How to Pour a Helicopter Bucket of Water on Bursts of Fury
January 12, 2021 10:35 PM   Subscribe

When I am disrespected or alpha-male'd as an adult (US Midwest, 46, SWM), especially by a fellow man, I become absolutely furious very quickly. I suspect part of this is due to bad childhood physical peer abuse. What I am looking for is how to basically pour one of those helicopter-buckets of water upon the fire.

The beast in me activates and I want to rend, tear, etc. Now, as a functioning man in society, it is my job to act like a civilized person, so I shove that reaction far, far down and behave civilly. I also don't want to offload emotional labor as has been discussed in previous threads.

I would appreciate your suggestions. Physical solutions (exercise, walk, boxing, etc.) don't always work in the time/space at hand, especially with the job of quenching the immediate fire. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe a therapist trained in EMDR would help you. Feeling Good by David Burns has a good chapter on anger too and is much cheaper than therapy-- all you need is a notebook, a pen, and the book. You could also look up 478 breathing. I've also heard that you can fill a sink with cold water and soak your face for a few seconds to reset your emotions.
posted by bookworm4125 at 10:43 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]

That kinda depends on what can calm you down, doesn't it?

Though my first suggestion would be to stomp out, even if it makes you unsociable. The fact that you left angry would be signal enough that you need some alone time.

Parting line optional.

Once you're away from the cause, you can probably be a little calmer, and thus, have a chance to reflect on what's really important for you... not be put down by stupid games there and now (i.e. your ego), or whatever's REALLY important to you.
posted by kschang at 10:43 PM on January 12

If you have never tried practicing mindfulness, I can recommend it as a way to learn to "let it go". I use an app called Headspace and the trick is that you approach mindfulness like training for exercise. A little every day. Then suddenly one day you are faced with a fury situation and you miraculously discover that you can just pick up that thought and put it away without losing your temper.
posted by McNulty at 11:06 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]

I read somewhere that it can be helpful to remember that not letting something escalate helps you avoid potentially violent interactions that can have only three outcomes, all of which are not good...
- violence and you are injured - very bad outcome
- violence and you injure someone, possibly seriously which could include criminal prosecution that would affect your life forever - very bad outcome
- violience in which you injure someone, but face no legal ramifications - possibly the best of the three, but you'll still have to live with that.
Pat yourself on the back each tiime you don't let something escalate and consider that a strengh. Not everyone can do that.
posted by jazh at 11:13 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Suspecting that there is something underneath that reaction that is inside of you, and not coming to you from the other person is Amazing Work! Take some pride in that.

Your over reaction is probably not about the other person at all.

Even the idea of being disrespected is subjective.

In the short term, finding the difference between boundaries and the over reaction will be key.

"I can talk more about this later. I'm this moment, i need to step away and take care of something important." (Which is you. You're the something important)

And then trying some of the other suggestions here.

In the longer term...

My guess would be that when someone 'disrespects', what's actually happening is this....

Someone says something to you that pokes at a very old wound, possibly infected wound. When we overreact, it's because we are protecting something vulnerable.

But you are an adult now. And really, you don't need to shield what's vulnerable. Because you're already strong enough. You can take it.

And i want to suggest that you don't want to cover up what is happening or suppress it. Yeah, maybe in the moment you want to hold yourself back from hurting someone. But as you do The Work, the mission is not to hide things... It's to reveal them. Let's find out what's going on in there that has you feeling extra shitty when someone does something that's really only a little shitty.

NonViolent Communication is a surprisingly effective framework for exploring what's going on inside of you. The book is good, classes are better.

No More Mister Nice Guy might be an interesting read.

More than therapy, certain immersive situations like Gratitude Training or Ontological Coaching might serve you.
posted by jander03 at 2:53 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

It may not be relevant, but I've found it useful to pause whenever I feel the urge to engage in conflict to ask, "do I actually care what this person thinks?" Occasionally the answer is yes, but very rarely when it personally involves me.
posted by eotvos at 5:14 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

In terms of helicopter buckets to use in the moment (love that metaphor), you need a mantra. Or really any singular thought, phrase, idea, visual or whatever that you can use in those few seconds of incandescent rage to put the flames out.

What form this takes can be informed by the mindfulness or other exercises already recommended above, or it could be something as simple as just the visual of a bucket of water being poured on the forest fire. As long as you can summon it every time, remember what it means (calm down!) and use it to take the space you need to decide what to do next (leave, deescalate, etc).

