(see update at bottom)
I grew up with people subject to rage, and then married a man who did the same thing. Here’s the thing about rage: it’s all about control. Rage is not an expression of anger, it is a show put on by a disordered person, designed to flip the script; to put you on the defensive. Rage comes from a disordered mind who feels threatened. You can tell the difference between honest expressions of anger and rage by your reaction. The reaction to rage is fear; terror, to be more exact. You will walk away from an encounter with rage feeling sick to your stomach, tense through out your entire body and, probably in some state of disassociation.
Today I encountered the perfect example of this.
I live in a townhouse, and my next door neighbors are having their stucco redone. This is an expensive, difficult job and it’s been going on for about 6 weeks. The work has been slowed by torrential rains that seem to be a daily occurrence of late.
Early on in the job the crew made a hole in the space between the two houses. This is a grey area; I’m not sure who is responsible for this part of the stucco. I am sure that before the crew started there was no hole. They made the hole, they acknowledged they made the hole and, after repeated requests from me they covered it with plastic. I was satisfied.
Last week the crew did the first layer of stucco. You can see it to the right of the drainpipe.
Why they didn’t plaster the hole is a mystery. Not only did they not fill the hole, they removed the plastic and did not replace it. I took pictures of it every day for the past 5 days they were not here, because I’m concerned. I’m not a contractor but it seems to me that a hole in plaster will accumulate water during torrential downpours and, while this might not immediately show as a problem, what happens a year from now? What happens when all of the water that has seeped into there has time to fester?
Today someone showed up and I went out to ask him the name of the company. My intent was to contact them, make sure they knew about the hole and simply state that I wanted them to be aware, in case next year I develop a mold problem right around there. The worker said “the owner is right here” and he pointed to a very tall man smoking a cigarette, who was stomping towards us, clearly prepared for a fight. Literally. I had yet to utter a word to him but he was ready to attack. He spent the next 5 minutes shouting at me. I didn’t even get a complete sentence out before he started. His face was red, his fists clenched, he was dripping in sweat and he spewed anger right into my face.
Part of me was terrified. I quickly walked away after assuring him that I had photos and witnesses and I would be in touch if there was an issue, but I doubt he heard any of that as he continued to rage as I walked away. I went inside and locked my door, something I rarely do. A few minutes later I saw him up on scaffolding plastering the hole, while dropping piles of plaster all over the top of the wall that separates the two decks. What a gem.
The truth about rage is this: it is a weapon. While it is true that the narcissist is out of control when in a true rage, the intent of the rage is intimidation. The narc learns early in life that not much scares people as much as uncontrolled, hot rage. It feels certain that the narc, the one in the rage, will hurt you, perhaps kill you. If you are not experienced with rage you will most likely back down on the issue, accept your losses and move on. This is what the narc is counting on. When you, and others, back down in the face of the rage, you teach the narc that all he needs to do to get whatever he wants is to fly into a rage. This is known as manipulation.
The problem is that when someone is raging at you, it is truely terrifying. Every emotion the narc shows is quite convincing. They are genius actors. If you don’t know them well you will definitely be afraid for your safety, and rightly so. Even as you are reminding yourself that you are not at fault, that the one in the rage is the guilty party, the fear response coursing through your body is telling you to run. The physical response to rage is a biological response designed to protect us; when we encounter rage we are supposed to run.
What I’ve learned is twofold.
First of all, the person who rages is not a honorable person. During a rage they will throw out statements designed to make you feel like the guilty party. In the case today the guy shouted things like: This is not my fault. I won’t be held responsible for this. All of these houses are shit. and more. He is pretending he is the victim, but he is not. I am. It is really difficult to maintain that thought when being so vehemently accused, but it is the truth.
Second, there is nothing you can do with the raging narc except walk away. Perhaps quickly. Do not engage, do not argue, do not let them see your fear. If they try to follow you, or reengage with you, don’t let them. These are not normal people. Normal people don’t fly into a rage because you’ve asked them about a hole in your wall. Normal people don’t stalk and scream at young children because they slammed a door. Normal people don’t back you into a corner, yelling at you for questioning the balance in your checking account. If you are at all unsure if what you are seeing is a manipulative rage, ask a trusted friend. Say “hey, is it logical for someone to scream at me because xxx [insert situation]. The answer will be no. There are very few situations in life that require a rage response.
The normal response to rage is terror, so don’t chide yourself for feeling this. Instead, celebrate yourself when you walk away, and know that what you just saw was the cold hearted manipulative behavior of a disordered mind; not, as they claim, a normal response to something you did. When you realize that, the knot in your stomach will take a back seat to the peace of mind in your brain.
I can’t wait to see what happens when I confront him about the filth all over my windows, created by his crew’s destruction of my neighbors house. And yes, I do plan to hold him accountable and make him pay for window cleaning. I imagine most companies know that this will be an issue when doing construction work on townhouses, and are prepared to fix it. Of course, he is not a normal person.
With that, I’m off to learn about small claims court. Good times all around!
Smile on people!
Update: A male friend (depressing it took a man but it did) approached this guy yesterday and confronted him. My friend stayed but very calm, but was also clear that he meant business and would protect me. Today the contractor apologized to me. It felt sincere, and was followed with a bottle of vodka, which is always a great way to apologize. What is more important here is that bullies can only bully if allowed. Once this bully was backed into a corner he changed his tune.
Lesson for today: Don’t be a target for bullies. Stand up for yourself and, if you can’t, call in your tribe!!
And keep smiling.