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Are you "enabling" those angry verbal attacks against you?


No, I am not blaming the victim here. People are fully accountable for their own actions and anyone who screams, shouts, blames, swears, and/or verbally attacks you is responsible for managing his or her own behavior! Even when it is very difficult because anger hijacked their thoughts, words, and deeds. They are still responsible for their actions.


At the same time, it is possible that your raging loved one may have experienced a positive consequence again and again after engaging in such angry outbursts. Thus we would say that this person is "conditioned" to scream and yell at others.


Plus...if this person engages in this behavior only with you or mostly with you, maybe you are inadvertently and unknowingly providing some sort of positive reward for such aggressive and painful conduct.


"Huh? Me? No way!" you may be thinking.


Okay, but consider this. When you are being attacked, how do you typically respond?


Maybe you are sort of confused or even frozen, afraid of saying the wrong thing and making it worse. Maybe you get angry and defend yourself. Maybe you are feeling so helpless that you start to cry. Whatever your usual response is, the verbal attacks continue and maybe even escalate. How could your behavior possibly "enable" this undesirable behavior?


When we are afraid, our attention narrows. Thanks to our evolutionary need for survival, we are no longer enjoying the weather or thinking about our next meal when we are filled with fear. Fear focuses our attention on one thing: the threat (and maybe also the nearest escape). Fear is the most common response that family members have when facing a loved one with a history of rage.


If you fall into this category, your fear is going to narrow your focus of attention on your loved one. You may be looking intently at them, eyes wide open. In silence. Without distraction. Even if you are thinking about how you can stop this, your loved one is getting your undivided attention, seemingly listening to every word. Maybe you start defending yourself, but you are still giving the other attention and communicating that what they say matters to you.


Sound familiar?


Psychologists would call this an example of "positive reinforcement" for the yelling, blaming, and raging. Your fear-driven response is "rewarding" the undesirable behavior. Such a consequence is likely to sustain and even increase the frequency of the behavior.


You can also get stuck in a feedback loop with your love one. The more anger from the other person, the more fear you experience. The more fear you experience, the more anger from the other person.


And, by the way, defending or explaining yourself might not be a positive consequence for someone who is angry at you, but, instead, it might simply trigger more anger, thus escalating their behavior. Crying might trigger shame or guilt in the other person and then even more anger arises as a secondary emotion.


A trigger is a stimulus that occurs before the angry outburst. A reinforcement comes after. You may not exactly be "enabling" a person to rage at you, that is giving them the authority to do so, but it is worth carefully observing if and how you might be triggering and reinforcing such behavior.


 

For a deeper understanding of high conflict behavior, as well as opportunities to practice new skills to change behavior, consider signing up for the next 12-week workshop or scheduling individual sessions.



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