Are you acknowledging the Ray Rice inside of you?

By Shayne Hughes

As a man, I found the video of Ray Rice hitting his wife deeply troubling. The fact that they were apparently screaming at each other, and she spit in his face right before he hit her, doesn’t excuse his violence. I’m supportive of the tougher suspension given to Rice, and to the NFL’s overdue increase in consequences for domestic abuse.

And all of us, men and women, need to examine how we fall prey to the cycle of powerlessness and rage that overwhelmed Rice that night.

Although I have never hit my wife or children, I am all too familiar with anger. I was a raging, reckless teenager before I was a stressed out, over-achieving husband and father. At its core, rage is a visceral reaction to powerlessness and vulnerability. When I feel incompetent, unloved, a failure, alienated, criticized or just plain inadequate — and I don’t face it — I lash out. I have no idea what Ray and Janay were arguing about that night, but it undoubtedly cloaked vulnerable feelings they were unable to admit to themselves or each other. As they defended themselves with anger and blame, they said things that increased the pain and vulnerability of the other in unbearable ways. Like a runaway nuclear reaction.

(Almost) all of us struggle to let ourselves experience and share these feelings. Those of you that have anger problems know that irresistible wave of anger that blows everything up. But I’m also talking to those of us that numb. Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, withdrawal — all the tricks of the trade to avoid the acute, vulnerable pain of feeling hurt or inadequate. Same problem, different strategy.

Just yesterday I spoke with a female client who had ended a romantic relationship. The man often criticized her for wanting to “process” interactions, claiming she was emotionally needy. He rarely had issues to discuss. His solution involved staying up late drinking whiskey and scribbling in his journal. She was the problem.

So make no mistake — we all have varying amounts of Ray Rice in us. It doesn’t condone him, but it also shouldn’t make him a pariah. He is a symptom of our cultural difficulty to embody true manhood: standing undefended in moments of inadequacy or hurt, and leading with empathy, learning and co-responsibility. It is the only path I know of that can transform our hurt into healing.

So, try this “Ray Rice” self-reflection and see what happens:

  1. What’s your vulnerability avoidance reaction? Do you blow up or shutdown? List the behaviors you fall into when you’re triggered/threatened.
  2. What experience of weakness feels most intolerable to you? Do you hate feeling weak? Inadequate? Unwanted? Take some recent examples and search for the fears and feelings that cause shame. These are your “hot buttons.” Push yourself to actually feel the sensations. I get a burning fire in my sternum. This is what your rage or numbing protects you from.
  3. Share these feelings out loud with your partner or a friend. That’s right, time to man up! Anger is a sign of weakness. Authenticity in moments of vulnerability is transformative strength. The goal is not to control your anger, but to release the emotions underneath it. Create a context in your relationships where you, your partner, and your entourage can identify and say what is really going on. If you get it out early, it won’t build up in ways you’ll later regret.
  1. Paul Hiss says:

    Wow, Shayne. That was so well written and concise! It may be clear what happened when I look at it following an incident of over-reacitivity, but recognizing what is happening in the heat of the moment, when my brain has gone into survival mode and stops processing useful thoughts, is really tough for me. Going from powerlessness to productivity doesn’t naturally happen “at the flip of a switch” as does the transition from stimulus to reaction. How might I “learn” to react positively once the physical sensation of a challenge is evident (for me, it’s like an electric current in the shoulders, neck and face)? I suppose the first three things to do are practice, practice, and practice. Are there exercises you can recommend?

    1. Shayne Hughes says:

      The most important and effective practice here is pinch sorting, which we cover in Personal Mastery. When you feel that electric current, it’s a sign that your Egosystem has been triggered. That’s the vulnerability we want to avoid. It is very hard to do this in the moment/just in our head. By taking the time to dissect a few incidents, you’ll become much more familiar with the ego threats that set you off. This heightens your ability to see them coming, and then take preventive action.

      The more, even after an incident, you allow yourself to feel and express what’s vulnerable for your ego, the less charged it becomes. As it loses its power over you, your anger will dissipate on its own (vs. being something to control).

      Hope that help!

  2. Roger Canaff says:

    It could be that Ray Rice lashed out due to uncontrollable anger. But respectfully, that is only one theory. Rice might also simply be violent because it amuses him and gives him ultimate control over an intimate partner. If Rice did “snap” than why did he drag her lifeless body around like trash, failing to even tug her skirt back down? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this explanation. I’ve seen too many cases where abusers did not need ‘anger management.’ They manager their anger just fine- it allows them control and satisfaction.

    1. Shayne Hughes says:

      I love your comment, because it is aligned with my perception and takes our conversation a layer deeper. You suggest Rice may be violent because it “gives him ultimate control over an intimate partner.” Why would someone choose control vs. love and connection with an intimate partner? What is driving this?

      Again, I don’t know Rice, but I am very familiar with these behaviors, and they have everything to do with avoiding our vulnerability by taking power. When I dominate someone else, I erase all feelings of weakness, neediness, inadequacy. In our work, we study our Egosystem (our preoccupation with our self-worth). Rage and violence are extreme strategies of the ego to avoid a perceived danger.

      I completely agree with your observation that anger gives people control and satisfaction. We call those ‘ego-benefits’. Rice got his power back when he knocked her out. Now she ‘knows’ not to push him. But why couldn’t he cope with what she was saying to him? What criticism was too much for him to bear? Whatever it was, the threat to his ego pushed him to still be so enraged he was dragging her around, as you say.

      When we do this all the time, it becomes a habit.

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