Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 7-25-2020
“You can’t evaluate another person’s situation by looking at it through your world” -Terrence Coffie/ LMSW
I would be considered, whatever the opposite of angry is. For the most part, people commonly told me I was one of the nicest people they had ever met. There were a few that knew me better, who warned me that one day I would snap and go crazy for ‘holding it all in’. I did not understand, because I did not hold or feel much anger at all. If it was not depression, it was anxiety, if not anxiety perhaps, self-loathing. Then there was a lot of embarrassment and shame sprinkled in, and minimally welcomed small bursts of joy. However, anger? Anger was not my downfall, I did not even know I possessed the capability of being angry at another person for long, let alone a slow burning rage that would wither away at my spirit and health.
Anger behaviors were the first mental distress patterns that I took notice of, at the mere age of 6. Young children, angry, throwing things, getting paddled by teachers, and threatened at school. They fought back with a vengeance, with more cursing and back talk to each other and the teachers. I was so petrified of consequences that I could not fathom how these young children could be so angry that they would speak out loud in such a manner. What made them what they were, and what made me…me? (Timid, shy, scared, prudish, silent, secluded and so on.) I wanted to know so badly, I just listened. I did not even judge them; I was purely fascinated and curious.
The fight or flight response is very real. Rather, Fight, fly, freeze or dissociate. These are the four natural things our adrenaline and brains force us to do when faced with life threatening situations. These natural defense mechanisms, along with household modeling have a hell of a lot to do with how we behave when we feel threatened. Needless to say, the more threatening the environments and households we grow up in, the more our brains are forced to use the fight or flight reactions, which can and will take a toll on us in the long run. Though it is a powerful source of protection during petrifying moments, the stress hormones that are released accompanied by the brain going haywire can change up our chemical make-up.
Before I turned six, I grew up being handed off to many strangers. Forcing me to never be able to establish a routine or trust in my environment. I was forced into freeze mode when strangers got close. I had the difficult task of evaluating what behaviors were acceptable for my new ‘guardian of the month’ while my mom went to hunt for more drugs. My brother who was three years older had a different approach, his anger/ rage in full force. We cannot be angry around an angry person. I repeat, we cannot be angry around an angry person. It would be like gasoline to fire, this caused me to deal with everything in silence, with hopes to not make the situation worse than it already was.
Through my mental health career, I found many more answers. It started to make sense, why some children resort to screaming back, while others run away. Then, why others must freeze and dissociate because there are literally no other options for them. My primary specialty in the world of mental health is trauma, but my secret specialty is anger. Often, trauma and anger go hand in hand, whether it be explosive anger or implosive anger. I have always had a knack for working with the angriest of clients. Why? They always told me I have this ‘calming presence’. Simply put, growing up with a drunk parent, an angry brother, and very tense households for most of my life, I had to radiate calmness. I could not fuel the rage. I took on a heavy responsibility and burden in doing so, without even realizing it.
Anger management classes suck! Literally every person I have ever talked to, including my brother, reported that it made them angrier. I have sat in the classes, I’ve co facilitated them, I have taught anger management techniques to clients. These classes teach techniques, but never go into the root core of the issue. If someone is getting in fights on a weekly basis and exploding with homicidal tendencies and ballistic behaviors, techniques will not work yet. Also, they are angry about a hell of a lot more than what they are dealing with in their current situations. Anger is anger, it is a normal reaction to frustrating situations, but rage is entirely different. I often remind clients that anger is never wrong, it is just often misplaced and projected onto others at inappropriate times and/ or situations. Anger management tries to enforce that the client learns to ‘tame’ themselves and not hurt others, it does not focus on healing the underlying cause of said rage.
If someone describes themselves as chronically angry where there is an extensive history of escalation, fighting and/ or legal issues, I am going to focus on getting down to the depths of that rage. I will go deep after the trust is built. The lines: “I’ve always been this way”, or “I just see red and then lose control” are not enough. Something, someone, or multiple people created this rage monster, and no one deserves to be chained down with that burden. I have come to observe that the more pain, loss of control, and helplessness we experience, the more rage we may build. Accompany this with a lack of outlets, and no justice toward those that hurt us, we will see the world in a different lens entirely. No one that can be trusted, no one that will help. The child must then build walls or become a difficult person, so that others may back the hell away.
I have gotten to the depths of many people’s rage, even when it led to extreme tension in the session, passive aggressiveness. Unfortunately, it can chase people away at times, but they tend to come back. It is a hard topic, and we must not be pushy. We see a rageful person as a nuisance to society, a risk. Let us start asking, who hurt them? Abusive and/ or negligent parents? Bullies? Community violence? Assault? War? Other various trauma experiences? Then, why did they learn that anger was the safest and most appropriate defense mechanism to counter their triggers? Most importantly, can they gain the insight into this rage? Can they admit to themselves and others that they are in pain, and anger is the only way they have learned to express this? The anger did, once upon a time, serve a purpose, but what is it doing now? Possibly sabotaging progress, joy, relationships, and life goals. It is well worth exploring and addressing.
I normalize anger, as it is an emotion, we are all capable of and need at times. It is perfectly acceptable and reasonable to be angry about the awful things that have happened to us. I allow ample amount of time for those that have been hurt to process their pain and admit to why they have carried this burdensome rage around with them. Then, we explore safer and healthier ways to live a functional life, free of that burden. We must accept that the world has hurt us, not necessarily forgive! Simply, acceptance. Then pursue our goals without the weight of our rage tying us down. If this means letting go of certain things: toxic spouses, toxic friends, toxic environments, and toxic drugs, so be it. We are not obligated to continuously expose ourselves to the lifestyles that hurt us and trigger our rage.
3 thoughts on “RAGE”
Wow…anger, is like a genie in a bottle. I tend to hold mine in until I can’t hold no more. However the release is as tricky as the anger. I found this topic very interesting, making me look deep inside to the root of my anger.
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Every word is pure truth!!! Keep spreading your wonderful message!
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