Featured

Welcome

Thank you for visiting my blog ==> two important points:

I. ACCESS the INFORMATION you seek:

INDEX to ALL my POSTS….

There is a TON of useful information in the 100 + posts available to you.

But, finding what you want can be challenging. 

So, in order to help you to find what interests you, I have posted an INDEX to all of my posts. This is like a Table of Contents in a book.

Here is the link to the Index:

This will take you to an updated PDF which lists all posts. When you know the date, you can go over to the “Archives” (right side of home page), click on the month you want and scroll down to the post you are seeking.

LINKS to my BOOKS (on Amazon)….

Should you want to take a look at my books, here are the links for you.

Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings

 

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

II.  THE DISCLAIMER:

My focus in this blog is two fold. First of all, I want to educate people about their emotion, relationships and other topics and, secondly, I want to publish information that you can use to improve your life and your relationships.

But, this blog is INFORMATIONAL only!

  • It is not intended to, and CANNOT, diagnose or treat any specific mental illness or psychological condition.
  • So, if you hurt, psychologically, please get professional help.
  •  If you get sick or your car gets “sick”, you see a doctor or a mechanic.  Hurting psychologically is no different, does not mean you are weak, and is telling you that you need some professional help or advice.   PLEASE… GET IT!
  • Therapy works!

And now… Here is my most recent post.

 

Emotions – The Meaning of Life

If the reason you are reading this is that the title of the blog caught your attention or raised your curiosity, keep reading and I will fully explain it.

What do you do when you don’t know what a new word means?

You consult a dictionary.

What do you do if you don’t know what an article or a news story  is trying to convey?

You seek out the opinion of experts to help you make sense of an information source that appears to be ambiguous.

What do you do if you aren’t clear what a situation you find yourself in means?

“Is this a trick question?”, you ask.

Well, not exactly.  In fact, many of the interactions you experience may actually start out being ambiguous in that they can have a different meaning based on how you have chosen to view what is going on.

Let me give you an example.  The phrase “How are you?” is very common.

In most cases, the response you get is “Fine.” or “Good”.  The meaning to the other person of what you have said is that you have acknowledged their presence. Another way to do this is to just say, “Hi.”.

But, suppose, the other person responds with something like, “Let me tell you..yesterday was terrible…”  In this case, he or she heard you ask for a detailed retelling of all the bad things that they experienced.

Same phrase, vastly different interpretations.

So, how can you get some information about how you are interpreting the interactions you have with your surroundings?

The answer is that you become aware of your emotions.

Your emotions are your first window into how you are interpreting what is happening to you.

So, it a very real sense, it is your emotions that inform you about the meaning you have given to the event that you are experiencing.

In other words, your emotions are, at least initially for you, the meaning of life.

Let’s dive into this a bit deeper.

Here is the process you (and everyone else) use to interact with your world.

You are hardwired to scan your surroundings for any threats.  This scanning is a hold-over from when we lived in caves and the threats we faced would, indeed, kill us. Our emotions were survival mechanisms whose function was to keep us alive. These survival mechanisms are reflected in the primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, surprise and disgust).

When you subconsciously perceive a threat, a fast-track message goes to your Amygdala which puts you on alert.  This is the fight/flight/freeze response you are familiar with.  Note: it is actually a reaction in that you don’t really think about it.

This is  you assigning meaning to your life as you have, subconsciously, defined whatever is happening as a threat and your brain has issued an alert.

So, when you become aware of an emotion, you also become alert to the meaning or significance of this event to you.

Or, in a very real sense as I noted above, emotions are the meaning of life.

At the same time, a slower message goes to your cerebral cortex.  This is the thinking part of your brain.

It is here that you have an opportunity to change your perception based on your assessment of what it going on.

You are now moving beyond your initial subconscious emotional reaction to a rational emotional response.

When you change how you view the situation, the meaning of the situation changes to conform to your adjusted perception and the emotion you experience changes to match that perception.

Once again, your emotions reflect the meaning you give to your life.

So, while emotions are not exactly the meaning of life.  They are both a reflection of and a window into the meaning you give to the life experiences you have.

Or, to put it another way, the meaning of life.

 

A Self-Help “Secret” You Can Use to Make Your Life Better

Have you ever offered some excellent advice to a friend which helped them deal with a difficult situation?

Of course you have.

And, maybe, in a moment of self-reflection, you realized how good the advice was and felt a little rush of well-deserved pride. I hope so.

Good for you!

But, and this is the kicker, have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to the one you helped your friend navigate through and you didn’t use your own advice?

The answer for most of us, including me, is “yes”.

And, yes, when it happens to me (a qualified expert in these matters), I feel kind of silly, have to laugh at myself,  forgive myself, and reevaluate the choices I have made.

When I taught a Personal Growth class at the University where I teach, I would often answer questions from the students noting that I was much better at helping them solve their issues that I was solving my own.  The reason for this is that I was objective and unburdened  by emotions when I responded to their issues so I could easily and quickly access my experiences and knowledge to formulate an answer to their question.

In my own case, however, I was often very subjective  and emotional.

This subjectivity clouded my judgement and left me less effective as a problem solver.

I had the necessary knowledge but I was too close to the situation and the knowledge I had didn’t kick in.

From this perspective, here is my self-help secret…

When you are facing an issue that is problematic, troublesome, and emotional for you, follow these six steps:

  1. take a piece of paper and write out the issue as you understand it to be.  Note: the “facts” of the situation are not critical here as it is your interpretation that is critical.
  2. imagine that a friend of yours has approached you with this exact issue and requested your help
  3. write out your suggestions to your friend’s request.
  4. put the suggestions you’ve written away for a day or two
  5. pull out the suggestions  you wrote down
  6. commit to follow the advice that is written down in front of you.

