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Zebra Stripes for ADHD

A monthly newsletter of stories tips and news for those concerned with ADHD, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, No. 23

Sarah Jane Keyser : ADHD Coach

Grandpa Sees Red ( Anger and ADHD)

Joey's Grandpa ambled toward the water hole nibbling the succulent
green shoots pushing up after the recent rain. Two youngsters came
galloping past kicking and pushing each other, "Hi, Pops. How's
things?" one called at Grandpa.

Grandpa's head came up with a start. His nostrils flared open showing
red. He brayed loudly and with ears pinned back charged after the two
young zebras. He grabbed the offender with his teeth and shook him.

"How dare you talk to me like that. Where did you learn your manners?"
Grandpa shouted. 

The two babies screamed with fear. Their mothers rushed to the defense.

One gave Grandpa a sharp kick, "What are you doing? You let go of my

The other zebras rushed up to find out what was going on. Joey and his
friend Koko pushed Grandpa to the side; other older zebras comforted
the two babies and their mothers.

"What are you doing, Grandpa?" demanded Joey.

"Babies, you call them. I call them rude brats. Called me rude names
and tried to steal my grass. Don't you teach kids respect anymore? Why
in my day, we learned how to behave with our elders."

"You haven't changed a bit have you, Pa, You were always flying off the

handle for one thing or another. Always thought you were, right."  said

Joey's Mom who rushed to the scene.

"Gees, I'm sorry."  Grandpa had gone limp. "I don't know what comes
over me. Something happens and all of a sudden the volcano inside me
blows. I can't stop it." He looked ruefully at the two babies standing
safely behind their Moms watching him, still trebling with freight.

Anger + ADHD = the H-Bomb

Anger is a paradox. We all, except for saints, feel anger or think angry thoughts some of the time. Anger feels right, it's manly; it's justified. It is so much more satisfying to retaliate than to turn the proverbial other cheek, how wimpy. It's better to express anger than to bottle it up inside, right?

Anger is a reaction to a perceived injustice or injury. When that road maniac buzzes past and cuts in front while I am patiently waiting my turn. I feel like ramming him. I'm angry; I want revenge. Fortunately, most of us most of the time can inhibit the impulse to act on the wish.

Anger demonstrates power, and we all want to have power, at least a little bit, at least in one little corner of our existence.

The boss was angry, made you feel like dirt, but you can't answer back because he has the power. At home the slightest thing, a baby crying, a mess on the floor, or even nothing at all pricks the tension and you explode; at home you have the power.

The paradox is that anger, like the A-bomb, is radio-active. The fall-out effects everyone within range. It permeates relationships and lasts for years. Think of battered wives (sometimes husbands) and abused children. I have a coaching client who suffers from post traumatic stress caused by violence in his childhood.

According to Dr. John Ratey in "Shadow Syndromes", the psychiatric establishment recognizes anger as part of many conditions but does not consider it a problem in itself. DSM-III had a category called Intermittent Explosive Disorder, but it was removed from DSM-IV because no one used it.

Add ADHD to Anger and the combination becomes an H-Bomb. Anger is not a symptom of ADHD although Dr. Daniel Amen in "Healing ADD...the 6 Types of ADD" identifies ADHD with Anger as one of his six types called Temporal ADD , but many ADHD traits contribute to trigger a rage event.

Anger starts with a perception of insult or injury which leads to an impulse to defend oneself aggressively by attacking. When a person has ADHD, his perceptions are frequently faulty because he misses key information and his active mind fills in the blanks from his personal view of the world.

The perceived insult creates shame shutting down the ability to analyze a situation and to inhibit the explosive reaction. ADHD impulsiveness ignites the bomb frightening weaker adversaries and by-standers or triggering the fight reaction in those who dare to resist leading to real injury. Dr. Hallowell tells of a father and son fighting at 3 am with a baseball bat and hockey stick.

Many people when tired or stressed get angry from time to time, but when anger is a chronic response to life it causes irreparable harm. Because anger feels right and appropriate, people who anger have difficulty understanding the problem until they see it. One patient of Dr. Ratey came for help because he saw the fear in his young daughter. I had a coaching client who finally understood when his wife made a video of him. His reaction "I had no idea what I was like. I never want to behave like that again."

We all get angry some times and feeling angry is certainly appropriate in some situations, but chronic anger, like ADHD, starts in the neurology of the brain. Anger as a way of dealing with life can also be learned from the family and the culture.

Here are some steps to help you manage anger.

  1. When you feel yourself getting angry, walk away. Excuse yourself and go to the toilet or take a walk. Just say that you would like to talk about the problem later when you have had time to think.

  2. If you are a parent who seems to be angry with your kids much of the time, learn alternative parenting skills. I am now teaching a program called STEP, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting; it teaches other ways to solve problems. It works with adults and in companies as well

  3. Take an Anger Management program, a 12-Step program, try Yoga and meditation.

  4. Therapy, especially Cognitive Behavioral therapy, will help you understand the family and cultural origins of anger and help you to identify triggers that lead to rage and ways of controlling your reactions.

  5. See a doctor. Drs. Amen, Hallowell, Ratey and Brown all tell about patients with uncontrollable anger who were helped with the proper medication. If ADHD is involved, it also needs to be treated. But a stimulant for ADHD may make the anger worse; different medications are used to control anger.

Anger does not solve problems; it is part of the problem.

For more About Sarah Jane

Do you need a safe place to talk?   email me today for a free coaching session.

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