Most people would say that Jake is a laid-back guy, even his partner, Carol. And he is… usually. But every once in a while, he just blows up. Sometimes it’s about something small – Carol leaving her clothes on the bedroom floor, or something about her tone of voice — but Jake goes ballistic. Or he suddenly seems to go on a rant, spewing a list on gripes that he has seemingly been sitting on for a while. His angry mood may last hours, days, but he eventually settles down, usually mumbles some apology and Jake goes back to being… old Jake. 

Undoubtedly, you’ve met people like Jake who periodically spiral out of control. Here are the most common causes of these emotional explosions:


Jake’s default really is to be laid-back, but under enough stress — deadlines at work, health or family worries — his coping abilities wear thin, it takes less to push him emotionally over the edge.


Or it’s not just stress but underlying depression. It may be situational where Jake feels trapped, it may be genetic where he is wired for depression. But regardless of the source, for some depression isn’t the low energy, lay-in-bed kind, but an agitated depression. While there is that same why-bother, it-doesn’t-matter, pessimistic thoughts driving his mood, what comes to the surface is irritability.

Relationships are out of balance

Jake may be falling into a martyr role, at home with Carol, maybe even on his job, where he does a lot of the heavy lifting, is bothered by it, but sucks it up hoping others will eventually step up or appreciate him more. Most often others don’t step up. They think the other guy is doing what they doing because they are taking them at face-value: That they don’t complain, they seem like they are doing what they are doing because they want to. The explosions happen because the martyr’s resentment about things being unfair, like a pressure cooker, builds up, and he blows.

Or no, Jake is not the martyr but feels more like the victim. He feels always one-down, that Carol is micromanaging or critical but again he puts up with it till he once again gets fed up and blows up.

Difficulty with transitions

Jake may also be a person who has a difficult time with transitions. What this means is that he tends to be a planner, knows way in advance what he wants to do, and God-forbid his plans get derailed for some reason. It may be what he wants to do on Saturday outside and it rains, it may be how he expects a dinner party to go with friends, but the dinner burns or folks cancel at the last minute and he loses it.

This is about anxiety and Jake tries to control his anxiety by his planning and choreographing. When things suddenly change, he gets rattled, his anxiety bubbles to the top but what he expresses and what others see his anger.

Bullying behavior

This is probably not Jake, but there are those who blow-up as an intimidation tool. This is getting what they want, getting others to do what they want them to do, it is about power and entitlement. 

But even for some seeming bullies, the underlying driver isn’t power but hypervigilance, are always being on guard, ready to spring and fight generally learned in childhood as a way of coping with trauma. Again, what others see is not the underlying anxiety but the control and anger. 

What to do:

If you are a person who blows up or if you are living with someone who does, there are 3 parts to dealing with the problem: first-aid management, prevention, and addressing the underlying problem:

First aid

If you quickly blow up, the emotional first-aid is never about resolving the problem that you’re ruminating about, but your settling your emotional state. You need to calm yourself down, leave the situation to sidestep your instincts to “get this off your chest,” “solve the problem now.” This is about self-regulation and responsibility. 

If you are on the receiving end of someone’s blow-up, you want to not feed the fire by getting angry yourself, but instead remain calm. But if that doesn’t work, if the other person is threatening to become violent, getaway.


People who go 0-60 quickly often don’t realize when stress, resentment, etc., are building up. Here, if you are like this, you want to track your emotions — checking in with yourself periodically throughout the day and ask yourself how you are feeling, so you can do something to calm yourself down before your emotions get to too high — go for a walk, write down how you are feeling, deep breath, go for a run, do meditation.

You also want to build in prevention by stepping back and owning that you have a problem with anger. Angry people tend to blame the situation or others for making them angry. This is irresponsible and irrational. You are in charge of controlling your emotions. Get therapy, take medication, develop the skills you need to lower your overall emotional state.

Solve the underlying problems

Here Jake talks to Carol about her micromanaging or his doing the heavy lifting to rebalance the relationship. Or he takes steps to deal with his underlying depression or anxiety so he is not irritable or controlling.

And if Jake does tend to ramp, calm down, and then sweep things under the rug, it’s time for Carol to step up, bring up and talk about these underlying issues. Jake’s apology is important but it’s not enough. Carol needs to be assertive in saying to Jake that he needs to work on his anger, or she needs to ask about what she can do to help when he gets rattled by transitions or to counter his built-up resentments. 

Like most problems, emotional explosions are not the problem but the symptom of other underlying problems. Fix the underlying problems.