I think one of the scariest moments for any of us is when we encounter rage. When dangerous moments occur on the highways we may say someone has “road rage.” However, I also think of scary instances in families when a parent, child, caregiver or outsider just “loses it!” Consequently, we witness a highly threatening individual out-of-control with rage. When such rage translates to a criminal act, we call it a “crime of passion.” Since we are discussing violence as it relates to anger, I thought it might be helpful to look at some research on rage.
Understanding the 3 stages of rage
Howard, Kassinove, Ph.D has done some valuable work in the area of rage. He has written several books, one a classic on anger management. Part of a definition of a crime of passion according to Dr. Kassinove is “…an impetuous and stormy process, displayed in an extremely intense explosion of anger that might be followed by an outburst of uncontrollable actions” (page 103).
Kassinove describes this explosive reaction in three predictable stages:
In the first stage, there is an occurrence and/or accumulation of emotional excitement and tension. He states, “…in response to an external stimulation perceived as an awful, horrible catastrophe (e.g. a threat to life, humiliation or insult, or other factors significantly decreasing self-esteem and providing a feeling of helplessness) …the response can occur as a function of prolonged conflict between the perpetrator and his potential victim, such as occurs when someone is exposed to excessive humiliation, is constantly insulted which leads to an accumulation of emotional tension” (page 103).
This is an immediate response to the anger provoking stimuli.
In the second stage, he notes a massive cognitive distortion occurs in which the perpetrator can only see and hear what is related to his or her anger, and he characterizes that as “…an extremely powerful emotional outburst that occurs unexpectedly for the perpetrator. The accumulated affect of tension turns into an explosion of anger and rage, and is usually accompanied, or preceded by, intense feelings of humiliation and despair” (page 103).
This stage is like a powerful automatic response in which the perpetrator consciously loses the ability to self-control, so that predicting consequences to his or her behavior is no longer possible. We sometimes see this when extreme crimes are committed excessively, for no reason that makes any sense.
A third stage is when the perpetrator is exhausted, overwhelmed by fatigue, apathetic or depressed. As the perpetrator becomes aware of what has happened, regaining conscious behavioral control, he or she may experience intense feelings of repentance, try to help the victim, call the police, or cry and exhibit guilt.
In fact, in this stage, the individual may experience post-incident relief since the tension inside has been reduced.
Exploding in the moment: does it feel like a dream?
As we know, when these types of incidences become public, there are usually people up in arms, wanting the perpetrator to be punished, particularly when the victim is someone who is helpless, like a child. However, I have spoken with individuals who have been perpetrators, and in their calm moments, they are normal, cogent, clear and sometimes appropriate and enjoyable to talk to.
In those moments, I can’t imagine these people experiencing the level of rage that they have confessed. Though they often seem conscious of the incident, it appears that they are unclear about all that happened, just as if they had awakened from a dream.
What I think is most helpful is for us to recognize that it is important to understand the stages of this type of anger. What we want to do for parents or anyone who may have rage tendencies is to help them find ways to avoid passing into the second stage because they have learned better ways to respond to the signals and triggers they encounter in the first stage.
Is rage uncommon?
I recognize that rage is not the most common expression of anger, but I also recognize that many of us are capable of rage, particularly when we feel threatened. My hope is that if we are more aware and proactively prepared to manage our anger effectively there will be less violence, aggression and crime–less horrible human emotional or physical harm.
For anyone who has experienced this type of process (stages) of rage, I highly recommend that you see a capable professional who can help you navigate your anger and work with you until you are capable to evaluate your triggers and create effective new responses. It will be a great step in how you will impact your family, friends and community.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.