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Recurrent Behavioral Outbursts

Anger is a uniquely complicated emotion; it is an emotion; we commonly experience due to frustration with something or someone at one point or another. Sometimes, this emotion is like molten magma below the earth's crust; when it boils to the surface, it scorches everything in its path. There are psychological disorders in which anger is a principal criterion for diagnosis. One such disorder is Intermittent Explosive Disorder.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is an impulse control disorder involving "recurrent behavioral outbursts presenting a failure to control aggressive impulses." Explosive outbursts are verbal or physical aggression directed toward a person, property, or animal.

Anger is not by happenstance. Instead, there is an underlying feeling associated with anger. These underlying feelings can be triggered by an argument, feelings of powerlessness, or feeling slighted by someone. For example, Dr. Tim Murphy and Loriann Hoff Oberlin succinctly capture the impact of other emotions on anger when they write, "anger, always triggered by some other powerful emotion, resides in us. You have the choice to work through it, control it, and move past it."

Suppose you were the target of someone's anger. In this case, you won't need much convincing of the person's intent or how these fits of angry behaviors affect interpersonal relationships, especially when the anger is hidden and unexpected.

Hidden anger can manifest as jealous and spiteful behaviors. For example, you are often unaware of the person's hidden anger towards you, so the person can easily explain it as innocent. If the person harboring the hidden anger is persuasive, you can be convinced of the innocence. In moments when hidden outrage is directed at you, you may find it difficult to determine the person's motive, so you likely dismiss the action toward you as not being purposeful.

On the contrary, the recurrent explosive behaviors associated with IED are not intended. The outbursts do not meet a specific objective; the recurrent aggressive behaviors are rooted in poor impulse control. The aggressive behaviors are excessive in proportion to the anger-provoking situation or the psychosocial stressor preceding the aggressive reaction. For example, the incidence of road rage where guns are pulled or the use of excess verbal aggression.

The sporadic but repeated occurrences of explosive and impulsive behaviors result in far-reaching consequences. These consequences include physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the person at whom the assaultive behaviors are directed. Depending on the extent of the aggressive behaviors, the person may have legal ramifications.

In these moments of uncontrolled rage, the person has difficulty managing the maladaptive response to the anger-provoking situation. The consequences of the behaviors are secondary. However, following the impulsive behaviors, the person surveys the results of the behaviors and "may feel upset about the aggressive behaviors, remorseful, regretful or embarrassed about the aggressive behaviors."

Before the explosive aggression, the person is likely to experience one or more of the cues to anger (cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and physical). These cues to anger generally manifest as racing thoughts, heart palpitations, chest tightness, irritable mood, threatening and assaultive behaviors. Accompanied by a rapid escalation of anger into aggression, the intensity and duration of the intermittent explosive behaviors may leave the person exhausted.

Some of us have acquired the self-regulatory skills to deal effectively with our frustrations in healthy ways. Indeed, these self-regulatory skills can be learned or constructed through behavior modification, social skills training, a model or reference point, and a repertoire of behaviors that equip us to adapt to changes that trigger angry and aggressive reactions.

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American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 5th edition.

American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 4th edition.

Murphy, T. & Hoff Oberlin, L. (2005). Overcoming passive-aggression, how to stop hidden anger from spoiling your relationships, career, and happiness, Marlowe & Company.

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