The Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are Mastering Their Anger. Are You Mastering Yours?

The recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland Florida is still fresh in our minds for at least two reasons.

The first reason is that the event was horrific, didn’t occur that long ago, and no other shooting has occurred which could grab our attention and replace the MSD shooting.

Other shootings have taken place, grabbed our attention, and then faded away.

The second reason is the impact that this event had on the students who lived through it and the response of those students to the event.

In the interest of transparency, I need to say that I own a gun, I believe in the 2nd amendment, I think the NRA has way too much influence, and I believe (along with a majority of Americans) that a compromise on gun control can be reached which both adds to the safety of Americans and protects the legitimate rights of Americans to own firearms if only Congress had the fortitude to get the job done.

This post, however, is not about gun control.

It is about mastering anger.

In my second Amazon best selling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool,  I discuss what anger is, what emotional mastery is, and where the focus of anger management groups often fall short. I also include individual chapters designed to help the reader understand and master their anger. You can download the first two chapters of my book with no opt-in from my blog

Anger is one of 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise).

Four of these primary emotions are threat detectors just like the smoke detector in your house. The primary threat detectors alert us to an impending threat (This is the message of the emotion.) and help us stay alive by preparing our bodies to take action regarding that threat.

Emotions can be understood as tools and each tool has a specific function for which it was designed…

  • Your smoke detector alerts you to an impending fire.
  • Your TV remote enables you to wirelessly control, program, and interact with your TV, your Blueray player, and so forth.
  • Your cell phone…

Well, you get the idea.

Anger is a primary threat detector. The message of anger is that we perceive a threat we believe we can eliminate. Anger energizes us to go to war.

By contrast, fear, as a primary threat detector, alerts us to a threat which will “terminate” us and prepares us to escape (flee) or freeze in place.

Very few tools are so self-evident that they do not require a learning curve to master them and get the most out of them.

While this may be obvious with the cell phone, your computer, and the remote, think about the last time your smoke detector went off in the middle of the night alerting you to a weak battery or you burnt some toast and you nearly broke the detector because you weren’t sure how to turn the damn thing off.

Emotions are the same way. They are just just tools which we need to learn to master in order to strategically use them to improve your life.

So, back to the MSD teens.

These teens felt helplessness and vulnerability during and following the event.

The feelings of helplessness and vulnerability are easy to understand just by thinking about what the MSD students experienced.

The MSD teens then transformed the feelings of vulnerability and helplessness into anger.

Up to this point, the MSD shooting is no different from the Vegas shooting, Columbine or any other of the numerous shootings which we have seen on the news, felt vulnerable concerning, and angry about.

For the most part, however, the anger in these other shootings just sort of faded away and was not mastered.

And, nothing changed.

The difference with the MSD shooting and the reason it is still holding our attention is that the “victims” stopped feeling victimized and mastered their anger.

Anger mastery involves assessing the validity of both the anger and the perceived threat and then using the energy anger provides to take effective action to nullify a valid threat.

The MSD teens clearly realized that the threat from guns was valid and decided to go to war to deal with the threat. They then made a plan to facilitate their battle and executed their plan. This plan was critical if they wanted their message to be heard.

This is anger mastery.

They have come forward and appeared on both public and pay (Netflix) TV. They articulately discussed both the impact the event had on them, the feelings the event elicited (not caused) in them and their proposed solutions. They have mobilized public support, publicly taken their concerns and the solutions they are recommending to lawmakers, and organized public events.

They have raised public awareness and it appears that they won’t stop until corrective action has taken place.

You can see the anger in their voices as they speak and their anger continues to motivate them. We have already seen an impact in Florida where some changes have been made in the law.

This is the heart of anger mastery. How you feel about the MSD teens and gun control is not the issue here.

If you have ever experienced anger and either done something you later regretted or done nothing, you have not mastered your anger.

You now have the choice the next time you experience anger.

Accept the message of anger as valid. Your anger is always valid though the perception of threat may or may not be valid.

Then use your anger as an opportunity to assess the situation in which you find yourself.

If your anger accurately reflects a threat that requires an intervention, then take some time to determine the best and most effective action to take, make a plan, and use the energy your anger provides to implement the plan you have devised.

