Doing foolish things just to see what changes they'll bring...
May 5, 2006 8:44 AM   Subscribe

What is the emotion that drives lashing out behavior which leads to guilt & regret? Anecdotes & personal insights our encouraged.

When I was a child I had a habit of doing things like this. My mother wanted me to go to church, being a good little athiest I didn't want to, I would run and hide while I made them progressively later and later. I would feel bad about making them late but yet...the idea of coming out and going wouldn't make me feel better. This one time I ripped up a whole bunch of pachysandra that my mother had just planted to show her how badly I didn't want to go. She got tears in her eyes and left. I felt like a turd. Rightfully.

Flash forward to today. The behavior never really went away, but only pops up under certain circumstances. Of course, even one of these circumstances is enough to end a relationship (or two, or seven...) and I still can't be sure of what my motivation is.

I'm working with a professional on this, but I feel I might be too close to it and don't have the right word for this feeling. When I ask myself "why?" I get the buzzing that tends to mean I know the answer...I just can't see it. That might come in time, but you guys tend to have some real good insights. And funny/heartwarming/tragic/touching stories.

Now OBVIOUSLY, there are specific issues with me, but everyone has seen or known the kid who knows he's doing something wrong but can't seem to stop himself...nay, that just makes his cause all the more urgent.

What are your insights into that kid? What end is he running towards? What purpose does all this serve? Ultimate goals are a factor, certainly...but what is that feeling when the kid has a rock perched above his sister's favorite toy and she's crying and he's almost gleeful that he's going to destroy it? And why does that feeling go away when he sees how much harder she can cry?
posted by Brainy to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Impulsivity?
posted by unknowncommand at 8:55 AM on May 5, 2006


greed, selfishness, the inability to recognize the emotions / values of others; probably a form of sociopathy.
posted by luriete at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2006


I think they call it Oppositional Defiant Disorder now. Popular diagnosis for kids with attitude problems.
posted by Marnie at 9:19 AM on May 5, 2006


I was recently chatting with my therapist mother about a book she was reading called Neural Path Therapy. I haven't read it, and it looks a little gimmicky, but the essential theory is that extreme emotions (anger, fear, etc.), after reaching a certain severity, will actually cause a sort of mental "short circuit", where you act with no conscious thought - indeed, without the opportunity for conscious thought. The impression she had was that it had been confirmed by brain imaging - part of the brain gets "disconnected" when this happens.

When I read that over, it sounds like New Agey crap, and some itinerant neurologist or another will probably come and debunk it, but I find it a pretty satisfying explanation. I've had these impulses too, just as you describe, and I wouldn't be so harsh as luriete - it's not a matter of not recognizing others' emotions, it's just a brief moment of not caring about them, followed immediately by remorse.
posted by pocams at 9:20 AM on May 5, 2006


I don't think it would be sociopathy if the person feels guilt or regret while engaged in the activity.

You say you're working with a professional. What does that person say about it? If it was a child, I would say that they were asserting their individuality and testing the limits of their control and autonomy visa vie an authority figure.

If you're doing it as an adult, I don't know. Poor impulse control certainly, but maybe some kind of unresolved control issues or lingering resentment for authority.
posted by willnot at 9:23 AM on May 5, 2006


Best answer: Off the top of my head, I'd say there are at least two possible explanations. One that focuses on process and one on outcome.

A lot of this kind of behavior stems, in my view, from the wish we all have to be in control. When we're feeling like someone else makes decisions for us, or controls us in some way, we will retreat or attack or something to end up in a place where we feel like we have control. So, in this version, when you go off an hide or destroy something, you are exerting control in the only way that seems open to you. The outcome (guilt, anger, whatever) may make you feel like crap, but that's not the important part - the important part is that we were able to exert control of our lives, if only for a moment. A lot of what is called passive aggressive behavior stems from this kind of motivation.

Another explanation of this kind of thing emphasizes the pay off. Like, in that I want to provoke a particular outcome - such as I want to make the other person hurt the way they hurt me, or I want to feel guilt because I believe I deserve punishment for some real or imagined act.

These are really different experiences for identical sequences of behavior.

Good for you for working with a professional on this. Just one thought - you may not need to know why you do it in order to stop. Indeed, you may only find out why *after* you stop. So, don't get hung up on the "why."
posted by jasper411 at 9:34 AM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: jasper. thanks for the encouragement & very good observations (im trying to absorb and not get too hung up on any one thought yet)...but while I might not need to know why i do it, it's the only thing i can think of that could defuse it when it's starting....ie. the short circut that Pocams mentioned.
posted by Brainy at 9:40 AM on May 5, 2006


maybe some kind of unresolved control issues or lingering resentment for authority.

That seems possible to me.

<psychoanalyst> You began your first paragraph by talking about your mother. What's your relationship like with her? </psychoanalyst>
posted by ludwig_van at 9:40 AM on May 5, 2006


Response by poster: ludwig. clearly there are some issues there and I don't doubt there's a very, very strong connection with others not even mentioned. Not trying to avoid the question, but trying to make this more expansive.