While this “secret” may not work in every situation and you may have to seek some outside input, it will be effective in many situations because:

  • you are a good “advice giver” when you are objective
  • this process helps you be objective
  • the 1-2 day cooling off period gives you some distance from the issue
  • you’ve committed to following your own advice.

I hope this helps.

Be Inspired by Emotions

I have written extensively about emotions.

I have discussed the emotions  of mad, sad, fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, jealousy and disgust as:

  • primitive threat detectors
  • tools
  • a source of information about the situation in which you find yourself
  • a source of information about how others view you
  • and so forth

I have noted that what Fredrickson calls the “positive” emotions such as happiness communicate the message that the situation in which you find yourself is a pleasurable one and motivate you to continue to engage in what you are doing.

Recently, I thought about emotions in the context of being inspirational and  connecting emotions with being inspired was entirely new to me.

Dictionary.com defines inspired as: to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence.

I am well aware of great speakers who excited their audiences and inspired them to take action to fight an enemy, pursue a worthy cause, make some important personal changes, and so forth.

However, to approach an emotion such as anger, anxiety, sadness and even guilt through the lens of being inspired by the emotion while incorporating the idea of being motivated, as by a great speech or piece of literature, was different.

Using your own emotions as a source of inspiration gives you an enormous source of both personal insight, energy and self-control.

Let me explain.

When you strategically deploy your emotions as tools, you experience the emotion and validate it as evidence of how you initially perceive the situation in which you find yourself.

Once you have accepted your initial emotion, you go into management mode which involves controlling the level of your emotion so that you don’t overreact.  Management also involves creating psychological safety (if needed) by taking a breath and physical safety (if needed) by taking a step back from the situation.

Emotional mastery suggests that you assess your situation to determine whether your initial perception is accurate or if, for some reason, you have misunderstood what took place.

Based on this assessment, you can choose how you want to respond to the situation.

If your initial perception was accurate, you can use the energy of the emotion to effectively deal with what is going on.  This is using your emotion as a motivator and is what emotions have done for humans since we lived in caves.

If your initial perception was inaccurate, you can choose to change your perception which will then elicit a different emotion and plan of action.

This is a one-and-done approach.  You deal with the situation and move on.

It is also where most of the self-help literature (including mine) end.

To be inspired by the emotion:

  • is a step beyond strategic mastery and
  • occurs after you have used the emotion to help you deal with a specific situation.

To be inspired by an emotion involves:

  •  viewing that feeling as having a degree of importance and influence beyond just being  a tool or a source of information leading you to take a particular action.
  • being curious about what that emotion tells you about you and how you interact with your environment
  • letting that feeling motivate or inspire you to learn about yourself, what it was about that situation and any experiences you brought to the situation that elicited the specific feeling you experienced, what can you learn which might be beneficial the next time you experience this feeling and so forth.

Does this mean you have to deep dive into you and do a self-analysis?  Well, if you can, great.  Or, if you decide to get into therapy to get some of these answers, again, great.

But, you can start the process of self-understanding (not analysis) by some simple questions such as:

  • What about that situation pushed my (anger, envy, jealousy, guilt, etc) button?
  • What was I so sensitive to in that situation?
  • Is this how I typically react to these situations?
  • Was this the most adaptive way to view this situation or could I have seen it in a different light?

Being inspired by your emotions is difficult but it is doable.  It just isn’t for everybody.

 

Being Rational is good. But…Emotion (pain, anger and others) informs intellect.

We see it in movies and people express this belief as if it is a proven fact of life….

You(or the character in the movie) are attempting to deal with a difficult situation and

  • you believe you need to “get your  head in the game” so
  • you want to get rid of your emotions because you experience them as messy  and distracting.

In other words, you want to be totally rational and not emotional so that you can use your head to develop solutions to the problems you are facing.

While there is some truth to this widely held belief, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

While you may not be a StarTrek fan, you probably are familiar with the character of Mr. Spock.

Mr. Spock is a Vulcan and the Vulcans pride themselves on their ability to eliminate emotions and only use their rational intellects to solve problems and interact with others. Emotions and intellect are mutually exclusive because emotions are imprecise and distracting, and can elicit actions which can worsen the issues that need to be resolved.

In one episode, Mr. Spock is in command of a small team that is stranded on a  hostile planet.  In order to save his crew, he makes all the right decisions but gets all the wrong responses from his team who are dealing with emotional issues.

While you could argue about what transpires between Mr. Spock and his crew, the point of the episode is that many situations require an interaction between emotions and intellect.

I will explore this interaction in this post.

The statement that you must think about a situation and remain unemotional implies that being rational and being emotional are mutually exclusive and that one may be better than the other.

This gives a false impression.

Yes, there are situations where emotions are not productive and a purely rational decision is both necessary and appropriate.

War and just about any crisis situation including emergencies which require immediate and decisive action are examples.

However, in most of the situations in which you find yourself (especially those which involve other people) emotionality and rationality are complimentary.

Think about the concept of pain as a metaphor for emotions.

Noone likes to hurt but pain informs you that you need to take action.  It doesn’t tell you what action to take.

This depends on circumstances and involve:

  • The meaning you assign to your pain
  • What actions you decide to take regarding your pain.
  • The role your pain plays in your life.

Pain as a Variable

As an exampe:  The phrase “no pain no gain” informs you that if you don’t feel the burn when exercising, your muscles are not growing.  However, too much pain should tell you that you may have damaged yourself in some way and you need to stop and recover.

The Inability to Feel Pain

I know of someone who has Spina Bifida.  He has no nerves below his waist.  On one occasion, when he was younger, he got too close to a campfire and his pants caught fire.  He only became aware that he was in danger when he smelled the burning pants.

He has no sensation of pain in his legs to warn him that he is in danger and that he needs to take evasive action.

Pain as a “threat detector”

In many ways, your pain receptors are threat detectors that alert you to the possibility that future damage may negatively impact your body. In other words, they are threat detectors which give you an opportunity to take effective preventative action.

