Sudden out-of-proportion anger outburst may be related to one’s childhood trauma

Sometimes, when we saw someone exhibiting sudden out-of-proportion anger outbursts, we may infer that this person probably has poor temper control.  We may be tempted to judge this person and differentiate ourselves with him or her.  We may see ourselves as having better emotional management.  In some toxic relationship, a spouse may criticize another half as having poor anger control without reflecting that he or she may be the one who triggered the outburst.  Before making premature judgment on others, we may need to be humble and try to understand the other party’s past and reflect on our own insensitivity.

One of my clients was all along calm and gentle.  He seldom threw temper towards others even facing unfair treatment or dissatisfaction.  However, from time to time, he cannot control his temper towards his girlfriend whenever she criticized his way of doing household chores and other trivial matters.  In one scenario, his girlfriend criticized his dish washing habit.  He suddenly exploded and was extremely angry at her.  His girlfriend was shocked and felt scared at his unreasonable out-of-proportion outbursts.  She even thought about separating with him due to her judgment that he might have some personality issues.

Does this client have some kind of personality issues or mental illness?  It is too early to make a conclusion that he is mentally ill.  With thorough understanding of his upbringing, it was found that his mother frequently criticized him in his childhood.  He felt so inadequate all along due to these criticisms.  As a result, he has low self-esteem and tends to see himself as inadequate all the time.  Despite his success in his career, he tends to minimize his achievement and exaggerate his failure.  Whenever his boss gave him some feedback on his work, he sensitively perceived feedback as harsh criticism.  He also has obsession in doing his work in a perfect way.  It is because he wants to avoid facing negative comments from others.  Due to this, he procrastinates in doing his work and further exacerbates the possibility of receiving negative feedback.

It is important for this client to be more self-aware of his sudden temper outbursts as relating to him being triggered.  In fact, others sincere and constructive feedback to him may be perceived as harsh criticism.  If he could be more aware of this emotional reaction, it is more likely for him to control his anger outbursts.

To be more self-aware, practicing mindfulness meditation may be one of the strategies.  Through the practice, he can learn to be more aware of his urge to react in certain situations and reflect on the possibility of being triggered.  If he is more self-aware, he has more options to response in relation to others’ feedback on him.  No matter whether others’ feedback is accurate or not, he can still stay calm and resolve the issues with the other party.

On the side of the girlfriend, it is important for her to listen and understand the client’s feelings and thoughts.  Through sincere conversation, she may be able to see him in a different angle and not judging him prematurely.  She may also see him as a complex human being with different behavioral manifestations in different situations.  Without uneducated or uninformed premature judgment, the relationship can improve significantly.

It is important for us to understand that we are tempted to judge and perceive others in our own angle.  To be more self-aware of this tendency, we may cultivate better relationships with others.

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