The greatest pain does not come from the precipitating event, it comes from what we bring to the betrayal, the loss, the violation. We have taken this betrayal personally. We don’t know why we shouldn’t: “It happened to me, didn’t it?” We don’t know how else to take it. We have taken it as if it were a reflection on our worth as a person. We have been made to feel worthless, stupid, insecure, unlovable, inadequate to cope with life. These are all components of the self-contempt that has rushed in and crowded out the smidgeon of self-respect we used to have. We cannot respect a person who “allows” such a thing to happen, who has “failed” to see it coming in advance, and who has obviously failed to keep it from happening! 

Most conflict involves an extreme, prolonged outburst of anger. The angry reaction is usually out of proportion to the precipitating factor that triggered it. This “trigger,” in fact, is very often trivial in itself. The bystander is very often surprised by the intensity of the overreaction, and is at a loss to understand it. To the angry person, however, the “issue is not the issue.” The real issue is the perception of the event at hand. The event, which is usually a disappointment or inconvenience of some kind, is merely the precipitating factor. He may even say to himself, “It’s the principle of the thing,” without really knowing what the “principle” is. For example, he may perceive the event as an “abandonment,” as a “victimization,” as a loss of power and control, as a loss of specialness, or as “not getting his way.” It is this scary threat of vulnerability due to the past experiences that he brings to the present, which ignites his overreaction to an apparently trivial stimulus.

During the conflict, the individual is “out-of-control.” He is saying and doing things that are inappropriate to the situation, and which he or she may not remember afterwards. The conflict itself may be preceded by a period of apparent calm, or of sudden silence. Or it may begin as an apparently “normal” conversation, which at some point, gets out of hand. In some cases, the conflict may be ignited by a drug, such as alcohol, which may give the individual “permission,” or an “excuse,” to behave in ways that are not acceptable to him when he is in his right mind. In other cases, an ordinarily insignificant amount of chemical stimulant will serve to ignite pre-existing pent-up anger, which has been making the individual uncomfortable and from which pressure he seeks release.

So what do we do about it? Admittedly oversimplified, it’s about “self-talk” — being able to catch the anger at the earliest possible point, and quickly start thinking before acting. The brain can be distracted. When angry, we have a tendency to forget to think. So use the keyword “think” as a means to proceed with answering two questions:

What is the worst part?
When else have I felt this way?

Answers to these two questions can help identify what actually may lie behind the anger, such as feeling unloved, not trusted, devalued, powerless or threatened. Know yourself. For those who believe it’s absolutely necessary to have love and approval from everyone all the time to be competent in everything they do, believing that “My way of looking at the world is the only way” and “It’s my way or the highway,” then the ingredients are there that can cause buttons to be pushed and anger to surface at whomever and whatever.

Bomb with a lit fuse image available from Shutterstock.