Dear Therapist:

I am an adult and I have a problem. I get extremely impatient to the point of becoming highly aggravated when sitting at drawn-out events. For example, sitting at a Shabbos meal at a relative’s house gets me nervous if they extend it too long. Waiting at a doctor’s office or at a line in a supermarket can almost put me into a rage. I can't hang around too long at a wedding if I am not doing anything there. I am an adult and can control myself from exploding. What is concerning me is that I see some of my children suffer from this as well. They explode if I take a route to school that will make them sit in traffic or if I pick them up late from school. They would rather not have ice cream if it means waiting on line. It is like waiting or doing nothing is a trigger for a temper. Please help me and my family.



There are likely a few factors leading to your issues.  Your children’s issues may be occurring for similar reasons, completely different ones, or a combination.  Since I don’t know your childhood, family, or symptom history I can only point out common causes for the problems that you identified.  

You referred to two distinct issues: impatience and anger.  Although these often feed on one another, it can be difficult to figure out the original source.  When your issues first began, were you feeling internally angry, which caused you to project this onto specific external people and situations?  Or were you initially impatient, causing you to become angry at the things that caused your feelings of impatience?

If the initial feeling was anger, it can help to try and identify the cause.  Recognizing that today’s feelings of anger are being displaced, and acknowledging their original source, can help you to begin properly dealing with them.  Generally speaking, anger is not a “primary” emotion.  It is usually created to deal with other more repressed emotions—like feelings of depression, insecurity, low self-esteem, and hopelessness.  A therapist could help you to work on both connecting to these emotions and reducing past and present feelings of anger. 

If the initial feeling was impatience, the cause may have been similar to those discussed with regard to anger, in which case working on them in the same manner can be helpful.  Feelings of impatience can also be a symptom of a larger disorder.  A few that come to mind are ADHD, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and a couple of personality disorders.  These can be identified with the assistance of a qualified therapist.

Your children may be experiencing something similar to what you did.  Or they may be learning from you and/or others to be impatient and angry—either generally or in specific types of circumstances.  (As a child, you may have also learned from others to feel impatient and angry.)  It may be a combination of internal issues and reactions learned from role models.

You mentioned that you’re able to stop yourself from exploding.  How obvious to your children are your feelings of impatience and anger?  In addition to the obvious manifestations of anger—from which your children learn how to think, feel, and react—kids are adept at picking up on emotional cues.  Even if you think that your feelings are not very obvious, your children are likely internalizing the messages that you’re inadvertently broadcasting.

It is important to be aware—both generally and in specific situations—of the impact that your actions (no matter how insignificant seeming) have on your children.  Working on your own issues can obviously have a trickle-down effect by sending a better message to your children.  Also, focusing on controlling your reactions when your kids are around can help to alleviate their internalization of negative feelings and behaviors.  This may also be a first step for you in dealing differently with your feelings in different types of circumstances.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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