The experience  of pain tells you very emphatically..

  • that something is wrong
  • what you are doing has the capacity to damage you in some way
  • that you need to stop what you are doing and evaluate your situation.

As I described in my book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, the US is protected by a system which electronically sets up a perimeter around our country.  The purpose of this electronic perimeter is to alert us to any incoming threat such as a missile early enough to allow us to take protective action and eliminate the threat. This electronic perimeter is a technological threat detector.

Many of your emotions are primitive threat detectors.

Your emotions are also an early warning system that alerts you to a situation that may warrant your attention.

Your emotions also prepare your body to take some action.

Emotions alert you to possible threat.  Your intellect will tell you what actions to take.

Here is how the emotional system works:

You are hard wired to subconsciously scan your surroundings for threat.

When the emotional center in your brain (the Amygdala) detects a threat, it sends a fast track message to an alert center in your brain (the Thalamus) which prepares your body for a quick reaction. This is the Fight/Flight/Freeze  behavior you’ve heard about.

This is the emotion that you experience.

The specific reaction you are primed to take is related to the nature of the threat you perceive and is reflected in the emotion that you experience.  This is the “message” of the emotion.

Anger: The threat is both eminent and is such that I can eliminate it by throwing enough force at it.  Anger prepares you for war.

Anxiety: There is uncertainty regarding the threat which may or may not exist in the future.  Anxiety either motivates you to take some action to prepare for the threat or it leaves you powerless and feeling overwhelmed.

Disgust: The threat is something that turns your stomach and that must be avoided. Disgust motivates you to remove yourself from the threat or to remove the threat from you.

Sad: The threat is that you have lost someone or something that was very important to you.  Sadness motivates you to withdraw, mourn, and recover from the loss.

Happy: The situation you are facing is interesting, exciting, and engaging.  Happiness motivates you to engage with and want more of whatever is going on.

Fear: The threat you are facing is both eminent and dangerous.  Fear prepares you to move away from and get out of the situation.  Sometimes, fear can immobilize you. The nature of the threat is the same.

I think you get the idea.

Emotions and logic as complimentary.

While always reflective of how you perceive the situation and, therefore, valid and worthy of consideration, the emotion you experience is not always accurate or indicative of what is actually taking place.

Huh, you say, what does this mean?

Well, if your understanding, interpretation or perception of the event is inaccurate, the emotion you feel will not be accurate.

Have you ever worried about what someone is thinking about you only to find out later that they were not thinking about you at all?

There was a study that was done many years ago in which volunteers were asked to go into a bar wearing T-shirts with slogans which were designed to be provacative to the people who normally frequented the bar. (For example derogative country music slogans in a country music bar).  When they left the bar, all the subjects thought that they had been the center of attention.  Most of the patrons in the bar, when questioned, indicated that they didn’t even notice.  This is called the spotlight effect.

Or, perhaps, you were really worried about some future situation only to find out that, when it did occur or if it didn’t take place at all, that your worry was excessive or even unnecessary?

So, your emotion gives you the heads-up that something needs your attention.

Your logical analysis then assesses the nature of the threat and chooses a response that is commensurate with and that will help you effectively deal with the actual threat that you are facing.

The Covid 19 virus.

As I am writing this, the US and the World are facing a viral pandemic.

People are getting sick and dying.

If you listen to the news, you can easily get overwhelmed.  This is both fear because the threat is real and anxiety because the threat you are actually facing is uncertain.

The way to effectively deal with the cover-19 pandemic is to acknowledge that a threat does exist (validate the anxiety) and then to rationally decide to take effective action including social distancing, wearing a mask, not touching your face, sanitizing anything that you touch or bring into your home and being cautious.  If you take these actions, you dramatically reduce the possibility that you will get the virus.

And, you will be able to maintain your relationships with others (via technology) and sleep at night.

Your emotions have informed you and your intellect (logic) has helped you create an effective response.

Looking at The Corona Virus through the lens of relationships with others.

The other day, I was in a Target Store and the sign on the door noted that facial masks were recommended.

I wondered why they were not mandatory.  But that is another issue.

As I walked around the store wearing a mask, I noticed that, while most people were masked, several people, usually young adults, had no masks.

While I did not say anything, I was a bit annoyed by their, to me, careless behavior.

Let me explain.

In many states, citizens are emerging from a total lockdown due to the contagious nature of the virus.  We are now in “Phase 2” with more places opening up and people venturing out.

People have been advised to continue to engage in  social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet away from others and to avoid large gatherings and non-critical travel.

Specific impacted group such as the elderly or the immune system impaired are still being advised to self-isolate until we get a better grasp of where the virus is (mass testing) and how best to deal with it.

But, let’s get back to the source of my annoyance in the Target Store.

I was annoyed because these people who were not wearing masks were thinking only of themselves.  They could be contagious, without knowing it or having symptoms, and could unwittingly be spreading the virus.

To put it another way, they were being selfish.  They did not seem to understand that there were other people in their world who could be negatively impacted by their actions.  In other words, they are, whether they know it or not in an implied relationship with those around them.

The Relationship Issue

I would like to look at our interactions with others (in the context of the virus) as a relationship issue.

The message that you hear repeated over and over when it comes to the virus is that “We are all in this together.”

While this is true, what does it really mean?

Well, there are two interrelated aspects to this message: the facts and our responsibilities.

I. The facts: the virus is easily spread between people.

The first, and most obvious, aspect of being in this together, is that we need to think of others because, given  the nature of the virus and the way that it is transmitted, we can unwittingly infect another person.

Or, they can infect us.

And, given that you can be both symptom free and contagious, your lack of being careful can end up killing your grandma or someone else whose underlying conditions leave them vulnerable.

So, if the virus is a boat, we are all in the boat—together.

Which leads us to the second aspect of “We are all in this together.”

II. Specifically: interpersonal responsibility.

Secondly, we live in an interconnected world where we impact, need, and are impacted by other people.

