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Raging, Violence and Impulsive Aggression


Raging, Violence and Impulsive Aggression - Explosive verbal, physical or emotional elevations of a dispute that are disproportionate to the situation at hand.


Rages threaten the security or safety of another individual and violate their personal boundaries. Sudden, explosive or overwhelming anger can blind a person to his or her own behaviors and may result in violent acting out, whether directed outwardly towards inanimate objects, animals or people, or inwardly, towards the self.

While aggression may look and feel like anger, it is a very often a complex manifestation of fear and the primal “Fight or Flight” response.  Individuals who are prone to exhibiting aggressive behaviors (yelling, screaming, hitting, throwing or destroying things) appear to the outside world like they’re ready for a fight.  More commonly, they are having a powerful, adverse physical reaction to deeply internalized fears of ridicule and/or abandonment.

  • Rage and Impulsive Aggression are different from anger. Anger is a feeling. Rage and impulsive aggression are actions or behaviors.
  • Rages are unprovoked but in most cases the person who commits an act of rage will find an excuse which puts the blame for their behavior on others - usually the victim.
  • Rages are usually brief, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes but the effects on their victims and on the relationship are long-term.
  • Fits of Rage are sometimes bridged together by longer, passive-aggressive spells of contempt or silent treatment.
  • Rages most often occur in private settings such as the home where there are no witnesses other than the victim. Rages occur more often after dark.
  • Rages and impulsive aggression occur across the entire spectrum of personality disorders. However, impulsive aggression is most commonly associated with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD).

Examples of Rage & Impulsive Aggression:

  • Two people are involved in a heated discussion when one of them suddenly takes a solid object and throws it at the other person’s head, or smashes it on the floor.
  • A father tells his four year old son to pick up his toys.  The child resists and the father responds by putting his fist through the wall. 
  • A manager asks her subordinate to begin work on a new project.   When the subordinate asks for clarification on the assignment, the manager flies into a rage and threatens to fire him.
  •  A teenager is sound asleep when her mother storms in, drags her out of bed by her heels and begins screaming at her for not hanging up her clothes.
  • A person deliberately destroys an item belonging to another while he or she is not around.
  • One person unexpectedly begins to berate the character of another who is silent.

What it feels like:

When someone you have known for a long time who suffers from a personality disorder suddenly flies into an aggressive rage you may feel that sickening "Here we go again" feeling. You may find yourself quickly scanning your recollections of what happened the last time you went through this. Chances are you will know that these rages are temporary things and often blow over after a few hours or a few days, but you may still be feeling an intense sense of annoyance that the productive day at work, recreational activity or pleasant evening you had planned will now be interrupted, disrupted and invaded by someone else's emotional meltdown.

This may make you feel sad, frustrated or even scared. All of it will make you feel trapped and powerless, as you face the "damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario and you realize you have to choose the lesser of two evils - stay and fight or leave and fight.

If you stay - you know you are in for a rough ride. It may take hours. You may not get to sleep. As you witness the most outrageous affronts on your dignity, you will have to listen to the same well-worn record of reasons why this person's behaviors are justified, what's wrong with you, why if you just were more of this and less of that this person would be able to stop abusing you. Staying during a rage is pure hell.

If you leave - you will keep more of you dignity but you will have to have a real nerve as you walk out the door. You know you're going to hear something awful on the way out - maybe you will be called the most horrible names, maybe you will hear the smash of glass or the sound of a slanderous 911 call being placed. And once you're out - where will you go? You may be all alone with nowhere to go and nothing to do but sit and fret about what will happen when you return. Leaving during a rage is pure hell.

Coping with Violence, Raging & Impulsive Aggression:

So you get to choose Hell 1 or Hell 2 - which one is the lesser evil?

Having spent a lot of time in both places, we believe Hell 2 - leaving during a rage - is better than Hell 1 - staying during a rage, in the long run. In the short run they are about equal in pain but in the long run, leaving during a rage is better for the following reasons:

  1. Leaving during a rage makes it impossible for you to do something stupid yourself (such as retaliate)
  2. Leaving during a rage makes it impossible for anything worse to happen directly to you after you leave (although the PD person my still try to hurt you by making slanderous phone calls, destroying a favorite possession, emptying your bank account, etc.)
  3. Leaving during a rage sends a clear "This is not OK" message. It won't be appreciated at the time but it will not be forgotten quickly either.
  4. Leaving during a rage helps to remind you that YOU are in control - not the person with the Personality Disorder.
  5. Leaving during a rage gives you an opportunity to talk to a supportive friend to help you calm down.

We strongly urge you to have a plan of what you will do and where you will go the next time a rage hits. This will make it emotionally easier to make a gracious exit the next time you are confronted with a rage or impulsive aggression. If you have a friend or family member you can pre-arrange with that it's OK to show up at a moment's notice and spend the night that is ideal.

If not, maybe you can find a local low-cost hotel where you can show up at a moment's notice and get a safe room for the night.

Perhaps you want to have a ready-kit which has your credit cards, essential medications, important documents already packed so you don't need to linger when you need to get out in a hurry.

If at all possible, pre-arrange with a friend whom you can call (even during the night) just to talk to if you find yourself in a situation like this. Just having someone on the end of the line who doesn't hate your guts or judge you harshly for the way you feel is an enormous relief. If you have pre-arranged earlier you won't feel so stupid calling them or showing up at the door at 2 in the morning - so talk to them now.

What NOT to Do:

  • Don't remain in the same room with a person who is raging. Remove yourself from the situation as quickly as you safely can.
  • Don't try to handle it on your own. Call the police or get a third party involved.
  • Don't try to reason with someone who is raging. When you are confronted with aggressive behavior there can be a temptation to stand your ground, explain your position and argue for what you feel is right. A person who is raging is not thinking rationally and is unlikely to see reason.
  • Don't fight fire with fire and reciprocate the aggressive behavior. You will regret it and still be apologizing for it years later if you do.
  • Don't ignore it, steel yourself and tell yourself that you can handle it and that it does not affect you. Unless you are a robot your feelings are going to be hurt and your behavior is going to change far beyond the moment of rage, whether you admit it or not. The reality is that when your boundaries are being crossed you are being hurt. Ignoring it greatly increases the likelihood that the situation will repeat itself.
  • Don't hide it from others. Most long-term cases of abuse stay that way because the victim stays silent.

What TO Do:

  • Refer to our Emergency Page for more info.
  • Get yourself and any children out of the room and out of the house as quickly as you can safely do it.
  • If violence or threats of violence have occurred, call the police immediately.
  • Stay away from the situation until you have assurances that the bad behavior.
  • If any of your personal property is threatened with harm, come back later and remove it to a safe place.
  • Call at least one trusted confidant and tell them what has happened.

For More Information & Support...

If you suspect you may have a family member or loved-one who suffers from a personality disorder, we encourage you to learn all you can and surround yourself with support as you learn how to cope.

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