Anger and Thirst

Recently, the following question appeared on Quora: 

When you get angry at someone, what do you do?

Two answers caught my attention because they reflect very common responses to dealing with anger.

1.When you’re angry, don’t act. Don’t speak. Don’t do anything.

2.When I get angry, I listen to music (not fast) and I eat some food. Maybe I’ll get some sleep or read a book.

Both answers reflect a common misconception of anger as a dangerous emotion which causes one to do something they later regret (my emphasis added).

The first answer suggests that you should do nothing.  This answer is misleading and may prevent someone (particularly a woman) from dealing with a perceived threat.

The second answer is about avoiding anger by distraction or avoidance.

Let’s clear up this misunderstanding.

Forget what you may have been told about emotions.

The facts is that anger, and all emotions, are your body’s way of alerting you to situations in your surroundings which require your attention and, possibly, a decision  from you about how to deal with that situation.

Emotions are your “early warning system”.

Let me put this into perspective for you.

Suppose I asked you this question…

What do you do when your body tells you that you are thirsty?

And you responded, “Don’t act, Do Nothing, Go someplace and listen to quiet music.”

People would think your answer was very strange and that it seemed to miss the point of the question.

The reason for this is that everyone understands that “being thirsty” is…

1) your body’s way of alerting you to a possible threat of dehydration

and

2) a motivator moving you to deal with the threat by taking action (getting a drink).

Thirst is a messenger and a motivator.

Your emotions also are messengers and motivators.

The emotion of anger (one of 6 primary emotions) is a primitive threat detector.

Anger is a messenger and a motivator.

Anger both…

1) alerts you that you have perceived a threat (to your goals, values, view of right and wrong) in your environment

and

2) motivates you to take action to eliminate the threat.

Just like thirst.

Let me take it one more step..

Suppose you were really thirsty and you decided to go into a local store and steal some water at gun point.

Yes, I know I am exaggerating.

No one would blame the thirst for your behavior. They would say, “You were thirsty and you chose to steal the water.”

But, people do blame their anger for their behavior.

Think about the celebrity or athlete who who beats up his girlfriend and says, “My anger made me do it.”

He, in fact, blames his anger so that he can avoid responsibility for his decision to beat up his girlfriend.

I grant you that people do some really dumb things when they get angry. But, their behavior is always a choice.

Emotions motivate, they do not cause behavior.

The solution is not to ignore the anger as suggested in Answer #2.

If you ignore, or avoid, your anger and the situation about which your emotion sent out an alert, the emotion will just come back.

Just like you will continue to be thirsty.

Rather, as I have noted in my Amazon bestselling book: Beyond Anger Management Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, the solution is to …

*learn to recognize your anger,

*take a deep breath to calm yourself,

*take a step back from the situation to give yourself some perspective,

and

*choose how you want to respond to the situation to effectively deal with the threat.

You can download the first two chapters of my book by scrolling up to the welcome post above and clicking on the link.

By the way, I noted that your answer might rob someone of the opportunity to deal with a threat.

Women today (not my view but that of 2000 professional women on LI) do not feel comfortable expressing anger because when they do (in a professional setting), they are demeaned, labelled, and marginalized by their male co-workers.

I know this does not apply to all women in all settings.

By validating anger for both men and women and teaching them how to adaptively master their anger, everyone wins.

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