Lashing out can happen for multiple reasons. Sometimes the person who lashes out feels a temporary release of stress and anger but might later feel embarrassed or ashamed. Lashing out can be a response to past trauma, a self-protective response or a way to control and devalue others. If you are on the receiving end of the lashing out, you might feel hurt and frightened. Hurtful words might be directed at you, which might lower your self-worth. Here are some of the reasons people lash out and how you can handle it:
Sometimes people lash out so that they can reject before they get rejected. This is a way for the person lashing out to feel safe in vulnerable situations where they feel that they might be rejected or abandoned. It is a way for the person to feel more in control, which makes them feel safer. If this is the case, you can ask them why they lashed out when the person has calmed down. They might tell you for self-protection. Remind this person that lashing out only pushes you away. This is opposite of what they want, which is to keep their relationship with you.
Some people diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or who are recovering from a trauma or a loss might lash out because they go into fight or flight mode when they feel threatened. In this case, the person usually feels ashamed after lashing out. Have an honest conversation with them about how the lashing out made you feel, and encourage them to communicate in an assertive, not aggressive way. Ask them what they need to feel safe and what their triggers are.
For a reaction
Sometimes people push buttons and lash out to see what your reaction will be. If you react, they might feel like you still care. This is a dangerous game to play because your reaction might reinforce the lashing out. It is also possible that the person wants you to react because they feel that you are too calm, and they need some validation. Other people might also want you to react so that they can observe what upsets you so that they can use that against you in the future. Remind the lashing out person that you will not tolerate or comment on hurtful statements.
To devalue and control
Though most people lash out and regret it afterwards, some people lash out on purpose and feel no remorse. This person wants to devalue you through hurtful comments so that they can control or manipulate you. If you have low self-worth, you are easier to turn into a co-dependent person. If you believe this is the case, come up with an exit strategy to remove this person from your life. There is no point in communicating with this person because anything you say can be used against you in the future. This is a person that might become abusive.
Some people are just overwhelmed. They bottle up their stress and emotions. When it becomes too much, they explode on the person closest to them. In this situation, try to speak as calmly as possible to the person without taking it personally. Try to show empathy. Conflict will only escalate the situation.
If you are lashing out
If you are the person lashing out, ask yourself why you do it. If it is for self-protection, recognise that it is hurting the other person and that eventually, they will tire of the abuse. If it is an impulsive act, try some self-soothing techniques to slow down the impulsive response. Tell the other person that you need to calm down, but you will discuss the matter with them shortly and then give them a time frame. When you have calmed down, use communication that is not hurtful. Hurtful communication is anything that is degrading, devaluing or name-calling. If you are lashing out because of past trauma, you might need help from a professional. Recognise what your triggers are and communicate them to the other person to understand that you do not mean the hurtful words you say. If you are looking for a reaction, ask yourself why. Is there a healthier way to get your needs met? What is it that you are trying to accomplish with the lashing out, and how can you accomplish that in a way that doesn’t push people away? What am I ruminating about that is making me tense?
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Although I am a registered clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology, I am not a licensed psychologist or any other type of licensed therapist in the United States. The information I am providing here is educational and informational. This social media page does not provide professional advice, nor does it create a professional-client relationship or any other type of relationship between us. You should always consult your own licensed mental health professional before making any changes regarding your mental health. My goal is to educate, guide, consult, and empower you regarding your mental health journey. Always consult your licensed mental healthcare provider(s) and never disregard or delay medical advice based on information posted on this page or post.