Rage and the Rage Cycle
Rage is a destructive action. It is intended to hurt, actually break someone or something. It is also blind and the attack is often against an innocent helpless person or child. We speak of a person being ‘in a blind rage,’ or being ‘blind with rage.’ Rage is also explosive, which means that it cannot be easily steered once it blows. Rage develops when a person feels that his power is thwarted or frustrated. In rage, memory is laid down differently. For all these reasons, rage is often called dissociative rage.
Rage works by short-circuiting the experience of shame, that is, the feeling of being inferior or not enough, or not good enough. Rage can be contrasted to a healing and universal experience and emotion: anger. Rage can be thought of as a kernel of anger distorted by internalized shame.
While any rage is very damaging in relationships, infrequent rage alone does not constitute primary aggression. But in relationships, unless rage is truly rare, it tends to develop into a pattern or cycle. This has been called the “cycle of violence,” the “cycle of abuse,” or the “rage cycle” The most visible part of the rage cycle is the outburst, which may include verbal violence, physical violence, addictive behavior, or dramatic exits. An outburst can occur several times a day, or every few months. The outburst is followed by a period when the primary aggressor's arousal is low and they may act kindly or remorseful. This is sometimes called the honeymoon period. The desire for control remains however.
A tell-tale sign that rage is serving the purpose of power and control is that the primary aggressor is unwilling to discuss the outburst later in any meaningful or honest way. Apologies don't count. Fairly soon, the raging person’s expectations are not met and the tension phase starts. Tension further distorts perception, and routine events or small frustrations are seen as large offenses by the raging person and an outburst results
In an episode of rage, the flight or fight system is strongly activated. This makes everyone around the raging person to be perceived and then treated as a threat or an enemy. In this distorted perception, it makes no sense to be fair or accountable to 'enemies.' That means that even if irresponsibility does not fit with the primary aggressor's own self-image, a frequently raging person will by definition be irresponsible. Others will stop asking anything that 'sets off' the primary aggressor. This becomes an additional reinforcement, and frequently, any request to be accountable sets off an episode.
Survivors that are in relationship with a raging person feel the effects of the rage all the time because they are walking on eggshells trying to prevent an outburst. The primary aggressor, on the other hand, after an episode both tends to feel better, and to quickly develop 'amnesia' about what happened.