In other words, because we are all in the boat together and what we do impacts others, we need to think about the responsibility that exits between us and others.

This is called interpersonal responsibility.

I’d like to unpack the issue of interpersonal responsibility as it is implied in the notion that we are all in this together but is not often addressed.

There are two ways to look at the issue of our responsibility toward others.

  • On the one hand, we are responsible TO others.

and

  • On the other hand, we may be responsible FOR others.

These two aspects of interpersonal responsibility are not mutually exclusive and both can be operative at the same time.

Responsible FOR (obligation):

I’ll start with being responsible for others as it is the most common and easiest concept to understand.

If we have elderly parents or kids we are taking care of or friends with underlying conditions which make them vulnerable, the lines of responsibility are clear.

They may not be able to totally take care of themselves and need our help, support, guidance, and involvement. We know what we need to do and we do it.

Responsibility here is almost an obligation.

We take the necessary precautions including hand washing to insure that we do not transmit the virus. We parent our kids to help them get through this pandemic.

In one sense, then, we have an obligation to others not to spread the virus.

Responsible TO (do the RIGHT thing):

Being responsible to others is both less clear and often unacknowledged.

Our collective response to the Corona Virus challenges us to be responsible to others.

We do what needs to be done because they are the right things to do.

There are two elements to the concept of responsibility to:

  1. The first is that, because you are doing the right thing,  you do what needs to be done whether or not, at least initially, the other person does what they need to do.
  2. Secondly, in order to help you do this, I am suggesting that you consider “everyone” you interact with (for at least as long as the pandemic exists) as being in a relationship with you.

Note: Treating others as if you have a relationship with them will be equally as important after the pandemic but to continue to do this is up to you.

Other people as “placeholders”

We often do not think of the actions we take with others who have no meaning to us.

They are “placeholders” in that they exist and may come into contact with us but we ignore them and move past them without acknowledging them because they are, at least to us, insignificant.

Significant, or meaningful, people

Those people with whom we have a relationship have some value or meaning to us and we take the time we need to acknowledge them and choose how we can best interact with them.

In this pandemic: Every interaction is a relationship..

Having a relationship with someone means…

  1. that they are more than just a placeholder to you and
  2. that they are a person who is serving a “meaningful” purpose in your life.

The definition of “meaningful” will vary from situation to situation.

When it comes to the virus, saving your own or another’s life should fit the definition of meaningful.

Indeed, the fact is that if we don’t all act together to “reduce the curve” of infections, people may die.

A very real scenario is that hospitals could get overwhelmed with too many cases and some person who did not follow social distancing and other recommended strategies, might infect you (or someone else) and the infected person dies because the hospital is too overwhelmed to provided treatment.

If we are indeed all in this together, then each of us is meaningful to the other.  By definition, this means that we are  in a relationship with each other.

An important element of being in a relationship is that you do the right thing whether or not the other person does what they need to do.

There are two elements here.

1. The first is that, in reality, the only behavior you have direct control over is yours.  You can always choose what actions you take.  You need to do the right thing both because it is the right thing to do and because you can’t decide what someone else will do.

So,I wear a mask and I maintain social distancing.

2. Secondly, it is also true that you can influence or indirectly impact what the other person does.

In the context of the virus, your doing the right thing  can indirectly serve as a Model for other people. They see you doing the right thing and may decide that also need to do the right thing.

The bottom line…

The point here is that you tend to do the right thing for you care about and those with whom you have a relationship regardless of what they do.

And, in these trying times, you have a relationship with everyone you come in contact with.

Or, to put it another way: WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

I hope this has been useful to you.

 

 

Four Part Series on Anger. Part 4: 4 Secret Tips for Unlocking Anger and Deploying it Strategically

In my last three posts…

I noted that anger was just a tool that could be strategically deployed and that anger did not control you, make you angry, or cause you to act in any particular way.

I discussed different manifestations and several faces of anger…

In this post, I discuss 4 tips regarding how you can unlock the power of your anger.  I call them secret tips because they are not obvious and tend not to be widely recognized or emphasized.

When utilized, however, these tips will both legitimize your anger and guide you to using your anger as a strategic tool to improve your life and your relationships.

The four secret tips:

#1 Practice “safety” first.    (create both psychological and physical space)

This tip is part of the anger mastery cycle and is absolutely critical to learn.

The goal is to create a habit that focuses your attention on creating safety for you and others  as soon as you become aware that you are angry.

This tip also sets you up for the other 3.

Two points are important here:

  • The first is that it will take practice to link the action of creating safety to the awareness that you are angry.
  • The second point is that the “safety” you are creating is both for you and for  the other person (or people) you are angry at.

Let’s unpack these points to make this tip more accessible.

When I use the word “link”, I am referring to the creation of a habit.

A “habit” is a sequence of behaviors that becomes automatic so that, when the sequence is triggered, one action follows the other without requiring a whole lot of thought.

As an example.. When I had hair, I would get in the shower and go through my hair care routine (shampoo, rinse, conditioner, rinse).  After doing it so many times, the hair care routine became an automatic sequence of behaviors. In other words, a habit.

Now, the evolutionary value of a habit is that you can actually multitask without losing any effectiveness.  Once a habit was formed, I would execute the sequence of behaviors while thinking about something else.  When I exited the shower, I often couldn’t remember (without some effort) whether I had used the conditioner or not.  I had, in fact, applied the conditioner but it was “automatically” done without much thought by the habit I had created.

Habits can work for us if the behavior we are automating is advantageous.  If, however, the behavior is destructive, the habit will still automate it but it won’t be good for us.

So, the habit I am suggesting you create for anger will increase your ability to practice safety first and involves this routine:

As soon as you  become aware (by knowing how your body signals to you that you are getting angry), you immediately take a deep breath and take a physical step backwards.

