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.

 

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.

You Verses Your Anxiety: 3 Secrets and 4 Steps to turn Your Inner “doom sayer” into an inner “motivator”. Part 3: The 4 steps.

In part 1 of this three part series, I introduced you to the emotion of anxiety.

In part 2, I addressed the 3 secrets to mastering your anxiety as a strategic tool.

In this post, I will discuss the 4 steps to mastering your anxiety.

Mastering (getting the most out of) your anxiety.

When I first got my iphone, I only used it to place and receive calls.

I had to learn how to master my phone and while it still does a whole lot more than I need it to, I have made progress.  Today, I use it to record my ideas for future posts and books (memo app), provide a countdown timer for my barbecue ribs, remind me what I need to buy at the store (list app) and so forth.  These are tasks my phone could always do but I needed to learn how to effectively use it as a tool to improve my productivity.

The same is true for you and your anxiety.

You need to know how to make it work for you.

Four Steps to Mastery

Mastering your anxiety involves four steps, each of which you can learn to do.

Step#1: As soon as you experience anxiety, create a psychological safe space.

Physical signs

There is an unspoken assumption here and this is it.  I am assuming that you know your body well enough such that you know your physical signs indicative of the emotion of anxiety.

Do you experience anxiety as…

  • faster heart beat
  • sweating
  • changes in skin temperature
  • and so forth?

I devote a chapter to the physical signs of emotions and include checklists in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings which is available on Amazon.

You can google “physical signs of emotions” or here is a link to a website.

Create a psychological safe “space”

You do this by taking a deep breath (or two).

Let’s say you are worried about an upcoming interview and you are getting all tied up about what might happen.

Rather than “go with” the anxiety and react as if the danger is real, stop what you doing (thinking) and force yourself to take a deep (full bodied) breath.  Fill those lungs up over a count of 4, hold it for a 4 count, and exhale over a 4 count.  By the way, you might have to do this a couple of times.

This process does two things.

  • First of all, it naturally relaxes you a bit.
  • Secondly, it breaks the connection with your anxious thoughts and, thereby, sets you up to assess your situation. This gets you out of the what-if whirlpool and sets you up for step #2.

Step #2:  Ask yourself this question—How real is the threat?

Have you ever been caught in a “rip-tide”?  Well, if you are in the ocean and you find yourself being pulled out to sea by the current, the worst thing you can do is try to swim to shore.  You will tire out and die.  The correct technique is to swim parallel to the shore and out of the current.  You can then swim back to shore.

What-ifs are like a rip tide (or a whirlpool).  If you try to answer each hypothetical what-if, you’ll wear yourself out.  Instead, focus on two questions:

  1. Do I have any evidence that this particular “what-if” is even a possibility.
  2. What other possible outcomes (more positive and less catastrophic) am I not considering?

The reason what-ifs and catastrophising are so debilitating  is that people tend to view them as “probable” rather than “possible”.  In other words, when you ask yourself “What if I go to the interview and blow it?”, instead of viewing this outcome as one possibility because it could happen, you react to this hypothetical outcome as if it is both probable, highly likely to occur and inevitable, as in the only outcome that will happen.  This is why your what-ifs draw you in just like a whirlpool or a riptide.

Step #3: Assess your answers and your options.

There are three possibilities here…

First: The threat is real (the interview could go bad).

Assess your options by asking yourself–Can I survive it if it goes bad?

In nearly all cases, the answer will be “yes”.

This answer does two things for you.

  • It frees you up from disabling worry by  reminding you that no matter how bad the outcome is, it won’t kill you. You can take yourself off “red alert”.
  • it reminds you that you will still have options (eventhough they might not be all that great).

Second: The threat is not as bad as you thought or isn’t really a threat.

This answer tells you that you have misunderstood the threat and you can let go of your anxiety.

Third: The threat is real and your anxiety is telling you that you need to take steps now to avert the threat.

This is mastering your anxiety as the tool it was designed to be.  You are using the energy of your anxiety to motivate you to take corrective steps.

This is what my students do prior to an exam.  Their anxiety motivates them to study.

Step #4:  Use the energy of your anxiety to develop a plan to deal with the threat and work your plan.

Once you have created a psychological safe place and lowered your anxiety such that you are able to think things through and make some decisions, you can  assess the future threat and make some plans regarding any action you might take to minimize the threat.

Remember the example in my last post about asking for a raise.  Actions you can take on your behalf is to make a list of all the value you bring to the job and the reasons you believe you deserve a raise.  You can’t really know what issues, if any, the boss may bring up but you can be prepared to make your case.

