Episode Two: ‘Acting Out’ As A Self Defense Mechanism
“So can you tell me what happened the night of the robbery?” I asked Hamza after the small talk was over.
“I already told the investigators everything I know” Hamza spoke very quickly. He started tapping his right foot uncontrollably with beads of sweat sliding down his forehead.
“Do you mind telling me again?”
“I dunno much. I was in my room the whole time”
“So you never seen the guests? Or had dinner with the family?” I asked, checking my notes and police reports to see if he was getting his story straight.
“What else did you do that night?”
“Nothing special, I was downstairs in my room all night” Hamza stiffened his shoulders and rubbed his nose. “I was asleep”
“You told the police you saw your friend’s mom Sameera go upstairs around dessert time.”
“I woke up hungry. I stepped out of my room, called Alffie to get me some food. Then I saw Aunt Sameera sneak upstairs”
“Alffie is Alfred. The butler, correct?”
“So what else were you doing in your room that whole time?”
“I told you! I slept and played video games” Hamza frowned, pressing his fingers to his temples.
“Oh, I don’t think you’ve mentioned that. What game were you playing?”
“Ummm Avengers?” Hamza stuttered.
“Is that the same game where you chase the dragon?” I looked him straight in his doped, Hazelnut eyes.
“I don’t know what that means” Hamza’s palms were sweating at this point, too.
Dangerous memories flashed before his eyes so vividly I could hear his heart pound against his chest.
A couple of months ago
“Dude this is good stuff” Hamza slurred.
“I told you” His friend winked.
“Honey did you remember to…”
“Mommmmmm! I told you a hundred times, don’t charge into my room without knocking!” Hamza roared.
“I’m sorry baby I didn’t mean to…. Oh, what’s that smoke?” Amy sniffed the air.
“Nothing it’s a chemistry project for school, now get out!”
“Do you need any help?”
“No Mom! Just go now so we can finish our project.”
That same night, Hamza allegedly ‘borrowed’ the keys to his mom’s Maserati, went for a midnight cruise with his friend and ended up being arrested.
“Mom! I’m dying! You gotta get me outta this joint” Hamza wailed. He was allowed one phone call, so naturally he called the only person who usually gets him out of such troubles scot-free.
“Officer, may I have a word with you please” Amy asked elegantly.
Within half an hour, the police report was shredded in exchange for a locked black brief case, and Amy was back home, tucking her son in bed as if nothing had happened.
She made him promise to quit and to never ever breathe a word about this to a soul, especially his father.
“Seriously lady, what’s that supposed to mean?” Hamza asked me again, his voice shaking this time.
“I think you know what it means” I replied calmly.
As if this was his cue to blow up, Hamza rose to his feet, his anger boiling up like lava, and his eyes blood red.
“Please sit down. We’re not done here”
“Oh you bet we are!” Hamza stormed up to his room yelling and cursing, stopping momentarily to grab a crystal vase and slam it against the wall.
That same evening
“How rude! I swear if I had spoken to my parents that way, or any grown up for that matter, I would have been buried alive. With poisonous rats. In a dungeon.” Jenna, my assistant remarked.
“I know. Our parents had zero tolerance for disrespect. You can’t totally blame Hamza for his behavior though, he obviously doesn’t know any better” I said.
“Don’t defend that spoiled brat” Jenna spit out.
“I’m not. I’m completely appalled by his behavior, too. But I can’t help thinking his anger and acting out are just another form of self defense mechanism”
“Like how? He’s also separated from reality and lives in a far-off, ‘Angry Bird’ world?” Jenna joked.
“No” I laughed. “When we’re physically attacked, we fight back with all our might. The same goes for emotional attacks. When someone hurts our feelings, they tap into our innermost insecurities and fears. They make us feel exposed and helpless, so we rage and act out. If you think about it, for some people, expressing anger is a symbol for regaining a sense of power and control.”
“Please tell me this is against Islamic teachings or I’m gonna cry in my coffee.”
