Lots of passionate words but nobody's there: Understanding irritation and fury in relationships

Rangda COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Rangda tijdens een barong- en krisdans TMnr 20017895You've been in a conversation that speeds into brief passionate discourse and hurtles on to furious speech, familiar emotional agony, indignation and hurtful stalemate.  Right?  You've been in several or maybe many.  Here's what may be happening.  * info re picture below.

If you have or had an eating disorder, the eating disorder behavior and thinking distracts you or blocks you from emotional knowledge you can't bear. Whatever that may be, it's below your awareness.  It's unconscious.

But, just because it's unconscious doesn't mean you don't know it.  The information is in you. You know it, but you are not aware of it.  

Sometimes something or someone will trigger that information, and out it all comes in a passion.  But it's still out of your awareness.  You start speaking, reacting and acting like yourself or someone else from another time in your life... and you don't know it.  You hurtle on without control.  This is what "acting out" means.  You are acting out your unconscious without conscious awareness.

If you do this almost routinely with another person, it's possible that you trigger something similar in them. They "act out" a section of their inner life that is a match for yours.  

If that happens neither you nor the other person is fully in the room, aware of the meaning and ramifications of the exchange or capable of making any adjustments or accommodations to reality.  You are both locked in your own histories and battling out a repetitive scenario that has no solution in this form.

It can happen between parent and child, between siblings, between husband and wife. It can happen between friends and acquaintances whose unresolved issues are a "match" for each other.

You can't make progress or come to a resolution when you are caught in this scenario.  A powerful wave is carrying you on.  You feel righteous. You feel, in a strange way, that you are in a familiar place where you know what you must say and do to prevail while, at the same time, knowing that the response you get from the other person is predictable and familiar too.

An important part of your recovery work is to make your unconscious conscious.  Without that you will be vulnerable to this kind of interaction and repeat it when the triggers are present. You can make destructive decisions, be attracted to people who serve to give you an outlet for this acting out, drain your energy and contribute to your unhappiness.

To deal with these traps you need to know they exist, recognize them, and help yourself heal your way out.  

Many approaches exist for helping you recognize and learn from your unconscious rather than act it out.

  1. How do these traps show up in your life?
  2. Do you know what triggers them?
  3. What methods do you use to learn from them?
  4. What methods do you use to catch yourself before such interactions go too far?

*  I've seen this dance several times in Bali. The main character is Rangda, uncontrollable evil.  The dancers try to drive her away. It's a dance of great passion. What's key here is that it is a trance dance.  The warriors and Rangda and later the Barong, are all in trance, as are you when you are caught inthe acting out of your unconscious.  The dance is repeated endlessly with no resolution.  It's an incredibly gripping experience to see this just as it is an incredibly gripping experience to be in it.  The dancers need to be carried off at the end and revived by shamans.

Rangda in a barong- and kris dance performance
Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)

Joanna Poppink, MFT is a psychotherapist in private practice. All appointments are virtual. To schedule a free telephone consultation email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


0 # Love this!KymL 2013-01-24 20:06
I love that you wrote this in a way that I can understand.  I can see now where I've gotten into a lot of these triggering situations. My new couple's counselor put this into simple terms as I talked about my personal therapy work. she said "So you can recognize your stuff and take ownership for it?" 

Thanks Joanna!
0 # I don't know how to get therePTC 2013-01-25 08:39
I try so hard to dig deep and figure out what it is that's going on in my head or what has happened in my life to cause me to have an ED.  I had a great life growing up, nothing traumitic or anything, but I can't dig deep.  I can't go below the surface and really talk about things because I don't know what the "things" are that I'm supposed to talk about.  Maybe my unconsious mind knows, although it's not doing a good job of helping me out there, except in dreams sometimes.  I have really good dreams.  I just don't know how to dig deep and get to whatever "issues" I supposedly have.

I think I just rambled.
0 # Love this!pinkjoanna 2013-01-25 09:32
Dear Kym,

"recognize your suff and take ownership for it" means being aware, finding ways to transition the information from unconscious to conscious.  Yes.
0 # I don't know how to get therepinkjoanna 2013-01-25 09:35
Dear PTC,

You are not rambling.  You are circling an area you want to explore.

Your dreams can offer you a path.  Write them down. 

I'll write more about methods you can use to "get there."


warm regards,

0 # Getting therePTC 2013-01-25 11:39
Thanks Joanna,

I do write them down sometimes.  I can remember the order of them most of the time.  I had three the other night.  A lot of times I have recurring dreams too.

