When Anger Explodes and Hurts, Get Help

Winter’s challenges can, now and then, irritate even the most unflappable. People get testy, cross, aggravated—you name it. And you’ll see it. A parent may talk sharply to the youngster demanding a treat in the checkout line or a driver may lean on the horn in traffic. Then at the end of a trying day, when the phone rings and it’s a solicitor calling in the midst of dinner, the response may be a tad vehement. (Hopefully, you’re not the solicitor.)

Sometimes you’ll recognize that a fuse is beyond short. You and everybody else may observe the tike in the shopping throngs who has a meltdown and whose parent snaps, yelling, swearing and handling the child roughly, too roughly. You can’t help but wonder what will happen when they get home.

You and everybody else may notice, at a gathering of friends, when a significant other addresses his or her partner sharply, inconsiderately, a little too heatedly. You can’t help but wonder what will happen when they get home.

Similar scenarios play out in the workplace, at kids’ competitions—we all know of infamous hockey, soccer and dance parents—at civic functions, special events, even family occasions. Voices rise, drama ensues.

Occasionally, you may wonder if you’re the one with a problem. If so—or if you’re worried about someone else—there’s plenty of help and every reason to access it. Whether you’re a parent or a partner, an employee or a volunteer, a friend or a family member, it’s not cool to lose your cool, especially when it happens repeatedly.

There are a number of Ottawa organizations and services offering help with anger issues, including Family Services Ottawa (FSO) and Catholic Family Service Ottawa (CFSO). At FSO, Margo Sergeant coordinates the parenting programs and, at CFSO, Mark Holmes runs the New Directions program for individuals who have been abusive to their partners.


 FSO offers a six-week program called Anger management … especially for parents and Margo says all parents can benefit from it.

“Parenting is a tough job and anger is a common experience for parents—regardless of the age of their children, the number of children they have and how much they love their children.” 

How does it help?

This course helps parents better understand:

  • the complexities of anger
  • the effects of anger (physical/emotional/cognitive)
  • what triggers individual anger
  • negative internal dialogue
  • anger styles
  • child development
  • age-appropriate behaviour
  • reasons for children’s misbehaviour

What does it include? 

The course provides parents with:

  • anger management skills and control strategies
  • skills to communicate more effectively–with children, partners, family members
  • stress reduction techniques
  • methods to calm down
  • effective, positive discipline techniques
  • problem solving methods
  • skills to express anger in a positive way

“Parents leave feeling supported, more confident, and better equipped to deal with the stresses of parenting.”

Why do people go?


  • love their children
  • want to be the best parents they can be
  • don’t want anger to get in the way of their relationship with their child
  • have concern about how often they’re feeling angry
  • have concern about how their anger is impacting their child/ren
  • want to change their behaviour
  • want to learn ways to manage their anger
  • do not like how their anger makes them feel
  • have concern that their anger towards their child’s behaviour may be undermining their confidence as a parent
  • want to learn positive, effective discipline techniques
  • want to improve their relationships with family members
  • want to improve the dynamics in the home
  • want to improve the way they feel about themselves

What are the potential ramifications in a family when anger isn’t managed?

It can:  

  • impact self-esteem, friendships, parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, school performance, physical health, mental health, career opportunities.
  • have negative long-term and short-term consequences. 
  • be linked to a wide range of possible outcomes including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and self-harming behaviours such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse and eating disorders.

FSO also hosts a wide range of other helpful sessions. They include Parenting through High Conflict Separation and Divorce (starting February 3), You’re Not the Boss of Me …Positive Discipline for Children 0-6 (starting February 23), Teens… the Great Parenting Challenge (beginning in April) and Discipline that Doesn’t Hurt … Anyone. For details and registration, call 613 725-3601 extension 207 or visit www.familyservicesottawa.org.


When anger is directed at a significant other, Mark Holmes says New Directions can “help if the client approaches the program with an open mind, and is willing to be honest about the times he or she has directed abusive, aggressive or hurtful behaviour towards his or her partner.” 

How does New Directions work? 

New Directions provides group counselling to clients.  It is a combination of an educational curriculum and group therapy.  Each session focuses on a different theme or topic, such as warning signs; the relationship between beliefs, expectations and behavior; the different kinds of abusive behaviour (physical, emotional, verbal); how this behaviour impacts children; empathy, healthy communication and problem solving; self-care, sexual respect [and others].  Clients have an opportunity to discuss issues that are affecting their lives and relationships from week to week, as well.  New Directions also provides support to spouses, partners or former partners.  This can include safety planning, telephone support, referral to other community resources and one-to-one counselling.

Who can get help?

Any individual 18 or over can attend New Directions sessions.  We offer groups for men and women.  Some clients attended on a voluntary basis and other are referred as a condition of a court order.  The only [conditions are] that the client must be willing to acknowledge the use of some form of abusive or controlling behaviour in his or her current or past relationships and be willing to talk about these issues during the sessions. 

The difference between anger management programs and New Directions is that we focus solely on abusive behaviour in an intimate partner relationship. 

Why should angry but non-physically violent actions be cause for concern?

First, a healthy relationship is based on equality, respect, empathy, trust and compassion.  Any behaviour that diminishes or frightens your partner undermines these qualities and can lead to fear, anxiety, confusion and self-doubt.  Although not always the case, non-physical violence can escalate and lead to physical violence, which is not only destructive to the integrity of the relationship but also against the law.

What are the signs that you or your partner needs this support? 

Any use of physical violence in a relationship (pushing, slapping or grabbing, for instance) is a definite warning sign. It’s best to address this behaviour as soon as it occurs for the first time, rather than waiting. 

I don’t know how many clients I’ve spoken with over the past 30 years I’ve been coordinator of New Directions who wished they had addressed this behaviour as soon as it started.  These individuals are now dealing with police, courts and probation.  Don’t wait.

In the case of yelling, name-calling or responding with insults, Mark says it’s important to acknowledge that every relationship has conflicts and arguments.  “Not every poorly chosen word is abusive, in the way we mean at New Directions.  In a healthy relationship, these occurrences can be dealt with through healthy communication and respect for the other partner.  But if these behaviours become a pattern in the relationship, then outside support is probably necessary.”

What difference can it make for couples (and, potentially, their families)? 

  • In cases where the abuse has eroded to the point it’s unlikely the relationship can continue, New Directions may help the abusive partner let go of the relationship without resorting to threats or other controlling behaviour. 
  • Our partner outreach can also support the victim of the abuse to move forward.  As devastating as the end of a relationship can be, it’s better for the children to live a life that does not include exposure to domestic abuse. 
  • [When relationships do end], New Directions can help clients understand the source of their behaviour and, hopefully, make better choices in their next relationship and parent their children in a more healthy, child-centred way.
  • For couples who choose to stay together, New Directions can assist the partner who has used abusive behaviour to find healthy, non-abusive alternatives. 

Call 613 233-8478, ext. 225 for details.  There is a fee for New Directions.  The initial intake/assessment interview is $5 for those who are not employed and $20 for those who are working.  The fee for the 12-week program is calculated on a sliding scale, geared to income.



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