
            Plugging my ears doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do to me (probably because the person whose abuse trained me into this panic reaction would have taken it as insolence and become physically violent) – but maybe some other action, like putting my face in my hands? It seems to me that would read as defensive, not aggressive, and therefore not make me fear escalation. (I know people probably won’t escalate in any case – but my fear doesn’t listen to reason.)

          2. No more nesting left, but yes I would put your face in your hands or maybe turn your face and/or body away if you can manage it or maybe put up a warding hand in front of you, anything that’s a more obvious indicator that they are hurting you and need to stop. Also for me when I’ve been in a similar situation (it’s been many years now which is good), I stop trying to hold back tears as tears as they were a good indicator to the yeller that they were going over the top and usually got them to calm down some, but some might not take it that way, some people think a crying woman especially is being manipulative (all the eye rolls for this BS).

          3. Thank you, quinalla! (Below? Don’t know where this will post since nesting has run out.) Putting my hands out in a warding-off movement is where I would ideally like to get with my situational reaction, but it looks like I’ll have to work up to it.
            Also, I hear you on reactions to crying – I think it tends to be seen as emotional and unprofessional in my environment. Which baffles me, because shouting? Also emotional and unprofessional. And frightening.

          4. The great thing about putting your face in your hands is that you can slowly transition from that to putting your hands out in a “stop” posture. Sometimes, if I put my face in my hands, one hand will slip a bit so that the edge of my left hand is now in contact with the palm and ring finger of my right hand, roughly perpendicular to each other. It’s pretty easy to slightly adjust the position/angle of my right hand while keeping my face on my left hand; you could probably work up from “face in both hands” to “face in one hand with other hand palm-out in a warding-off gesture.”

    3. This might be obvious, but it bears saying anyway, because it’s NOT obvious if you’ve been taught your needs don’t matter: you can tell people you spend time with that yelling deeply and seriously upsets you, even if they’ve never yelled at/around you before. If they’re good, safe people, they’ll care about that, and they’ll honestly try to prevent future shouty situations. If they don’t respect that, they’re jerks. It might be a good idea to have a code word that means “please stop yelling,” something simple and short, because actually saying “please stop yelling” might be too scary/difficult in those moments.

      Focus on breathing deeply (in for a count of three, out for a count of four is what works for me) and other panic management tactics — this might not be a panic attack, but I bet a lot of the tips you can find by googling “panic/anxiety attack management” will work for you. You’re having an anxiety reaction, and that’s okay. You will survive the situation. In fact, your reaction to yelling is a safety mechanism: it prevents you from engaging with someone who’s angry and possibly dangerous. It’s not a safety mechanism that you like, or that works for you, so it’s maladaptive and you can change it with work (CBT or other therapy? Mood Gym?), but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just breathe and get through it. If that’s all you can do, it’s all you need to do.

      1. Thank you for your kind words! Your framing of my panic reaction as a safety mechanism that I could work to change is very helpful. And yes, breathing deeply – that’s something that would probably help in all sorts of stressful situations, but is hard for me to remember to do in the moment. Maybe practice would help?
        The people I usually spend time with are not shouty at all. The recent yelling situations that have been so difficult for me to deal with have been with people I had to interact with, but didn’t know much about, so I didn’t know to expect yelling and couldn’t avoid them. But maybe a code word for “please stop yelling” (because yes, that is difficult to say in the moment) would help in such situations as well? If they get shouty and I say “palimpsest”, maybe they would at least wonder what that was about.
        Also, thank you for reminding me that these panic-triggering situations are absolutely survivable 🙂

    4. My personal tactic for tolerating terrifying situations (screamy people, blood draws, bad driving, etc.) is to close my eyes and mentally sing “Alouette.” I don’t know why I picked “Alouette,” but over the course of my life it’s become my bad-situations song, and really focusing on the song helps me not focus on the situation.
      Also I speak zero French so I am sorry if I’ve misspelled “Alouette”!

      1. Oh, that’s a great idea, thank you! Off to pick a song right now 🙂 the more upbeat, perhaps even slightly nonsensical, the better.

      2. Slightly morbid, but the song I started humming in my head years ago every time my mother got into one of her extended shouting sessions was ‘Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead’. Just because it had a suitably cheery and repetitive tune.

      3. One of our stress management groups at work similarly suggested thinking “these are my toes” and focusing on wiggling/thinking about your toes as a way of short-circuiting emotional responses and getting into a more thought-driven thinking pattern. This has worked really well for me to avoid crying when I really want to cry as an emotional response to something (though it is darn hard to carry a conversation while also earnestly thinking “these are my toes”). I wonder if it would help as a backup to the song idea?

    5. It may not be an accident that this happens where you can’t defend yourself. What are you doing when you see it starting? What’s one thing you could do upstream to keep from freezing up?

  29. One thing I was wondering was whether the LW is in contact with the HULK through voice chat or through text-based means*. I’ve noticed that, through text, sometimes people can get performative about their anger, and have the expectation that their over-the-top capslock is funny. This was common in my internet friend group for a long time; the whole production of CAPSLOCK, keyboardsmash, stutter typing, drunk typing, elaborate description of roleplayed actions, etc. was meant to be sort of a performance that was amusing to the audience and cathartic to the performer.

