The Roots Of Anger

Daryl Dixon - The Roots of Anger
So why exactly did Daryl fly off the handle and call Carol a “stupid bitch?” I got into a silly, but rather heated, conversation on Twitter about the subject just after Pretty Much Dead Already aired on 11/27/11. That exchange sparked me to look more closely at the causes of anger and examine why Daryl became so angry at someone who was expressing concern for his well-being.

Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.d. writes a blog for Psychology Today called "Evolution of the Self." In his July 2008 entry, What Your Anger May Be Hiding, he describes anger as a “double-edged sword: terribly detrimental to relationships but nonetheless crucial in enabling many vulnerable people to emotionally survive in them.” Selzer goes on to discuss Stephen Stosny’s book Treating Attachment Abuse, writing “symptomatic anger covers up the pain of our ‘core hurts.’ These key distressful emotions include feeling ignored, unimportant, accused, guilty, untrustworthy, devalued, rejected, powerless, unlovable—or even unfit for human contact.”

Stosny describes anger as a self-soothing emotion because of the chemical process of the human brain. Anger releases the amphetamine-like epinephrine, the hormone that creates the “adrenaline rush” in a fight or flight situation. But it also releases the analgesic-like norepinephrine, which numbs the anger. This combination of hormones is seductive to the human brain, Seltzer says. “A person or situation somehow makes us feel defeated or powerless, and reactively transforming these helpless feelings into anger instantly provides us with a heightened sense of control.“ (Read Seltzer’s full blog entry at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/200807/what-your-anger-may-be-hiding.)

Many interpersonal relationship experts believe anger is the result of a myriad of core causes and deflected emotions. Those most relevant to a character study of Daryl include fear, frustration, pain (emotional or physical), and bruised pride, all demonstrated by him in multiple ways.

The most basic of these causes for Daryl’s anger was that he was compromised by injury and in physical pain. Pain alone is enough to make anyone cranky. For guys like Daryl - guys who grew up having to prove their toughness - injury and pain create not just physical issues, but also emotional ones centered on feeling powerless. Feeling “useless” or “damaged” makes them feel lesser than everyone else. They get pissed off when people tell them they need to slow down or take it easy because they see the need to do such things as signs of weakness. (It’s that damned “John Wayne gene” that most men seem to have.)

Daryl, as we saw during his ordeal in the woods, also feels as if the others don’t respect him or the skills he brings to their survival; he feels devalued. Shane’s rant at Daryl near the barn at the beginning of this episode did nothing except reinforce this view. Finding Sophia was a way to prove his worthiness and value to the group. In the first episode this season, when Sophia went missing, Rick publicly put his trust in Daryl when he told the group that he’d asked Daryl to head up the search. Giving up that search would’ve been admitting he had failed at the task he took on, that he was unworthy of Rick’s trust.

Guilt and fear are other possible factors. Sophia was Daryl’s substitute for Merle. He looked for her because he couldn’t look for Merle. Daryl never really got the chance and, as his hallucinations in the woods showed, he felt guilty about that. As much as he spouted off about how Merle would shit nails if you fed him a hammer, deep down Daryl likely feared his brother was dead. Finding Sophia alive would’ve quieted that guilt and reinforced his faith that Merle was still alive. Giving up the search for Sophia would be the equivalent of giving into his fears about Merle.

Another significant factor in his meltdown with Carol is his hope. Daryl - a man who would not easily or quickly do so - let himself hope Sophia was still alive. Early in the search, he was focused on the task at hand; he wanted to stop talking and start searching. His comment that "hopin' and prayin' is a waste of time” illustrated that he was a man of action, not of hope. But as the search went on and he found what he thought were clues indicating she may still be alive, he began to experience hope. When Sophia’s mother - the woman who should have held out hope the longest- told him that continuing to hope was misguided, it would have made him doubt himself and feel foolish. Was he wrong to ever have had hope? Did he miss something that other people saw? Just as physical injury is seen by men like Daryl to be a sign of weakness, so is being wrong. If Daryl was wrong about being able to find Sophia, if he had to admit that fact, he feels weak and therefore powerless. If he was wrong in this hope, how bruised is his pride?

