I see angry people... - ED Bites

As usual, Carrie explains it so well: "I feel I live in a hostile world"

So many parents observe this, but we often misunderstand it by believing it and waving our arms - angrily - in denial. I have a really bad habit of actually getting angry when people wrongly think I'm angry at them. You can imagine how helpful THAT is when a loved one is very sensitive to my anger.

Imagine seeing evidence every day that others are angry with you and dislike you. Imagine your parents trying to talk you out of this. You are not comforted by these denials; they make you feel even worse and less trustful. Your disconnect with those around you increases as others actually do become frustrated by your repeated misunderstandings.

It is vital that parents be prepared to be treated as if we are angry and hostile even when we're not. This is why remaining calm and emotionally neutral is so helpful. It is why words sometimes are meaningless and it is all right to remain silent and present. My friend, Dr. Tomas Silber at National Children's hospital once told me that the only language that really works is emotional: true unconditional caring.

I have read that adolescents go through a period of what Carrie is describing, just as a function of growing up. I wonder if the malnourishment of an eating disorder can amplify or calcify this state. I wonder if the history of blaming parents for being hostile and angry and distant is, in part, a function of patients misinterpreting the emotions of those around them.


  1. I wonder if the history of blaming parents for being hostile and angry and distant is, in part, a function of patients misinterpreting the emotions of those around them

    Laura, I think you should have added "and teenagers" after patients in this case. My other daughter asked me this morning if she should get out of the car to stop the argument we were having. I had committed the cardinal sin of saying "No".

    I think that patients can have amplified reception of hostility which must be defeaning if they are teenagers as well.


  2. Someone I know who works with adolescents will ask them a simple question when they are angry or troubled instead of jumping right in to try in reason with them or fix "the problem". He simply asks , "Do you want Sympathy, Support or Solutions from me?" (the 3 magic S's)

    I decided this was a good one to try with my daughter who can go on and on with woes about her life, her body, how she thinks others perceive her to be, etc. The first time I did so (after a long rant from her) she responded, "I just want Silence!".

    So there you have it. I am the Dolphin Mother Sounding Board, I guess, just trying to stay unruffled...

  3. It's interesting you use the dolphin metaphor Anne as this so reminds me of the Skills Based Learning techniques, mainly because I initally read the research at the suggestion of Gill Todd from Prof Treasure's team. From personal observation I can see that yes, my dear daughter IS over-sensitive to anger and can be very fearful in situations that others wouldn't find threatening. This characteristic pre-dates the AN and if anything was numbed by poor nutrition rather than exacerbated by it (although re-feeding was undoubtedly complicated by the return of those fears exacerbated by further damage to the brain). The important message I got from Skills Based Learning was not only that the illness would make my daughter over-sensitive to anger, but that it could well be that this was a family trait and that we ALL needed to work on our reactions to each other, or we'd soon become a herd of rhinos charging all over the place and get nowhere at all.

  4. Carrie's fab post, and this research area in general, which relates to the way that people with AN or other mental illnesses (or neurological conditions) process faces and emotions in others really got me thinking.

    In terms of AN: does this face processing characteristic (seeing anger in faces that may not actually be present) develop as a consequence of having/having had AN, or does seeing anger increase an individual's susceptibility to developing AN, or perhaps sticking in the illness?

    I've done some of these tests as a 'guinea pig'. I had a mega anxiety response to angry faces that I didn't have to neutral faces. Angry people scare me and I very much dislike conflict. It is very important to me that I get along well with people. I was like this pre-AN too. Like Carrie and others who responded to her post I often feel that that I am living in a hostile, scary world.

  5. From my experience, its a pre-existing trait. Perhaps one thing counseling did for my daughter is increase her tolerance to anger. And, at times I almost think they (therapists) made her angry on purpose, partially so she'd let some of it out, and partly so she'd see she could tolerate it and the world wouldn't fall apart.

  6. I'm assuming it is a special wiring that predates the restricting and then the restricting both sets it in place and creates a life to accommodate it.

    If someone feels hostility that isn't there then all interactions become distorted for both the person and those around them - who eventually DO grow hostile or have to become exaggeratedly un-threatening.

    For a teen for whom this is a phase that is modulated by experience, or simply maturation, it is temporary. For someone with an escape hatch in the form of anxiolytic restriction or an accommodating environment, it would become more permanent. Though I do believe it is NEVER too late to grow and change!


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