The breath creates psychological safety in that it lowers your arousal level and gives you the time you need to assess the situation. The “safety” here is the gap that you create between the initial angry reaction and the response you will make to the situation.

The physical step backward creates a physical safe zone both for you by separating you from the other person and for them by separating them from you.

With practice (and, like with any habit, you will have to practice it in order to make it automatic), the routine becomes:

  • unconsciously perceive a threat
  • experience anger physically in your body
  • create safety by taking a deep breath and stepping back from the situation

The logic behind thinking safety first is this…

The idea of safety is already a concept that is familiar to everyone.

When you link safety to anger, you are acknowledging that anger is a strong emotion that prepares you for war.  But, you want to plan for war from a position of safety so that you don’t make the wrong decision that could negatively impact you and the person you go to war with.

Keep in mind that creating safely first does not eliminate any of your options regarding the situation and does not invalidate your anger in any way (which is the next secret).

#2 Validate, do not  engage, your anger.

Validation means to accept that this is your anger and that it might be important.  By validating and accepting your anger, you are acknowledging it as a possible source of useful information.  This means that you do not fight your anger, try to deny your anger, or resist your anger in any way.

Validating your anger keeps all of your options on the table.

When you engage your anger rather than validate it, you give in to it.

This means that on some level you are assuming that it is legitimate anger and accurately reflects what is actually going on.  Engagement acts as-if  the threat is real and that it is what it appears to be.

Let’s look at the logical options here..

1.The threat is real.

If the threat is real, then engaging the anger would be appropriate, functional and effective if you make the right choice of how to overpower the threat

If, however, you act impulsively and your intervention is either too excessive or too weak, then you have made the situation worse.

2.The perceived threat is not real and you have made a mistake.

If there is no threat and you go to war when you engage your anger, you will most likely overreact and create significant problems for yourself interpersonally and, possibly, legally.

This is the mistake that those whose anger seems to be controlling them make.

Validating your anger serves two purposes.

On the one hand, it acknowledges your anger and helps to prevent resisting or denying your emotion. Resistance and/or denial only make the anger stronger.

Secondly, it prevents you from engaging your anger and acting impulsively.  This keeps open all of your options for responding to the situation in which you find yourself.

#3 Assess twice Act once (resist reacting)

This is very similar to what people who construct things advise which is to “Measure twice, cut once.” The idea in construction is that you should double check your measurement before you make a cut that you can’t undo.

When it comes to anger, the idea is that you assess the nature of the perceived threat, think about it and then take a second look before you do something that you can’t take back and might have to atone for with an apology or, perhaps, a trip to court.

Assessing twice does not necessarily take a lot of time.

If you decide to exit the situation, think it over, and then reengage with the person  you are mad at, then assessing twice will take some time.  And, it may be time that is very well spent.

But, in a tense situation, assessing twice can simply mean that you immediately guage the situation, take a second deep breath, make a second assessment and then respond.

#4 Choose an effective response

Let’s break this one down.

First,you need to be aware that your goal is always to respond and not react.

Secondly, you are always responsible for any action you take even if it is a spontaneous reaction to an event. As I’ve noted above and in other posts, you can never justify the excuse that “My anger made you do it.” because, ultimately, all your behavior stems from thoughts and decisions that you make.

Finally, your response should be effective in that you have determined that it will neutralize the threat with a minimum of collateral damage.

There are several elements involved in effectiveness…

  • your assessment of the threat,
  • the level of “force” needed to meet and deal specifically with the threat,
  • the skills you need to implement the action you will take and
  • the degree to which you can carry out your plan.

Finally, in choosing an effective response, there are 4 important considerations:

  • it is important to accept that you are making a choice as to what you will do.
  • You are not forced to do anything.
  • You are responsible for the choice you make.
  • You might make the wrong choice and can always make a different choice.

Thanks for reading..

If you have found this series of posts useful….

  • please recommend this blog to anyone who could benefit from it
  • post a link to the post on social media
  • or, with appropriate references to and acknowledging MY AUTHORSHIP AND BLOG, republish it. PLEASE DO NOT PLAGIARIZE OR STEAL MY CONTENT.

Four Part Series on Anger. Part 3: You Are NOT Your Anger

When  you saw the title of this post, did you wonder what point I was trying to make?

Or, did you think something along the lines of, “Duh!”?

In either case, the point I am making is that sometimes people act as if their anger has taken control of them. Or, in other words, they have become their anger.

As I will discuss below, while it may feel like your anger is is calling the shots, your anger NEVER has control over what you do. It is always a tool that you can deploy to make your life better.

Let me unpack this a bit using pain as an example.

Let’s say that you have a headache. You are uncomfortable and, maybe, you are even a bit surly with those around you.

I know this has happened to me.

Should you be challenged about your behavior, you probably would apologize and explain that you have a headache and it was really bothering you.

If the headache persists over time and doesn’t go away after you’ve taken some OTC medication, you might decide to call your doctor.

This action of using the pain as a source of information encouraging you ro get some help is actually using your pain as a tool.

Pain is a physical phenomenon which, as a tool, both informs you that something is wrong and encourages you (because it hurts) to stop what you are doing (straining something) or seek professional help to look into what is going on inside you that might be problematic.

By the way, this is the function of pain.

You would not say that the headache forced you to be surly or that the headache was in some way controlling you.

In other words, it would always be clear to you that you had a headache and not that your headache had “become you” and taken control of you.

If you did blame your headache, then you would be engaging in the psychological phenomenon of suffering from your pain. Suffering involves giving unwarranted meaning or significance to the physical pain.

This process is analogous to that which happens with the  emotion of anger.

Here is how the Anger Cycle works:

  • You are hard-wired to constantly, and subconsciously, scan your surroundings for threat.
  • When a threat is perceived, a fast message is sent to the Amygdala in your brain telling your body to prepare for battle.  This is your anger reaction. The physical signs of this preparation are the changes that your body goes through when you get angry.
  • At the same time, a slower message goes to your cerebral cortex which tells you that a threat has been perceived.  This gives you an opportunity to assess the nature of the threat and choose your response.

