How to deal with declining sense of self-worth and anger management

I apologise in advance if any of this is petty, but I am genuinely looking for advice as I appreciate the broad spectrum of people and backgrounds StraightDopers are. I have many inter-connected behaviour ‘problems’ that have manifested themselves over the past year.

I’m 21, from a working class background, don’t get on with my mum well (dad okay) but our relationship has improved since I’ve gone to university (probably 'cause we don’t see each other that much anymore)

My background and personality: Up until the age of 18, I was used to being very good at things and accruing success easily. I’m a competitive person and it is only recently I have realised how much my self-worth derives from being good at things to the detriment of developing other aspects of my personality like being nice. I never stepped on anyone to get to the ‘top’ so to speak, I was just sort of ‘naturally’ the best at things.

None of this would have really mattered were it not for the fact upon entering a good university, I found myself drowning and being not very good at everything I do (compared to others and myself) in all areas of my life including music, sport and exams.

  1. I don’t get on well with my mum because in my perception, I sort of resent her for being unassertive, this has subsequently meant I get bully her occasionally and get angry quickly because I am used to not being subdued and being allowed to just lash-out for all my life. I am also very open and honest about my emotions as well as I believe that its “better out than in”.

  2. I don’t know what I want to do with my life, and seeing everyone else around me be really efficient and successful whilst I have not, just makes me demotivated to even bother trying, subsequently I slip further from the clutches of success. I have a natural procrastinatory tendency throughout my life in terms of schoolwork but it has never been a massive problem. Now it IS a massive problem because here I am about to do my final exams and I just don’t want to climb the mountain of revision as I have lost all self-belief that I can do really well (whether this may or may not be true). This makes me further depressed and demotivated because I feel that I can’t get a good job without a good degree and that I have simply wasted my potential and my earlier success.

  3. I have got an amazing girlfriend for the past year but lately, my frustrations with my self have transferred onto her. She is extremely talented, successful in everything she does and is even better than me at the things I am supposed to be good at. These are qualities that initially attracted me to her (as I was successful at the time too) but now I am just jealous and because of this, I lash out at her sometimes.
    To sum up: I used to be the best at things, now I am not and it is expressed through anger and procrastination to the detriment of my future, life and relationships. And now I feel constantly flawed and useless because my very identity has been made defunct by the environment I am now in.

I just don’t know what to do. This is really getting me down. It all just seems so messy, and I can’t get out of this spiral of anger/procrastination/doing badly. Any life experiences/advice would be appreciated so much. I couldn’t bare telling my friends all this as my flaws (without successes in my opinion) aren’t really something I’d like to repeat and admit constantly.

Lashing out at my girlfriend obviously upsets her, but in the heat of the moment, I feel like I HAVE to lash out in one way or another. And because we hang out a lot, often its at her, even if its not directly to do with her. She loves me but still says that it is pretty bad and could lead to us breaking up - further slap in the forehead moment of WHAT AM I DOING.

I think you’ve done a great job assessing your problem/fears; most people at your age either aren’t this introspective, or they just don’t care enough about themselves or those around them to delve this deep.

My advice is this: talk to someone. Talk to everyone. Your parents, your girlfriend, your friends. Go out with a good friend and over a few beers just say something like, “Man, I just don’t know why I’m so pissed off all the time,” and see where it goes. Not everyone is going to be able to give you good (or any) advice, but sometimes just expressing your fears to others can help you out immensely. It sounds like this is may go against your grain a bit; you mention you come from a working class background, so perhaps you think your friends will perceive you opening up to them as weakness or whining? Or maybe you think your friends will resent you for “dumping” your problems on 'em? Real friends don’t think that way.

If I can say anything I’ve learned in all of my 41 years, it’s that it never hurts to be honest and open with others. I wish I would’ve been a bit more open with my feelings and fears when I was younger. I am now, but I didn’t start until my mid-30s, and it took some pretty rough times for me to get the courage up to really open myself up to others. But by doing it, I think it’s made me a better husband, a better son, a better brother, and a better friend.

I’d rather have a friend who has flaws and is aware of them and wants to improve, than a friend who has flaws and doesn’t recognize them.

