Shame and Rage

I once met a young man who seemed meek and calm; he came into my office to talk about problems with his wife. I sensed a lot of unrest in him, but he was extremely warm and polite. He then began to speak to me about physically abusing his wife, exposing the intense levels of rage within him. He also spoke about frequent road rage.

Rage: a fit of violent anger

What provokes someone to rage?

I often wonder what provokes someone to reach a threshold of anger where most emotional control and care about consequences and impact to friends, spouses, children or even someone unknown is lost.

In an earlier post, I have referred to the work of John Bradshaw. In Healing the Shame That  Binds You, he cites some important research in the area of shame. Bradshaw believes that there is a significant relationship between shame and rage. He notes that some children may express rage when they are shamed, while other children may suppress rage then turn it against themselves. He states that rage protects by either keeping shame away or transferring it to others.

Adults who hold in rage can become chronically bitter and sarcastic. One of the concerns about chronic bitterness and sarcasm is that it can intensify and eventually become hatred. Then, if the person who internalizes rage acquires power, the resulting behavior can be violent, vengeful, vindictive or criminal.

Angry man raging
Rage can feel powerful, become addicting.

A person who is raging can feel quite powerful.

If you are a person who chronically feels inadequate, shamed, or defective, power during rage can feel like you are more whole and strong than you really are. If you practice being powerful with rage as a way of processing or covering your shame or inadequacies, it can lead to living out more rage to avoid the sense of personal inadequacy. In fact, there is the possibility that you can become a “rage addict.”

As we know, people who have been extensively shamed and abused tend to find passive or aggressive ways to reenact that shame or abuse. This has become something that we have taken note of  (see Acts of Aggression) when we encounter inmates who have committed violence.

Lakeside’s Education for Transition Program (LET) experience, working within a prison system, can confirm this with a powerful incident. An inmate was exposed to a scene where a father was abusing a mother. Immediately, he grew highly anxious. He related to us that when he was a child, he saw his mother being abused by his father, who had been drinking to excess. As a boy, what he saw frightened him, then he, too, became a victim of such abuse.

This man felt shame associated with that abuse for himself and for the fact that he was unable to help or protect his mother. As a result, he began to live in rage, eventually committing a violent act against another person which landed him in court then prison on an assault conviction.

Unrelenting shame, rage, abuse can lead to violence.

It is tragic for the victim that he assaulted, but it is equally tragic that this young child grew up in an environment where shame and violence existed. It obviously left an impression on him that he is still dealing with. At least for him, it led to a destructive lifestyle and huge consequences.

Once again, the power of shame can lead some of our children to tragic places. We do need to be parents, caregivers and leaders who are aware of the power of shame and be careful that we do not create toxic environments in which shame can dictate legacies of rage and potential violence. If we can raise that awareness, maybe we change society, protect our children and establish a life for them that is free from the impact of shame.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals.

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