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We are all too familiar with headline stories about people who are pushed to their limits and snap. Whether on the job, within their own families, or even children in school - everyone has their breaking point. In 2010, Omar Thorton, a 34-year old employee at the Hartford Beer Distributors in Manchester, CT, reportedly stole a truck. He was given the option of either being fired or resigning. He chose the latter. However, before being escorted out of the building, he pulled out a handgun and began firing. Two people were wounded, eight were dead including himself. Later on, his girlfriend revealed that he felt he had been a victim of racial harassment.
And none of us will ever forget the massacre at Columbine H.S. on April 20, 1999 executed by two students, Dylan Kliebold and Eric Harris. Well thought out, these boys claimed to have been victims of prolonged bullying. Their anger and rage manifest in a violent rampage that claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 more.
Who’s to blame?
In each of these cases, the individuals blamed others for how they felt and subsequently their course of action. None took responsibility for their own feelings and behaviors. Blame renders one powerless and gives others the ability to control us. Feeling powerless in a situation we’re uncomfortable or unhappy with is the very definition of anger. We seek to regain control and an angry outburst will surely get the ball rolling. People pay attention. They will often concede in an effort to to calm us down, making us feel powerful in the moment. However, the consequences of our actions can prove devastating in the long run. Individuals fail to seek more appropriate means of correcting an unsatisfactory situation.
Why do people snap?
Everyone gets angry but not everyone allows their anger to turn into rage or go on a rampage. Most people can, in time, let go of what's bothering them. Even for those who don't, there is an unspoken rule that raging on others is simply not permissible either from a religious or cultural perspective. They may keep their anger bottled up inside them causing a host of other problems.
Anger is often the result of a person's perception of an event regardless of the actual truth. If one believes they are the target of discrimination, they will subconsciously seek every incident which can be interpreted as such. Couple that with their inability or unwillingness to process their hurt or anger in a healthy way and the feelings are sure to escalate. Obsessing over the incident, holding on to negative feelings, and replaying it over and over again in one's mind causes it to grow in intensity. Feelings of victimization, i.e. helplessness, powerlessness, and hopelessness that circumstances are never going to improve, feed the need for revenge in order to establish equity between the parties and to stop others from causing you pain. The image of victory over one's circumstances becomes the driving force behind the violence.
For those who seek to better understand the purpose of the experience, rather than label themselves victims of injustice, they choose to view themselves as students of the experience, here to learn one of life’s valuable lessons. Every situation has the potential to teach an important lesson that will enrich one's life. They are then able to replace anger with understanding and acceptance. (Let me state here that this in no way implies that one must allow others to continue to mistreat them. Setting and enforcing fair and reasonable boundaries in relationships are crucial to establishing healthy interactions and are most effective if established from the get go.)
In my book, The Secret Side of Anger, I clearly illustrate how anger is the direct result of unmet needs and expectations. We all have specific needs and expect things to be a certain way: to be heard, understood or treated fairly. We all need sleep, food, opportunity, companionship, love. We expect to be treated with respect, to be appreciated for our efforts, and rewarded for our accomplishments. When we believe, whether factual or imagined, that our expectations are not being met, we become agitated, irate, hurt, frustrated, or angry. Each of these, if left unaddressed, can escalate and eventually manifest in the form of destructive behaviors.
Thorton reportedly told his supervisors about the harassment and claimed nothing was done to stop it. Was he, in fact, harassed? Did the authorities legitimately fail to protect him, or was it a matter of his own perception rather than fact? Others reported that he had been accused of stealing items off of the trucks along with other performance issues. Thorton's uncle reported to CNN that he had been pushed to the limit stating that he killed "the five racists that were bothering me". Fact or perception? Either way, he reached his breaking point.
If you're being pushed:
It's imperative that you don't take personal offense to what others are doing/saying. Their behavior reflects who they are; it is never about you.
Work on building your self esteem. Those who truly admire themselves are less impacted by what others think of them.
Build your self-confidence as well. Know that you are capable of handling and surviving every experience that enters your life.
Learn to identify hurtful or disrespectful behaviors in others, stand up and speak up for yourself. Set strong and reasonable boundaries if necessary.
Remove yourself from those who are causing you harm, emotionally or otherwise. Reach out to others for their support and help if necessary.
Develop positive people skills: learn to interact with others, to be sociable, and develop a strong network of friends and/or a support system.
When anger arises, don't become stuck on what's bothering you. Identify the issue then seek all possible solutions to your situation.
Be proactive. Understanding that unfairness, such as prejudice, exists allows one to decide how they will handle themselves when confronted with it. (Similar to inclement weather, the better prepared one is the less likely they will be adversely effected when the situation presents itself.) Either take action to correct it, allow it to roll of your back when it does occur, or remove yourself from it. Each option allows you to make the decision that is in your best interest. It restores your personal power and alleviates feelings of victimization.
If you're the pusher:
Be more compassionate; treat others with kindness, dignity and respect, even those you don't care for.
Be inclusive - invite others to be a part of your life on some level; show concern for who they are, what matters to them, how they feel.
Always find something positive to say to the other party - be complimentary and appreciative of who they are.
If you're the observer:
Reach out to offer assistance and/or resources to those you are concerned about. Intervene as long as there is no risk to you and you are qualified to do so. Ask questions to determine if there is a potential risk. Inquire if you can be of any assistance. Seek professional help if warranted. Alert the family, close friends, coworkers, supervisors if appropriate. This is not about becoming hysterical or spreading damaging rumors or for the purpose of getting someone in trouble. It is solely for the purpose of preventing a possible tragedy from occurring and getting necessary help for one in need. This must be carried out in a respectful manner as an act of concern for the well-being and safety of all parties.
The way we treat one another in today's world can be described as nothing short of inhumane. Remember that we are all struggling with personal issues and behavior is a reflection of what those issues are. Never define a person by how they act. Intrinsically we are all perfect creations of God; our very nature is love but the hurt, loneliness, frustration, etc that we wrestle with masks our authentic nature. Be aware; be helpful; be kind - always. That's how we prevent unnecessary tragedies from occurring and how we begin to heal our world.
Q: "Every action is either an expression of love or a cry for love. Recognize the cries of others and offer them the cure."
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