Good luck to you, and I hope it helps.

I saw a lot of people go through this in university. It’s okay. It happens. I knew a girl who spent half of first term on the phone crying to her parents.

One of them was my boyfriend from first year university: he was really smart, but he wasn’t used to having to try. He floundered, got mad and gave up.
His story ends happily. He got his act back together, finished his degree, is now enrolled in med school and has a wonderful girlfriend (who is not me).

Focus on the things that you do well. My ex was a very good badminton player. Once he joined the team, things started to come back together for him.

Consider switching programs if that’s an option for you. Did you pick this school/program because it was the hardest one that you could get into? (I ask because that’s exactly what I did.) You’ll naturally do better and work harder if you’re genuinely interested in what you’re studying.

Finally, you see all those people around you who are doing well with their schoolwork? They’re not necessarily smarter than you (some of them might be, but at least some of them aren’t). They’re just working harder than you. Remember that. You can take them on if you want to.

When I was 17-18 I went through a similar problem. I was ill, and forced to admit that my ballet career was over. I was accustomed to being the best, and now the things I had ignored (grades, college, etc) were going to decide the yawning abyss that was my future. I just got mean, especially when I’d been drinking. I would get into fights too, but was mostly utterly caustic with words. Between my intelligence and a gift of insight, this was an evil super-power and I did a lot of damage to folks who were only trying to be my friends.

I definitely wasn’t proud of it, and it’s the primary reason I stopped drinking, but that didn’t resolve the whole issue. I was better able to control it sober, but I still had the mean thoughts and urge to scathe the relatively innocent.

I found an Anger Management class offered at the local mental health clinic and signed myself up. When I walked in it was the skinny ballerina girl and 13 burly men who had all been sent there by the courts for domestic abuse issues. At first they laughed about my presence, but by the third class they all agreeed I was the one they’d least like to tussle with.

It was the best thing I’ve ever done, and I like myself better for it every day. 23 years later I can honestly say that class saved my ex’s life and kept me out of prison. His wrongs would have become my lifetime sentence if I hadn’t had the skills I learned there.

I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Your current stresses will eventually go away, and you may have years of peace where nothing will prompt these tendencies. But the most precious things in life (Early marriage, children, a challenging new job opportunity) are the exact things which will also stress your anger management skills. Don’t take this problem into your future unaddressed.

You are stronger then you think you are. It is in our weakness that we are strongest but we think it is the other way around. You are on the brink of leaving young adulthood and college for the real world. You want to quit but you won’t. You will finish college and go out into the world and become what you are destined to be. It will just happen and don’t fight it. If you have a higher power other then yourself turn it over to that power. Just say, God Help Me. Gods Grace is sufficient for us to handle anything that comes down the pike. It is…

You say everything always came easy to you and this is different. Not really, It is just another normal milestone moment. Fearful for sure but you will conquer it as you have the others. You would not be at University if you were a quitter. Until the next milestone moment which is usually marriage and children of your own. That is life on “life’s terms” not ours. So stop trying to drive the boat and row.

So get on with it and stop fighting life. Pick up your mat and walk. Welcome to adulthood! It’s hard for sure but man what a ride! You really don’t want to miss it and I have a feeling you won’t. Put one foot in front of the other and all this will pass.

I’d punch you in the arm about now but this is cyber space. :slight_smile:

I would question that a large part of this isn’t about your ego.

I mean, you used to be the best at everything, be able to feel superior to the poor schlubs who had to do the hard work. (In the process developing necessary study skills and focus ability.)

And now you’ve discovered that, while they were all learning good habits that would lead them to success, you were letting your ego get overgrown with your own wonderfulness and total disregard for having to struggle for anything.

Suddenly, it’s not all coming easily, you don’t have good study skills or habits, perhaps you’ll have to apply yourself and struggle just like all the other schlubs whom you can no longer feel superior too.

You seem adept and intelligent, so how is it you’re unable to see you just need to get over yourself and buckle down and do the work? When intelligent people can’t see what’s right before their eyes it’s almost always because their ego is in the way.

Still it can’t be easy, I wish you luck.