And, by the way, it is also possible that the boss scheduled the meeting to praise you and inform you that you are going to get a raise.

You’ve made it through all three posts covering the emotion of anxiety.  You are now in a position to begin the process of mastering your anxiety as a strategic tool.

You can do it.

I welcome your comments.

 

You Verses Your Anxiety: 3 Secrets and 4 Steps to turn Your Inner “doom sayer” into an inner “motivator”. Part 2: The 3 secrets.

This is part 2 of this 3 part series of posts on anxiety.

In part 1, I…

  • noted that anxiety was a tool
  • discussed the concept of toxic anxiety
  • introduced the ideas of what-if questions and catastrophising

In this post, I will discuss the three “secrets” that enable you to turn your anxiety, as a “doom sayer” which can sap your energy into a “motivator” which can propel you forward.

Secret #1:  There is no “You verses your anxiety”.

Fact #1: You create your anxiety. It is a part of you.

While our emotions, including anxiety, are often experienced as happening to us because of the emotional process which gives rise to them, the fact is that we, through our perceptions and our thoughts, actually create and give meaning to our feelings (feelings and emotions are, for our purposes, the same).

In brief, the emotional process involves our subconscious scanning of our surroundings for possible threat and the subconscious reaction to the situation which prepares our bodies to “deal with” the perceived threat.  This “reaction” is the “feeling” we experience.  The second part of the emotional process involves,  our conscious efforts to give a label to and make sense of the feeling and choose how to respond to the situation in which we find ourselves.

When you choose to view your feelings as either happening to you or as beyond your “control”, you disempower yourself. To do this is to view yourself as powerless and as controlled by your anxiety.

While this may be a common way to view feelings, it is, nonetheless, incorrect.

Secret #2: Anxiety, as are all feelings, is just a tool.

Fact#2: Emotions evolved as tools which early (and modern) man could use to help him (or her) “survive”.

For our cave dwelling ancestors, survival involved living long enough to reproduce.

For us, survival means getting through the day, dealing with modern stressors such as work, commuting, dealing with others, and coping with social media. These are all psychological threats which are different from survival threats.  While they might feel as though they were the same, they are not.

When you view your anxiety as a tool, your attention will shift from a sense of being controlled by the tool to figuring out how to make get the most out of what the tool can do.

As an example, you may not be very good at getting the most out of your cell phone or computer.  And, you may even get annoyed at it.  As an author, I tend to get annoyed with the automatic spell checker in Microsoft Word. The spell checker is useful when it corrects a mistake I might have made but it is a nuisance when it corrects a sentence I have written that I know is correct.

Anyway, you do not see the computer, your phone, or the spell checker as an autonomous entity.  It is just a tool, doing what it is programmed to do and well within your ability to understand and effectively use.

Secret #3:You can learn to “master” your anxiety as a tool and utilize it to improve your life. 

Fact #3: The function of anxiety as a tool is to alert you to some future event that might need your attention.

It probably would not surprise you to know that the US is surrounded by an electronic perimeter the purpose of which is to give an alert that an incoming missile, or plane, is approaching the country so that appropriate action can, if warranted, be taken.

If an alert is sounded, an attempt is made to identify the perceived threat before an errant passenger jet or flock of geese is blown out of the sky.  If the threat is genuine, then appropriate defensive actions are initiated.

Your anxiety, as an early warning alert tool, functions in a similar manner.

Depending on how you define a particular threat, you may perceive the action of another person or an upcoming event as a threat and your anxiety level will send you an alert when a threat is perceived.

The problem is that your sensitivity to a perceived threat can lead you to misrepresent what is actually occurring and to inappropriately react.

As an example, you are scheduled to attend a meeting when you get to the office in the morning with the head of the company for which you work.  You believe you deserve a raise and are thinking about asking for that raise during your upcoming meeting. In the middle of the night, you wake up and are very anxious about your morning meeting.

You find yourself in a whirpool of negative what-ifs…

  • What if the boss is critical of you?
  • What-if she thinks you are being too aggressive and your request changes how she views you and the work you do?
  • And so forth.

Your anxiety has done its job..

  • There is some uncertainty surrounding the morning meeting
  • The meeting does represent a potential risk
  • There is a potential threat.

You have gone “beyond” the facts and are catastrophising.  You have turned the anxiety toxic.

You can, however, choose a different path in dealing with the alert your anxiety has given you.  Just like the professionals do with the radar alert, you can check out your alert before going off the deep end.