If you decide that you have misunderstood your situation or “created” the threat by some action you have taken, then you can choose a different course of action and the anger will dissipate.

This is mastering your anger.

I welcome your comments and if you think this blog could benefit someone else, please send them the link.


My 100th post, the INDEX, two (no opt-in) downloads, and a very interesting question from a reader.

How I would “explain” a school shooting to my teens, if I had teenagers.

Recent events including the shooting in a High School in Florida led me to wonder about how I would help my own teenager (my own kids are adults now) if I had one who experienced an “active shooter” situation with fatalities. I have years of training so I have a sense of how to intervene and the necessary skills to do so.

Disclaimer:  This post is meant to stimulate a discussion of the issues and to provide some guidelines.  It is not meant as a tutorial or as a complete “how-to” regarding talking to a teen.  If you find yourself in the aftermath of an active shooter incident and feel that you are “in over your head”, seek professional help.

I am making some basic assumptions..

First of all, I am assuming that the teen is old enough and engaged enough to be able to discuss their feelings and their concerns.  This does not mean that there are no emotional reactions such as bad dreams, crying, a sense of vulnerability and so forth.

Secondly, I am assuming that the emotional reaction to the event has not prompted PTSD level symptoms which are so disruptive that a professional intervention is required.

Thirdly, I am assuming that the adult interacting with the teen is not so overwhelmed by their own feelings that they really can’t assure their teen about anything.

That being said, before I made any attempt to help my teen deal with this type of event, I would take whatever time it took to make it clear that whatever he (or she) was feeling, it was okay to feel it and that I would do whatever was necessary to help them get through it.  Along these same lines, I would let my child know that I also was impacted by the event.

I would, at the appropriate time, ask the teen  what they were feeling. I would expect feelings including anger, anxiety, and guilt.

While I would get to the anger eventually, as anger is easily understood in this context,  I would first attempt to address the guilt and the anxiety.

The message of guilt is that the person has done something wrong.

With this in mind, I would ask what it was that the teen felt guilty about.  What do they believe they should have done that they did not.  This is survivor guilt. I would do this before I reassured them that it wasn’t their fault.  They already know this on some level but the guilt suggests that there is some doubt that must be addressed.

After they expressed themselves, I would attempt to address the issues they brought up. I would not argue with them but would, through questions, help them begin to see that there was nothing more they could have done to prevent the shooting. Finally, if appropriate, I would share that it appeared to me that there was nothing they could have done differently.

The message of anxiety is that there may be a future event which might cause severe harm.

Anxiety is understandable under these circumstances as these events occur without warning and with fatal consequences. Adults have difficulty with these types of events as well.

Because the event is unpredictable, the teen can become consumed with worrying that it could happen again. This reality, while highly unlikely, is always  possible.

Thinking about future possible events can lead to bad dreams, a desire to avoid going back to school, feelings of vulnerability and so forth.

Here are two possible interventions I might try.

The first would be to explain what dreams are.

All of our brains are at work 24/7.  At night, when we sleep, the activities of the day stop and the brain continues to “process” whatever issue we might have been struggling with during the day.  These issues can appear in our dreams.

Dreams can be experienced as very real.

I would explain dreams to my teen and go on to say that when these dreams happen, we should acknowledge them, accept that they reflect our very real feelings, and then attempt to move past them by not allowing them to have power over us.  This takes time and must be practiced.  But, we can learn to defang our dreams.

I would then attempt to explain that while we can’t always prepare, or avoid, bad things which happen, we can do a lot to help us cope with an event which might happen in the future.

The example I would use is that of a fatal traffic accident.

Whenever we get behind the wheel of a car, we are aware that a drunk driver, an errant nail in a tire, or some unforeseen situation could result in a fatal accident which could kill us.

While we are aware of this, we still get in the car.

This is possible because we believe we are both prepared for the unforseen and are good drivers (We are prepared, alert, and attentive to other drivers.)

At some point, and I would choose very carefully when, I would explain that even if we do everything right, sometimes bad things happen including fatal accidents.

The analogy of a traffic accident can be used in the case of a school shooting.

I would explain that teachers are being trained to deal with these type of situations.

