Emotional explosions are not always black and white as they seem to be; there might be a lot of underlying factors behind them.
Most people would say that Jake is a laid-back guy, even his partner, Carol. And he is… usually. But every once in awhile, he just blows up. Sometimes it’s about something small – Carol leaving her clothes on the bedroom floor, or something about her tone of voice — but Jake goes ballistic. Or he suddenly seems to go on a rant, spewing a list of gripes that he has seemingly been sitting on for a while. His angry mood may last hours or days, but he eventually settles down, usually mumbles some apology and Jake goes back to being…old Jake.
Undoubtedly, you’ve met people like Jake who periodically spiral out of control.
Here are the most common causes of these emotional explosions:
Jake’s default really is to be laid-back, but under enough stress — deadlines at work, health, or family worries — his coping abilities wear thin, and it takes less to push him emotionally over the edge.
Or it’s not just stress but underlying depression. It may be situational when Jake feels trapped; it may be genetic where he is wired for depression.
But regardless of the source, for some, depression isn’t the low energy, lay-in-bed kind, but an agitated version. While that same why-bother, it-doesn’t-matter, pessimistic thoughts driving his mood, what comes to the surface is irritability.
3. Relationships are out of balance.
Jake may be falling into a martyr role, at home with Carol, and maybe at his job, where he does a lot of the heavy lifting, is bothered by it, but sucks it up hoping others will eventually step up or appreciate him more. Most often, others don’t.
They think the other guy is doing what they are doing because they take them at face value: They don’t complain, so they seem like they are doing what they are doing because they want to.
The explosions happen because the martyr’s resentment about things being unfair, like a pressure cooker, builds up, and he blows. Or Jake is not the martyr but feels more like the victim. He feels always one-down, or that Carol is micromanaging or critical, but again he puts up with it until he once again gets fed up and blows up.
4. Difficulty with transitions.
Jake may be a person who has a difficult time with transitions. What this means is that he tends to be a planner, knows way in advance what he wants to do, and God forbid his plans get derailed for some reason. It may be what he wants to do on Saturday outside but it rains, it may be how he expects a dinner party to go with friends, but the dinner burns or folks cancel at the last minute and he loses it.
This is about anxiety and Jake tries to control his anxiety by his planning and choreographing. When things suddenly change, he gets rattled and his anxiety bubbles to the top, but what he expresses and what others see his anger.
5. Bullying behavior.
This is probably not Jake, but there are those who blow up as an intimidation tool. This is getting what they want, and getting others to do what they want them to do. It is about power and entitlement.
But even for some seeming bullies, the underlying driver isn’t power but hypervigilance, as always being on guard, ready to spring, and fight is generally learned in childhood as a way of coping with trauma. Again, what others see is not the underlying anxiety but the control and anger.