    Unfortunately, as we got older, a lot of this started to seem more and more juvenile until only one or two people were doing it, and unfortunately we didn’t have a kind way to tell them to stop, so it went on until we had an argument that ended with me telling an adult that they weren’t allowed to roleplay stabbing someone over an opinion about a video game.

    Anyway, I’m hoping that LW’s HULK will stop immediately, perhaps with some grumbling, when they hear that LW is uncomfortable rather than entertained. Best of luck.

    *LW, if you’ve been sitting through voice chat of someone swearing angrily/violently, you have far more fortitude than I; that would be “GOTTA GO MY CAT IS [PHASING BETWEEN DIMENSIONS]/[BUILDING A NUCLEAR REACTOR]/[TAKING HIS DRIVER’S TEST]” time for me ten seconds in.

  30. LW–It sounds like you guys have different ideas about what’s considered ok in the friendship. After all this time, Bruce probably thinks you’re completely fine with hearing him rant and/or sympathizing; he may believe that as a calmer person you can listen to him cost-free without getting upset. Meanwhile you’re sitting there going, ‘How do I extract myself from this increasingly stressful pattern without causing a huge uproar?’ I’ve been on both sides of this problem, not always regarding anger but about boundaries more generally. I can offer four hard-won takeaways:

    (1) It’s better to say something now while it’s pre-toxic;
    (2) He’s the one with more power because you’re afraid of his reaction if you confront him;
    (3) People with more power tend to be clueless about it;
    (4) Their reaction to a confrontation says a lot about who they are. Lots of good advice in the comments above about how to give him the best possible chance not to be a jerk.

    Best of luck!

  31. I think this is particularly interesting that this is online because the internet doesn’t leave a lot of space for social cues and the natural behaviour adjustment that comes with those normally. For example, someone who is writing in all caps and swearing: in their mind might think they are exaggerating in a humorous way, or they might think that the other person is completely okay with them sharing their feelings like that. Someone else might find it to seem angry, offensive and threatening and find that they can’t cope with all that negative emotion. (I’m likely to feel the latter as someone who dislikes swearing and extended rants!) It also means that you end up not picking up on all of people’s reactions since they kind of choose what to express, esp through text – and for that reason it’s really good to be clear about your feelings. I don’t know that this is the case but I think it’s certainly possible your friend may not even realise this is bothering you. Obviously the fact they don’t realise doesn’t make it okay, but it can make it less of a deal to bring up with them.

    I have another similarish kind of problem where I tend to think of online friends just as fondly as “real life” friends. I pick up cues from them that might not necessarily be there in the way I take them, and after a few months of talking and such I usually decide that I can put them in the category “close friend”. When their actions end up being different and it turns out they’re not considering me as closely as I considered them, I get fed up like “but… I thought we were like, pretty good friends by now and I expected X to be fine?”. But it’s not really that they were acting deliberately to hurt me, it’s more that it’s a difference in expectation brought on by the lack of social cues – I read things one way, they read them another way. It seems like every person has a different view about behaviour online, what certain things mean or don’t mean and such. Things got easier for me when I realised that whole thing was a thing and I watch that I don’t interpret things over optimistically 😀 It’s never fun to realise that you like someone a lot more than they like you.

    Anyway I’m not trying to say that your friend doesn’t know – because they may well know and just be ranting anyway – and even if they don’t you should of course not let the situation continue when it bothers you – but I think it’s an interesting topic since using the internet does take away a lot of the things we usually rely on to make social judgements and whatever.

  32. I have a friend who has had to help gently point out to me when I was getting really ranty and shouty (internet shouty that is) and I have had to do the same to him.

    We both felt embarrassed when it happened, but it did really help kinda shock us out of the rant and calm down. And I stop now when I feel really agitated about something, try to rationalise it out first, and, if I still feel like I need outside perspective, I’m at least much calmer when I get to the “talk to a friend about this” stage.

  33. Late to the party, but I just had to say this:

    Lots of stuff in the comments here are awesome, but the idea that swearing=angry which in some people’s eyes then is equated with abuse is hella problematic. In some cultures swearing is taboo, in others it isn’t. It’s totally your call if you don’t want to be friends with someone who swears, but that is completely separate from not wanting to be friends with someone who can’t control their anger, and by doing so you are buying into some seriously classist bullshit and will miss out on a lot of awesome people who happen to communicate using different words than you.

    The wonderful The Belle Jar wrote about this here. It’s in response to criticism of her blog, but a lot of what she has to say can be generally applicable. http://bellejar.ca/2014/03/20/no-i-wont-stop-swearing/

    1. We swear all the time here. There is no generalized critique of swearing going on. I believe the LW when they say that Bruce’s swearing in particular is off-putting and annoying in the context of rants that never end.

  34. also, do you think Bruce would be open to “hey, lately I am feeling (like I need to reduce my anxiety/emotionally less able to cope with the anger of others/insert relevant phrase here), and I know we often talk about things that are frustrating you/making you anxious. is there a code phrase or something I could use to let you know when I need to not be the audience for that?” or something of the sort? the “lately, I need” keeps it grounded both in your needs AND in a “from now, going forward” framework, as opposed to “EVERYTHING you have done up until this point is Not Okay and I am retroactively declaring you Bad!”

    and I’m super into conversational safe words/gestures, in general.

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