My daughter is 7 1/2 and has been diagnosed with a mood disorder. While full blown rages (hitting, kicking, screaming, biting, etc) really only happen once a week or so lately (as opposed to 3x or more/day) I often feel as though she’s walking a thin line. There are so many times throughout the day when she’s right there, right on the brink of a full blown rage – she becomes very irritable, very confrontational, very defiant and refuses to do anything at all to help calm herself. When we talk at times when she’s feeling good, we come up with ideas together of things she can do to calm herself but she’ll refuse to use any of these techniques.
Please help! What can I do to help her help herself?!!
Thanks so much!
The problem with this question is that there is no one answer – everybody will have a different solution to the problem. I will, however, tell you what works for me when it comes to rages, and hope they will work for your daughter.
First off, I want to say that I find rages extremely irrational. When I’m in them, this anger and deep hate just build in me, and energy surges through me. Every little thing I can find to scream about, I will, and it is DEFINATLY, in my mind, worth making sure you know. Those things don’t have to make sense to you, and they certainly don’t sound logical or sane from a “nuerotypical” person’s view; but oh, does that anger seem fit to me. The food doesn’t taste right; I want this, instead of that; you’re looking at me the wrong way (“stop looking at me!/stop looking at me like that!”);you don’t care; you hate me and I hate you; I hate my teacher, my teachers hates me; life is pointless; and so on. As I keep screaming, and my mom yells at me, that energy and rage just keep building, and I cannot still still. I cannot stay calm. You’re NOT listening me! Punch, hit, kick scratch, bite, all with strength that that I only have hen the adrenaline strikes. I hate you! I hate you! LISTEN TO ME! You don’t care about me! You never listen! You never care! I hate you! Eventually, all that energy leaves me, and I am exhausted and physically weak. Some days, I just have the energy to crawl on the couch and pass out.
Point being, those comments and actions I make don’t seem to make sense, and have little basis in the reality of the situation. Due to this, when people tried to rationalize with me during rages, it just didn’t work. Stating all the things she does for me, or how much she does love me never solved anything. That wasn’t the way I saw it, and I’m not going to hear you. Physically, of course, the sound from your mouth will reach my ears; but emotionally it’ll be drowned out by all that anger. If anything, it will only makes things worse.
Which is another thing to point out: the anger is as loud as if you were tied down in front of a speaker, listening to a live band in a venue with horrible acoustics. Your ears ring; you can’t hear anybody near you; you get agitated; and you want to make it stop more than anything else in the world. For me, when I rage, though it is brought on by something specific a lot of the time, that’s not really what it is about it. The trigger is just what flipped the switch in my brain. After that, I am enraged about everything, whether it’s logical or not. Once that happens, I am simply angry, not about one specific thing, and I cannot make it stop and I cannot not calm me down, no matter how hard I try. Thus, I get violent, hitting, kicking, punching, scratching, biting – anything to use that pent up, agitated, anger. Anything to make it stop. I’m not thinking, really, and sometimes I feel out of body, as if I’m watching myself lose control from the corner. The screams just come out; the hate fills my mouth; and it’s almost as if another force is making me attack. The way I explained it to a friend that had to bear witness to a rage once, was:
“I’m not attacking you personally; you were just there and in the way.”
Rages, to me, are almost like an angry mania. I don’t feel in control of myself; my thoughts come as if they were running a race; I’m agitated; I can’t be still; there is close to no impulse control; I can’t calm down; and just keep coming out with words and noises to scream. In that moment, even I feel vile hatred for you, it’s not really directed at you as much as the anger just needs a punching bag, and you’re closest. Same with the violence. Even thought I’m physically attacking you, emotionally the anger is just so strong that it needs to go somewhere and, once again, you just happen to be there. This is also the reasons I provoke and instigate others when I’m raging (and manic!): I have all this energy, and fighting with you gives me this angry high to ride on and a way to use up all that rage and hate. Unfortunately, that can make the rage last longer.
Which is where you might be able to help her while in the midst of a rage. As overwhelmingly impossible as it may sound, I know that, at least for me, when my mom doesn’t go along with the insults and fighting, I calm down easier. That means, that when I instigate a fight or provoke her, it helps me if she doesn’t fight back. That she states that she isn’t going to be a part of this rage; she isn’t going to fuel it. Other comments, such as, (when I’m punching a wall) “I don’t want to make a trip to the ER if you break that”, also have a way of bringing me back. Not always; but there are times when she will say things like that, and I feel as I have come to a brick wall, mumbling an “oh” in response. It helps me regain some control over myself. If it works to get me out of a rage or not, I do know that her fighting with me or being provoked just adds fuel to the fire, and I continue to erupt in flames.
Of course, by no mean does this mean ignore her completely. While doing that does work at times, it usually leaves me in a situation where I am unsafe and alone. Locked in my room or locked out of another just douses me with gasoline and sends me into a panicked frenzy. Shrieking at the highest octave I can muster, I began furiously kicking and pushing my body into the door. I scream, beg, swear, and do anything to get out. Depending on how out of control I am, this has sent me into a state that is both a panic attack and full blown rage. I am usually not desperately trying to get out to hurt you; I just don’t want to be locked in/out alone. Think about it: if you were out of control of your mind and body, would you want to be that way alone? Many times, I have ended up banging my head, scratching myself to the point of blood, or threatening to just jump out the window. It also has a way of making me feel like a terrible criminal, which makes me self-esteem plummet so low. That’s not saying that sometimes it isn’t necessary, or that it will always be damaging; but it needs to be noted that it can be. As I said, in those times when I am most unsafe, I was standing there ready to throw myself out a second story window, with a ll that angry and hateful adrenaline going through me.