I will give you four steps to help you do this in the next, and final, post in this series.

 

 

You Verses Your Anxiety: 3 Secrets and 4 Steps to turn Your Inner “doom sayer” into an inner “motivator”. Part 1

This is the first of a three part series of posts focussing on the emotion of anxiety.  I will discuss what anxiety is and how it is different from other feelings, how to understand it as a tool and how to master and strategically employ it in your life.

I hope you find it helpful.

Have you ever worried about something that might happen in the future?

The “focus” of your worrying might be

  • an upcoming exam, interview, or presentation
  • what might happen if you ask someone out on a date or ask for a raise
  • what could go wrong if you aren’t perfect (however you define this)
  • something you did in the past that might “go bad” at some future date
  • and so forth.

For nearly everyone, the answer is “yes”.  

The reason for this is that worry (also known as anxiety) is a normal emotion.

Every emotion communicates to you how you are perceiving the situation in which you find yourself. This is the “message” of that emotion.  When you recognize and utilize the message of an emotion, you are beginning to strategically deploy that emotion as a tool in your life.

The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat in our future.

Every emotion can be viewed as a tool that has a specific application or purpose.  Examples of common tools include your cell phone, your TV remote, the hammer in your tool drawer and so forth.

The “purpose” of anxiety, as a tool, is to alert you to an event so that you can prepare yourself to deal with it.

But, sometimes, the emotion of anxiety can become “toxic”.

Something is toxic when it can seriously hurt you. Other words for “toxic” include poisonous and dangerous.

A substance, action or even a person can become toxic even though it may not always be this way.

Think about water….

  • You need it for survival
  • It’s really great when you are thirsty.
  • But…

Did you know that if you drink too much water in too short a time that you can experience what is called water toxicity.  While you can google it, you are not very likely to experience it.  My point is that water is an essential element that if consumed in too great an amount becomes toxic or harmful.

Similarly, anxiety, as I will discuss below, is a very useful emotion which, if experienced at too high an arousal level can become toxic or debilitating.

So, at a high level of worry, you might find yourself

  • paralyzed and unable to take any action.
  • losing sleep
  • unable to think about anything else

And, it seems that

  • there is no way to break free of your anxiety and
  • your anxiety has become an inner “doom forecaster” that seems to be controlling you
  • you are caught up in a whirlpool  of “what-ifs” as in “What if (this or that) happens?”
  • you are also, probably, catastrophising.

This is toxic anxiety.

Regarding “what-ifs” and “catastrophising”…..

  • A major problem with “what-ifs” and toxic anxiety is that they involve catastrophising.  When you catastrophize..
    • you focus on the worst possible outcome that could occur
    • you tend to react as-if the “worst possible outcome” is a certainty
    • you do not think about other, less disastrous possible outcomes
  • The result of catastrophising is..
    • that you do not have any answers to your hypothetical “what-ifs” (because there are no factual answers) and
    • your lack of an answer is viewed as another issue about which you need to worry.
    • you’ve gone deeper into the whirlpool.
  • As I will discuss below, using anxiety as a strategic tool involves using what-ifs to focus your attention on constructive solutions.

So, what is anxiety? 

Anxety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat out there that may hurt me.

Anxiety differs from..

  • fear, its present-based cousin.  The message of fear is that there is a threat that will injure me,
  • depression, its pathological cousin. The message of depression is that my situation is hopeless, I’m helpless to do anything about it and I am, therefore, worthless, and
  • anger, its warrior cousin.  The message of anger is that there is a threat out there and I am prepared to go to war to eliminate it.

The two “faces” of anxiety..

Anxiety that has become toxic is called distress. This is anxiety as a “doom sayer”

The other face of anxiety is called eustress.  This is anxiety as a “motivator”.  When you view anxiety as eustress, you are using this emotion as a strategic tool.

Think about an upcoming interview for a job or a test in a course you are taking.  You get nervous, anxious, or stressed about it and use that nervous energy as a motivator to prepare for the interview or exam.

When you approach your anxiety as eustress and use the energy it provides, you are strategically deploying this emotion as a useful tool.

In part 2 of this series of posts, I will talk about how to turn anxiety from a “doom sayer into a “motivator”.

  • There are 3 secrets and 4 steps.

See you in the next post.

 

 

 

 

How to Recover from Abuse Part 2

Because I am talking about the issue of abuse, I know that this post (like the last one) might bring up some feelings which are problematic for you.  With this in mind, let me repeat what I said earlier…..

