Category Archives: rage

Inside a Killer’s Mind

  A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous,
but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man. It is only if the murderer
is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.

~Graham Greene~

We have had more than our share of unexplained shootings lately as well as a growing number of vehicle killings. I do not refer here to gang shootings, organized crime or war killings across the world. I mean what we call mass murders and random shootings now appearing around the world with troubling frequency.

Most of the time we don’t know what provoked the killer to take another’s life or many lives. We blame guns, mental illness, or political beliefs. Several years ago in the midst of the uproar about clergy sexually abusing children, no one seemed to care why they did it. Everyone looked for how to prevent it or punish it. We looked everywhere except inside the mind of the abuser. The same is now true of considering the killers among us.

We are too busy hating the killer to take time to understand him and it is usually him rather than her. Our anger rises to the surface. Our first thoughts are of vengeance and we are relieved if the murderer dies in the process or aftermath of the killing. But what about the murderer’s mind?

Can you imagine killing someone? I don’t think most of us reach this level of hatred without considerable provocation. Yet I do think that anger and hatred very often lie in the background. I don’t mean just a single incident resulting in anger. I dare say that people driven to murder usually experience a long history of very troublesome emotions.

A childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and even hatred shape and direct young or growing minds toward at least the possibility of violence. Being treated as if their lives have no value can leave some resentful toward society where they seem to find no acceptance. Being trained as a war machine can leave veterans estranged from traditional human values. Feeling left out of the privileges others seem to enjoy can build up resentment for society as a whole. Racial prejudice can leave people hating their oppressors. Even white men can feel left out of the benefits they see offered to those of other races.

Fortunately not all of these people end up as murderers. Yet many of them end up living angry lives and sometimes feel pushed to the extreme of violence and even murder. They are often drawn to anger-­driven groups and movements. To my mind, those who reach this extreme state feel isolated, unvalued, persecuted, treated unfairly, and generally left out of society which they come to see as their enemy. Maybe what they want is to be taken seriously or to be recognized as being of some significance.

What can we do about it as a society? That’s another topic which I will leave for the next post.

Action Steps

  • Think of the time in your life when you were your angriest.
  • What got you to that point?
  • How did you want to react?
  • How did you actually handle it?
  • What would have helped you handle it better?
  • How well do you handle your anger now?

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Rage and its alternatives

Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers,
for each rage leaves him less than he had been before –
 it takes something from him.
~Louis L’Amour~

Have you tried passing a car on an expressway only to find another car five feet from your back bumper? Have you tried to do something for a friend only to hear you are stupid for not doing it his way? For some people, annoyance can quickly escalate into rage.

Babies cry when they are uncomfortable but they are not in a rage. It seems clear that expressing rage is something that must be learned. Sometimes family patterns date back several generations. While there may be a few people affected in each generation, fortunately not all family members are tainted by a tendency to rage.

What is rage? The dictionary defines it as uncontrollable anger. Sometimes anger is justified. Being angry is appropriate when someone deliberately wrongs you. Other ways to handle anger besides rage exist. You can express your anger directly to the one who had wronged you. You can explain how you feel in case the other person was unaware of how their behavior affected you. You can stop to consider your reaction to see if your anger is justified.

Rage means allowing your anger to consume you to the extent that you lose control. You might talk louder, carry on incoherently, dump venom on your aggressor, or perhaps lash out in a physical fury. Rage is generally an overreaction to a situation, out of proportion to the circumstances.

How does rage develop? On the surface, it seems that someone does something you don’t like and you react with rage. There is another step, an inner one. You tell yourself that the other person had no right to do what he did. He is only doing it to upset you. If he had any sense, he would not do such a thing. You don’t deserve what he did. You should not have to put up with him acting in such a stupid way. He is so dense the only thing he could possibly understand is your blasting him. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?

You can work yourself into a rage quickly. If you frequently entertain thoughts such as the above, it does not take long to end up in a rage. Once you are in a rage, you have little control of your emotions. Rage is, by definition, uncontrollable anger. It is easier to interrupt the process of becoming angry than it is to stop it once it explodes.

You have two other choices. One is to avoid situations where you know you are likely to go off the deep end. Unfortunately, you can’t always predict when this will happen.You can also think about what you tell yourself when something upsetting happens. Is this person deliberately trying to upset you? Does she know you are likely to be upset? Could you explain how you feel in a milder way than rage? You can also think about your ability to share other emotions besides rage. If you don’t know how to show embarrassment, fear, sorrow or loneliness, you may end up expressing all your negative emotions as rage. You can learn to change this pattern by talking with a friend, working with a counselor or taking an anger management course.

Action steps:

  1. How do you deal with angry feelings?
  2. Stop to think about why you are angry?
  3. Think of how you upset yourself.
  4. How do you progress from anger to rage?
  5. How can you express your anger so it will be better understood?

(Excerpt from Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life, 2nd edition, forthcoming).