5 Anger Myths Explained, Discussed and Debunked Part #2

In Part #1 of this two part series, I discussed what a myth was and looked at the first of 5 anger myths.

In this post, I discuss anger myths 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Myth #2: My anger  controls me.

Myth #2 also appears in many forms.

  • My anger made me do it (whatever action “it” refers to).
  • I had no choice (to do what I did).  I was so angry.

The implication of the myth is that you are a robot without free will when it comes to the emotion of anger.

This myth persists in part because of the nature of anger and all emotions.

Emotions have existed since man, as a species, lived in caves or on the Savannah.  Emotions evolved to help us survive as a species. Humans survived by constantly scanning their surroundings for threats that would kill them.  When a threat was perceived (consciously or subconsciously), the brain automatically engaged a fight or flight reaction to protect the individual from the threat.  This process, initiated through the Amygdala and the Reticular Activating System in the brain,  was (and continues to be) fast and automatic as it should be if a genuine threat exists.

The emotion that was experienced always matched the nature of the threat and prepared the person for appropriate action.

Today, because most of the threats we face are psychological in nature and not survival based, the match between the emotion and the reaction is less reliable.

The process, however, has not changed since we lived in caves.

Because of the automatic emotional reaction, it is easy to see why some people may believe the emotion forces them to act.

As humans continued to evolve and develop a bigger, more complicated brain, the cerebral cortex, or thinking part of the brain, allowed us to think about, or evaluate, what we were experiencing and gave us access to more choices.

Today, the emotional reaction still exists but we now have the opportunity to evaluate the nature of the threat and choose how we want to respond.

So, while the myth persists, the truth is that our brains have evolved and given us the opportunity to evaluate our emotional reaction before we act-out and, therefore, to choose how we want to respond. This is the more “modern” part of the anger mastery cycle.

The downside of the myth is that those who believe it feel helpless to deal with their anger and are left with two choices:

  1. never get angry
  2. always act-out on their anger

Choice #1 is nearly impossible and choice #2 could result in their getting in trouble or to others avoiding them.

In addition, if anger is perceived as the causative element, these individuals will perceive no need to get help.

Myth #3: Someone else can make you angry.

This myth is similar to Myth #2.

The difference is that while myth #2 blames the anger and implies a sense of helplessness, this myth avoids responsibility for inappropriate anger by blaming the “victim” of one’s anger for causing the acting-out.

Aggressive men who abuse others use this myth as an justification for their behavior.

The myth persists because it offers those who act out inappropriately an excuse for their inappropriate actions, a way to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior, and a way to blame someone else for what they have chosen to do.

In other words, the angry individual..

  1. Claims that they  did not (mess up) because they are a bad or hurtful guy (which they most likely are) but because their anger gave them no choice and
  2. Avoids personal responsibility for their actions by blaming someone else for the inappropriate behavior

As an aside, people who get drunk and act-out attempt to blame the alcohol for their actions.

“If I wasn’t drunk, I would not have…”

While this statement may be true, it ignores the fact that the person chose to get drunk and is, therefore, completely responsible for their actions.

Similarly, with anger.

Yes, it may be true that if a (wife, girlfriend) had not done what they did, the abuser probably would not have gotten angry, and if they were not angry, they probably would not have acted-out. However, this sequence ignores the fact that the individual is not a robot and always has a choice regarding the actions they take.

Anger is never the cause of inappropriate behavior.

Myth #4: Anger is always a secondary emotion

Many writers choose to label anger as a secondary emotion.

This assertion is  wrong, it ignores some basic research findings and it is disempowering because it denies the primary function of anger as a primitive threat detector.  In addition, it denigrates the energy anger provides as a motivator of effective corrective action.

A secondary emotion is one that is used as a substitute for another feeling.

Men tend to use anger as a secondary emotion to substitute for feelings of anxiety, hurt or vulnerability.

This happens because anger is an empowering emotion which elicits a sense of power, ability to go on the attack, and a sense of strength.  Anger evolved to do exactly this.