If you haven’t noticed by now, there are a lot of “not all the time” and “depends” comments in there. You mentioned that you talk to your daughter after rages about how to handle them, and I think that is key to knowing what would or wouldn’t help her. Only she knows how the mess in her head, and your reactions to it, make her feel and act. Be specific in your questions, such as “Does it help or hurt for you to be put in your room/locked out of where I am? Does it depend?” As, I can only give you my experience, when it hers you need to know most about. As you have already discovered, she doesn’t really use a lot of the ideas you talk about when she’s raging. Hopefully my words can give you an idea as to why. When you’re in a rage, it’s supremely hard to express anything but that hate and anger, and even when you express that, it’s not in the way you want. You’re not going to say, “I’m really angry right now and I want to punch the wall”. Your mind is falling apart, and there’s no way you are going to get that out. Forming anything but those screams and angry insults and complaints in your head seems impossible – never mind actually saying them! Instead, I have set up a system of working with signals, which has helped so much with me when I’m in that moment. I don’t have to speak; I just have to hold up my hand.
When using my hands, we will decide on things such as two fingers out in a clenched fist means it would be worse if I was locked in or out; three fingers means it is OK, and maybe even needed, for me to be alone; one hand spread out with only one finger not outstretched means I want to hurt others; full hand out stretched means I want to hurt myself; and both hands spread out out means I want hurt both others and myself. Another signal that I found worked, and was a lost less complicated, is having boxes (or a pillow, etc) to hit/kick that mean different things. The red box on the right means I want to be alone; the blue box on the left means I can’t be alone; the green pillow taped to the wall on the right means I want to hurt myself; the yellow pillow taped to the wall on the left means I want to hurt others; and so on. That way, the things I can’t say in that moment get expressed, and I’m using all that angry and hating energy against something that isn’t living. Sometimes, once I get to a pillow/box to “say” something, I just get stuck there attacking it, a few times all the way up until he rage was done.
In that last paragraph, I briefly mentioned using the raging energy on something that isn’t alive. Rages are intense (beyond understatement) and it’s hard to expect one to calm down or gain back some control without an alternative. For years, I would scratch, hit and find other ways to hurt myself to take out all that energy on something other than my family – myself. Obviously, that isn’t healthy and was one of the reasons being left alone in the midst of a rage was dangerous. As I got older, and was told that I couldn’t do that (as I used self-injury for other things, I still struggle with it, on and off), I eventually came up with the idea of “The Rage Box” (“Depression/Anxiety/Manic/etc Box can also be done!). Basically, I took a cardboard box and dumped different things in it – paper, pillow(s), stuffed toys, crayon and markers, bubblegum, and a portable CD player (with the CD helped me calm down the most, which usually was an angrier band). That way, when I was in a rage, I could color, rip paper to shreds, break crayons, viciously attack the pillow, chew bubble gum as hard as I could (surprisingly tiring), spit out the gum, and do all this while blaring music into my ears (the only downfall to this was that when I was really angry, I would turn it up and take the earplugs from ears – so all could hear). No matter what I did, as long as I didn’t go after anybody else, I wouldn’t be yelled at for it. As frustrating and unfair as it may seem, and I know it is, I did better if I wasn’t criticized for the nature of my art or punished if I spit the gum on the floor instead of in the garbage or box. There have been times I have spent the entire rage using my box, barely – if at all – lashing out against something that breaths. To figure out what to put in it, ask your daughter what would help her.
You also mentioned that she has many times where she is right there, close to crossing the line into full blown rage. For me, I usually need to be left alone when I’m like that, away from anything and everybody that could set me off. In a state like that, the sound of your voice could make me seethe with malice and rage. The way you’re looking at me; the TV show you’re watching; what you’re reading; your very presence. As hard as it may be to believe, when I do that it’s not a personal attack on my Mom, even if I may intend to upset her at that moment. It just that boiling irritation that will explode at the slightest touch, and in that moment, as my very nerves seem to hyper-vigilant, any small thing could end up being a punch. To visualize it, imagine somebody came up and kicked you in the stomach. What do you do? After reeling in the pain for a moment, you get angry and react; you lash out at that person, even it is just an insult set behind his back. A rage is that, except magnified. Thus, staying away from that punch or kick is vital in preventing a rage. When she’s in pre-rage mode, don’t let her provoke you, don’t react emotionally, and try not to follow her if she walks away unless you think she might be unsafe. If she is following you, as I know I sometimes did, continue doing that. I know how impossible it may sound to keep your cool, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you do lose it now and again; but it really can make all the difference. In addition, if then “Rage Box” idea works for her, maybe that will be an easier, more physical way to calm down. I know that is what helped me: that I was actually using that energy up against something.
There I so much to say about rages; but I hope I could help your daughter and you with the little I have said. If you have any further questions, feel free to submit them.