In the past year, I wrote three blogs on the subject of anger — The Rage of Oppression, A Cycle of Extremes, What We Don’t Know About It — evidence alone of anger’s social and global significance. Unfortunately, as a global society, we are not hearing or role modelling the appropriate thoughts, words and deeds to bring the cycle of withdrawal, frustration and rage to its end.
Last week’s killing of journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward illustrates my point. This internationally-publicized incident was caught on camera when disgruntled, mentally-ill Vester Lee Flanagan (aka Bryce Williams) shot his former colleagues during a live news broadcast. As reported by ABC News, Flanagan’s 26-page suicide note/manifesto documented his descent into rage and madness.
Flanagan wrote in his manifesto,
Yes, it will sound like I am angry. I am. And I have every right to be. But when
I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace…. The church
shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…
I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!
[I] tried to pull myself up by the bootstraps. The damage was already done and
when someone gets to this point, there is nothing that can be said or done to
change their sadness to happiness. It does not work that way. Meds? Nah. It’s
And then, after the unthinkable happened in Charleston, THAT WAS IT!!!
Yeah I’m all f—– up in the head.
In response to Flanagan’s aggression and written words, psychology professor Art Markman stated what I also find to be true,
People are generally aggressive toward people they know; random acts
against strangers are more rare. The two most common sources of
relationships are home and work. So it is no surprise that we see both
domestic violence and cases of workplace aggression.
So what are we to do with this information? How can you and I begin to eradicate rage rather than avoid it? It is time to be accountable because uncontrolled rage is not going away on its own. A beginning answer lies within Markman’s statement. Home and work are the two arenas from which any of us can watch and listen for the cycle of rage (withdrawal-frustration-explosion).
Typical reactions to an enraged person are avoidance or attack. Both of these responses have proven to be ineffective. Reacting defensively or aggressively to aggression escalates an already out-of-control situation. On the other hand, avoiding those who use enraged verbal aggression to defend themselves is perpetrating the “ragers” own dysfunctional withdrawal behaviour. Eventually, this withdrawal on our part leads to our own frustration and resentment, which over time likely emerges into our own form of rage.
So, in our homes and workplaces we need to watch, listen and bring awareness to enraged behaviour. I can attest this is not easy work, but because anger mismanagement is so prevalent, doing the work is imperative. Frankly, most individuals with whom I communicate have at least one person in their immediate family who expresses their anger as rage.
With so much evidence of rage in our midst, we can no longer afford to run away from its existence. I remind myself that any form of extreme emotion is a cry for help. By all means get professional support, there is no need to face the “rager” alone. We use umpires and referees in athletics, why would we not use a good mediator or therapist to help us navigate difficult conversations with colleagues as well as those we love.
A necessary beginning to better health is admitting that those of us on the receiving end might actually lack the skills to deal with rage. Getting help to develop the necessary skills is a vital step away from avoidance and withdrawal. And by the way, if you are asking yourself “Why do I have to do something about another person’s enraged behaviour?,” the answer is because they are too deeply trapped in their pattern to think and act rationally. So, if not you, then who?
What one step can you take today to bring you closer to recognizing and successfully de-escalating rage in your family or workplace?
Once I got over my anger and rage from childhood, once I stopped feeling
like a victim, I was able to open myself to great sources of learning.
For more reading on transforming extreme emotions, click here.