Thanks for the responses so far guys. It’s really nice to hear other anecodtes and experiences. I can’t switch or quit at the moment because it’s my final exams soon, but yes, I did apply for the hardest course, the one that would push me to the limit the most. And boy has it pushed me.

Oh I totally don’t doubt that a lot of it has to do with my slightly arrogant/competitive personality, the thing is that before, it’s never been a problem but now it’s rearing it’s ugly head because I can’t match my words and I don’t like it.

I do nice things for people and am generally okay, but I’m not exactly known for being a ‘nice, kind’ person, I don’t know how to be humble. My girlfriend is everything I’m not in terms of anger/kindness and I love/resent her for it.

TruCelt, your final paragraph really struck me, you’re totally right, the current stresses will leave eventually but future life stresses will prompt my current tendencies I’m sure of it. And I really don’t want to take this with me into the future. In my mind, I got the impression anger management classes were a load of nonsense telling you to ping an elastic band against your wrist or breathe and count slowly. If anything, both of those activities increase my rage as my thoughts continue to race and multiply in fury.

You’re right Elbows, I’ve never really developed focus ability. My girlfriend pointed this out to me when we were working together once and I was just unable to read more than a page at a time before getting distracted. She really noticed it because she can just get ‘in the zone’ really easily.

The problem is that I just don’t know any other way to be/behave :frowning: before, my focus in life was being the ‘best’ at something, and I would get satisfaction. Now, that rarely happens so there is nothing to sort of motivate me, I don’t get no satisfaction (so to speak). The way I interact with people always involves, lingering in the background, the need to be better. Without this focus in my life, I’m not really sure what I’m ambling towards.

You’re feeling angry precisely because you’re feeling powerless.

You see others being more focused, more successful, etc. Because you’re seeing their strengths in an area of your (current) weakness. Which makes you feel envy. You, however, are not seeing their weaknesses and areas of failure.

This sort of “I was the best until I got to X” thing is common with a lot of successful children. In the small pond of high school or your neighborhood, you may well be the best. Then you move on to an environment where only the best succeed, and surprise surprise, you’re surrounded by a lot of equally talented and even more talented people, and you’re no longer ‘the best’ in that pond. It can be very discouraging when everything was easy before, and unfortunately, since everything was easy, you never learned how to act when things were difficult. You’re learning that now.

All I can advise is to put the blinders on and stop looking from side to side at others. Focus on your own talents, your own needs, your own tasks, and what you can do to regain your self-esteem and sense of power over your environment.

There are many many many people who are going through what you are going through. (and HAVE gone through it, including me)

I have a friend who just turned 40, makes less than 20.00/hr , is an intelligent nice guy who is very happy. He is an avid surfer and is able to do that anytime he wants.

He told me he was at a gathering once and told an eye doctor what he did, and the guy said “God I envy you”

Just do the best you can, TRY not to lash out (if you do, apologize immediately) and do some research on perfectionism. It can be crippling.

And you sound like an entepreneur to me. Think about starting your own business. College isn’t for everyone. But if you really want that degree, just do the best you can.


Good luck.

There were some bad months after I graduated law school when it really, genuinely didn’t look like I was going to get a job. Not for a year or so, at any rate, until the hiring cycle for next year started up again. It’s not like your situation - but it felt terrible, getting rejected from job after job after spending years as a successful and well-regarded student. I mean, hell, I’d had clients in law school, and done yeoman’s work for them - I knew I was good, but no one else seemed to. I was living with my parents, and in a pretty deep funk.

Volunteering helped a lot. I got back in touch with a local nonprofit I’d interned for, started volunteering there more-or-less full time. I was doing work that I was good at, and that the people around me genuinely valued. Even though I still had no money and was living in my parents’ tiny guest room, I felt a lot less like a loser.

Maybe you could do something like that? Get involved with an activist group, or a nonprofit bookstore, or something like that - start working with a small group of people doing things you believe in, and who’ll recognize your contribution even if other parts of your life aren’t going well.

You mentioned that you don’t know what to do with your life…read this and see if it helps!

Listen to your self-talk. What do you say to yourself in your head?

