Is It Anger or Abuse?

What is the difference between abusive behavior and anger management issues? They are generally seen as one in the same, when that is far from the truth. Many victims of domestic violence define the abuse they are enduring as their partner’s “anger issues” and unfortunately believe that their partner is incapable of controlling their behavior. Furthermore, some individuals with anger management issues are being identified as perpetrators of domestic violence when their behavior is not being used to control others but rather to express uncontrolled anger. What is the difference between abuse and anger?

Anger can be described as a state of emotion ranging from annoyance to rage. Anger is a strong feeling of displeasure and is an automatic reaction to any real or perceived insult, frustration or injustice. When a person is angry, they can be angry at anything – themselves, others or objects and they can become angry at any time or at any place.

For example in September of 2009 a 61-year-old man was charged with felony cruelty to children for repeatedly hitting a young toddler in a store in Georgia. This man did not know the child and knew nothing about what was happening with that child but was frustrated with the child’s screaming. So he chose to physically attack the child by slapping her in the face more than four times, according to police records. This would be an example of an anger management issue. His behavior was directed to a person that he did not know and knew nothing about. This is not the case when a person is a perpetrator of domestic violence.

An abusive person chooses the victim, chooses what they say or do to the victim and chooses where they do it. Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abuse that is used by one person to exert power and control over another in the context of a marital, dating or a familial relationship. For example, in November of last year a Wisconsin man strangled his 14-year-old stepson in a Walmart parking lot as payback for the mother reporting to police that he had severely beaten her with a hammer days prior to the murder ( The act of this abuser was a premeditated attack against his partner, punishing her for revealing the abuse.

Abusers are manipulative, coercive and controlling. They control the persons in the relationship and many times they control the perception others have of them by being calm and collected in public yet a monster in the home. Conversely, persons with anger management issues cannot control the where, when and how. Additionally, anger can be a healthy expression of an emotion when the anger is used in a productive manner such as negotiation or conflict management. Abuse, on the other hand, is never productive or healthy. There is never an excusable reason for being abusive.

In order to effectively solve the pattern of abusive behavior and actions of angry behavior we must recognize that both require different treatment. Anger management classes offer, for example, insight regarding anger triggers and how to control anger. Anger management focuses on all aspects of the individual’s life that may trigger anger. Alternatives to Violence (Batterers) Programs focus on the specific behavior the abuser uses to control his/her partner or family. Alternatives to Violence programs offer insight on the perpetrators triggers and how to control abusive behaviors and have successful and healthy interpersonal relationships while examining how the cycle of abuse has affected their behavior.

Domestic Violence and Anger control issues both pose a genuine threat to the well being of other individuals and the health of our community. If domestic abuse behaviors are incorrectly defined as anger management issues and vice versa, we are not realistically moving toward the suppression of either issue in our community. For more information please call HELP of Door County, Inc at 920.743.8818 or visit our website at

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence Team.