During arguments, sometimes one or more parties involved can overreact. An overreaction occurs when a precipitating factor triggers an exaggerated response. Therefore, when a person overreacts, it’s actually the result of a person’s perception of the situation. When these types of events occur, it usually brings some sort of inconvenience or disappointment that triggers underlying and often unconscious fear(s) within the person who overreacts. For example, a person in an argument may associate the event with feeling victimized, abandoned, out of control, or vulnerable. These feelings can give rise to anxiety and fear, which can cause an overreaction to a trivial event. In this way, when we are unaware of our sources of pain and how our past experiences and relationships may have affected us, we can overreact and become defensive during arguments. Defenses are ways in which we attempt to diffuse or ignore painful or intolerable emotional states. Here are examples of common defenses:
- “It wasn’t my fault. I just blew.” (Seeking exemption from the consequences of his own behavior)
- “She pushed my buttons.” (Displacing inconvenient responsibility onto others)
- “She did something wrong.” (Standing in moral judgment)
- “It’s my job to keep her in her place.” (Inappropriate, excessive responsibility)
- “She didn’t respect me!” (Demanding respect that he hasn’t earned. Dependency on others for ones own sense of self-worth)
- “I was teaching her a lesson.” (Mindless good intentions)
Of course, the above defenses do not solve the problem in the long term and can end up hurting others. Instead of using defenses, here are some ways to manage anger more effectively:
- Learn how to drain the residual anger from the past that has been predisposing you to become uncontrollably angry in the present.
- Write down your anger by writing anger letters to the people who injured you in childhood and or to yourself.
- Focus on the various facets of your excessive anger so that they can be reduced from their exaggerated proportions to more moderate ones. You’ll then be in a position to express your legitimate anger in timely, appropriate ways. Your emotional tidal waves will then become more like breakers hitting the beach, unpleasant perhaps, but endurable.
Aaron Karmin is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and member of the American Association of Anger Management Providers. Aaron provides anger management counseling at UB’s Chicago office for individuals and groups. For more information, please visit www.urbanbalance.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org