Aug 232015 3 Responses

I’m Not Psychic, Your Anger Is Telling

In the medical field it is called referred pain. It is a pain felt in one part of the body which is actually sourced in another part of the body.

  • A heart attack famously expresses itself with pain in the left arm or back.
  • Gallstones are often felt with chest pain.
  • Sometimes tooth pain is a sign of a problem with your jaw or sinuses.

Not all pain is expressed in the area causing the tension. (See: You Hurt My Feelings)

It’s true physically and even more true emotionally.

On occasion people think I’m psychic. We will be talking about a problem and while taking the issue seriously, I will ask a question–“I believe this is a real issue, but is it possible something else is going on as well?”

Some will try to hide behind the issue we are discussing, but many people tear up and disclose something much more serious–a broken marriage, a hidden addiction, a sorrow which no one knows, or a personal grief which has gone unexpressed.

They wonder how I know. They assume I have the ability to peer deep into their soul and discern things which no one else knows. What they fail to realize is that their pain is loudly expressing itself, only in ways that they do not realize.

Grief is often a referred pain. It doesn’t always appear in the same location as its source.

A 12-year-old umpire makes a bad call during an 8-year-old tee ball game. The coach comes running out of the dugout yelling, screaming, and acting like a fool.

A husband and wife are heading to a play. Midway to the theater the wife realizes she has left the tickets at home. When she tells her husband, he doesn’t laugh it off and return to the house to get the tickets. Instead, he explodes in rage.

A customer makes her standard order at her favorite restaurant. After an extended wait time, the order is delivered to her table under-cooked and with the wrong condiments. In response, she lights into waiter and threatens never to return.

In each situation, the issue is not the issue. A grown man doesn’t lose his mind because an 8-year-old is called “safe” when he is actually “out.” A husband doesn’t risk a relationship because of tickets to a play. A woman doesn’t flip out because one order out of 100 is wrong. Other issues are creating tension and the angst being expressed is a referred anger. (See: What the Smartest People Rarely Know)

Life is full of frustrations. Experiencing and expressing those frustrations is appropriate. Failing to do so will likely lead to passive aggressiveness and more problems than the original issue. However, when our frustration fails to fit the context of the situation, we are likely experiencing referred anger.

As a leader, writer, and speaker, I experience many situations where someone is voicing their frustration. In most situations it is healthy and productive conversation. Sometimes I am wrong. Sometimes they misunderstand. Oftentimes it is a combination of both.

However, there are occasions where the person’s passion does not fit the problem. They are way too angry for the issue we are discussing. They are far too dramatic for a minor frustration. In those moments it is guaranteed something else is happening in their lives. (See: Leadership–Learning to Take a Punch)

1. When we are angry, be careful. Because of referred pain, we must be careful when we are facing a serious grief. Our temptation will be to take out on others what is not their responsibility. We will blow situations out of proportion because we are helpless in another circumstance. We must be careful. (See: When Life Hurts Show Me How to Treat You)

 We show caution by recognizing this human tendency, asking others for help in keeping things in context, and admitting our frustration could be caused by other situations.

2. When others are angry, be compassionate. Knowing about referred pain should give us more patience and empathy with others. We can be more sensitive toward the lives of others. While looking at the issue at hand, we can consider other sorrows which might be present in a person’s life. Without excusing bad behavior, we can give people latitude in expressing their frustrations.

Compassion is needed by everyone, but especially those in the helping professions. Nurses, doctors, therapists, and pastors will experience more people expressing referred pain than other professions. Without understanding referred pain, we can forget people’s anger is rarely about us.

I’m not a psychic. I’m not even very discerning in many situations. However, I have experienced enough angry people in situations where their anger seemed completely out of context. After finding out the true source of their frustration and realizing they aren’t as angry with me as they seemed, I learned about referred pain.

When someone’s frustration seems greater than the context of the situation, assume something else is going on.

3 Responses to I’m Not Psychic, Your Anger Is Telling
  1. […] Our past pains are revealed in very telling ways. Whatever makes us flinch shows an old wound that ...

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