There have only been two times in my adult life when I’ve been physically violent in the presence of women. I have never been deliberately violent with them, but I have been out-of-control angry in their presence.
The first incident occurred in my early thirties, shortly after I discovered the woman I was in a long term committed relationship with in bed with another man. I’ve written here about that painful episode and the learning and healing I ultimately took away from it. Shortly after that discovery, not unexpectedly, Darika and I got into a seriously heated argument in my front yard. Emotional highjacking literally disconnects many of the brain’s logic circuits and so the argument went on without much resolution for too long a time. Finally, Darika jumped angrily into her little beater Subaru to get away from me and go back home. Then suddenly she stomped on the gas pedal and pointed the car deliberately in my direction, attempting to run me over. I barely managed to leap out of the way. I immediately jumped up, ran over to the car, grabbed the door in a rage-fit and literally ripped it off the hinges. With the door held high over my head, I made a mad dash for the creek that ran alongside my house and hurled it as far as I could out into the water. Tossing that car door away served as an effective energy discharge and I was then able to disengage from Darika without any further discussion or damage. One thing I discovered was that having someone who once loved you profoundly, first murder your soul, and then attempt to murder your body can be tough to stay emotionally centered around.
Trouble in Paradise
The second incident happened several years later on my honeymoon in the Caribbean. My new wife and I had just arrived after a large stressful wedding and something she said or did – I don’t remember what – touched a hot button over dinner. The anger continued to build throughout the meal and by the time we got back to our cabana, I had reached the boiling point. I walked into the bedroom and she followed after I explicitly asked her not to. I needed her to give me some space and leave me be for awhile. In a flash I erupted, picked up the queen size mattress and literally hurled it at the doorway where she had been standing only moments before.
The anger in the first incident is pretty self-explanatory. When someone tries to kill you, they highjack your limbic system. It reactively acts as if the only two options are kill or be killed. We were both fortunate that I was fast on my feet, and that I didn’t do more than destroy Darika’s car door.
The Roots of Violence
The second incident is more complicated and illustrates that you can’t simply talk or think your way out of some traumatic experiences.
The roots of the mattress-tossing incident actually unfolded several days earlier at the wedding. When the band started up after the meal had been served, I reluctantly stepped out onto the dance floor. First I danced with my new bride. Then I danced with her mother. Then my own mother stepped onto the floor. I had not wanted my mother even to attend the wedding. The reasons were many, but the main one was that there would be an open bar. Her history with alcoholism would be seriously put to the test with no one to insure that she didn’t take advantage. But I finally gave in to pressure from my wife’s family.
The minute she drew near me on the dance floor, I could smell that she had indeed visited the open bar. Moments after we began dancing, with a large number of wedding guests watching the two of us on the dance floor, my mother pulled my head down and French kissed me. Needless to say, I was shocked, repulsed, embarrassed and disgusted. I immediately pushed her away and raced from the room. What I wanted to do in that moment was pick her up and, fueled by a wildly out-of-control rage, fling her full across the room. Instead, two days later, I displaced that rage and discharged it unwittingly in a cabana in the Caribbean. We are indeed, rarely upset for the reasons we think we are.
One key healing element in each of these incidents is the physical activity that operated to discharge the energy of anger. The car door tossing I was able to do in the moment. The mattress-tossing ended up being unfortunately displaced and delayed. And it was decades later that I learned how the brain works, how memories become stored and how necessary non-harmful energy expression and the freeze discharge are for health and well-being. It was then that I came to understand exactly what my violent eruptions were truly about – an important lesson: once we meet the heart with compassionate understanding, we can begin to find our way back home.