Feelings like anxiety, sadness, and vulnerability, however, leave men feeling weak and inadequate. Again, this is what these feelings are supposed to do.

So, when faced with feeling weak or inadequate, all of which “hurt”, a man may choose to express anger.

This is secondary anger and it is always dishonest.

The truth is that men need to learn to master all their feelings and the information their feelings provide if they want to be more interpersonally effective.

Myth #5: Women should not get angry.

This myth states that women should not get angry because:

  • it isn’t feminine or
  • the consequences aren’t worth it

This myth persists because the the truth is that for some women, expressing anger (especially in a professional office setting) can lead to unwanted consequences.

Several years ago, I went onto a professional women’s forum on LinkedIn. I identified myself as a man and respectfully asked for feedback from these women regarding what happened when they showed appropriate anger in a professional setting.  I received over 2000 responses to my query.  The message clearly was that when women showed anger, they were demeaned, marginalized and negatively labelled. It seems that their male colleagues were not equipped to deal with these women and their issues in a professional and validating manner.

As a side note, I recently went to the same network on LinkedIn with another question, clearly identified myself as a male and was “informed” that I was not welcome on the network.  How times have changed!

The bottom line is that this myth implies that a woman is not entitled to be angry and to use her anger as a tool to bring about change in her environment. This implication is both incorrect and insidiously disempowering.

The truth is that while she may have to adjust how she expresses her anger, she needs to validate her feelings and choose a more indirect strategic approach to using the energy of her anger to facilitate change.

My book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool has a whole chapter devoted to Professional Women.

In these two posts, I introduced you to five widely held myths about anger.  My goal was to show you these myths, make you aware of the various ways these myths present themselves, help you understand why the myths persist, and empower you to overcome these myths and strategically express your anger rather than be hobbled and let your anger be taken away from you by  half-truths, misinformation, and ingrained misunderstandings.

I welcome your comments.

To My Members: A New Milestone! There are over 1000 of you. How can I help you going forward?

Today, we reached a new milestone at TheEmotionsDoctor.com!

We exceeded 1000 registered members of this blog.

This is a milestone I never in my dreams believed I would achieve!

Thank you.

While the official WordPress label for all of you when you register is “user”, I prefer to think of all of you as members and my blog as a “membership site”.

Let me explain.

I do not monetize, or charge for, access to The Emotions Doctor blog because I believe that the information I provide should be available to anyone who wants to  use it and grow with it. And, no one likes Ads!

My books, of course, are available on Amazon.

That being said, I write for you, my readers.

And, I would like to provide content that you can use.

So, that being said…….

  • You took the time to register for my blog
  • I assume that you have found the material I write useful
  • Now,  please help me help you by letting me know what you would like me to write about.
  • And, let me know what, if anything, I can do to make this site more useful for you.
    • Is the index tab helpful?
    • Are the posts too long, not long enough?
    • Are the topics covered sufficiently informative for you?

As a registered “member”, you are the only one who can leave a comment on my blog.

And, this is one way to contact me.

However, a better way is to send me an email with the word “member” in the subject line.

  • In the email, let me know what you would like me to address in a post.
  • The only caveat is that I do not do therapy through my blog. So while I will attempt to answer any question I can as specifically as I can, the answer will be educational and not therapeutic.  No need to worry, I’ve answered many questions on Quora.com and I am quite good at giving useful information.
  • My email address is TheEmotionsDoctor (at) gmail.com

Thanks, again, for helping me reach this milestone.

AND, I LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING FROM YOU.

Ed Daube, Ph.D.   The Emotions Doctor.

 

An object lesson in Emotional Mastery from an incredible American athlete.

If you are in America as you read this, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Fourth of July (tomorrow).  Enjoy your holiday and be safe.

I will publish the second post on Anger Myths in two weeks.  I thought I’d publish this article today because it is about the resilience of an American athlete and it teaches a very important lesson about mastering your emotions.

For my readers in other countries, I will stipulate that the same story could apply to other athletes, business people, or anyone who chooses to master their emotions.

An article in the June 19, 2019 issue of the LA Times caught my attention.