The combination of these factors would lead to frustration and be enough to set off many people; such an outburst makes perfect sense for Daryl’s character. We’ve seen it before. In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed that the Daryls of the world often use anger as their coping mechanism. Moments after Daryl’s first appearance, when he heard Merle may be dead, he stifled his tears and quickly shifted his pain to rage and attacked Rick. Later, when returning to Atlanta to free Merle, Daryl doesn’t tell T-Dog “I hope Merle’s still alive up there; I’m afraid he’s dead.” Instead, with a menacing voice and a veiled threat he tells the other man “He best still be there. That’s my only word on the matter.”

Where does this sort of emotional disconnect come from? Why do other emotions often manifest themselves as anger? Conditioning. It is an idea first researched by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the 1890s when he conducted his famous experiments involving dogs, food, bells, and salivation. In 1938, psychologist B.F. Skinner expanded on Pavlov’s work and coined the term “operant conditioning.” Basically, this is a way of changing behaviour by using reinforcements for the desired response. Skinner’s research involved reinforcements given to animals, but the concept is often applied to reinforcements - physical and emotional, negative or positive - given to humans as a reward for the desired behavior. Imagine a young Daryl being picked on at school and coming home in tears. Even if Mr. Dixon didn’t do it, surely Merle would slap him upside the head and call him a pussy. So what does young Daryl do the next time a bully taunts him or someone calls him poor white trash? He becomes angry and violent, stomping the offender into the schoolyard dirt. This time, Merle is proud of him for being such a little badass. It is easy to see how the repetition this kind of event would lead Daryl into responding to most situations with anger over all other emotions, no matter what emotion he was truly feeling.

As we’ve watched Daryl grow as a character, we’ve seen Norman Reedus continue using subtle cues to reinforce Daryl’s development. Leading up to the verbal outburst at Carol, his expression was flat, impossible to read. In that instant, as he stepped toward Carol, I wondered exactly what Daryl was going to do. Would he reach out to Carol? Offer her words of comfort or encouragement? Would he tell her there was still hope for Sophia? For a split second, I actually wondered if he would kiss her. But the writers kept Daryl’s sharp edges that I love so much and Daryl did what Daryl does best: he exploded. He threw the saddle off its stand, called Carol a stupid bitch, and stormed out of the stable.

So…we’ve come full circle and I have to ask: how much of his angry outburst came from Daryl simply not knowing how to express his other emotions? We’ve seen tremendous growth in Daryl’s character this season, but no matter how much growth there has been, he is still struggling with the ideas that he is worthy, appreciated, and valued by the group. We saw Daryl apologize in this episode, something many would never have thought him capable of doing. In my next blog post, I’ll talk more about this and other events of the episode that illustrate his character development and what the loss of Sophia may do to undermine his growth.

Comments

  1. Another exceptional post here Lisa! So much detail here into Daryl, I would love if Norman Reedus himself read this. Time to try and get him to notice it =)

    Can't wait for your follow up to this. I think the loss of Sophia has changed Daryl once again significantly, guess we will find out in February...

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    1. Lisa should tweet it to the Big Bald Head address lol. ;-) Still is relevant, even more so now that the 2nd season is over and Daryl has grown in some ways and regressed in others (one could argue either case, I think in light of his distancing himself further from Carol and growing closer in his loyalty to Rick).

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  2. As someone who has been using anger to mask other emotions his whole life and who had a brother who is too much like Merle, it made me understood why I seemed to have so much insight into the character and even identify with him. Especially the part where he was picked on as a kid.