I would also tell my teen to talk about what they might look for in other students which might indicate that this person is troubled and needs to be helped.  If they see something about which they are concerned, they need to tell a teacher.  Also, if there is an active shooter in a school, then they need to be prepared to remain “calm”, lock the classroom door and shelter in place or do whatever the school has suggested they do in these situations. All of this is preparation.

Lastly, I would address the anger by validating it, explaining that the message of anger is that we perceive a threat we believe we can eliminate.  From this perspective, I would suggest that my teen use the energy of the anger to organize with their friends to impact legislators to change the laws regarding gun ownership, background checks, and so forth.

Two caveats are important here.

The first is that this is not a complete discussion of dealing with the aftermath of an active shooter situation. It is only intended as a guide to help if you find yourself having to help a teen begin to deal with the emotions that follow from a traumatic event.

Secondly, while it may look easy in black and white, this process is not easy, can take a lot of time, patience and multiple attempts.  While not easy, however, it is doable and worth the effort to implement.

As always, in these situations, professional help is always available and should be utilized.



What are the tips for increasing anger? Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the person who gets angry but does not express it and I gave some suggestions this individual might use to express (or increase) his (or her) anger.

In this post, I will talk about the person who does not recognize that they are angry. This individual gets mad but does not identify the emotion as anger.

What might account for someone developing in this manner?

Upbringing, lessons learned, and indirect anger.

Well, suppose you grew up in a family where anger was either strongly denied or egregiously displayed?  In response to these messages, you might have decided that you would never allow yourself to get angry.

Well, the unfortunate truth is that the emotion of anger, while it may lie dormant or be indirectly expressed, is a part of you and has been with you since birth.

Some people express their anger indirectly through passive-aggressive behavior.  Through a process of delay, making excuses, not completing goals, procrastination, sarcasm and so forth, one can “get back” at a potential threat without acknowledging anger.

If this applies to you, it might be in your best interest to explore how you avoid interpersonal threat and, with help, learn to acknowledge the threat directly, allow yourself to get angry, and interact more directly with others.

Anger by a different name.

There are emotions which you might feel comfortable expressing which, while not identified as anger, actually are elicited by a perceived threat. Examples include annoyance, frustration, bitterness.

To the extent that these emotions are a reaction to a perceived threat and motivate action to deal with the threat, what you are experiencing could very well be anger.  You just are not labeling it as anger.

Think about it for a moment. The message of anger is that the angry person perceives a threat he believes he can eliminate.

The message of annoyance and frustration is that an event has occurred that is perceived as an unexpected obstacle that needs to be handled, bypassed, or worked through. In either case, the event is perceived as an inconvenience rather than a threat.

If you have been taught that you should never get angry because your anger will make you act out and hurt others, then you may have chosen to “eliminate” this emotion from your emotional toolkit. It’s okay for you to be annoyed but not angry.

It is important to note that sometimes, frustration and annoyance just reflect being frustrated or annoyed. Your goal has been blocked and you don’t like it.  There is no threat, just an obstacle that needs to be  overcome.

No threat— no anger.

The good news and the bad news.

If you are substituting anger with indirect behavior or other feelings, your anger is still a part of you.

You may see this as bad news if your goal is to eliminate your anger.

It is good news because you have a tool you can learn to use to improve your life and your relationships.

Maybe this will help. Let’s say you are not familiar with power tools and you have always used a screwdriver when needed.  You are about to build a fence and you are dreading all the screws you will need to use.  Someone introduces you to an power screwdriver and your job has been transformed.

Now I am not saying that you have to get angry.

What I am saying is that you were born with a very good threat detector…your anger.

While it is important to recognize that while some people may do harmful things when angry, their behavior is ALWAYS the result of the choices they make. Anger alerts you to and prepares you to deal with a perceived threat. Anger NEVER causes or forces you to do anything.

You can learn to both recognize and master your anger.  In fact, my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool will help you do that.  You can download the first two chapters by scrolling up to the Welcome Post above.

I welcome your comments.



What are the tips for increasing anger? Part 1

This is an interesting question that I was asked on Quora.  At the time, it raised an issue I had not previously thought about.

Indeed, usually, people question how to reduce anger.

As I thought about it, there are people who claim that they do not get angry.

Indeed, I can think of at least three types of people who do not get angry.

