Reflections on Rage

"When I'm angry, I'm a different person," says Kerry's husband, Matt.


Dr. Phil sits squarely across from Matt, looking him directly in the eye. He says, "Here's this big, strong, powerful guy, who flies into a rage and says that [he's] going to stab her eyes out with a screwdriver. What gives you the right to do that?"


"In my mind," Matt explains, "when I say things in the heat of the moment and enraged, it's not really what I'm going to do."

"Words are powerful things," says Dr. Phil. "And you're saying, 'You stupid, ***** *****, I'm going to punch your eyes out. I'm going to burn the house. I'm going to cut you up with a razor knife.' That's abuse. That's being a coward and a bully. Do you not see that?"


"I see it," says Matt.

"That's how you terrorize someone," Dr. Phil explains. "You make them scared. You bully them. You get them down, you get them under your thumb, and you just push them, and push them and push them, until they just can't take it anymore. That's being a coward and a bully. And you do it in front of your children. And right now I'm just talking about words. And you say, 'Aw, I don't really do it.' Well, you slammed her down, and she winds up breaking her foot. You take her hair and hit her head in the dash. You have choked her, and your 4-year-old has said, when he got mad, 'Mommy, I'm going to choke you.' I wonder where he got that. You've hit her, thrown her down, choked her, banged her head, broke her foot. Do we have a problem here?"

"I know she said she was afraid of me, but you know someone who sleeps in the same bed with you every night and continues life as normal?" asks Matt. 
 

"I'm really surprised to hear you say that," Dr. Phil says incredulously. "There were times that you hit her and kicked her out of bed and she went and slept in the van in order to feel safe. A pregnant woman, in October and November in the Northeast, sleeping in a cold van because her husband has hit her and kicked her to the point that she has had to flee. Let's see what she said about that. I want you to respond to this."

Dr. Phil plays a video clip from his conversation with Kerry. Matt hears her say, "I've got to protect that baby. I've got to protect that baby."

"That's your wife," says Dr. Phil.

"I feel awful," says Matt.

"These are quotes attributed to you, in front of the children. She says you have called her a stupid ***** ***** in front of the children. 'I'm going to kill you. I'm going to get you. You're useless, and I hate you. Why are you even here?' As you have those things read back to you, how do you feel about that?"

"Sick to my stomach," Matt confides.

Dr. Phil reminds Matt of the time in 2003 when he had a razor knife and threatened to slash his wife as she nursed their baby. "Do you remember that?" he asks.

"Did I? No, I never cut her up with a razor knife. I never poked her eyes out with a screwdriver. I said those things, yes," says Matt.

"You said, 'I go on automatic pilot,'" says Dr. Phil. "You have to understand that that is a horrifying thing to a woman. I want you to hear how she sees you at that time."

Dr. Phil plays another clip from his conversation with Kerry.

Dr. Phil: You said that when he flies into a rage he physically changes. What do you see in him?

 
Kerry: Raging bull. I mean, you can see it in his face. It contorts. The eyes become full of rage. He can't see straight. And he doesn't know his own strength. He comes at you. He doesn't even know that he's hit you. He's in a fury.

Dr. Phil tells Matt, "That's called terrorism. Look at your wife's face."

"She knows how to push my buttons," says Matt.

Kerry makes a visit back home, while her husband is away. On her way to the house she says, "I have hardly any funds. My husband has frozen all of my accounts. He even illegally cancelled my credit card."

She arrives at the house to find Matt has left his mark there. "Like a mad man has torn through the house," she says. "I'm just so filled with anxiety. I just feel sick to my stomach. I feel like I'm just going to faint, actually." She looks around at an array of notes and scrawled messages Matt has left for her. 

 

"He's trying to make contact with me with these notes," she says. "He's trying to tell me that the order of protection was unnecessary ... All of this looks just horrifying to me. This is the check he's supposed to mail to my mom, and instead he's leaving it here because he knew I was coming here. Everything about this just makes me nervous. I just want to get out of here as quickly as possible."

Dr. Phil notes that messages like these are all part of the manipulation. "'You know I love you,' 'I didn't mean it,' 'I swear I'll change.' These are the kinds of things abusers say to win back their victims. Matt was no different," he says.

Dr. Phil tells Matt, "I don't believe that you don't really get this, that you are an abusive husband. She talks about a time where you're sitting at home in the dark, and she comes home, and you pick her up and slam her into the ground. A cast iron stove is there, her head hits the cast iron stove. Are you aware that you could have killed that woman?"

"Yes, I am," he replies.

"Three inches to the side could have killed her," says Dr. Phil. "Wouldn't mean that you meant to. But she would be just as dead, wouldn't she?"

Matt says, "She would."

Dr. Phil shows Matt another clip from his conversation with Kerry. She describes the moment when her husband hit her head on the cast iron stove. "There's blood in my eyes ... I just was saying, 'No, no, no,'" she says.

"What's your reaction to that?" Dr. Phil asks Matt.

"I feel like taking myself out back and hanging myself," he says.

"Is that an option to you? Do you want to kill yourself?" asks Dr. Phil. Matt says he does not. "The meanest, cruelest thing a parent can do to their children is to bail, to commit suicide. And if that's what you're thinking about doing, then you need to tell me, and I need to put you in a psychiatric facility somewhere. That's not what you want to do, Matt."

 

"No," says Matt.

"Right now, if you could wave a magic wand and turn things back three weeks, you would do that, wouldn't you?" asks Dr. Phil.

"Oh, guaranteed," says Matt.

"Do you realize that's the worst thing you could do?" asks Dr. Phil. "It's what you want to do but, given that those are the only tools that you seem to have at your fingertips, you would just go home and create the problem all over again."

"Yeah, I don't want this to happen again," says Matt. "I don't want to live like this. I don't want my kids to grow up like this."

"You ever think back to the fear that you experienced when you were a little boy?" Dr. Phil probes. "Let me draw a parallel for you. Your mother had a gun threatening to shoot your father, and you jumped in front of your dad, and she said, 'Get out of the way, you little bastard, or I will shoot you too.' Do you recognize that you have unfinished emotional business from your childhood?"

 

"Don't we all?" says Matt.

"But I think that it is destroying your marriage and family," says Dr. Phil. "What I'm trying to do is wake you up, so you stop this self-destructive behavior. But I worry that you don't own it, that you keep making excuses. You said that, 'I was ruined by childhood abuse. It's not me, it's external. Somebody else did this to me. It's like the devil made me do it. External, external, external. My mother made my father feel inadequate. Kerry's making me feel that way, external. It's her fault she provokes me. She knows how to push my buttons, external. She won't shut up, external.' It's never you. It's always somebody else."

"Yes," says Matt.

"Don't you get tired of hurting?" asks Dr. Phil.

"I don't know what causes it, though," says Matt.

"Can you remember the last time you felt peace inside?" Matt says no. "And isn't that what you want? Because, like, right now you want to hate yourself, right? That's exactly the wrong thing to do. Say, 'I've made mistakes. I now realize the impact.' It's like getting a burn. You can burn yourself in a quarter of a second; it can hurt for months and scar for life. You have burned her psychological skin.
Your psychological skin was burned, you've singed these children. You haven't ruined these children, but they need a compassionate dad. And I'll get you that help to do that, if you'll accept that help."

Matt says, "I will."

"I mean, I don't want you to feel alone here," says Dr. Phil. "You know your wife's gone, the two little ones. But you're not alone. We can do this."