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    1. My husband and I adopted our two sons out of foster care; the younger one was a target of the abuse and demonstrates a lot--A LOT--of the same characteristics Daryl does in the show. Even four years later, it is taking us a lot of healing, discipline, love, and emotional support to work through issues with both him and his older brother (who is more like Daryl Light than Merle and is far more supportive and loving of his brother), but this is why Daryl's character hits such a note with me as a parent and also as one who grew up in an abusive household.

      In the fictitious context, time will remain to tell whether Daryl is able to let the people in his new crazy world give him the care and emotional fulfillment he needs, and know in his heart and mind that it won't make him weaker as a person, but stronger.

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  3. Yep, I agree. There are a lot of guys like Daryl out there. A lot of guy that don't know any other way to express themselves. We're also told from an early age, "Boys don't cry." We don't have that outlet, even if we have a normal upbringing. And a lot of us don't. We may not have a life like Daryl and Merl, a lot of us have some variation of that. Daryl's reaction would be what most of us would do,I believe.

    Great post as always, Lisa. Keep it up.

    David Youngquist

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  4. I still think Daryl knows something about expressing himself. See "Cherokee Rose"...

    Also, I have to disagree about the reasons of his anger when Merle was handcuffed on the roof. He was trussed up like an animal waiting for slaughter. That in and of itself is worth several pounds of rage. To simply dismiss that he might have had true anger (and not some attempt to hide emotions, or some inability to deal with emotions) is a disservice to Daryl. Think of the person you love the most locked down for a feeding tray, and a very horrid death. Any other emotion than pure outrage would be a sign of insanity. Sometimes things can be over analyzed, over thought out...

    And sometimes personal prejucie can overrule sound analysis. This is common for psychologists who see people as mirrors of approved case studies, and when someone doesnt match the case studies the psych tries to pound them into the approved mold rather than think there is greater range to the human mind. It is too easy to cast Daryl as they stereotypical "men can't deal with emotions".

    In the case of his comments to T-Dog, first why expect a man to talk like a woman. Second, why waste the words. T-Dog doesn't give a crap if Daryl is scared. The only thing then that does matter is that T-Dog magically dropped the key down a little drain several feet from where Merle was cuffed, after T-Dog got a major beat down from Merle. Suspicious much.

    And, in man speak (not women speak) "He best still be there." expresses Daryl's concern for Merle just fine.

    If someone tied my brother up like that Rick would be dead. Waiting might be required, but it would happen. And I hated my brother, God rest his soul.

    Take care, and happy blogging.

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  5. I totally get where Daryl was coming from and expected him to act like that. It is sad that he had all the hope for finding her.

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  6. Top job again Lisa. Very interesting read and a lot to take in and think about in regards to Daryl as a character, Norman Reedus as an actor portraying the role, and indeed as the rest of us and how we deal with anger issues etc ourselves. The family life that Daryl lead obviously did not give any way to vent feelings that most of us would take for granted. Anger was probably the one emotion that was constant in the Dixon household. I particularly like your point about Rick trusting him with the role of leading the search-party and how Daryl obviously didnt want to fail. I have said it before on the forum that the only thing I fear is that the new showrunner/ writers will take his character in another path that Frank Darabont originally had.

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  7. WOW Lisa I love your insights into Daryl. Thanks for another great blog!

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  8. Norman Reedus just tweeted this blog, that's how I'm reading it. Great job on this!

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  9. Norman just tweeted this link - spot on analysis and kudos to Norman for the intensity of his acting that warrants such an in depth analysis!

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    1. He did?? Kew-el! (I suggested it to Lisa upthread, ummmm, a little belatedly lol...)

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  10. I agree with Lisa but Dave has an excellent point as well. Merle is the only blood family link left in this post-apocalyptic time for Daryl, and everybody is trying to hang on (harder than ever) to whatever is left that still makes them believe in humanity and the world.

    Having Merle gone would mean that Daryl is now really--really alone, and for somebody that has never had a good rooted 'sense-of-self' is 100 times more scarier. Having worked with orphans who have been abused, they would take an abusive family rather than being alone in the world. Kind of like: "I would rather get beat up for losing the deer to a zombie, and having to eat squirl instead, than having to eat the deer alone."