  1. The person who, for whatever reason, never perceives any injustice in the world.  As even the Dalai Lama has said that he gets angry, this type of person would be very rare.
  2. The person who does not recognize that they are angry.  I will discuss this person in the next post.
  3. There is the person who gets angry but does not express it.  I believe that this is the individual to whom this question applies.

Anger is one of the five basic emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear and disgust). Everyone develops these emotions. Some are present at birth and others develop over time. The message of anger is that we are facing a threat that we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough force at it.

The word threat is in italics because each of us defines and perceives situations as threatening in different ways.

The word force is in italics because some people overreact and become unnecessarily aggressive when angry, others use just enough force and assertively handle the situation, and still others do not use enough, or no, force to handle a genuine threat. (They know a threat exists but choose to do nothing.) This is called passive, or non-assertive behavior.

Looked at another way, anger is a self-protective mechanism that automatically turns on when you believe you need to take action to prevent some sort of harm from taking place and you have the capacity to take that action.

As I noted in my last post, anger is both a messenger and a motivator.

There are two components to anger which are relevant here…

1. the perception of threat

(This is the messenger component.)

2. the belief that you have the ability to overpower and eliminate the threat and the physical preparedness to take action

(This is the motivator component.)

If you perceive a threat that will harm you and which you can’t eliminate, you will feel fear NOT anger.

Getting back to the question…

Your anger will increase in direct proportion to…

1. the level of threat you perceive in a situation

(The more threat you perceive, the greater will be your anger if you believe you can do something about the threat.)

2. the extent to which you believe your values, goals, plans, finances, family,self-worth, etc are important enough to protect and defend

(You must believe that you are, important. If what you are, do, or believe have no value, there can be no threat and, therefore, no anger.)

3. the extent to which you believe you have the knowledge, skills, and ability to defend yourself against the threat you perceive.

If you want to increase your anger, you will need to examine two aspects of your life.

1. How important or significant do you believe your values, your possessions, your beliefs, your self-image, your friendships, your sense of right and wrong, etc are?

This question may expose you to issues involving self-doubt, low self-esteem, or personal self-worth you may not have been aware of.  If this happens, you can seek  professional help to sort out the issues that arise.

2. How capable do you believe you are to assertively handle challenges to your beliefs, your values, etc?

This question will alert you to any deficits you may have regarding interpersonal assertion and self-expression.  These are specific skill sets which can be learned and there may be a need to get some outside advice/training specific to you and your situation.

When you believe you have something to defend and you have the skills to do what is necessary, your anger will be proportionate to the threat and will energize you to take action.

I welcome your comments.

The “Me-to” movement and Anger Mastery

As I am writing this, the “Me-to” movement seems to be gaining momentum.

Following the revelations of sexual indiscretions and the abuse of power by males in the entertainment industry toward “subordinate” females, many women and men have come forward in different industries to both acknowledge the abuse of power that exists and support those who have been victimized and have chosen to share their stories.

When I thought about the “Me-to” movement, I realized that these individuals not only were angry (understandably so) but were also mastering their anger (using the energy of their anger to accomplish a goal).

Let me set the stage for you.

Anger is one of 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise) which appear in all human cultures and some subhuman species.

With the exception of glad and surprise, the primary emotions evolved, through the emotional process, to keep our ancestors alive so that we, as a species, could survive.

While there are many ways to conceptualize what emotions (or feelings) are, I choose to think of all emotions as tools. I will elaborate below.

Here is the short version of how the emotional process  worked when we lived in caves and continues to work now.

You are hardwired to scan your surroundings for possible threat and to REACT to it.  This was very useful to our ancestors who faced threats that would literally kill them.

Once a threat is subconsciously detected, the Amygdala (part of the brain) sends a fast track message to the Thalamus to prepare the body for fight (battle) or flight (escape).  This is our emotional reaction. Again, all of this is outside your awareness.  And, if your life is at stake, this is exactly what you want.

The Amygdala perceives all threats as survival based.

The challenge, today, is that the threats we face are more psychological than survival based.

As our brain continued to develop and we evolved beyond our cave ancestors, the thinking part of the brain, the Cerebral Cortex, began to take on a more significant role in our lives.  So, while the fast track message went to the thalamus, a slower track message was now sent to the Cortex.

It is this message that gives us the opportunity to think about and assess the nature of the threat (survival or psychological) and choose how we want to respond to the perceived threat. This is our emotional response.