The article was about Crystal Dunn, currently a member of the United States Women’s Soccer Team, and her incredible comeback as an athlete.

As noted in the article,  Dunn was cut from the team  four years ago, “cycled through a range of emotions”, and made a decision which led her to where she is today.

As a reader of this blog, you are very familiar with my writings on Emotional Mastery.  It is this perspective that peaked my interest in this article about Crystal Dunn.

The article states “After she was cut from the team four years ago, Dunn said she quickly cycled through a range of emotions from disbelief and anger to pity and embarrassment before finally settling on determination. So, she redoubled her efforts, promising to make herself so good that she would never be cut from the team again.  It worked.”

While I don’t know any more about Dunn than is stated in the article, the information that is provided offers an excellent learning opportunity from the perspective of Emotional Mastery.

The foundation of Emotional Mastery is that each person should…

  • experience every emotion (this step is an unconscious process)
  • validate the emotion as providing useful information (this step accepts the message of the emotion whether or not it is accurate)
  • assess the match between the emotion and the perception of the situation that elicited the emotion (this step addresses the accuracy of the message)
  • choose a response that deals with the situation, as it is, and allows you to adaptively move through whatever is happening to you (this step is the culmination of Emotional Mastery and the justification for it)

The article implies that Dunn worked her way through eac of these steps.

Her first reaction to being dropped from the team was disbelief and anger.  Disbelief is obvious as she did not foresee being cut from the team.

Disbelief could easily lead to anger.

The message of anger is that there is a threat that needs to be addressed.  The threat here could be that she viewed being cut as “unfair”, “misguided”, or just plain “wrong”.  Anger, in response to unfairness is understandable.

She then  moved to pity and embarrassment.

Pity is a “poor me” emotion if it is applied to oneself or an emotion of “poor you” when applied to someone else.   The darker side of pity is an implication that one is superior to the person who is the object of pity.  For Dunn, self-pity might have involved a sense of sadness for her loss at her position on the team.

Anger, or a sense that the threat is external, and must be rebuffed could give way to pity when the idea of a threat gives way to one’s sense of loss once it is realized that there is no threat.

Pity, it seems, gave way to embarrassment which is a feeling of self-consciousness or shame. The message of embarrassment is “I screwed up, got caught and was subjected to public ridicule. There is something wrong with me.”

Pity could give way to embarrassment when the sense of loss is viewed as attributable to the actions one did or did not do.

Dunn seems to have felt that the effort she put into staying on the team wasn’t enough.

The final emotion that Dunn is reported to have experienced was determination.  This message of this emotion is “I can overcome what has happened to me and make it better”.

As an emotion, anger is energizing.  It gives you the motivation to overcome and overwhelm a perceived threat.  This is great as long as there is a threat that can  be addressed.  If there is no threat, anger can lead to inappropriate acting-out.  We see a lot of this type of behavior in the news.

Both pity and embarrassment can be debilitating if they lead one to withdraw, choosing to get caught up in self-pity and either blaming someone else for what is taking place or taking no action at all if you believe you are unworthy.  Pity can lead to depression if you see yourself as helpless, hopeless or worthless.

If, however, as is the case with Dunn, embarrassment, or the sense that she screwed up, leads to a decision to grow from the experience, then embarrassment leads to determination which is very energizing.

And, determination motivates change.

So, what can you learn from the actions taken by this incredible athlete?

First, when (not if), you screw up and your situation “goes to hell in a handbasket”, allow yourself to feel all your emotions.

Second, do not allow yourself to go into a negative spiral with your feelings.  Understand that emotions are just messengers and take the time to objectively assess the message your emotions are providing.  Ask for an outside opinion if your own objectivity is inadequate.

Third, let your assessments of each individual feeling push you to “cycle through” your emotions.  This is letting the emotional process run its course.

Finally, push yourself to choose a response that will move you forward and help you to grow through your situation.  Accept the feeling of accomplishment that results and move to determination to take action to “make it happen”.

Congratulations to Crystal Dunn and thank you for an object lesson in mastering one’s emotions.