As I have noted in other posts, anger is a tool, the function of which is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with perceived threat. Your anger is like the smoke detector in your house.  It sends out an alert and screams “Check out what is going on!”

Your anger does not tell you what to do next anymore than the smoke detector tells you to grab your “go-bag” and move to higher ground.  After all, it may be that the toaster just burned the toast. Or, you could have just misunderstood what was said to you.

Or, there just might be a fire and the perceived threat is real.  This is where your assessment and response options become important.

Sometimes, however, a person will act as if their initial reaction is absolutely correct (and not take the time to assess the situation) and go to war.  In this situation, they have become their anger and that the anger is eliciting behavior that is often seen as inappropriate or extreme.

 

Notice the words in italics.  (Act as if) The individual, here, is abdicating any judgement to the anger and is assuming that “war” is, indeed, called for.

It is, as if, the anger got inside them and, like an insidious virus or alien being, took control of their actions and gave them no choice but to lash out at or hurt another person.

In other words, they have become their anger!

When called out for their actions, while angry, they will plead that this just wasn’t like them and that their anger made them do what they did.

When a person takes no responsibility for their behavior and blames their anger, they might as well saying that they were possessed.

To put it another way, when you over-identify with, and distance yourself from, your anger, you, in a sense, become your anger.

In essence, you are acting as-if it controls you.

Three important points are critical here.

First, your anger, as an emotion,  results from how you perceive your surroundings.

Secondly, because anger is a hard-wired emotion and can happen very quickly,  your experience may very well feel like your anger is controlling you. This is the fast track process of anger that I have addressed in other posts and in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Thirdly, because the emotional process of anger, always sends a slower message to the the thinking part of your brain (the Cortex), you always have a choice as to how you will respond to the perceived threat.

In other words, your anger does initially happen to you based on how you perceive your surroundings.  But, it never becomes you as you always have a choice as to how you will respond.

You just have to learn how to recognize and strategically utilize this choice.

 

4 Part Series on Anger. Part 2: Diffferent “faces” of anger

In part 1 of this series, I noted that for some people, anger is a “unitary” concept.  Anger is either present or it is absent.

“I am angry (or I am not)” is one “face” of, or one way to conceptualize, anger.

For other people, anger is conceived in “binary” terms.  For these folks, either there is no anger or their anger is out of control.

Here, the “face” of anger is, “I don’t usually get angry but when I do, watch out!”

The state of “no anger” may be their default state and is what they experience most of the time.

The state of maximum anger, or rage, is what happens when someone believes that another person has “made” them angry. The behavior of that other person is seen as so egregious and the threat so large that maximum force is needed to repel it and the raging person often either doesn’t feel responsible for their actions or feels justified, in the moment, for whatever they do or say.

For the record, it is impossible for one person to make another person angry.

When experiencing rage, these people tend to do or say something that results in unwanted consequences or  problematic outcomes for which they later may need to apologize.

The fact of the matter is that both of these ways of viewing anger are problematic in that they do not fully cover how anger is expressed and eliminate one’s ability to utilize anger as a strategic tool to improve one’s life.

Recall from my last post that anger, as a primary emotion, is a primitive threat detector, the function of which is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with a perceived threat.

With this in mind, the most effective way to think about anger is to use fire (as a survival tool) as a metaphor for anger.

Using fire as a metaphor, think about the difference between building a camp fire to stay warm (cold is the perceived threat), building a bigger fire to cook a meal (hunger is the perceived threat), and using a flame thrower in war (the enemy who wants to kill you is the threat). In each of these examples, fire is the power that is being deployed but the intensity of the flame is both proportional to and designed to overcome the perceived “threat”.

From this point of view, the emotion of anger should be seen as a continuum in which the energy expressed as anger ranges from a small amount to a very large amount.

The key component here is the nature of the perceived threat. One’s anger is initially a reaction, and then a strategically chosen response, to that threat.

The degree of threat that you believe, or perceive, exists is what elicits the anger that arises to help you deal with that threat. In other words, how you view the situation in which you find yourself determines both how you define the threat and the level of power you need to bring to bear to eliminate that threat.

By way of explanation, I should say that, while it is true that your perceptions of threat are linked to both the Model of your world which serves as a filter thorough which you view any interaction and the skill sets you bring to that interaction, these are topics for other posts. In this post, I am focussing just on the emotion of anger.

The “many faces of anger” then reflect the different levels of expressed anger that occur along this continuum from mild to extreme.  While all of these emotions are variations of the basic emotion of anger, the different levels of threat are reflected in the the different words we use to  label the emotions we experience.

Other words that describe different levels of anger and the different threats that are implied by these labels include frustration, annoyance, disappointment, indignation, resentment, exasperation and rage.

Think of these as different faces of anger.

Let’s start with some definitions from the New Oxford American dictionary.

frustration: the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something

annoyance: the feeling or state of being irritated

disappointment: sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations

indignation: anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment

resentment: bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly

exasperation: a feeling of intense irritation or annoyance:

rage: violent, uncontrollable anger

You might correctly be wondering at this point what difference any of this makes.  Why not just say: “I’m angry.” or “I’m very angry!”?

This is a binary approach to the emotion of anger.

And, while binary statements often are sufficient, they severely limit your options and possibly might make it more likely that you will overreact.

Let’s go back to our fire analogy.

Let’s say that you are camping and you tell your associates to build a fire. While you might mean a “cooking” fire, if they visualize a big warming fire, you might end up eating protein bars for dinner because you can’t get close enough to the flames to cook your burgers.

Or, if you are preparing for a Homecoming rally at the University and you tell your naive associate to build a fire and he (or she) builds a warming fire instead of a bonfire, all the boosters will show up and be clearly disappointed.

