Auntie SparkNotes: My Best Friend Has Rage Issues
I have a friend, "Luke". He's my best friend and I love him like a brother. About 2 years ago, Luke had a major freak-out when his girlfriend dumped him. As in, got up in class, stormed out, and smashed up the toilet (he does martial arts and managed to punch a hole in the door.) I calmed him down, explained the situation to the teachers, and he didn't get into much trouble.
About a month or two ago, he admitted to me that he was raped when he was 10 years old. I have no idea how that messes someone up, I can only imagine. His parents were having a bad time then and he never told them, so no one knows but me and his current girlfriend.
Now back to the present: he and his girlfriend had a massive row last week over nothing. He had another fit, broke some stuff. I calmed him down and got him to talk to me, he was literally shaking, sweating, breathing really heavily, and muttering "I'm so angry" over and over. He kept going on about how no one understands, no one knows how much pain he's in. We're in a really posh school, so he was ranting about all these stuck up pricks, never knowing real pain. The thing is I reckon he's right. I don't understand. I try and I do what I can to clear up his mess, but I'm not qualified to help him with his deeper issues. He doesn't like psychologists — something to do with that they don't really care and they're being paid to listen — he claims that I'm the only one who cares and that he's alone. I can't bring in his parents because they still aren't settled.
I'm just worried he'll derail again, and that the next time he might get expelled — he's already on probation — and I would do anything to stop that. Any advice you can give me I would really appreciate.
First things first, Sparkler: you're a good friend, a really good friend, and you deserve all the credit in the world for that. This is such a complicated and awful situation, and I know you're trying hard to do what seems right—and that what seems right, as a friend, is to look out for Luke and protect him from harm.
And it's just unfortunate that in this case, what seems right... isn't. At all.
Because the more you insulate Luke from the consequences of his rage, the more likely it is that he'll one day cause the kind of damage you can't explain away. A person whose anger is so uncontrollable that he breaks things when he's upset has a serious problem that needs to be addressed, and needs to be addressed now. Not to scare you, but your friend doesn't have an unlimited window of opportunity in which to get himself straightened out; a teenage kid who becomes violently angry might get expelled from school, but a grown man who does the same thing tends to get arrested and sent to prison. Time isn't on his side.
Which is why he needs help—the kind you wisely realize you can't give him. Learning to control himself when he's angry is a skill this guy has to learn, and a professional counselor is the one to teach it to him. And frankly, the question of whether that person truly cares is irrelevant; I mean, a doctor doesn't exactly care, either—he's a professional doing a job—but presumably, your friend wouldn't avoid seeking medical treatment just because the person administering it is getting paid. And when you talk to him next, you should tell him as much, right after you tell him that you can't sit by anymore and watch him self-destruct, and that his next conversation needs to be with someone who can help him help himself. Offer to go with him to talk to his parents, a teacher, his martial arts instructor; any adult he trusts will do.
And if he won't do that, then you will. Really. It doesn't matter whether they're settled or not; having their own problems doesn't exempt Luke's parents from their responsibility to their kid, particularly when the kid is on the verge of implosion. If you care, you'll tell them. And if you really care, and if they don't listen, then you'll tell as many people as it takes. And whatever happens, you'll know you did the right thing—not just the right-seeming thing—by standing by your friend to help him get better, instead of just shielding him from the worst.
Have you ever helped a friend help himself? Share your stories in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.