I have a well-thought up mental model of my head that seems to stand up to observation and experimentation...there are lots of pieces, if not all. But this one drive seems to be the wild card...and when it happens it's very tiny and can easily slip through the cracks (i.e. a good reason to be angry so more attention gets put on the catalyst and not the reaction) I'd prefer a more general outlook so the next time it happens I can see what other people's hypothesies are and see which one matches my observations the closest.

oooh, good idea for a question next week: explain some of your mental models.
posted by Brainy at 9:49 AM on May 5, 2006


Best answer: Fear usually lies behind anger, so look for fear whenever you feel anger. Regarding your sister, I suspect having control in that moment felt validating. It fits with what you say about your parents. The reaction your mother had to your destruction of her flowers is common, but unfortunately incorrect. When parents cry at their toddlers' acting-out, it powerfully shows toddlers that they are in control of their parents' well-being. But consider- toddlers know nothing of social mores. They have little knowledge, poor self-control, poor attention spans, and poor cognitive skills. Because they're children! Yet in exchanges such as those, children are shown that their own inability to deal with the world, of which they are quite aware, has the power to harm the adults that are the source of their food, shelter, and comfort. That is powerfully disturbing to a child.

May I suggest these links:
On boundaries: 1, 2
On setting limits: 1
posted by halonine at 9:51 AM on May 5, 2006


Best answer: First, its great that you see the problem and are trying to fix it. Sociopaths don't do that.

When I was a kid I would hit out at objects, smash them and so on. What caused it? Being helpless in the face of tremendous callousness and cruelty. The primary issue from my part was rage, which then searched for an outlet and found both self destructive and just plain destructive outlets.

And you say it yourself: you describe yourself as a kid. Part of being kid is acting against a situation rather than take responsibility for it. As a child you are held hostage to the situation, dependent on others, and helpless. As an adult you are not just helpless - you can leave it. But even more than that, you can take reponsibility for the situation, own it and change it.

How do I think about this and actualize it today? As a chlld you are a dependent. As a young adult you are focused on establishing independence. As an adult (and a parent) you are responsible.

Although I don't have children, I approach the world (as much as I can) in a parental fashion, which is to say I work on owning and changing situations. If they are uncomfortable I try to make them comfortable. If confrontation is needed, I will confront. As much as possible I try to feel myself responsible for how things go. That fundamentally changes my behavior. Do I still do things in relationship that are self destructive? Yes. Does changing my relationship to the situation help tremendously? Yes. Are there tools and techniques that can help you do this more effectively? Absolutely.

One thing you may want to look at is Thich Nhat Hahn's writings on mindful behavior, mindful thought , and mindful speech. That has been hugely helpful for me (more helpful than any therapist ever has been).
posted by zia at 10:18 AM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Although I don't have children, I approach the world (as much as I can) in a parental fashion, which is to say I work on owning and changing situations. If they are uncomfortable I try to make them comfortable. If confrontation is needed, I will confront. As much as possible I try to feel myself responsible for how things go. That fundamentally changes my behavior. Do I still do things in relationship that are self destructive? Yes. Does changing my relationship to the situation help tremendously? Yes. Are there tools and techniques that can help you do this more effectively? Absolutely.

I think that's beautiful, zig- flagged as Fantastic.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:19 AM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Also Brainy for more on tools and techniques, please feel free to email me from the email in my profile.
posted by zia at 10:31 AM on May 5, 2006


I 'm the type to blow, too. I get angry at "unfairness" and frustrated by the ability not to be able to communicate in certain situations. I don't think it is really guilt you feel afterwards but more then feeling that your loss of control is really hurting you more than others. Believe me, in the long run, it is.

We all like to blame our problems on others and it took me sixty years to figure out that it was my own lack of ability to manage my own behavior that has been unbelievable detrimental to my own life. Don't stop digging for answers, for the best ones are those you come to yourself. Two things, might help, though:

1)Get some assertiveness training. A lot of the time the anger comes because you don't have the techniques for quietly asking for, or even demanding the things you really need. I am afraid it is a little late for me to learn, but I wish I had as a young man. I always thought assertiveness training was just a way to learn to be pushy, but people who are able to be quietly assertive live far calmer lives than you or I.

2) Figure out ways to avoid the big stressors when you are prone to blow. I am the nicest driver or the biggest jerk you ever met on the highway. I've found if I stay in the far right lane, I remain pleasant, but the minute I get in that left lane I turn into a complete *&#$@. You have your own list of things that regularly tick you off. Sometimes, the best answer is find behavior that helps you avoid the problem rather than understanding why it happens.

3)If you are young or even middle aged, those angry outbursts can do some real damage to you and they are cumulative. It would be well worth you time to find training that helps you lessen the anger or avoid the outbursts. Understanding why you blow can be helpful, but what you really need is to find ways of avoiding the behavior as much as possible.
posted by phewbertie at 2:43 AM on May 6, 2006


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