There's a reason why "count to 10" is a tried and tested method of anger control. For me, I just say the words "take a breath" to myself (in my head or out loud) and that usually serves to remind me to step away from the urge to be a huge jerk and close the tab (or similar).
posted by fight or flight at 5:19 AM on January 13

> When I am disrespected or alpha-male'd
imho, the only way to win at that game is not to play it

did you know that the wolf researcher whose work put "alpha male" into common usage has long sinced disowned that book? after it caught the headlines, he found that the "alpha" dominance behaviour rarely, if ever, occurs in wild wolf populations - but can be better understood as a side-effect that can sometimes be seen in captive wolves, when a whole bunch of unrelated animals are kept together in the same enclosure - which leads to a kind of vying-for-position that's unlikely ever to occur naturally

i'm not going to say that they're fully committed to non-violence... but when left to themselves, it seems like wolves figure this stuff out without the kind of aggressive, chest-puffing display behaviours that you may find triggering - they just hang out together in their family groups

so: re-wild yourself - try to be more like the wolf in his natural environment, and hang out with like-minded friendly wolves with whom you feel a kinship - and less like the captive wolf who's baring his teeth out of fear & intimidation from strangers
posted by rd45 at 5:43 AM on January 13 [13 favorites]

It's great you've taken the step to identify the abuse roots of your anger. When a man is abused, many people don’t take it as seriously. The National Domestic Violence Hotline helps men 24 hours a day to access local, confidential and non-judgmental support to overcome the residual effects of post-traumatic stress. They can be reached at 1 800 799 7233.
posted by parmanparman at 5:48 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Would it help to think of it as “Wow, can’t believe this guy is peacocking his feathers. He must really see me as a threat or be insecure himself.”
posted by MadMadam at 6:10 AM on January 13

When finding yourself triggered, walk away, take several deep breaths, and count backwards slowly from x number while breathing. Don't try to rationalize or justify or push down your anger-- work towards accepting your emotions, any emotions. Rationalizing or telling yourself you're wrong or unreasonable for having such feelings only serves to gaslight yourself and paradoxically makes your feelings more intense. So you'll have to learn how to accept them, embrace them, and 'douse the fire' with loving compassion for your feelings, which aren't you, just helpers trying to get you to pay attention to something specific within you. Thank your helpers for trying to protect you, acknowledge that they are doing their best, accept them for wanting to protect you, and embrace them lovingly. It's funny how fear melts away when we love ourselves without limits.

And seeking paid help is good-- that's not offloading emotional labor unfairly, that's precisely the job of a therapist, counselor, etc.
posted by erattacorrige at 6:13 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Maybe find some activities where you obviously aren't the alpha male so that kind of acceptance can bleed over. By way of example I find that when I am cycling more often I'll drive my car slower on city streets because now the speed limit seems fast enough.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:22 AM on January 13

I have a casual friend who used to fly off the handle at all kinds of minor conflicts. He sought out a therapist to work on anger management issues a few years back, a fact I only learned after remarking on how different his outlook on life seemed to be. He's still the same dude, just much less volatile and with more perspective.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:42 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I've heard before that one of the reasons men tend to act like this, is because they've been taught there are only two acceptably masculine emotional states in life: anger and sexual arousal. So everything they are feeling gets dumped into one of those two buckets. Feel warm and fuzzy? I must want to fuck! Feel upset or uncomfortable? Gotta respond with rage!

Of course in reality, like all human beings, men have a full range of complex and multifaceted emotions. But if you've spent your whole life being told you don't, chances are you don't recognize what you are feeling as anything other than anger. I can only imagine that this is pretty frustrating and confusing way to live.

So perhaps as a daily exercise, you could start thinking about what other emotions you might be feeling in those moments you get angry, that are coming out only as rage.

What does embarrassment feel like for you? Or confusion? When someone sets you off, is it actually surprise, alarm, disgust, guilt...? Try thinking back on situations you have been in recently and naming more emotions. Or conversely, sit with a list of different emotions and try to remember times in your life you may have felt each of them. The point is to get better at recognizing your full range of emotions, and seeing that some of them are not actually anger, but something else: fear, guilt, hurt, etc. When you are able to recognize the other emotions, you can start to figure out for yourself: what do you think is an appropriate reaction to each of these? When you are alarmed as opposed to fearful, how ideally would you like to react?

Something called an 'emotion wheel' would be a useful tool in all this.

