John O. Schairer M.D.


Finding Captain Kirk:
Breaking the Cycle of Anger and Resentment
in Personal Relationships

by John O. Schairer M.D.
©2007John O. Schairer

Jennifer and Michael

Jennifer came to me complaining of lack of sex drive and irritation that her husband, Michael, was blaming her for the lack of sex. He had other complaints that hurt her deeply as well: not earning money, not getting up and caring for the kids. She was feeling angry and resentful that her husband was treating her so badly.


In marriage counseling they would blame each other for the lack of sex. He wanted her to sleep in something sexy but she felt that was not appropriate with young kids coming into the bed with them from time to time as young kids like to do. He complained that she was not responsive when he approached her for sex. It became clear that he would approach her by giving her one kiss. If she didn’t respond to him right away he withdrew and complained that she didn’t want sex.
One day he had given her that one I’m-interested-in-sex kiss and been ‘rebuffed’. Hurt and angry he withdrew into a magazine. She attacked him for not helping clean up the kitchen after dinner. Throwing down the magazine he started to stomp out of the room. Frightened and angry herself, Jennifer cried with frustration, “Why do you always do that? Just tell me why.”
He turned in the doorway. “Me, what do you mean me? You’re the one always demanding, always wanting more. You can’t ever be satisfied. Don’t I do enough around here?”
“You’ve got to be kidding”, she sneered. “You leave your stuff all over the house expecting me to pick it up.” She pointed to the magazine he had just thrown on the floor: “Just like that!” He came over and stood over her threateningly, fists clenched, powerless.

Clearly both Jennifer and Michael had a problem. They had fallen into a hole of anger and recrimination against each other, a mutual blaming. The harder each one would try to deal with the situation, the more intensely they would blame the other. Their way of dealing with the situation was reflexive, automatic and controlled by the emotion of the moment. Their way of dealing with the problem made it worse.

This is a trap similar to the Chinese Finger Trap toy, the woven tube that just fits over your fingers. When you go to pull your fingers out, the tube closes down on your fingers. The reflex, the automatic response, is to pull harder. But the harder you pull, the tighter the woven material closes down on your fingers. It just gets tighter and tighter. The only way to get your fingers out is to do the opposite of the reflex and push your fingers together. That means counteracting your initial reflex using your intellect. The result is a loosening of the Chinese Finger Trap and then you can carefully pull your fingers out.
Jennifer and Michael were caught, trapped. When he reached out to her and she didn’t immediately respond, he became angry and resentful. That anger and resentment drove her away. She felt less sexual rather than more. His automatic, reflexive, and normal response to her rejecting him prevented him from getting exactly what he wanted most. I consider this being conned by the feeling. It is almost as if the feeling process became a monstrous beast that was in control of their minds. The feeling beast has gotten him to do something against his own interest.

You can predict what happens next. He withdraws from her or gets angry at her. She becomes angry and resentful also and gets mad back at him. Her anger at him or withdrawal from him drives him to feel even more angry and resentful. The harder they try to get out of this by the automatic response of anger and resentfulness, the more they are caught by it.

Captain Kirk to the Rescue

There is an old original Star Trek episode that is a perfect metaphor for this process. Suddenly Klingons are beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise. Captain Kirk, Spock and the crew are in a fight onboard their own ship. However, all advanced weapons are disabled. They are forced into hand to hand combat, the most frightening and angering kind. Each side seems to loose at some point and then come back. It unfolds that whoever gets killed is resurrected only to fight and die again. This is the story of Jennifer and Michael, fighting each other with anger and resentment, with withdrawal and put downs. Hand to hand combat. Combat that increases the anger and fear of both parties.
Back onboard the Enterprise. The heroic nature of good Captain Kirk aided by the rational Spock leads him to be able to think in spite of the fighting that is going on. He wonders how this could be happening to them. The computer finds an alien life form on board. They begin to understand that the alien life form gains strength and life force whenever there is conflict and fear. Note how difficult it would be to even begin to think about what might be causing the strange circumstances they are in while they are still fighting. However, it is the only way out. The Enterprise crew and the Klingons have been taken over by a mind control beast that keeps them at odds with each other. In the end Bones (the ship’s doctor) shoots them all up with something that makes them happy and relaxed. This starves the beast which is then laughed off the ship.

