As she walked into her kitchen, the woman became a stone. Feet frozen to the ground. Tongue stuck on the roof of her mouth. Lungs void of every bit of air. The primal fight, flight, or freeze response had taken over her in an attempt to preserve her life. She was completely helpless and alone.
Standing three feet in front of her, was an intruder who had broken into her home. The vice grip he had around her cerated kitchen knife made his pale hands even more ghostly. He was tall and slender. A wiry emaciated frame. As if behind the mask and dark clothes was nothing but a walking skeleton. Fear constricted her heart.
Overcome with surprise in seeing the woman, the man with the knife panicked. And with just a few quick steps, he vanished out the back screen door like an apparition into the dark night.
What began as debilitating fear, revolted into unrelenting, hysterical rage. She shrieked at the top of her lungs in response to the trauma she had just experienced. And for three days, she waited in her kitchen fuming with anger. Completely convinced the intruder would come back again. And for three days, her surrender to anger caused so much cortisol and adrenaline to pump into her brain that it began to alter her brain chemistry. Because she stayed in that primal rage for so long, she ended up creating brain damage. Her inability to soothe herself and release the anger marked her permanently.
“The thing behind the thing”
When intense or traumatic moments happen we don’t know how to process, we can find ourselves overcome with anger. Either at ourselves, or at someone else. But the thing about anger is that it is a secondary emotion which communicates two things.
1. I am hurt/violated/ or scared.
2. I have a need.
If you look at the story above, the woman was so overcome with fear to the point that she found herself frozen, and in an attempt to create equilibrium again, she swung back the other direction. She swung towards anger because what she needed more than anything in that moment was to feel safe again. The reason she immediately went to anger, was because anger promises three things.
1. Control- I feel powerless and must figure out how to survive
2. Dopamine- the pleasure chemical in our brain explodes in an attempt to feel good again.
3. Justice- I was violated, and anger brings a sense of vindication.
I knew a guy who had a reputation for being angry. Everyone would walk on eggshells around him because he could blow up over things that seemed irrational. I would find myself shocked at the level of contempt bubbling up inside of me over the very mention of his name. Then I started thinking about “the thing behind the thing.” Where this guy came from. How at one point, he was a young man who had a need that wasn’t met. Someone he trusted, hurt him deeply. And to make sure he would never get hurt again, he created an ego full of bravado to keep people at a safe distance. Suddenly things clicked for me.
Once I realized his anger wasn’t really who he was, I began to have compassion for him. Behind his mask, were those two primal concerns.
1. He was hurt.
2. And he had a need.
Two things only the bravest people on the planet are willing to admit. So the next time you see someone get angry, or you find yourself angry, check the “thing behind the thing.” Anger is a secondary emotion. Find out what the hurt is, and what the need is. You will walk in such a deeper level of relational satisfaction when you don’t let anger highjack the situation.
Here’s to Loving the Process,