The Rage Trigger

What triggers your rage? Don’t shrug and act all demure, I know it is there. It may be buried beneath centuries of protestant propriety (like mine was) but it is there… just waiting for the right trigger.

A few years ago I wouldn’t let myself get anywhere near it. It would just mount in pressure and fire and vitriol like a seemingly dormant volcano and then escape in little private eruptions in traffic or an anonymous internet rant. It usually snuck up on me as a muffled scream, steering wheel pound, or by yelling profanity at an inanimate object. Immediately, such rage would be met with instant disgust and emotional shut-down. I was above rage; rage was for animals.

Shame and unexpressed pain, I’m learning, are the chemical compounds for rage. Like dynamite in a mine, without some form of controlled, conscious explosion, it will be harnessed for a violent attack. For most people, the violence is turned inward, toward our vulnerable parts, toward the parts of us that don’t know an immediate answer. For some, those without my particular style of social conditioning, their violence is turned outward. Instead of owning their pain and shame, they wait and it becomes an unconscious rage, hunting for release. The thing about rage is that it triggers more rage. Rage begets rage begets rage. So what can we do about this universal human emotion?

First, we have to feel the shame and pain before it becomes rage and if it does, we have to learn how to take responsibility and feel that too. We have to open to the rage that is here inside each one of us.

My greatest rage trigger is when rage is perpetrated violently on innocent people by racist, homophobic, misogynist bigots. Every time I read the same headline of a white cop shooting a black man, I feel a pressure building inside that terrifies me. The pressure turns into a paralyzing sense of helplessness at the state of a world I do not understand. Pressure and paralysis turn into righteousness and I want to waterboard all those who contribute to the patriarchy; the parents, teachers, and religions that breed bias. I want to throttle the federal government for not stepping in, mandating training for cops. Hell, I want all of us to see the nonsense of our savage beliefs.

In my unmitigated rage, God is clearly on MY side. I am right and everyone else is an idiot. All I can see is injustice. I hate all humans, especially my own human-ness. I am disgusted by my lack of action and creativity. I e-sign petitions and call members of Congress. I rant on Facebook and then “like” other rants on Facebook. I cry and share quotes and images and music videos about love being all there is and how it all feels so small and pathetic.

Beneath all of my righteous rage is the helplessness, the confusion, the fear, and the pain that I am useless against the suffering of the world. To just feel this pain, the blasting agent of rage, would surely destroy me. To sit and experience the cognitive dissonance between my animal and conscious self. To burn in the unknown of what the greater context is for this human experience and admit I know nothing. To burn in this pain without aiming it at someone else. To feel the pain before it turns into rage. To let it deepen, expand, and rip my arguments into shreds and leave me in the open-hearted paradox of unbearable compassion.

It is so much easier to point my rage at the latest injustice than open up to the actual pain that causes it. Instead of redirecting the rage of one person to another, can we instead let the pain that is trying to tear us open, open us up to a compassion for the fear, pain, and shame that leads to rage in the first place? What if we can end the war within, right here and now? How might that change the world?

Bristol Baughan is an Executive Producer of Emmy-winning and Oscar-Nominated films, author, and private coach. She is a TED Fellow and Founder of Inner Astronauts, a custom experience and private coaching company supporting people in coming more fully alive in service to the world. Bristol holds a B.A. in International Studies from the American University School of International Service and an M.A. in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

Artwork by: James Ormiston.

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