I have always found it most interesting that Star Trek imaged this alien being as a swirly distortion floating high on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Strictly speaking, these beasts that control and feed on our emotions are abstract beings. They have no physical form. They still have profound effects and they function as beasts, as life forms, none the less. They grow when fed, they are self reproducing, and they spread from situation to situation.

Jennifer and Michael are like the Enterprise crew and the Klingons: trapped in a loop of emotion and reflexive behavior. Loops of emotion and reflexive behavior are but one type of self-generating loop process. Many types of loop processes exist. Some stabilize the situation like a thermostat. Some help the situation die slowly away. And some, like Jennifer and Michael’s argument, just keep growing and growing. The effects of a self-generating loop depend upon the properties of the loop.

Properties of Loop Processes

Something that persistently makes more of itself grows and grows and grows. How fast it grows depends upon how fast one trip around the loop takes and how much it grows with each loop. Jennifer and Michael’s argument might have happened much more slowly if they weren’t so tired and irritable. Then each negative comment one made would have had a less inflammatory effect on the other. On the other hand, if they were more tired and irritable, the argument would have grown much faster.


The initial starting value can be almost nothing. It could have started from something imperceptible, miniscule, an unrelated micro-noise and it would still grow and grow and grow. It would become infinite, even if it started with the smallest possible value. The issue between Jennifer and Michael could have actually started before and we wouldn’t know it. Perhaps it started with Jennifer turning away from Michael to stir the pans on the stove when Michael was still finishing his sentence. That is a normal signal of not paying attention and would generate a small, perhaps imperceptible, feeling in Michael, even though Jennifer was still paying full attention to what Michael was saying.
How does something make more of itself? Let’s look at some examples. In the case of Jennifer and Michael, Jennifer makes Michael feel ‘bad’. This induces Michael to attack Jennifer which makes her feel ‘bad’ and she then attacks Michael making him feel worse. In this case it is the ‘bad’ feeling that is making more of itself.

Life is something that makes more of itself. Each species makes copies of itself through the life cycle. If a single bacterium finds itself sitting in a cup of warm broth filled with nutrients it starts copying itself over and over as long as the nutrients last. It grows and grows and grows.
Our current understanding of the origin of life illustrates how a miniscule one-time occurrence of something that can replicate itself grows and grows and grows. Once long ago at the bottom of the sea, where the continents separate and hot magma is drawn up from the core of the earth, the sea water mixing with chemicals coming out of the earth reacted with each other. Out of all the many chemical reactions that were taking place a single series of chemical steps could replicate itself. Only one such series of reactions had to happen for it to make more and more of itself until now it covers the earth in multiple forms. The one quality that defines life is self-replication.


The properties of something that creates more of itself are not determined by what starts it. The properties are determined by the feedback loop that propagates it.


In the case of an argument between Jennifer and Michael, the argument has little or nothing to do with the topic being argued about. It only has to do with how their feelings are communicated back and forth from one to the other.

Human psychological loops are not always based in anger and fear. Some of them amplify enjoyable emotions.

A man sits down next to a woman at a bar and looks at her with hopeful interest. She sees in his eyes his interest and his attraction to her which feels good to her. If she finds him attractive as well she will respond with a smile, a turn of her head and a look that makes him feel better than he did before. He responds further to her, indicating his growing attraction. His interest in her and his good feeling increased her interest and good feeling which has now increased his interest and good feeling, a loop that feeds back on itself. If nothing else comes up between them (e.g. his becoming frightened by her stories of wild sex in the restroom or her becoming annoyed by his passivity or the social convention that you shouldn’t have sex on the first meeting) they will end up in bed together.
The couple in the bar is in a loop of positive feeling. Jennifer and Michael are in the opposite situation, caught in a loop of negative feeling. When he feels his advances are rejected, he becomes angry and rejecting. Then his anger and resentment causes Jennifer to be angry and resentful. She, in turn, reflects it back to him. Now he’s worse off. They are both trapped in a loop or trap of negativity. And at a time when they both want to be in a cycle of positive sexuality, a crescendo of growing excitement, of towering, overpowering hot sex, of mind bending, mind blending, body blending irresistible joining (And who would want to be in a negative, angry loop when you could be in a positive, loving, sexual loop anyway?)


