Interpersonal conflicts inevitably happen in life, under one form or another. As I'm being confronted by more conflicts as I grow older, I keep learning how to react better.

In conflicts where physical aggression is a possibility, I've learned through experience that it's always better to de-escalate as soon and as fast as possible, because serious and irreversible physical damage, and even death, can result from a single blow. In my opinion, it's never worth the risk.

At least, that's the rule I tend to apply when I'm the one being wronged. If I'm driving, and somebody, for whatever reason, gets mad at me and starts insulting me, I'll just send him a look that says "Ok, whatever", and will drive away. Now, if I'm the passenger, my wife is the driver, and she finds herself in the same situation, despite knowing the risks, I will probably quickly lose my temper and start behaving aggressively towards the other party.

Basically, I noticed that I will deal with aggression far better if I'm the one being attacked, than if someone close to me is being attacked.

In some cases, this behavior makes sense. I'm a 33 year old male. If I'm by myself in the streets and get assaulted, I can attempt to outrun my attackers instead of engaging into a fight which is a far more risky option. But, if I'm with my wife, or 63 year old father, or kids, then obviously I need to not just protect myself but members of my family as well, and they won't be able to outrun the attackers as easily as me.

In the case of verbal insults on the road, this "instinct" doesn't make as much sense. If I want to protect anybody, I perfectly know that whether it's me being insulted, or my wife, the best course of action remains to de-escalate and walk away. And I can stay calm and apply this principle when I'm being offended. But the minute it's someone else (given this person is close to me), I become irrational to the point I do the exact opposite I know should be done.

I could describe two important incidents in my recent life that illustrate this behavior. But I don't want this post to start looking like a therapy session. I'm primarily wondering whether this is something others experience and how they deal with it. So let's just say that, in the first incident, I get assaulted and badly injured. I end up in the hospital and need surgery. But I take it like it's nothing. And even go back to work early because I just don't feel the need for so much time to recover, neither physically nor psychologically. In the second incident, my brother and father are involved. I get completely irrational, mad, and take dangerous, reckless decisions. Afterwards, I dwell on the incident for months. This incident affected me psychologically on the long term, despite the consequences actually being minimal.

Is there any literature where this would be described and explained?

  • 3
    This seems more like a psychology question : psychology.stackexchange.com. Check the on-topic here and see and if it's good, they will likely find better references on what you describe. If it is not on topic there, you could try their tchat. Check psychology.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask. Considering that you ask for the description of this pehnomena est literature, i'd say it does seems on topic there.
    – Walfrat
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 12:25
  • This isn't a good fit for IPS as it's about intrapersonal issues
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 6:04
  • 1
    I'm not going to make a full answer, as I do think that this question should be moved to psychology, but the answer lies in that for the majority of humans, as much as the individual can deny it, what others think of them is more important than what the individual thinks of itself.
    – user20
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 23:20

2 Answers 2


We are often raised not to be demanding and selfish. Say someone takes the last cookie from a plate and you wanted it. This might make you angry for a moment. But you remember your politeness training -- to be angry about this is to be selfish and impolite -- so you tamp it down. But if a dear one is headed for the last cookie and someone takes it, there's no such restraint. Getting angry here is positively generous! After all, you're defending the rights of someone you love! (And probably a whole pile of tamped-down cookie anger comes out at the same time.)

That's my experience of getting angrier than a situation really deserves: being angry on behalf of someone else frees and unlocks a lot of anger I've been told I'm not entitled to.

That said, there is anger and anger. To "become irrational to the point I do the exact opposite I know should be done", to end up in a fight that hospitalized you, to dwell on situations for months -- these are not normal levels of anger. Anger management classes are easy to mock, but in my experience they work. Even when someone was made to take them against their will and thought they were stupid and ridiculous. This person's life (and the lives of those around them) improved dramatically afterwards. I think if you'd like to understand more about why you get irrationally and dangerously angry, an anger management program (even perhaps a not great one) would be very useful.