Emotional Mastery and emotions as tools

Think about your cell phone (or computer) for a minute.

While you now may have mastered it so that you can rapidly send a text, download a song, or watch a You Tube video with relative ease, you probably were not so proficient when you first encountered the phone.  While you may think of it as your lifeline, your  phone is just a tool.  Your proficient manipulation of your phone is merely proof that you have mastered it as a tool.

The same process applies to other tools such as a car, a table saw, your smart TV, a sewing machine, or your anger.


The emotion of anger is a tool which informs you that you have perceived a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it and prepares you to go to war.

Let me repeat this: Anger PREPARES you to go to war.

It is important to emphasize that anger does not CAUSE (or force) you to do anything.

Anger Mastery involves understanding what anger is and what it does (the emotional mastery cycle) and then using the energy of one’s anger to effectively do what is necessary to eliminate the threat.

Let’s go back to the “Me-to” movement.

Clearly a threat has been identified. While the short term “threat” is the men who have abused their power, the longer term threat is to change the climate which empowers and perpetuates this abuse.

People who get angry and lash out at others are reacting to their anger. We saw some of this when the revelations of sexual transgressions first began.

The “Me-to” movement, while still encouraging victims to come forward, is focusing its angry energy on bringing about cultural changes.  This involves an approach other than direct attacks.  Choosing how one can most effectively respond to the threat is what anger mastery is all about.

I discuss in much greater depth the whole topic of mastering anger in my most recent Amazon best selling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.  You can download the first two chapters of this book by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post above and clicking on the link provided.

To get a broader understanding of emotions as tools, I recommend my first book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings in which I discuss the emotions as tools model and specific emotions of anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt and shame.  You can download the first two chapters of this book by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post above and clicking on the link provided.

I welcome your comments.




Responsibility and Accountability: A different approach


Before I begin the New Year with an article I think you will find interesting, I want to let you, my readers, know that starting with today’s post, I will be posting new articles every other week rather than every week.

While there are a number of reasons for this which I won’t go into, what I would like you to know is that I am still very interested in providing content which is relevant to you.  With this in mind, I hope you will continue to leave comments (We review all of them.) about both the content I provide and any new content you would like me to address.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support.

-The Emotions Doctor-

Happy 2018!

I want to start the New Year with an article on responsibility and accountability because I am suggesting you begin 2018 with a different approach to how you interact with others.

And, by the way, the principles I discuss below can also be applied to yourself.  This can improve your self-esteem and your self-respect.

Someone with whom you have a “relationship” at some point will either do something “wrong” or fail to do something “right”.

That person could be a child, a spouse, or, maybe, an employee.

Perhaps you are angry because their actions are perceived as a “threat”.

Here are some possible threats:

  • to your view of right verses wrong,
  • they have negatively impacted your goals or your business,
  • or you are convinced that they just “should” not have done what they did.

You want to hold them accountable for their actions in order to:

  • make things right,
  • get justice,
  • or teach them a lesson.

Okay, while each of the above makes sense, I suggest that you avoid being too quick to rush to judgement.

Here is something to think about.

Your anger tells you that you perceive a threat in what this person has done.

Let’s agree that their behavior is a threat (whether or not it actually is).

When you move to the next step about what to do to deal with the threat, the issue becomes a bit more complicated.

If your desire is to “hold them accountable”, then you are assuming that the actions they took (or failed to take) were intentional.

If they chose to do something wrong or chose to avoid doing what was expected, then your assumption is correct and corrective action, or punishment is appropriate.

Notice the words I have italicized above.

But, what if something else is going on?

Let me explain.

When we hold someone accountable for their actions, we assume that they are capable of doing what is expected.

To be accountable is to be held RESPONSIBLE.  

If one is capable of doing what is expected, then they are RESPONSE ABLE.

I am making a distinction between Response Ibility vs Response Ability.

Before you decide how to deal with the behavior of another person, it is important to determine:

1) if they could have done what you expected and either chose not to (or just screwed up) or

2) they could not do what was expected either because they lacked a specific skillset or tool or because they completely misunderstood what was expected.

To hold a person accountable when they lacked the ability to do what was expected will elicit anger because the imposed consequence is viewed as unfair and, therefore, as a threat to their view of right and wrong.

