My belief that rage could be controlled was seriously challenged a number of years ago when I was asked to counsel an 11 year old boy who was having up to 20 rages a day at school and home. The child was unable to control himself in any manner. At home, he lived with mom and grandmother. The two women supported each other as they were both of poor health, and endured the constant challenge of rage and violence in their home. The child was quickly growing and was bigger and heavier than they were. HIs behaviour was unmanageable in both the school and home setting.
Fortunately, I already had a trusting relationship established with this child. When I met with him to counsel him, we reviewed the problem behaviours at home. As his aggression and violent outbursts were becoming increasingly more dangerous, I warned the child that if he continued to be unsafe, he would be taken from his home and would not be able to live with his family. The next two weeks saw a positive change. After that however, he started to re-engage in violent behaviours towards his mother and grandmother. These behaviours continued to become more severe until finally, he attempted to push his grandmother down the stairs. He was immediately removed from his home and spent the next nine months in a residential facility.
When he was released and returned home, he was able to control his rage.
So, this eventual success story reinforced my understanding of rage, based on my personal experiences and observations. People who display rage when frustrated are unable to restrain themselves without proper motivation to prevent the rage from occurring in the first place. They will continue to express their frustration with rage until they have “crossed the line”. They will push the limits of others’ tolerance until they surpass those limits. They will “go too far”. That’s what rage is. They will only learn to prevent themselves from rage after they have gone “too far” and suffered the consequences. Dozens of times over the past 20 plus years, I have seen examples that support my observation and belief. The story I have shared is extreme, and yet the boy I described did learn to control himself after he was kept in custody. It has also been the case in my home, although our “limit” wasn’t as serious. Fortunately for us, things didn’t get too far out of control. They easily could have.
As heartbreaking and scary times had been through my stepson Nathan’s rages, an underlying question directed our responses and our final goal.
The question – How can we motivate ourselves, (or our children), to pre-empt the “going to far” and gain control over rage before it happens?
Clearly rage triggers a biochemical change in a person which then pre-empts choice, reasoning, rational thinking and self control. On the flip side there are deliberate choices, strategies and coping skills that can be utilized to prevent the onset of a rage. Finding the right timing and the motivation to employ learned skills is an extreme mental challenge requiring practice and tremendous support.
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