What can I do to alter my bad habit of speaking harshly and critically to my wife and children? I desperately want to be a better husband and father, and I need to change my behavior. Can you help me start moving in that direction?
You've taken an important first step by realizing that you have problem with anger and verbal abuse. In a very real sense, that's more than half the battle.
You can start moving in the right direction by getting some intensive counseling. The counselor could be either a pastor or a professional marriage and family therapist. This might involve extended sessions (up to three hours each) for several days in succession. There are a number of therapists in the field who specialize in brief intensives. Call us. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can help you with referrals to qualified practitioners in your area. They'd also be happy to assist you in your efforts to get the ball rolling by discussing your situation with you over the phone.
As you go forward, remember that anger is often fueled by feelings of fear, hurt and shame (a sense of not being good enough). Counseling will help you identify these triggering patterns. It will teach you new coping skills and help you practice more effective communication techniques. It will also uncover underlying wounds and highlight "reenactment behaviors" resulting from unfinished business with your family of origin. This in turn will enable you to avoid the reactionary type of language that can take such a devastating emotional toll on the people around you.
In the meantime, bear in mind that God wants to work on you from the inside out. By the power of His Spirit he can make changes that you could never bring about on your own. In the words of Romans 12:1 and 2, He is eager to "transform you by the renewing of your mind." The Message puts it this way: "Here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you and develops well-formed maturity in you."
This is what your wife and children need most. They want you to allow God to bring the best out in you. They know that this "best" is there because they've seen it. A book that can help you start moving in this direction is Robert McGee's The Search for Significance, which addresses the fear of failure, rejection, punishment, and shame which is often the source of the kind of anger you've experienced in your family relationships. It can be ordered online and found in most bookstores.
How Our Beliefs Impact All We Say and Do: Gary Smalley discusses how to make positive life change.
Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion
Understanding Emotional Abuse