Anger will lead to resistance which will interfere with learning.

If the goal is to change the undesired behavior, then it is important to determine that the individual was indeed response able before we hold them respons(e) sible.

In a business context, it may be your responsibility as an employer to help them secure the training they need.

As a friend (or parent), it is your responsibility to do what is necessary to make your expectations (and the reasons behind them) clear and appropriate and to  facilitate the relationship moving forward.

I welcome your comments.



It is the “end” of the year. How will you approach it?

Today is December 27.

The New Year is 4 days away.

You still have time to decide how will you handle 2018.

I am not talking here about how you will  bring in the New Year.  You may choose to go out and party, stay at home with your significant others, or watch the “ball” drop at midnight and go to bed.

What I am talking about is how you will approach the New Year emotionally.

There are many options:

  • Will you think back on 2017 and nostalgically reflect on all you have accomplished?
  • Will you get depressed because of all the things you didn’t get done that you wanted to accomplish?
  • Will you be anxious because you can’t predict what will happen in 2018?
  • Will you feel sad because of what, or who, you lost?
  • Or will you feel despair because you dread what may happen in 2018?

As The Emotions Doctor, my suggestion for you involves three steps each of which comes from the emotional process I have discussed in many of my earlier posts:

  1. take some time to think about what you are feeling,
  2. validate the feeling
  3. make a decision about how you want to approach 2018 and what you want to feel.

It is important to note that your feelings reflect how you view your “world”.

Your perception of the world is always under your control.

Because of this, you can choose how you want to feel about the future (2018).

Yes, it is true that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the world today and going forward into 2018.

If you choose to focus on this uncertainty and your inability to control global events, you will feel anxiety as distress.  This can lead to depression.

If you choose to acknowledge the uncertainty but focus your attention of what you can influence, then you might experience the flipside of anxiety which is anticipation.

You can set some goals if you wish (and this is a good idea if the goals are believable, backed up by a plan and measurable).

Or, you can make some new year’s resolutions which is probably not a good idea as you most likely will not remember them 3 days into the New Year.

However, you choose to go into 2018, I hope you will continue to come to this site, read my posts and leave a comment. Also, be sure to check out the index as there may be a previous post which addresses a question you might have about emotions.

I wish you all the best in 2018 and let me be the first to wish you a Happy New Year.


Holiday rage: Where does it come from and what you can do about it.

This is a republication of a post I originally wrote last year.  I have updated and republished it here because you are most likely in the middle of your “Holiday Season” and this information might be useful to you.

If you think someone else might benefit from it, send them the link.


The upside of the holidays is that most of us are in a festive mood with all the decorations, the music, the food, getting together with family, and so forth.

But, there is a darker side of holiday feelings. This darker side can include feelings of extreme anger (or rage), feelings of depression, and so forth.

In this article, I will address holiday rage.

During this season, we may find ourselves scurrying around to do last minute tasks (get somewhere or do something) and someone (or something) wrongly gets in the way and thwarts our efforts to accomplish our goals.

When we in a hurry, we may feel stressed and outside of our comfort zone (the place where things are going along as they should be).  When stressed, the threshold at which we get angry is lowered.

Note the words in italics.  “Scurrying” implies that you are under some pressure and “wrongly” implies that the person or thing that is blocking your goals is doing so intentionally. “as they should be (going)” implies that we are less in control of our and what is happening to us.

Let’s look at each of these “issues” and see how they relate to increased anger.


When you are “scurrying”, you are already in a heightened state of arousal.  In other words, you are on an emotional edge. This sensitizes you to (and amplifies or magnifies) any possible impediment (or threat) to your goals.

This magnification is similar to what happens when you speak into a microphone.  The amplifier attached to the mic takes your voice and makes it louder.

Because you are in a hurry, behind schedule, over-scheduled, late, or just trying to do too much at one time, you are overly focused on your immediate goal and you will tend to perceive anything (or anybody) who gets in the way of your goal as not only a threat but, because of your heightened state of arousal, as a mega threat.

Remember that the message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

Consequently, you will tend to get very angry and energized to overpower the mega threat which is impeding your completing the task at hand. Notice the implication of the italicized words. The arousal of your hurrying about magnifies your perception of threat and amplifies the arousal of your anger.

