Is Explosive Anger a Medical Condition?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," November 28, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: "Personal story" segment tonight, do you have anger illness? Some people think I do. Some mental health professionals believe explosive anger is a medical condition. That would explain Michael Richards exploding in that comedy club, insane parents fighting at their kids' sporting events, and other bizarre incidents that we feature here almost every night.

With us now, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, host of his own syndicated television program.

All right, I'm not buying the anger as an illness deal at all, because I think all anger can be controlled. I think that we all have it within ourselves to control our anger. I also think there's two types of anger. Out of control anger, which we saw with Richards and these crazy parents...


O'REILLY: ...and righteous anger, which is necessary to protect us and to right wrong. Go ahead.

ABLOW: And I am not trying to target or suggest that we treat righteous anger. Right? We should take your cue and have a little bit more of it, in order to right wrongs in society.

What I've noticed is that mother after mother, for instance, and this is our campaign, has come on my show and said look, there's no usefulness to my anger. It explodes out of me. My kids don't benefit from it. I don't get any more authority from it, but I can't control.

And that kind of anger that damages kids...

O'REILLY: Do you believe that, though? Do you believe that these moms can't or just won't?

ABLOW: I believe that there are mothers — they came on weeping, Bill. And then they came back...

O'REILLY: They feel remorse.

ABLOW: They feel remorse because this isn't them. You know, most depressed people, you know, some of them experience terrible sadness. A lot of them experience terrible irritability. So maybe depression can be one root.

O'REILLY: And you can — with medication, you can temper the depression. All right. So that's interesting. But the anger illness, this is — look, Michael Richards is the best example of this.

ABLOW: Sure.

O'REILLY: I mean, you can't get a better example. This guy went on the stage and he got heckled. All right? He wasn't doing well anyway in his act and he's not doing well in his life, in his career. So he's angry, and this anger exploded within him. All right? He lost his temper. And I don't think that's an illness, I think it's a weakness.

ABLOW: I think that that's right. In other words, we would distinguish between having a bad day and a bad mood and major depression, just like we'd say, "Look, this guy, he lost his cool." And he's got underlying hatred, maybe, for a group of people.

That's different than a mother who comes on and says, "I feel remorse. I don't want to be this way. And what's more, when I watched myself on the tape that alone set me back on my heels."

O'REILLY: All right. But I think it's not anger, I think it's what you said. It's either depression, manic depressive, what is it...


O'REILLY: Bipolar.

ABLOW: Attention deficit problems, sleep deprivation coupled with stress. I think we have to get to the bottom of this.

What I wanted to do is create an umbrella category. Let's target the symptom. Anger. Then let's find out, what's your reason for having this uncontrollable rage. Is it anger...

O'REILLY: I'm Irish. And you know, OK, and when my neighborhood in Levittown, Long Island, I mean, there was anger all over the place.

ABLOW: I would never have guessed that about your upbringing.

O'REILLY: There was anger not only among the Irish but among Italians and the Jews.

ABLOW: Sure.

O'REILLY: It was not an out of control anger, but isn't it a part of the human condition?

ABLOW: Absolutely. There's usefulness to anger. People certainly get irritated with each other. I'm not trying to homogenize everybody or...

O'REILLY: Or provide an excuse?

ABLOW: Or provide an excuse. I want to do the hard work. You know? And in some ways, it's so easy to just say, "You know what? Those mothers, they're just bad moms."

Well you know what? They're not. They're trying to do their best. There's something in the way. And why don't we get underneath the anger, and say, "If we can fix it, shouldn't we?"

O'REILLY: Yes, because the kids are at risk. You know what the abuse excuse is. You know, that everything that I do bad to anybody, I have an excuse because I was abused. My dad was angry. I got hit so that I can hit my kid. Or I got molested so I can molest another kid.

And I'm not buying that. I believe within all of us there is enough self-control, unless you really are wired differently like you are depressed, enough self-control to stop the anger at a certain point. I'll give you the last word?

ABLOW: Sometimes people can't see what they're doing, No. 1. And No. 2, I'm a little bit draconian on this. I think if you're hurting your kids you shouldn't have parental rights, necessarily. I think we give parental rights away too easily.

O'REILLY: I'm with you on that.

ABLOW: OK. But if you can fix it and get a basically good and decent person, who's suffering with an underlying condition like...

O'REILLY: What have we got? Mood elevators and Prozac? Everybody is on everything now.

ABLOW: But you know what we don't have? Is we don't have enough in the way of mood elevation for these people to say, "You know what? You can't keep doing this. You better fix it or we're not going to keep..."

O'REILLY: That's a good point. If you fly into rages, you should see somebody.

ABLOW: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: Thanks a lot, Doc. Always good see you.

ABLOW: Pleasure.

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