“Of course it is. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised us to never get angry, because anger is from Satan. There’s no ‘power’ in it at all. He also said.
“The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.” https://sunnah.com/bukhari/78/141
“What about those who stuff their anger inside but retaliate with the scary silent treatment instead?”
“That’s being passively aggressive, which is another type of self defense. These people will shut down completely to escape dealing with the problem, but their eyes…. ho-ho… if looks could kill!”
“Yes! YES! These are exactly my mom’s moves. Her eyes widen, her breath sharpens and her nostrils open up. She’d be silent alright but her piercing look could make a grown man pee his pants! I swear if there’s a country named ‘Passive Aggression’, my mom would be their queen! Beating us up would have been more merciful”
“Aggression rarely solves anything, Jenna. Neither does passive aggression. Those who can anger you that much evidently have control over you. Their words must have affected you in one way or another, especially if they threaten to touch any feelings of fear, guilt or hurt you’ve been harboring deep inside”
“Okay I need to remember this for the future. Might come in handy when I’m bragging to my friends about my Psychological powers” Jenna winked.
“You’re such a child”
“I’m serious. Ughh where’s my notepad. I gotta to write this down.”
“It’s in the alphabets. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H… so F, G, H is Fear, Guilt and Hurt”
“Who’s the child now?” Jenna teased.
“You know, acting out is the self defense mechanism children use when they don’t get what they want. They throw tantrums at Toy stores and scream at the top of their lungs when it’s time to leave the playground because many of them haven’t developed adequate skills to deal with emotional pain yet. And believe it or not, some of them never really develop any as they grow older, so whenever they feel threatened, even adults will behave like children and act out.”
“Hmmmm so Hamza feels threatened. Why is that? Doesn’t seem like his feelings got hurt. He must be scared or feeling guilty” Jenna smirked.
“That’s a possibility yes…”
“Oh come on! The answers are staring you in the eyes. Hamza obviously did it. Yesterday when his mom offered him money, he said no. Which teenager says ‘no’ to money?”
I tapped my pen on the desk, contemplating Jenna’s words silently. She had a point, but was it valid enough to accuse the son?
“Do the math. He was defensive, agitated, rude and sweaty. Oh and RICH! It’s definitely him”
“Look who’s jumping to conclusions. Awwwhhh I’m so proud” I teased.
“AND he’s trying to make his mom’s friend Sameera look like the main suspect. I mean, was there any proof she went upstairs right before the necklace disappeared?”
“Actually….. There was…..”
To be continued….
Lilly S. Mohsen
I read somewhere that putting a mirror behind the salesperson at the store will stop customers from getting angry. They wouldn’t want to watch themselves behave in an aggressive manner. It’s unsightly. You know why? Because the jig is up! Anger isn’t perceived as a sign of power anymore, it’s a sign of weakness. We’re old enough to realize it’s just a cover up; a smoke screen to hide the pain we feel. Besides we all know the famous hadith, right?
“The strong man is not the good wrestler; but the strong man is he who controls himself when he is angry.” https://sunnah.com/urn/2054430
Nonetheless, anger isn’t the problem. The word ‘when’ in this hadith proves it’s a common emotion, for it serves as a signal something is horribly wrong, and you need to do something about it. And you know what we do since we’re absolute geniuses loool? We ‘act out’ the destructive feelings of anger instead of actually fixing the problem, and so inevitably we end up back in square one. When someone’s words for example makes you feel threatened or guilty, all the voices in your head clobber you with different takes on the situation:
“Sara’s getting on my nerves again”
“I know she probably doesn’t mean it but still”
“Sara is always taking advantage of my kindness.”
“I shouldn’t say anything I might regret”
“If I don’t speak up Sara will think I’m a wimp”
My advice? Practice the ‘pause’. Breathe, filter out your thoughts and try to control acting out the ‘unproductive’ ones. You’ll thank me later when you win people over instead of lose them one by one. Prophet Muhammad’s golden words will help you reach the respectful level of ‘emotional strength’, and boy don’t we all need that in this time and age?