An example from the workplace..

Let’s say that you are working on a project with a co-worker, tasks have been assigned, and this co-worker comes to the working meeting without having completed their assigned tasks.

They give you their reason.

You  experience anger.

If that anger is disappointment, the perceived threat is that your expectations were  thwarted and the project deadline must be reset but you attempt to sympathize with your co-worker.

If that anger is frustration, the perceived threat is that your co-worker, for whatever reason, is messing up your plans to get this project done and you probably are not very understanding toward your co-worker.

If that anger is exasperation, the perceived threat involves more than just the incomplete task at hand, there are probably unresolved issues you need to work out with this individual and the project (and your relationship) may be at risk.

Finally, if that anger is rage, the perceived threat may only marginally be related to the incomplete task, you are in reactive mode, you most likely have led others in the room to either leave the room or think about calling security and you may have to seek some professional help.

Or, maybe you are angry but aren’t really sure why. Your co-worker’s “reasons” for the missing materials seem okay and the project can be rescheduled. Perhaps, however, what you are really feeling is hurt, let down or even betrayed but rather than own up to these emotions, you substitute anger.

This is anger as a secondary emotion.  It is dishonest anger as it is substituting for and covering up other emotions.

As you can see, the different label you use to describe your anger gives you bothbinsight into the threat you perceive and a clearer path to the way you choose to strategically respond to the situation.

In summary, in order to facilitate your being able to deploy it as a strategic tool, the emotion of anger needs to be viewed along a continuum.

The better you get at specifically identifying the level of anger you are experiencing…

  • the more effective you become at communicating what you feel to others so that they can appropriately respond and interact with you and
  • the more capable you become at choosing a response that is commensurate with and proportional to the real nature of the threat that exists.

 

 

 

 

 

Covid-19 and Panic from an Emotions as Tools Perspective

Note: In my last post, I published part 1 of a 4 part series on anger.  I was going to publish part 2 today but decided to give you some perspective on the Corona Virus and the panic behavior you are seeing.

I’ll get back to part 2 of the series in my next post.

Enjoy.

There are many issues involving the virus that could be explored.

This post looks at the panic buying we are seeing and explores this phenomenon from an Emotions as Tools perspective.

First, as the virus is spreading, many people are panicking.  The store shelves are, in many cases, empty of product.  People are lining up, sometimes in the rain and hours before opening, at big box stores to stock up on toilet paper, water and hand sanitizers.  People are acting as-if there is a major shortage of these items while the facts are that if there was no panic, there would be no shortages.

Let’s look at two commodities

Toilet paper.

The shelves at Costco have been decimated.  According to estimates, published in a recent LA Times article, Americans use less than one roll per week on average.  So, if your household has 15 people in it, you would rip through a 30 pack of Kirkland Signature two-ply over the 14 day quarantine period.  If you are a couple, the one Costco pack of toilet paper would last you four months.

Hand Sanitizers

The experts tell us that properly washing hands for 20 secs is both more effective and better for you than hand sanitizers.  So, if you wash when you can and only use the sanitizer when water is not available, how many bottles of hand sanitizer do you need?

I am not saying that people should not buy what they need. They do and should.  But, to panic and stockpile to the detriment of everyone who needs these commodities is both unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Hoarding, however, is an emotional issue with real world implications such as the shortage of respirator masks which can impact the ability of first responders to have access to the safety they need to protect themselves and the people they are attempting to save.

The Emotional Issue

Panic can be viewed as an extreme form of anxiety.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat out there and that threat MAY kill me.

When deployed as a strategic tool, anxiety (as eustress),  is a motivator which leads us to take effective action to deal with the perceived threat.

So, being worried about needing supplies in a disaster should act as a motivator to go out and get what you need before the possible event occurs.

This is what should have already happened in many states. Indeed, being anxious about earthquakes, wild fires, or natural disasters,  should have been enough to encourage most of us to stock up for when the “disaster” arose.

And, it would lead to people buying needed supplies now.

However, what we are seeing in many instances is NOT anxiety as eustress.

What we are witnessing is anxiety, as distress and its extreme cousin, panic.

You may experienced anxiety as distress when you were asked to give a speech at work, or you needed to “confront” someone, and you took no action  (immobility)  because the anxiety level was so high.

In other words, you froze (choked).

Anxiety as distress is very common and probably familiar to most of us.

Anxiety, as distress can also lead to extreme overreacting.

Panic and many phobias are examples of extreme overreacting .

Panic

Panic, as an emotion and the action that this emotion elicits, happens because of two psychological processes.

By the way… please notice that I said above that the emotion of panic ELICITS or leads to an action.  The emotion does not CAUSE the action to occur.

The first psychological process involves acting as if the threat is  certain and imminent.  In other words, it will happen and it will happen soon.

The second psychological process involves catastrophising.

Catastrophising involves..

  • projecting yourself into the future
  • focusing your energy only on the worst case scenario and
  • acting as if the worst case scenario is the only possible outcome.

This is what we are seeing in the stores.

People are acting..

  • as if there is a massive shortage (there is),
  • that the shortage is real (it is a result of our actions)and
  • that they will be suffer horribly because of the shortage (if we act mindfully, there will be no suffering)

The unexplored and (largely) incorrect reasoning here is..

  • the municipal water supply will become impaired,
  • Proctor and Gamble and Georgia Pacific will no longer be producing toilet paper and people will have to perform their personal hygiene any (primitive) way they can and
  • the lack of hand sanitizer will leave them extremely exposed and vulnerable to the virus.

While all of these are possibly true, none of them, as of this writing, have occurred.

  • The water supply has not been impacted.
  • Stores are restocking shelves.
  • Toilet paper is being produced.
  • Washing hands is just as effective as hand sanitizer and formulas for creating sanitizing wipes at home have been published.
  • The virus is real.

The bottom line is that we do not have a supply chain catastrophe.

What we have is a pandemic and need to act accordingly.

