One Reason Why People Get Violent

What causes a person to act out verbally or physically? What causes their rage to surge out of control?

One of the most powerful ways to stop or even prevent violence is to understand the cause of the behavior. Because behavior is communication, once you figure out the reason behind a person’s behavior, you can help them get their needs met productively—and help them stop losing control.

Mahdee Raiees-Dana, a Senior Level Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Certified Instructor, shared a powerful story in the CPI Instructor Community about identifying a client's Precipitating Factors (causes of behavior) and helping that client put a stop to his pain—and his violent behavior.

Thank you, Mahdee, for sharing this incredible account, and for your commitment to ensuring Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security℠ for the people you help.

Once Upon a Time in Alaska
by Mahdee Raiees-Dana

One “nice” thing about a behavior occurring frequently is that you can establish whether there are patterns rather quickly.

When I lived in Alaska, I worked with three boys, one of whom was very aggressive.

I went to the house where they resided and filled out the hiring paperwork with the social worker. The walls had holes punched into them, furniture was broken, and windows had been replaced with Plexiglas.

Upon looking at his watch, the social worker stood up, grabbed all the paperwork, and as he was running out the door, he said, “They will be here any minute now. Keep in touch.”

Shortly after that, the school bus arrived and three 17-year-old boys started to walk toward the house.

Billy [names have been changed] was the first one I greeted by extending my hand out, saying, “Hi, my name is Mahdee, what is yours?”

Billy took one look at me, spit in my face, and began punching and kicking me.

Because his violence was physical, and there wasn’t time to safely de-escalate the behavior, my last resort was to restrain him with as much caution as possible until he calmed down.

During the course of the next two months, I began to document his behaviors as they occurred. Due to the frequency in which they occurred, I quickly had enough data to see a pattern.

Here is a timeline of what I discovered:

Tuesdays, Wednesdays: Agitated, anxious.

Wednesdays, Thursdays: Crying, turning tables over, punching walls, etc.

Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays: Punching, kicking, biting, spitting (physical aggression) and digging nose bridge or leg until it bled.

Mondays: Punch teacher.

I began observing the boy on Thursdays and Fridays and noticed that he would have fresh blood on either his nose or his leg every time he came out of the bathroom.

The next Friday, as he was entering the bathroom, I asked him not to flush the toilet and he complied. He did come out with blood on his nose and when I entered the bathroom, I noticed the toilet bowl was full of blood.

This is what was happening:

Tuesdays, Wednesdays: He had the urge to go to the bathroom but was hesitant because of severe hemorrhoids. Agitated, anxious.

Wednesdays, Thursdays: Still resisting going to the bathroom. Wringing hands, crying, property destruction.

Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays: Physical aggression followed by going to the bathroom and digging nose or leg to transfer pain away from his rectum.

Mondays: School kids made fun of his scabbed nose.

Thus, he punched the teacher out of frustration.

This had gone on for more than two years before I came along. Staff turnover for that period averaged three months. Billy had been diagnosed with all sorts of disorders and was taking several medications.

After a few months of treatment and medication titration and eventual discontinuation, he never exhibited an act of aggression again.

He was just trying to communicate something:


I have a hard time not being choked up every time I tell this story, even though I have repeated it a thousand times.

You might also be interested in