The slow line, poorly written instructions, or distracted clerk which under “normal” conditions would elicit a feeling of frustration or mild upset, now elicits extreme anger or rage.

Wrong and intentional.

To see another person’s actions as both wrong and intentional will always push your anger button. In fact, the element of intentionality is a key component of anger that is often overlooked.

As an example.. you are walking down the street and someone forcefully bumps into you.  Your initial reaction might be to “push back”.  If the person apologizes or if the person is visually (or otherwise) impaired, the “bump” is now viewed in a very different context and there is no anger.

Or, if the actions of another are viewed as inappropriate but not as intentionally attempting to hurt or damage you in any way, you might feel annoyed but you don’t escalate into anger.

So, if someone makes you late by intentionally taking your parking place or cutting in line, the inadequate instructions prove that the company doesn’t give a rip or care about you, the end-user, or the distracted clerk is only there for the money, is poorly trained, or would rather be somewhere else, they are a mega-threat and your anger is completely justified to nullify the threat.

Again, notice the implication of the italicized words.

The way things should be..

This implies that you have a model of your world in your head which you may or may not be aware of.

Your model might involve wishful thinking along the lines of “I wish the lines would be shorter.” This is experienced as The lines should be shorter! It isn’t right that the lines are this long! or All these people are making it more difficult for me to get my shopping done!

The discrepancy between your model and reality may be perceived as a threat which can then elicit anger.

So, what can you do about it?

There are four actions you can take:

  1. take a breath
  2. Assess the nature of the threat, your model of the “world” and whether or not a real threat exists.
  3. Think about what could happen if you react in the way you are just about ready to do.
  4. Choose an appropriate response.

Take a breath.

The first step when you are dealing with any of the threat detecting emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, anxiety) is to take a breath. Taking a breath lowers your arousal and gives you some psychological distance between you and the threat.  The few seconds or that you gain give you an opportunity to assess the nature of the threat and your options.

Note: If you are experiencing fear (not anxiety), you always want to escape from the situation.

The second step is to assess the nature of the threat and your model of the world.  Perhaps your model of what should be happening is inaccurate given your timing, the nature of the situation in which you find yourself, and so forth.

Thirdly, think about the the actions you are contemplating doing.  This is really a cost-benefit analysis.

Some examples:

Stolen parking place…

Is it really worth risking an accident to try and get that parking space? Probably not. Yes, it should have been your space but there is no “mega-threat” as you can find another.  What if you stop your car and cuss out the other driver and you get into an argument? Now, not only has a scene been created but you will be delayed even more.

To illustrate this, I remember years ago when I got a speeding ticket and went to driving school.  The instructor made a comparison on the board between speeding and getting a ticket.  He noted that speeding might save me maybe 10 minutes on my arrival.  If I got a ticket, the time it would “cost” me to deal with the cop would be more than the time I would save by speeding.  Other costs included fines (if any) time spend in driving school and so forth.  The cost-benefit analysis of speeding clearly showed that the benefits did not outweigh the costs.

Person cuts in line…

You can say something to the person who cut in line.  However, if you approach this person with all the energy of your heightened arousal, the reaction you get might not be the apology you deserve but an aroused angry over-reaction. Is it worth it to get into an argument when an apology would restore the situation?   Probably not.

Poorly written instructions for the toy you are trying to put together at 11:00 PM…

well, I have been there and done that. And, no, getting angry at the company, the person with inadequate writing skills, or the editor accomplished nothing.  I still had to do the best I could to figure out what I needed so I could build the bicycle and get it under the tree.

I think you get the idea.

If someone directs their anger is at you..

The process is similar to the that outlined above.  The only difference is that when someone directs their anger at you, you need to take a breath to lower your arousal so that you don’t react and, remembering that he sees you as a mega-threat, apologize for any misunderstanding (not for doing something wrong). You can then ask him how you can help to make things right.

The exception to the above is if you feel fear in the presence of someone directing their anger at you.  If this is the case, walk away.

So, my suggestion is that you enjoy all the great feelings that the holiday season elicits and be alert to anger if you experience it.  Master the anger so that it doesn’t escalate and potentially ruin your holiday.

I address the emotion of anger directly in my Amazon best selling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Have a great holiday and I welcome your comments.