    So yes, being angry is the easiest course of action because as draining as it is, it gives you a sense of control (real or not) it is more comforting for any human being than being vulnerable.

    Lisa and Dave loved the psych analysis!

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  11. The only I can say, I can't February to continue on the series! I have some my of my family hooked on it, thanks to be, we love the show! To my fab cast Daryl and Shane, I'm your number one fan, don't you forget!

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  12. Excellent, in-depth analysis!! I've said since Season 1 that it's not the way the character's written, it's Reedus' interpretation of the character that gives Daryl his depth & complexity. Reedus rocks! But we knew that...

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  13. Sweet job Lisa! Sometimes what comes to mind with Daryl is Shrek. Why you ask? Because Ogers are like onions (as said by Shrek). There are many layers with an oger. Now I'm not comparing Daryl to an oger (I cringe even thinking about it) but Daryl is a wonderful onion. The man is full of layers! You never know what you'll get and he'll even make you cry. Love Norman!!!

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    1. That is a very nice analogy! (Loved the movie Shrek btw--the first one topped the sequels by a country mile.)

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  14. All these insights about Daryl have really sunk in and could be applied to my own life. After all, I have used anger to mask over other emotions my whole life, and had a brother who got into all the trouble Merle did and did not want to be like him. Yeah, he's tough, but I'm the one who has the balls to deal with our old lady. Over the past few weeks, I have switched a lot of gears on how I react to things. I am now taking risks instead of getting pissed off that things don't happen, I am taking the steps toward these goals. I'm letting people in and I just started work in a crisis center. I've learned that true courage is letting people close even more than dealing with intense situations. Strange, that all this started because I had all these insights into a fictional character. I suppose I needed to sort this out unintentionally without trying.

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  15. Awesome Jayme! I don't know you but I am proud of you for doing that!

    A lot of people have given me lip for this post and said that Daryl has every right to be angry and it isn't always that he's covering something up. I agree with them that anger IS a valid emotion sometimes. It's just that so often we use it to hide what we really feel!

    Again, I am so proud of you for taking those steps to find out if the anger is really anger or if it is masking something else! It may feel strange that a fictional character was the key, but good characters always make us look at ourselves! And if you can find that truth for yourself, who cares what the catalyst is?

    Best of luck and DON'T GIVE UP!

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  16. Jayme thanks for that comment, really good to see that you have taken action towards your goals because of a character we all love. I really hope Norman Reedus see's your comment, would be great to hear his feedback on it. Time to get tweeting :P

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  17. Jayme, my god, good for you for taking these steps and I think it says a lot about the character and the actor to have done that for you. But you are a truly brave person too, as not everyone has the courage to face their darkest demons either.

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  18. Still fine tuning when it comes to these changes. One thing that has always been with me is that my brother has been in a lot of trouble, like Merle has, and that I am the 'good' one. It's stifled me from being more outgoing and reaching out, especially to women. So, I start out slowly... making platonic connections, like the one's Daryl made with Carol... and yes, they were not romantic gestures. Not all connections one makes are romantic ones, but are still valuable.

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    1. Jayme, I'm keeping you in my heart and thoughts. As I mentioned upthread, my husband and I are the adoptive parents of two young boys who grew up in an abusive household. Without going into a lot of heavy detail, we are still working on a lot of emotional and behavioural issues with them, even four years on. It is and will most likely be an ongoing and lifelong process of growth and healing, and our job as parents is to be the anchor that keeps them grounded and empowers them as they grow into adults.

      Best wishes on your journey.

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  19. Okay, I know I'm coming to this so late that no one will probably read this, but I only found this blog last night. Great stuff, but I think there are also other things going on with Daryl's anger.

