Is attack the best line of defence?


How many times has someone calmly asked you not to do something, or told you something you do has upset them, only for you to blow up on them and make them scurry away in fright?

They’ll be more careful next time, won’t they? :)

Anger displays are often used as a defence mechanism, and it’s easy to understand why.  Ours, and many other species, evolved to be that way towards others who may want to hurt us, or who wants to take something of ours away.

You can see it if you watch a wildlife programme, any animal that has something to defend, whether it is territory or their young, will attack others ferociously in order to protect what they have. It’s nature and we’re a part of nature too.

However, humans have evolved to the point where we can override our innate programming and our basic instincts. We don’t have to follow a predetermined course of action because we have higher cognitive abilities and very complex social systems in which to learn.

When a human baby is born, it is pre-programmed with certain behaviours.  For example, it knows how to suckle and grasp someone’s finger and as they grow they begin to crawl and later walk.  However, they don’t learn something like language without being taught it and without being able to practice it with others.  Human children need extended childhoods in order to learn how to fit into our societies and it is during childhood that we learn how to react to the different situations and people we meet.


By the time we are adults we have undergone roughly 20 years of learning, regardless of whether what we have learned is good or bad.  We, in fact, might learn at age 2 that throwing a temper tantrum and shouting angrily gets us exactly what we want and so we repeat the behaviour over and over again.  If we do not unlearn that behaviour in subsequent years then it becomes very deeply ingrained…..even if it is not working for us anymore as adults.

In fact, because we have behaved in a certain way for so long, we end up believing that that is just the way we are.  We can make our thoughts and behaviours a part of our identity and let ourselves off the hook by explaining that we have no choice; this is ‘who I am’!

So how do we unlearn behaviours?

The great thing about the human mind is that once we bring something into our conscious awareness, we are then able do something about it.  It is when issues, feelings or beliefs, are locked into our subconscious, i.e. we don’t even know about them, that we can’t help ourselves to improve. Once we know and acknowledge what is going on, all of a sudden we assume a great power over our lives.  We can now, as a conscious and aware grown-up change our behaviours and our lives for the better.

One way to do this is to reflect on our current behaviours and feelings.  Directly after an angry outburst, you should be very honest with yourself about what was really happening.  Why, in truth, did you get so angry?  And why did you feel that the best course of action was to behave as you did?  I have written more about this in the following article titled do you know what makes you angry and also in breaking the patterns of angry outbursts.

The main lesson to learn though, is that you are the only one who knows your past and you are the only one who can identify the root cause of your anger.  Once you become aware of the reasons for your anger, you can then fix the hurts of the past and correct the behaviours that don’t work anymore. It is, I’m afraid, all down to you.

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