Reckoning with rage


Melissa Martin, Ph.D.



Rage. Even the sound of this word seems daunting. Anger, fury, wrath, viciousness, hostility, aggression — what exactly is rage?

Anger is a natural reaction when someone wrongs you, and it’s a way of communicating injustice. Rage is an extreme expression of anger and escalation in emotional intensity. A person in an episode of rage frenzy loses capacity for rational thought and reasoning.

And what precipitates rage explosions? Frustration, stress, distress; perceived or actual loss of control or power; being denied something we think we deserve; being unfairly mistreated; or when someone or something threatens a loved one.

While some individuals experience ongoing rage episodes; others simmer, boil, stew and then blast off. And rage intensity falls on a 1 to 10 scale. But, other emotions lie beneath rage: embarrassment, disappointment, fear, rejection, jealousy, anxiety.

Researchers study causes in order to find solutions. What ignites the dynamite reaction? What is behind explosive outbursts of anger or “rage attacks?” What happens when anger turns into a toxic emotional rampage? What motivates the mind of a human being trapped in a cycle of raging behaviors?

Road rage. According to a 2014 article by the American Psychological Association, “Research suggests that young males are the most likely to perpetrate road rage. Environmental factors such as crowded roads can boost anger behind the wheel. Certain psychological factors, including displaced anger and high life stress, are also linked to road rage. In addition, studies have found that people who experience road rage are more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs.”

Psychologist Jerry Deffenbacher of Colorado State University found that individuals who rage on roads (and other drivers) engage in hostile or aggressive thinking, take more risks on the road, get angry faster and behave more aggressively, had twice as many car accidents in driving simulations, and experience more anxiety and impulsiveness.

Workplace rage. Recent research indicates that anger workplace triggers include feeling unfairly treated by others, obstacles blocking goals, and clashes in personalities and attitudes.

When fired or disgruntled employees commit violent revenge, it’s referred to as workplace rage. However, other factors come into play when an individual opens fire on former or current coworkers.

Relationship rage. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 72 percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94 percent of the victims of these murder suicides are female. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent. However, violence in intimate relationships is due to a partner’s faulty belief that he/she is entitled to control and power over the other, and rage is a byproduct.

Pathological rage. The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM–5), the big book mental health professionals use to diagnosis clients, identifies rage attacks as “intermittent explosive disorder” (IED). The signs, symptoms and behaviors are characterized by expression of pathological impulsive aggression.

Justice rage. Are there situations when rage is justified? We can absolutely give credence to the feelings of rage that a parent of a murdered child experiences. Or the rage a child feels when a parent is murdered. Injustice provokes a gamut of powerful emotions.

How do humans cope with the injustices on planet Earth, including innocents who are slaughtered by genocide or mass shootings or suicide bombers? Many individuals channel intense outrage by becoming humanitarian advocates, civil rights leaders and champions of victims. Rage can be harnessed as a motivational force to help others. John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted,” is an example. After his son was abducted and murdered, Walsh became a criminal investigator and victim rights advocate.

How does rage affect the body?

According to a 2014 study from Harvard School of Public Health, being filled with rage undermines your psychological and physical well-being and affects your immune system, and a “hostile heart” can lead to cardiovascular problems. Chronic, explosive rage has serious consequences for your mental and physical health and your personal and professional relationships. Seek counseling because help is available for you or for someone you know.

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Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.