Dumping (the technical term is displacement) is when a partner gets angry at his/her mate and unfairly unloads frustration on to him/her even though s/he is completely or mostly innocent. Misplaced anger is a common problem married folks often experience. The resentment caused by it can build up and, over time, lead to ever more serious relational strife.
From a societal viewpoint, the frequency of this kind of unnecessary unpleasantness is evidence of our culture’s overall lack of emotional intelligence and of the lack of psychological understanding found in many marriages.
Here’s an example of dumping to help you get a sense of how it happens: Let’s say George has a tough day at work and is called into his boss’s office and told, in no uncertain terms, that, if he doesn’t shape up, he will be fired. Stressed, he is upset but doesn’t adequately realize it or process the threatening experience he has just experienced. He comes home and sits down for dinner with his wife and kids without mentioning anything. And then, it all goes bad. At first, he complains that the pot roast is over-cooked. But then, he continues berating his wife, noting that she is and always has been a terrible cook. Finally, he slams down his fork, stands up and storms off from the table, leaving everyone stunned and shaken.
Obviously, neither the pot roast nor his wife’s cooking is the real problem. Likewise, neither was the cause of George’s emotional explosion. What was going on was a delayed emotional reaction to the difficult encounter that George had with his boss. In the immediate panic, George felt overwhelmed by the prospect of being fired. Anger then arose to protect himself from the intolerable fear and vulnerability he felt. Unable to directly express this anger to his boss, George, unconsciously, needed to wait and discharge his anger in a safer place. His loving wife was the perfect vessel into which he could pour his outrage. The trigger for the incident at home was essentially irrelevant. Any other minor frustration or conflict would have had the same result.
Fortunately, a couple’s learning the basics of psychological dynamics can go a long way to prevent and avoid emotional dumping:
Tips for the “Dumper”
1) The FEAR and ANGER Connection. It is important understand that, whenever we are or someone we love is threatened or has expectations disappointed, we initially experience fear and/or intense discouragement. This experience is difficult to tolerate for very long and thus the feeling turns to anger and a need to express it.
2) Anger is not always immediately felt. Sometimes a threat or disappointment is so great that we become overwhelmed and we are not able to think clearly or understand the emotional dimensions of what has happened. We might feel upset but not know why.
3) Emotional Trauma and Neuropathway Disruption. Whenever anyone has a difficult or unpleasant encounter or experience, it is important to realize that some brain trauma has occurred and that there is a temporary loss of connection between our perceptional apparatus and the human /thinking part of our brain. Stressful situations cause us to briefly lose the capacity to think clearly.
4) Breathe and hit the emotional reset button. Thus, a good habit to get into is to learn some breathing or other relaxation techniques which allows us to hit the emotional reset button and re-establish the neuropathways to our neo-cortex.
5) Question / Investigate the source of your feelings. Once you feel calmer and your good judgment has been restored, it is a good practice to think over whether the person or thing that you are angry at really deserves or is responsible for your anger. Most likely he/she/it will not be the problem. It is important to find the real underlying experience which has been so upsetting. When the actual source of the upset has been located, then talking about it and focusing efforts to problem solve may be employed.
Tips for the person unreasonably attacked: If you experience intense criticism which makes no sense, it probably doesn’t and is , instead, an instance of displaced or misplaced anger. In these situations:
1) It is important to recognize dumping as soon as possible and not to take the blast personally.
2) Talking doesn’t work. It is also important to understand that it is useless and even counter-productive to try to talk reasonably with someone who is momentarily unable to be reasonable.
3) Empathizing and calling time-out are ways which can help calm things down.
Learning these simple steps takes some time and no one is perfect in completely eliminating displaced anger. But, with a little practice, you will find that the episodes can be fewer and less intense when then do occur. Certainly, life can be a lot easier when it is not complicated with the unpleasant moments caused by emotional dumping.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow AAPC 8 5 2018 www.revmichaelheath.com