If we have gotten down and discouraged it’s probably a fact that earlier on we have gotten negative messages from somewhere or someone else. If we get enough of them we can internalize them and soon we don’t need anyone else sending negative messages to ourselves. We do it for ourselves!

People are often unaware of these sneaky little messages that can creep into our minds unnoticed in the daily bustle of things and keep us in a state of discouragement. So - awareness.

And while most rational thinkers tend to like cut and dried certainties, life is much less cooperative. You’ve probably heard that life is a process, not a destination. So the trick is to focus on the moment. Am I making the present moment a productive or a destructive one? Is this moment a solid foundation block or a crumbling one? Because that’s what you are doing each waking moment - building a life. And that never stops unless we choose to stagnate.

Our brains have amazing transformative powers. We can learn to reframe our pasts and our present problems in a manner which encourages, rather than discourages, us. For instance:

“This is an impossible entanglement” vs. “This is an opportunity to learn how to deal with impossible entanglements.”

You sound like a nice human being, thoughtful and motivated. You are not alone. Find the people in your life who will give you that extra boost you need now and then and avoid negative people as though they were poison.

Thank you for the comforting words Tethered Kite.

I have just got off the phone from my girlfriend. She has decided to take a break with me. I don’t know what to think. I AM upset, and have made it known, I am unhappy with how this break is not a mutual decision. I want to rage against something but I’m not sure what.

This definitely doesn’t help :frowning: why do I want to wallow in my sorrow?

There is grief.

And there is wallowing.

One is a healing process for loss and emotional pain. the other is self-defeating.

I don’t mean to be callous or mean, but you sound pretty normal for 21. They don’t call them “growing pains” because they’re fun. About all I can tell you is make sure you learn from your mistakes, don’t just keep making the same ones. You learn more from your mistakes than just about anything.

(And you probably don’t want to hear about my continuing search for a meaningful career at 43, either. :slight_smile: )

I also knew a lot of guys like you in college, who had had it easy in the small ponds and had never learned the application necessary to make it in the big ponds where everyone else is just as smart as you. In a nutshell, here’s what I offer:

Smarts largely consists of hard work and willingness to learn and be open to learning. Raw intelligence is great but if you don’t apply it you’ll get nowhere. Learn to work hard, learn that the great people are the ones who are always learning and trying to take what they can from every situation and every failure.

If you have no study habits, there are ways to learn them. There are shelves of books offering help with organization and top tips for studying. I recently taught a little class on studying, and found a wealth of information out there on the web, much of which I could have used myself in college. You also have to practice focusing and working.

You say “better out than in,” but you do not control yourself at all it seems. This is not a virtue. You need to learn to control and channel your anger–it is simply not OK to lash out at whoever is around you, and I have to say your girlfriend has a good head on her shoulders. She should not be your verbal punching bag. If you have to take a class in anger management, do so. You might also try taking up running or other strenuous exercise–when you are angry, go run a mile or punch a punching bag for an hour.

Self-control is not repression, it is adulthood. Practice holding your anger down while you count to 10, breathe, leave the room. Then let it go somewhere appropriate.

I really wish you luck. More than that, hard work and getting rid of your arrogance will go a long way towards you changing yourself into a person you like.

I tried that; I didn’t discover my purpose. I did discover that I don’t really have a purpose as of yet, but I think I knew that already.

Find a class, and hurry, before you meet the love of your life . . . and scare her away.

Again, I’m going to say, ego, my friend. Until you learn to tame that beast, life will be quite painful.

I know it’s harsh, but the sooner you climb down from that pedestal and join the rest of us, ‘not always the best,’ flawed creatures, the happier you’ll be. You need to recognize you are not different from us, you are the same.

Perfection is the purview of the Gods, my friend, and they will righteously smite any mere mortal who dares to aspire to that which is theirs alone!

As for the lashing out thing, never forget the muscle you use the most is the one that grows strongest. Your lashing out muscles will only atrophy when you stop using them. Restraint in such things is a product of maturity, which rarely resides with a big ego. As soon as you reign in your ego, you’ll be less likely to lash out so frequently.