How to get out of the Anger and Resentment Loop

But Jennifer and Michael are both caught up in the anger and resentment loop. How on earth are they to get out? It is as if their anger and resentment was a nefarious beast controlling their minds and feeding off the negative feelings each is having. After all, the only one who stands to gain is that beast. Everyone else is diminished. Only the beast (the repeated communication of the anger, resentment and fear) is increased. And neither Jennifer nor Michael feels anything but self-righteously sure they are doing what they want to do. This is the mind control. If you had asked them what they want before this situation happened they would not have chosen to be in an argument but here they are. If you ask them now what they want, they will both express their resentment and say the other has to do something.

I see this repeatedly in my office. When the anger and resentment comes up it is explained as being caused by the other person. My patient will tell me all the horrible things their partner has done to them and why the partner is the problem.

The nature of anger is to look outside oneself – to look at what the other is doing. This is a normal, and in the jungle, an appropriate response. For instance anger is part of the fight response against predators. When predators are around, you want to be vigilantly wary of them. They are the problem. However, this doesn’t work with you partner, especially your life partner.
How do Jennifer and Michael get out of their situation? Remember the Finger Trap. You have to do the opposite of the reflex. You have to do something that breaks the loop. That prevents the beast that feeds on anger and resentment from getting fed. It breaks the control of the beast
How can Jennifer and Michael break the cycle they are in? The loop can be broken at anyplace in the loop. That means that Jennifer can break the loop by not sending back anger and resentment when Michael attacks. It also means that Michael has the same power. Either one of them can do this. However, the mind control beast doesn’t want you to know this. It will allow Jennifer to see that Michael could change things but not that she could change things. If only he would be nice to her and give her a chance to respond, if he would smile, give her flowers, compliment her, look at her like he wants to have sex with her rather that looking at her like he’s going to be angry that she isn’t immediately responding. Then she’d feel different. The beast lets her see that Michael could do things differently but the beast tries to prevent her from seeing that she could do it herself. She could give him that sidelong glance past her cascading hair that says I want you. She could put on the negligee that says come hither. But the mind control beast has her convinced that he won’t respond or worse he’ll laugh and put her down.

Similarly Michael is convinced that the situation is totally under Jennifer’s control. My response to this form of mind control is to try to undo the idea that only the other person has control. I try to take control of my own emotions rather than expecting the other person to change. I can then influence what happens. I can take power. In the Chinese finger trap I can choose to do something different. I can gently push my fingers together. In my anger I can choose not to make the other angry in return.

Whenever there is a loop controlling the situation you are in, YOU and only YOU have to take action. You have to take arms against the controlling loop. You have to attack the bad feeling beast with your most sophisticated attack. You have to be the warrior that cannot be controlled by your fear and anger. That mind control beast has to be defeated and tamed. The loops have to be fed positive feelings and prevented from getting into the negative feelings. The beast cannot be killed but only tamed.
Here’s my advice to Jennifer. Notice that I would say this to Michael as well. And I do say this to all of us:

Truly we are all prone to feeding this beast. We are all responsible for taming it. The way out of your dilemma is that YOU have to take action; YOU have to cage the beast and prevent it from controlling your situation. YOU have to change the loop so it ONLY allows good feeling to grow. If you notice what you are actually doing, you’ll find the beast has gotten you to lie, cheat and steal to keep being negative with your husband/wife. Continue on that path, if that is the life you choose. If you choose to feel good, to love, to be loved, then take action. At every turn opt for LOVING TRUTH. Leave aside angering, rejecting, hateful actions and comments. Use whatever truths you can find to make him/her feel good. Make him/her feel more sexual, more loved, not less. Create a loop that makes him/her feel better and you will feel better because you are also part of the loop.

Do whatever it takes to get him out of his negativity. Take control back from the beast. Wrestle the feelings you have of anger and resentment to the ground. Force them into a positive loop. Once you are able to tame the beast and get it feeding on positive feelings, it will carry both you and your spouse through life on its shoulders rather than stepping on both of you. Become captain of your own Starship Enterprise of life. Identify the bad feelings that are causing so much strife and anger and fear. Take control back from those bad feelings. Take control of your life.