Best of luck to you. As someone said above, realizing you want to work on this is enormous.
posted by EllaEm at 7:39 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]

I had major anger problems as a kid (and they still pop up sometimes). The biggest revelation for me has been realizing that my anger is almost always a symptom of anxiety. I don’t feel in control, that lack of control makes me incredibly anxious, and I feel like the only way to regain any control is through anger. Getting angry doesn’t actually give you control, of course, but it sure feels better than crippling anxiety - but once I realized this, it became much easier to stop myself from hulking out.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:54 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]

My friend overcame this type of problem by going through a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) program, which included individual therapy and group therapy. You can learn DBT skills in other ways too, such as using a workbook or doing just individual therapy. They have skills to help with exactly what you are talking about, I'm thinking of the STOP skill in particular.
posted by catquas at 4:10 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Most of the time (now) when this happens to me, I am personally amused that this person who has no knowledge of my capabilities has deigned to disrespect me. Circumstances will dictate whether I show this amusement or not.
"Honestly, as an adult, why the fuck go round making enemies of people by disrespecting them?" is what I think.

A psychologist once told me to imagine the words of this sort of person hitting an invisible wall between us, and sliding down the wall to the floor to a murky puddle, allowing myself (emotional) distance from the other person's behaviour.
posted by b33j at 5:24 PM on January 13

I find it's often a waste of energy to try and force yourself to feel the exact opposite emotion to what you're feeling. For example, trying to pivot from RAGE to CALM. I think you need to find a third emotion to which you can re-direct. You could try and cultivate a sense of curiosity ("I wonder what has happened to this man to make him behave this way?") or even humour (insert your own dark joke here, I can't think of one; men's anger is disturbing to me).

Either way, finding an opportunity to carefully explore the childhood physical abuse that you were made to suffer is KEY. These awful experiences are still hurting you, decades later, and you owe it to yourself and to those upon whom you might unintentionally offload your emotional labour * to try and heal. A seething man, barely civil, and clearly furious, is still something that many people will find hard to bear. To the therapist's office!

* It's truly heartwarming that you are keeping this in mind!!!
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:39 PM on January 13

If you're genuinely getting disrespected and alpha-maled (and my wording isn't meant to suggest you're not), a number of things might help; to what's been listed above, I'd add meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy principles, the latter of which consist principally of asking yourself questions in the moment, answering them, and then asking follow-up questions. 'Wait; why am I *this* angry?' 'Because this jerk cut me in line!' 'And why get angry over that?' 'Because it suggests this guy thinks I don't matter.' 'But you know that you matter, right?' 'Uh, sure.' 'So maybe could this guy just be a jerk, and *nobody* else matters to him?' 'Well yeah, but--' 'And if you say something, what're some likely outcomes? Is him apologizing one of them?' Etc.

Clearly, I was not good at CBT, but that's clumsily the idea -- you're thinking about why you feel that way even as the question-asking makes it difficult to hold on to the anger. And meditation has the same goal: putting some space between these triggering events and your response. Instead of just reacting, without much thought, you're distracting or just regaining control over yourself so that you're choosing to respond the way you do. You can still punch the guy! Though you probably shouldn't. But it'll be a better decision. You might be thinking you'll look like a dummy, having an inner conversation in front of the guy while he stares at you, but with practice, the whole thing happens pretty fast. Same with meditation; you get faster and faster at regaining control.

If it's less that you're getting disrespected, and more that you're *feeling* disrespected through interactions which, maybe later, you realize were not as aggressively transgressive as they seemed at the time, you might still benefit from one or both of those practices, but I'd also recommend therapy. In my case, fully understanding the puzzle of what experiences led me to feel like this, and how the pieces fit together, went a long way toward fixing the problem.
posted by troywestfield at 12:50 PM on January 14

It's really, really good and brave of you to ask this question and to work on this problem.

I had a serious struggle with volcanic anger during the worst part of the end of my marriage. What helped me defuse it and cope it was a technique in Steven Stosny's book Love Without Hurt, called HEALS. I googled a bit and can't find a very in depth description of it online, probably because the context about compassion, core hurts, and core values is critical to understanding what's going on and setting yourself up for success with the technique. Googling for the author and the technique can give you some more of that context. This blog post gives a condensed overview of the HEALS technique itself. Strong recommend that you investigate further.

I worked a lot on my anger, a *lot*, and came to respect it as a valuable signal, even as I know that expressing it energetically is counterproductive and hurtful, so I no longer do that. Anger is a spiky, energetic shield that protects a person's vulnerabilities. Nowadays, when I feel angry or hurt about something--rather than sad or disappointed--I take it as a sign that there's something going on where I need to put some focus and do some healing. Suffice to say this has changed my life completely. The book I referenced above taught me how, so I recommend it a lot to people with a similar struggle.
posted by Sublimity at 3:31 PM on January 15

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