    First of all, he identifies with Sophia. Essentially, he is out in the woods looking for himself. That's one possible reason why he is so angry at the idea that Carol is willing to give up looking for "him". He feels like that 9 year old boy is being left alone in the woods, with no one looking for him.

    My other theory ties into your theory around his awakening awareness that he is beginning to be respected within the group, though this has a more personal aspect to it.

    Daryl sees the look on Carol's face when she's confessing to him that she isn't willing to lose him - even if it means halting the search for her own daughter. Daryl's face clearly shows that he understands the significance of this confession. She cares about him very deeply, perhaps is even growing to love him. His lifetime of abuse and poor self-image make it nearly impossible for him to comprehend how this could be possible. Thus the explosion, "Stupid bitch!" may mean more, "Why would you care about me?"

    Later, when he is apologizing, you can see that he has adjusted somewhat to the notion that he has value.

    I think they are leading us down the Carol/Daryl path and I'm okay with that. I think it will be VERY interesting watching how a man like Daryl (whom Reedus claims he is playing as a 'virgin') deals with being given affection and trust for the first time in his life. Great blog, btw!

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    1. OK, *I'M* coming to this blog *very* late on, so I'm at least reading it LOL... ;-) You've made some very beautiful insights, Figtoria. With you and the rest of the fans out there, I'm looking so forward to watching Daryl's continuing evolution in Season 3. What will happen to put obstacles in the way of his growth and loyalty to his new community, and how will he face those challenges? How will Carol be able to weather the emotional fallout (more anger)? The unknown answers to these questions and more about Daryl, Carol and the series's other characters is part of what makes TWD such a damn well-made show.

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  20. Figtoria, Reedus is playing Daryl is a "virgin"? Damn! There are just too many damn similarities to this character. Delinquent brother, being closed off from others, using anger to mask other emotions and now he's a virgin? I am allowing a woman in little by little and I am uncertain where it is going or what she wants from me. All I know is that I don't want to be act like a jackass and ever call her anything like Daryl called Carol. I also do not believe they are necessarily going to have anything romantic. Some friendships are based on loss and empathy and don't always go in that direction. At least they never have with me.

    And I have agreed since Daryl told Andrea that the reason he was so determined to find Sophia was based on his own experiences as a child.

    His strength and resolve impressed Carol to the point of her caring about him. He wasn't trying to get her to feel that way. And whatever this woman feels for me and I for her, it's also based on looking out for others. We both work as Recovery Coaches in the mental Health care system. We have hurt a lot in our lifetime and are now helping other people pick up the pieces. Now I have to let others be there for me for a change and not take it all on. No more Lone Wolf stage for me.

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    1. Glad to hear you're bonding with someone in your life and opening the door, even if little by little. No matter how your friendship turns out, it's all part of that journey. Remember, a reason, a season, and a time. <3

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  21. I love your analysis here about Daryl Dixon ill manner but he's ill mannered style is seemingly changing because he can now have some people to talk on to about his problem in life especially in his childhood days.

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  22. I don't know...
    Darryl really never holds his tongue when it comes to just how he feels about something.

    I think he is settling in with the group and he is finally attaching his feelings to someone besides his brother Merle. Remember is Darryls vision of Merle, Merle said, "no-one is going to care about you but me", and Darryl feels like he's not worthy to love or be loved by anyone who is not family, and the only family Darryl has ever known really is his brother.
    Now that he and his brother are separated, Darryl's feelings and thoughts are free to be expressed and explored. The emotions and caring for other people are probably overwhelming to him. I think he will be the one who snaps if the group finds out that Sophia was killed by a walker because of Hershel or a member of his family, because of their ways and ideas.

    Darryl will probably be the one who kills Merle to protect the group or any one member of it.

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  23. Anon, I was thinking this, too (guess it will remain to be seen, though, depending on where Mazzara & Co. take us):

    "Darryl will probably be the one who kills Merle to protect the group or any one member of it."

    If so, it would be an echo of Rick's devastating final confrontation with Shane--only this time, with actual brothers.

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