The ANTIDOTE to anxiety as distress.

The prescription for avoiding anxiety as distress (and panic) is mindfulness.

A lot has been written about mindfulness as you will see if you google it.

In its most basic and useable form, mindfulness simply means to be in the moment.  It has been associated with meditation but you can be mindful and present in the moment without meditating.

The reason that mindfulness counteracts anxiety as distress and panic is that when you are in the moment, you attempt to assess what is actually happening choose the most effective response to help you both manage the present and plan for the future.

When you are present in the moment, you recognize any attempt by your mind to catastrophize because you are aware that your focus is only on a worst case scenario occurring at some future time.

You also recognize that we are, in fact, experiencing a pandemic and need to change our behavior.  Acknowledging this reality, we can plan and execute the actions recommended for dealing with the pandemic including self-distancing and how we buy what we need.

The bottom line is that…

  • We all need to be mindful and present in the moment.  This curtails panic.
  • We need to take the recommended actions to keep ourselves and others safe.

When you get a chance, click on over to vigyaa.com and read an article I wrote on looking at the virus as a relationship issue.  The link is below.

And, then, come back and join me for my next post in two weeks.

Dealing with the corona virus as a relationship issue

 

 

4 part series on anger. Part 1: Is it okay to be angry?

P1 Is it okay to be angry?

This is an interesting question that was addressed to me on Quora.

The question is important because it reflects a common myth that “anger” is an emotion that is best either ignored or suppressed.

Note: For future reference, this is a link to a post I did on the three primary anger myths.

The belief that anger should be avoided stems from the (correct) observation that inappropriate behavior is often associated with the emotion of anger.  In other words, it is true that when people get angry, they are more prone to do dumb things. It is not true that anger is the cause of the dumb behavior.

As a primary emotion, the nature of anger is to prepare you for war.  When “war” actually is the optimum response, anger is the “optimum” emotion.

The “inappropriate” behavior we observe as a reaction to anger is often “inappropriate” because it does not fit the situation that actually exists and which elicits both one’s anger and reactive behavior.

To put it another way, the behavior that anger elicits is “designed” to fight off a “life-altering” threat. This is why “war”, as a response to a “life-altering” threat would be appropriate.  However, if this level of threat is absent, “war” becomes both inappropriate and overkill. This mismatch is what you observe when a celebrity assaults his significant other and, later, expresses his regret for and inability to understand what he has done.

The problem lies in both the initial assessment of the issue at hand (one’s perception of the situation) and the nature of the behavioral solution  to rectify that issue.

Anger gets the blame for a misguided and faulty analysis of the situation.

Here is the critical point: anger is just a tool.

If you hit your thumb with a hammer, the pain you feel is attributable to your inadequate handling of the tool not the tool itself.

Anger is, indeed, a human emotion and, therefore, should be strategically deployed so as to deal with and resolve the situation as it actually exits.

So, the quick answer to the question posed above is: “Yes, with certain guidelines, it is okay to get angry.”

With this answer as a background context, let’s look at different types of anger.

Most people believe that anger is a unitary concept in that you either are angry (appropriately or inappropriately) or you are not. While this is one “face” of anger as I will discuss in the next post, it is  misunderstanding of what Ange is and is incorrect.

In fact, there are different manifestations of anger.

The first, and most common, manifestation of anger, is that anger is a primary emotion that humans have had since we began to evolve.

There are 6 primaryemotions 4 of which are primitive threat-detectors.

The purpose of these emotions is to alert us to a threat and prepare us to deal with that threat.  The four threat-detectors are mad (anger), sad, fear and disgust.  The other 2 primary emotions are glad (happy) and surprise.  The purpose of glad is to engage us in an activity and motivate us to pursue that activity.

Anger is seen in almost all human cultures and in many sub-human species.  It appears in humans early after birth.

The nature of anger is to alert us to a threat that we believe we can overpower if we throw enough force at it.  (Note: If it was a threat that we could not defeat, we would experience fear.)  This is why anger energizes us to take action.  The amygdala in the brain is activated, our vision narrows and focuses,  and the body is put on red alert. We are primed to REACT.  When facing a true threat, this is as we would want it to be: automatic, outside of our awareness, and fast. This is also the fast track emotional pathway which goes from our sense organs directly to the amygdala and out to the body.

When we use our anger as a tool, we tap into the slower emotional pathway which goes from the sense organs to the cerebral cortex (our thinking center) in the brain.

You strategically deploy this tool when you validate the anger, assess the nature of the threat (does it really call for action or can I walk away, make an assertive response, or do nothing), and choose how you want to RESPOND to the situation.

While this is the most common manifestation, there are at least two others.

The second manifestation of anger involves using anger as a secondary emotion.

Some people, primarily men but women also, substitute anger for other feelings such as guilt, shame, hurt, or anxiety.  Anger is an energizing emotion which  is experienced as pleasurable and (for men, at least) as familiar  while these other feelings are experienced as unpleasant and unfamiliar.  So, we show anger rather than feel vulnerable and exposed with these other feelings.

When anger is a secondary emotion, it is advisable to not express it, learn to recognize it, and, if necessary, get some help learning to express these other feelings.

Lastly, anger can be used instrumentally to achieve a specific end.  When used this way, the individual gets angry in order to manipulate or intimidate others.  When anger is used to manipulate others, it is a dishonest anger and others should, if they can, work to nullify this expression of anger, redirect the individual and encourage them to find other ways to get their needs met.

Part 1 of this four part series provided a general overview of anger.

Here is what I will cover in the next 3 posts:

P2 –The different faces of anger

P3– You are Not Your Anger

P4– 4 Secrets for Unlocking Your Anger and Deploying It Strategically

If you find my blog posts interesting or useful, please send a link or a recommendation to click over to my blog to anyone you know who might be able to benefit from the information I provide.

Thanks, in advance.

See you in the next post.