If you are dealing with issues related to your past history of “abuse” and these issues are having a negative (however you define this) impact on your life, please seek professional help.  Therapy works.  When you need help with your car, you seek out a competent mechanic.  When you need help getting your life together, seek out a competent mental health professional.

That being said, let me continue to lay out for you how you can begin to recover from your abuse.

I ended my last post by noting that while the process of recovery may be difficult, it is important to remember that it is doable.

And, because it is doable, how difficult it may be is nice to know but is largely irrelevant.  If the outcome you desire (to be free to move on from your abuse), and you know you can do it (it is doable), all that is left is for you to do the necessary work (whatever that may involve) and the outcome is yours!

We were talking about your thoughts…..

As you think about your past, you probably tell yourself something like:

  • It isn’t right or fair
  • It never should have happened

You are, of course, right on both counts.  But, it did happen.

So, IWBNI allows you to acknowledge both that it happened and that it is behind you.  When you tell yourself that it would be nice if it had never occurred, you are acknowledging that it did take place and that it is over.

This is the first step and begins the process of moving on.  You can always, if you choose, revisit your past.

Please note that using IWBNI does not excuse, diminish or pardon the past. It only acknowledges it and begins the process of separating you in the present from your past.

I will start my next post by discussing the second “element”…the perpetrators

The perpetrator(s)

These are the bad people (sometimes male and sometimes female) who victimized you.

Most likely, what you feel toward them is anger and hate.  You might want to hurt them.

Or, equally as likely (but more difficult to comprehend), you might feel love toward them and want to defend them.

Or, you might feel some other combination of feelings.

I can’t, in this space, provide an explanation of these feelings but I do provide this information on my website (TheEmotionsDoctor.com)

The key to dealing with your abuse through the lens of your perpetrators is forgiveness.

Yes, you will need to forgive those who hurt you.  But, before you cuss me out and stop reading, let me explain that…

what you think forgiving means is very different from what I am suggesting you do.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on forgiveness.

forgiveness.

Most people think that to forgive is to exonerate someone of any responsibility for their behavior.  This is what I call a biblical understanding as when Jesus forgave someone and they were born again.

Your perpetrator did what he, she or they did and probably do not deserve to be exonerated.

But, whether they do or do not deserve exoneration is not the issue here.

When you hold on to your (totally understandable) animosity toward your perpetrator, you bind yourself to them psychologically.  Wherever you go, they go with you. This is the reason that your recovery is difficult.  You are tightly bound psychologically to those who victimized you.

Forgiveness involves separating yourself from these bad people who hurt you.

Forgiveness says, “I hope you burn in hell (emphasis added) but I am done with you.  You no longer have any power or influence over me.  What you did will never be okay but I am moving on.”

Forgiveness is an act taken for you.  It has nothing at all to do with your perpetrator!

You

The third and final element is you.

Wait a minute, you say, I’m the victim.  How am I an “element” in recovering from my abuse?

A fair question!

While it may not be the case for you, many victims often blame themselves in part or completely for their victimization.

I worked with a young woman who was raped when she took a shortcut home to her grandmother’s house. Grandma had told her not to take the short cut as it was dangerous.  She was in a hurry, took the shortcut and was raped.

She reasoned that she was responsible for the rape because she had been warned, disregarded the warning, and suffered the consequences.

While it is true that she would not have been raped if she had listened to grandma, it is not true that she is responsible for the rape.  She is “guilty” of poor judgment.  The rapist is totally responsible for the rape.

Self-blame occurs for at least two reasons:

  • The victim is trying to make sense of an unreasonable event and focuses on themselves because the actions of the perpetrator are incomprehensible.
  • The perpetrator has told the victim the abuse is their fault. “If you hadn’t done XYZ, I wouldn’t have beat you!” or “If you weren’t so attractive, I wouldn’t have…”.

The “reason” why you might blame yourself is not critical here.  What is important is that you “forgive” yourself.

Forgiveness here means that whatever actions you might have taken which appear to connect you to the event did not cause or give your perpetrator permission to commit the abuse.  You are acknowledging any action you might have done and separating it from the event.

.

I hope this has been helpful and that it starts your process of recovery and gives you a roadmap to getting the help (professional or otherwise) you require.

How to Recover from Abuse Part 1

This is the first of a two part series on how to recover from abuse.  I decided to publish this early in the new year for three reasons…

  1. I know that dealing with issues related to abuse (current or past) can be difficult.
  2. This is a subject that is difficult for people to discuss.
  3. If abuse issues are relevant to you, perhaps you will take something that I say in this article, make it a “New Year’s Resolution” and implement the suggestion in your life.

