By non-violent raging, we are referring to loud blustery expression of anger in which physical violence is not threatened. Swearing and a raised voice are typical. The behavior may or may not be deemed acceptable to the person carrying it out. Some people feel remorseful afterwards, others don’t.
Almost always, raging behavior is driven by either fear or pain. The observable anger is merely a counteraction to covertly feeling hurt or afraid. What is actually feared may not be simple. Sometimes the person merely fears that they cannot prevail in a verbal argument when feel very inarticulate. In other cases, the person may fear victimization that they felt at the hands of an abusive parent. While there are many sources of possible fear or pain, the dynamic is usually the same at its core. The person is reacting to covert fear or pain.
While extensive psychotherapy can help a person to deal with historical fears, there are more simple interventions that can be tried first. For people who are less articulate and have a harder time thinking when they’re angry, it helps to practice exercising more control over the pace of conflict. A number of people erupt largely because they feel they can’t think fast enough in a conflict. By learning that they can slow down their partner, they can feel more secure and less under-powered when in a conflict. Intervention #1 below is based upon recognition of this dynamic. A second form of intervention is to increase external cues for more formal conduct. When in public, we tend to be more to inhibited and conservative in our emotional behavior. Intervention #2 is based on this.
Finally, our degree of fear in a conflict will be increased to the degree that the conflict is personalized. If the conflict is objectified, we will feel less threatened. Review the interventions for unproductive conflict as recommended in Intervention #3. They should help with raging behavior as well.
INTERVENTION #1 Practice process-pacing
Pacing a process means being able to slow it down enough so that you can think. Very often, people feel overwhelmed in that they can’t think fast enough during conflict. This is especially true if they are on the receiving end of criticism. If you can’t think fast enough, you can’t sufficiently defend against the other person’s criticisms. This sense of vulnerability sometimes leads to raging behavior as an alternative. If you are the partner who feels verbally overwhelmed during conflict, you can practice a different kind of control other than raging. You can immediately suspend the conflict until you feel better prepared. This can be practiced on a small time-scale or a much larger one. To get the “feel” of how to do this on a small time scale, you can do the following:
1) Discuss what you want to do with your partner. Explain that you will be practicing a less raging type of control over the tempo of your communications. Explain that you will be asking your partner to stop talking for brief periods of time so that you can think about what they have said. 2) Once you’ve gotten your partner with the program, start practicing stopping conversations at appropriate pauses (not in mid-sentence). Ask your partner to stop talking so that you can think for a few seconds. Vary the time spent in silence from 10 seconds to half a minute. Practice this 3 to 4 times per day, even though you feel you really don’t need to do it. The immediate necessity is not important. It’s your response set that you need to build up for more emotional situations. Do this practicing for several weeks.
On a much larger time scale, you can practice rescheduling conflicts so that you can better prepare for them. One thing that frequently promotes raging is to be caught in a conflict at a time when you are least emotionally prepared. This can especially happen when a spouse begins to criticize or attack and you are in a tired state. Instead of blowing up in order to shut down the criticism, you need to learn how to reschedule the conflict. The time scale here is usually from a few hours to a few days. The following steps are recommended:
1) Discuss what you want to do with your partner. Explain that you will be practicing a less raging type of control over the tempo of your communications. Explain that you will be asking your partner to reschedule conflicts so that you can be more emotionally prepared. 2) Make a commitment to your partner that when a conflict is rescheduled: a) Both of you will mutually decide when and where the conflict is to resume. The time and place will be specific and will be decided before you shut down communication. b) You will be responsible in resuming the conflict without your partner having to come and get you. c) Your partner will also be responsible for not raising the conflict until the designated time. b) Both of you will bring to negotiations ideas of for what you each want. 3) Practice the above formula from 5 to 6 times, using minor conflicts for which it is not necessary. Such low-key practice is necessary to prepare for using these tools during more intense emotions later on. If your partner refuses to postpone a conflict, it is best for you to leave the immediate situation. If this is not feasible (e.g. you are preparing for bed), then non-violent raging may be appropriate if it works. The reason is that you are being harassed and your boundaries are being abused. However, a better and longer-term solution would involve getting professional marriage counseling. If you have a spouse who refuses to respect your need for emotional pacing, then you will have chronic problems in your relationship.
INTERVENTION #2 Plan to resolve a conflict in a public setting
When it is possible to plan conflict, it can be set to take place in public. For example, going out over coffee can be a good idea when both people understand the agenda. It is also a good idea to bring two pads of paper so that both people are approaching the task from a production mentality. Once on location, discuss the rules. The rule of no yelling should be agreed upon. It should also be agreed that either person may temporarily excuse themselves but that they will need to come back when calmed down. The formality of being in public is often enough to greatly reducing overt raging.
INTERVENTION #3 Utilize interventions for unproductive conflict
Go to the section of unproductive conflict elsewhere in this kit. The recommendations for objectifying conflict should help reduce the some of the anxiety that underlies raging behavior.