What if there isn't anywhere to "get," so I can't "get there?"
Laura R
0 # TrapsLaura R 2013-01-25 19:47
In regard to the traps, I definately know they exist. Sometimes I recognize them in people right away. Especially at work. There are people at work who have triggering theme songs they "sing" over and over that I can't avoid so I get a lot of practice. One of my triggers is getting left out. Others are having my opinion be dismissed or having someone be disappointed in me. Usually I get a very familiar strong wounded feeling and I know what is happening but I don't always know what to do except acknolwedge that it's happening again and try to calm myself.  I'm not sure I understand what you mean Joanna about "help yourself heal your way out".
0 # Trapspinkjoanna 2013-01-25 21:42
I'll write more about that, Laura.  The healing your way out is about bringing what's unconscious into awareness.  More to come.   :-)
0 # It took a lot for me to post thismylifex2 2013-02-07 19:30

i have read and re-read this post, not understanding all of it completely, but knowing that I have been retreating into myself a lot lately when it comes to discussing my eating disorder. I don't even like to talk to my therapist about it because I don't feel worthwhile. I did get hurt and became very angry recently over something that I realize I must let go and have confidence in myself that I am not a bad person.
I realize lately (with the help of my therapist), that i am using my eating disorder to distract from the issues of my abuse, as i numb my body with food, and, alternately, restricting.
I know the only way to bring this to better consciousness is to be brave and talk about my issues with my abuse to my therapist. I also know that I have very deeply imbedded issues with my mother and how she raised me not to have a voice for myself.  How my thoughts, feelings, beliefs were discounted and ignored if she didn't feel the same. If I am in a situation that triggers similar feelings, I run. I have not really wanted to post on here lately, rather find it easier to just lay low, but have felt increasingly led to comment here. thanks.

Laura R
0 # Thank youLaura R 2013-02-08 18:36
Tracy - just wanted to say thank you for sharing your thoughts...true bravery :-)
0 # Nice to see you Tracy!KymL 2013-02-09 01:42
I'm glad you found the courage to write Tracy!  We miss you!!

I know what you're saying about hinding in the ED to avoid the abuse issues.  I kept telling myself that I couldn't face the abuse until my ED was perfectly gone.  So every time I'd have an ED thought (didn't have to do the behavior), I'd tell myself I was still too weak in ED recovery to face the abuse.  I actually had to stop going to my community support group (had already ended the theraputic group) as a way of telling myself it was time to move on. I also stopped reading the forums on this website (only read the blogs).   I found a sexual abuse survivors group and it got me focused on what I needed and was ready to face.  I still kept my other ED supports in place in case my ED did become an issue, but I really was farther along in that part of my recovery than I first wantd to believe.  (obviously I also returned to these forums!)

Tracy, I hope find a balance between the two issues.....they are siblings afterall. I know people who do them both at the same time, and others like me who had to face one at a time.  I trust you'll figure out what's right for you!!

Positive thoughts heading your way, so don't duck! :-)    
0 # Getting better at spotting the signs & Hi Tracy!shh 2013-02-09 16:36

I realise that I don't get triggered as often or as easily as I used to, and I think part of that for me is actually knowing "where I end, and where others begin". As in if someone says something that really triggers me and I strongly disagree with, if I can sense things started to get a little heated on both sides, I remind myself that they are entitled to hold whatever view they wish, as am I, and that there is a line there between us that divides what is theirs that I have no right to interfere with or to have any expectation of them to change; and what is mine, that I am entitled to feel in response, that I do have the power to deal with and change etc, and usually this will involve some kind of "agreeing to disagree",

I can choose not to get drawn in, to just let things lie and accept we have different views, I can choose to remove myself from the situation if necessary, I can go away and question why I feel how I feel, what it is that provokes that reaction in me, I can separate out what is justified and what is not, and reflect upon what is historically mine and where it comes from and what I need to do about it.

I don't always get it right, sometimes the flame gets ignited so quickly I don't get a chance to intervene and put my sensible, rational head on before I'm drawn in - but I can still reflect on it afterwards and see where I should've drawn the line, try to understand why my reactions were so strong and were what they were etc.

I suppose for me, it's about owning yourself - your whole self - not getting involved in stuff that isn't yours, and not expecting anyone to deal with what is yours either.

On a seperate note - Tracy, it's really good to see you posting on here again!

I think sometimes when we are hurt/upset/angry about something it's easy to internalise it as us being a bad person or being viewed as a bad person, when that's really not the case - so I'm glad you know that you're not really "bad"!

Stick with things Tracy, sometimes in therapy we can struggle for weeks/months, and then without warning something happens and we start to make progress, or realise that we can start to deal with stuff that we previously couldn't bear to... it will come!

I know I went through a few patches of wanting/needing to lie low on here - I also remember how accepting you were of me for my lack of contributions during one of those phases - don't be a stranger forever! We will all be waiting for you just the same when you feel ready to contribute a bit more again! xx


0 # Hello, everyonepinkjoanna 2013-02-11 16:03
It's my joy to read your posts, see your courage and smile at your honesty and generous sharing with one another.

My postings have been slower than usual because I've been dealing with health issues that require rest.  I'm on the mend and discovering the miraculous healing powers of regular and sustained stillness.

This does not mean I'm inactive or sedentary.  It does mean that I've been streamlining my activities to ensure that I give myself the rest I need.  It's easier for me to do this as I experience tangible  benefits.

Notice that I am not giving you details.  I want this site to be about you.  Please know that I am with you, even during quiet times.

Welcome back, Tracy.  wink

And now, to give you the promised part 2 of this article.


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