Bur before I get into it, a serious note of encouragement….

If you are dealing with issues related to your past history of “abuse” and these issues are having a negative (however you define this) impact on your life, please seek professional help.  Therapy works.  When you need help with your car, you seek out a competent mechanic.  When you need help getting your life together, seek out a competent mental health professional.

During my 30 year career as a Psychologist with the California Youth Authority, I treated young women whose history included multiple types of abuse including physical, emotional and sexual.  While some of my clients may not have been “abused” over time, many had been raped.

Let me explain that when I talk of abuse, I am referring to inappropriate interactions with parents, siblings and caretakers which occurred repeatedly and over time.  While the offense of rape may only have occurred on a single occasion, the distinction I make between abuse and rape in no way implies that one type of mistreatment is worse than or more difficult to deal with than the other as this is not the case.  Rather, I am attempting to include all victims of these abusive victimizing interactions as the way to recover from theses traumatic events is basically the same whether the abusive was perpetrated over time or occurred as a single event.

One caveat before I describe for you how you can recover from “abuse”.

While it is relatively “easy” to describe the recovery process, it is by no means easy for a victim to go through this process on her (or his) way to recovery.  The recovery process is often painful time-consuming and difficult (but not impossible) to do alone.

How past abuse keeps impacting you in the present.

Maybe, you’ve had the experience of sharing your history with someone who says to you (or you have said to yourself) something along the lines of “That (event) happened long ago.  Let it go and move on.”

Okay, maybe they were a little more caring than that.  But the idea that something that took place so long ago continues to impact you is often difficult to comprehend.

The reason that your past continues to bug you (and may even feel as if it happened yesterday) has to do with the relationship between your past and your present.

The best way to understand this was offered by Albert Ellis in his description of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

I explained REBT to my clients this way using the “formula”  E-T=>F.  In this formula, E stands for the event(s) you experienced, T stands for your Thoughts about the event(s) and F stands for the feelings which follow from those thoughts. This is a simplification of REBT but it works to understand Dr. Ellis’s approach.

By the way, just about everything you ever wanted to know about feelings can be learned by visiting my blog (TheEmotionsDoctor.com).

Dr. Ellis was one of the first psychologists to emphasize the connection between your thoughts and your feelings.  It is your feelings in the here and now about the event which keep that event current in your life.  When someone says that the event was in the past, they are correct about the actual physical event (or events). And, it is factually the case that the past can’t physically impact the present.  However, the actual facts are not important here as we are talking about your psychological reality wherein your feelings about the past are in the present and they can (and do) significantly impact you in the here and now.

The important insight offered by REBT (which, by the way is one type of cognitive therapy) is that your feelings are elicited by your thoughts. The good news here is that you can change your thoughts.

And, when you change your thoughts, you change your feelings.  Changing your feelings allows you to move beyond your past and recover from your abuse.

Your Problematic Thoughts

There are three “elements” which define your abuse.

  1. The abusive event (or events): What you actually experienced and your perception of what took place.
  2. Your perpetrator: That person or people who victimized you.
  3. You: How you view yourself through the lens of your abuse, what you think about your “involvement” in your abuse, and your view of yourself post-event.

Now, I need to point out that while these three elements are, indeed, separate, psychologically, they may be experienced as interconnected in the same way that a red, a blue and a white strand of rope, while initially separate, become intertwined when we braid them together.  Ultimately, you can learn to separate these elements, as I will discuss them below, so you can change your thoughts about each and move on.

The event(s)

What happened to you is burned into your brain. Your “recollection” of these events may be very vivid (like it happened yesterday), detailed, or fuzzy.  What you remember may be accurate (in the details) or may not match a video (if one existed).

None of the above matters!

The reason for this is that your thoughts (memories) are real to you and combine to create the feelings which are problematic and which negatively impact your life.

I am assuming that some sort of victimizing event or events occurred and, as we are dealing with the “court” of your psychology and not a Court of Law, the “facts” are not critical.

The way to move beyond your past can be summarized in the acronym IWBNI which stands for (I) It   (W) Would (B) Be (N) Nice (I) If.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on IWBNI_s IWBNI’.

Again, let me emphasize that the process I am laying out is easy to describe but challenging to complete.

To put it another way….IT MAY BE DIFFICULT, BUT IT IS DOABLE!