Is Rage Really Self-Destructive?

“This is one of the dangers to health by which human beings are faced on their path to cultural development. Holding back aggressiveness is in general unhealthy and leads to illness (to mortification). A person in a fit of rage will often demonstrate how the transition from aggressiveness that has been prevented to self-destructiveness is brought about by diverting the aggressiveness against himself: he tears his hair or beats his face with his fists, though he would evidently have preferred to apply this treatment to someone else. Some portion of self-destructiveness remains within, whatever the circumstances; till at last it succeeds in killing the individual, not, perhaps, until his libido has been used up or fixated in a disadvantageous way.” (Ch. 2, Freud)

In “An Outline of Psycho-Analysis,” Freud talks about how we have two basic instincts: Eros and the destructive instinct (or the death instinct). In the quote that I have above, he talks about the effects of the destructive instinct if it is repressed in every day life. I agree somewhat but not wholly wholly on the conclusion that Freud said about what would happen to people if the destructive instinct was repressed. I do not believe that having rage inside can necessarily lead you to be destructive in such a way that you ” tear [your] hair or beat [your] face with [your] fist.” I believe that people deal with rage in many different ways, ways that can be either constructive or destructive to their psyche. For example, a man has rage toward his mother because while he was growing up, she did nothing to encourage him educationally and give him support in the things that he wanted to do (like sports or school plays). She was always absent and neglectful because she was an alcoholic. Now, the man can deal with his rage in two ways. He can repress it, and decide that he will make something of himself without the support of his mom, and use his rage to drive him to do his best and prove to his mom that he is somebody that should be recognized, or he could take his rage and decide to stop attending school because he figures, what’s the point if his own mother doesn’t even care about him? So he’ll be a high school or middle school drop out, and to cope with his rage he starts to become an alcoholic just like his mother, and his life goes in a downward spiral from then on.

Even though, in the first instance, the man is using his rage and is working hard in life for the wrong reason (in order to prove something to his mother rather than just for personal satisfaction or because he has a desire to make something of his life for himself), he is still using that rage in a constructive way. Of course, maybe later in life he will need some counseling to deal with that rage, but he still got far in life by using his rage in a constructive way. I just think that Freud needs to acknowledge that destructive instinct is not always something that, if repressed, can lead to self-destructedness. What do you guys think?


3 responses to “Is Rage Really Self-Destructive?

  1. I think you make an interesting point about how different people deal with their rage differently, and this made me think of the book, A Terrible Love of War, by James Hillman. Hillman is a psychoanalyst and in this piece he discusses how everyone has a desire to go to war engrained in their psyche and when we try to repress war and fighting and try to stop any sort of war or fighting, that causes our psyches to split, which in turn causes people to lash out even more and start larger nuclear wars. As a solution to this he suggests that people should just let small wars occur to satisfy the psyche, which prevents the larger more destructive wars from occurring. While I don’t necessarily agree with the entirety of this theory, I think there is something to say about people having a desire for conflict and about how they react to the repression of said desire. I think that like you said, nobody definitively has the same desires and lashes out in the same way, but I think this is a pretty unique example of a desire and the corresponding response to the repression of that desire.

  2. I also agree with you that people handle their inner rage in different ways but I also find that holding your rage inside can lead to self-destruction but just in less drastic ways. For instance, given the same example you used of the son and his alcoholic mother, the son could slip behind and barely graduate high school or get decent jobs but later get distracted or lose focus at work and lose his jobs easily. This is more of a middle ground with more of a destructive end result, but is still much less of an extreme. I believe that rage is something that has to be released in a positive manner because if not it will accumulate to an irreversible state and it will consume the person involved. One person enraged will surely handle the situation differently than the other but I honestly don’t see a positive end in holding the rage inside.

  3. Harry: Yeah, I don’t really agree with Hillman’s theory either, but I do see where he is coming from. I think it has to do with what Lauren says (right after you) about finding some way to let the rage out.
    Lauren: Yes, I completely agree with you about not keeping rage inside. I did say in my post that later on he would most likely need counseling in his life, but who’s to say that he doesn’t need that counseling earlier? So yes I completely see where you’re coming from.
    Thanks guys for the feedback!

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