One common reason is low self image. People who have a low self image, who often don't like themselves very much, tend to be more angry.

During angry recollections, the amygdala fired. At the same time, a part of the orbital frontal cortex, just above the eyes, also engaged, putting the brakes on emotion. “Healthy people experience anger,” says Dougherty, “but they can suppress it before acting on it.”

In depressed people who are prone to anger attacks, this neurological brake fails to engage. In another study, Dougherty found that in people with major depressive disorder and anger attacks the orbital frontal cortex did not activate. Rather, activity in the amygdala increased and angry outbursts ensued. More recently, Dougherty used functional magnetic resonance imaging to achieve a more fine–grained examination of the timing of the amygdala’s activation during angry moments.

So, you may not care a lot about yourself and therefore not see it as worthy getting angry over yourself because of low self image, but care a lot about relatives and have poor emotional regulation and so get angry easily over them.

They suggest a possible way to help learn to control yourself in interpersonal conflicts.

Welcome to RAGE Control (Regulate and Gain Emotional Control), a shoot–’em–up video game designed, as its name suggests, to teach anger management. This counterintuitive game—the kind often blamed for reinforcing behaviors that celebrate anger—works. The key element? When players’ heart rates rise, indicating the emotional arousal that can lead to anger, their guns start shooting blanks. For adolescents who respond to minor stresses with angry and dangerous outbursts, the game may be an alternative to pharmaceutical interventions such as antipsychotics. In addition, says Joseph Gonzalez–Heydrich, an HMS assistant professor of psychiatry at Children’s Hospital Boston and leader of the RAGE Control project, the game may enhance the effectiveness of behavioral therapy.

Get a heart rate monitor and play a game (a multiplayer one if you really wanna escalate things) with a loved one. If your heart rate raises too much, you can't play, and need to leave your loved one alone to die. That would be a possible way to learn to control your temper.

Here are some suggested ways to control anger. Learn to relax with breathing techniques, work on cognitive restructuring with how you feel angry in situations, use humour to think about the situation.

One thing I have found helps with anger about family members being hurt is imagining myself as a grand patriarch god, floating above the family, dispensing my blessing and mercy in a benevolent way. The image is silly enough that I feel less urge to be so patronizing.

  • OP says he's more angry when it comes to people he cares for. It seems that you (wrongly) assume that he's more angry all the time. This could maybe be linked to a pathology (IANAD), but your shortcuts look like... well... a shoot in the dark, and widely missing the target !
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 5:47
  • FWIW : what OP says seems more linked to culture / states of mind / beliefs etc discussed here 1 -- 2 -- 3 -- 4. Plus threads on quora and many other forums...
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 5:51
  • 1
    Op said "I get completely irrational, mad, and take dangerous, reckless decisions. Afterwards, I dwell on the incident for months." which sounds like an unusually intense anger. I didn't assume he's angry all the time, just that he was angry more than most people. My suggested advise was to directly trigger the anger and learn to work on it.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 6:48
  • What bothers me is your 1st sentence: "One common reason is depression". How can you just use your digest of OP's anger as a premise to create a baseline about depression?! We're not (and shouldn't try to be) 'internet physicians' who can diagnose a pathology just with a few exemples. If you recommend anger management (which could be fine, if precisely targeted and backed up by data or experience), then it shouldn't be done because of 'because I think you could be suffering from depression'. That's my point, if I'm clear enough
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 9:18
  • 2
    You're welcome to make a post about shepherd dogging, as an alternative solution. Op themselves has noted that their anger is counterproductive to protecting their family, so there's no direct hints in their post that that is why they get more angry. That said, stack exchange is often about suggesting solutions. Even if OP personally doesn't suffer from shepherd dogging or low self image, other people who have the problem of anger in interpersonal conflicts may have those, and a post on each may be useful.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 8:56

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