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.

Why do I feel angry when I have no reason to be? P 2

This is the second of two posts addressing three possible explanations for the experience of feeling angry when there is no reason to be angry. In my last post, I discussed the first two possibilities.  In this post, I discuss possibility #3 and give some additional suggestions for actions you could take if this experience applies to you.

3. It feels like anger but isn’t.

a. Anger as a secondary emotion.

Sometimes men (more so than women) will express anger when there is no immediate threat.  When this happens, anger is a secondary emotion. It feels, and looks like, anger but isn’t.

There are at least two reasons why anger is expressed as a secondary emotion.

The first is that men, in our culture, are very familiar with and, in most cases, comfortable with the emotion of anger. They are less familiar with emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and vulnerability.  As a result, a man who feels vulnerable may express anger to cover over this other, uncomfortable, feeling.

Secondly, and similar to the above, anger is an empowering emotion which is experienced as energizing.  Other feelings such as anxiety, sadness and vulnerability are experienced as uncomfortable and weak.  Because of this, anger may be expressed as a secondary emotion in order to avoid discomfort.

b. Anger as an instrumental emotion.

When we lived in caves, our display of anger communicated to others that we were not to be messed with and should be left alone.  In caveman times, this anger display might have saved our lives.

Fast forward to today.  You are walking down the street and you see a person who is obvious angry and is loudly ranting and raving.  You probably will do what you can to  avoid this person.

Because of the nature of anger, it is possible to use anger to manipulate others into doing what you want in order to avoid having to deal with, or be subjected to, your anger.

When anger is used as an instrument to manipulate others, it is called instrumental anger.  It looks like anger but there is not threat so it is not valid anger. If you are not aware that you are using anger instrumentally, you may experience yourself as getting angry for “no reason”.

Some suggestions:

The antidote to all three of the above explanations is mastering your anger.

The Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC), a copy of which you can download by clicking on the link to the right of your screen, visually depicts the anger process and covers both valid (primary) anger and invalid (substituted) anger.

Once you have become aware that you are angry, the AMC indicates that you need to “assess/validate” your angry reaction.  In this step, you are engaging your cerebral cortex to determine whether a threat exists or not.

This will take some practice but I have given you some guidelines which should help focus your attention on what it is you are looking for in your assessment.

Possible arenas of threat include your goals, your sense of right and wrong, the way you think things “should” be, your values, your ego, your family, your finances, etc.  The next time you get angry, take a breath, take a step back from what is going on, and ask yourself “What is being threatened?”

As soon as you become aware of your anger,

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Next, take a physical step backwards from the situation.
  3. Then, just observe for a moment what is going on. Consider both your own perceptions and the feedback you are getting from others.  In this step, you need avoid getting defensive (not easy to do but doable with practice) and remain open to the possibility that what others are telling may be correct.

If you can ID a threat, great. You can choose how you want to proceed. In this case, you really are angry for a reason.

If you are unable to ID a threat, no problem. You may be angry “for no reason” and you have options.

  1. You can walk away and revisit the situation later.
  2. You can apologize to the other person.
  3. You can learn about what anger might be when it isn’t anger including anger as a substitute for other feelings such as anxiety, guilt, or sadness and anger as an instrumental emotion which is designed to manipulate another person.

The bottom line here is that you need to learn to always validate your anger as it is an important emotional tool that provides you with information. Validating, or accepting your anger does not mean that you have a valid reason for your anger.

Sometimes, you will be angry for a reason and sometimes you will be angry for no reason.  The goal is to learn the difference.

One issue is that the information your anger gives you, while based on your perceptions, may be incorrect because you have misperceived what is going on. Explanation 1 and 2 covered this and I gave you some ideas about what you can do.

The second issue is substituting anger for other feelings or intent.  This is explanation 3.  Becoming aware that this is how you are using anger requires that you be honest and open with yourself, get feedback (and help) from others, and work on developing new emotional habits.

Over time, you will become more adept at recognizing threats, when they exist.

I welcome your comments.

 

Emotions, Productivity, Using (or being used by) Anxiety, Assertion and More…

To my readers:

In this week’s post, I was going to conclude my two part series entitled: “Why do I feel angry when I have no reason to be?”

I decided, however, to alert you to this recent podcast I did with Productivity Expert, Mark Struczewski as I believe you will find the information contained in this interview very useful.

I will publish Part 2 in my next post.

Here is the link…..

https://markstruczewski.com/ed

A Conversation with Ed Daube – TMSP 130

During this podcast, we discussed the impact that emotions have on productivity with an emphasis on anxiety.

I noted that there are two types of anxiety.

The first is anxiety as distress.  This is the emotion you feel that leads you to procrastinate or avoid doing the job that is in front of you.  Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is: “There MAY be a threat ahead which MIGHT do me harm.”

This is the most commonly recognized form of anxiety.

There is, however, another form of anxiety called eustress which, as an emotion, facilitates productivity because it encourages action.

I discuss both of these forms of anxiety in the podcast.

We also discuss how to deal with both subordinates and superiors, in an office setting, who violate your boundaries when they insist on “visiting” with you.  This topic touches upon being assertive and “escalating” as needed.  I give specific suggestions for effectively handling these types of situations.

I also discuss the Relationship Prime Directive and how it applies to these types of interactions.

Lastly, but not finally, I talk about anger and how it can develop in a work setting and interfere with productivity.

There is much more to the podcast and I strongly recommend you click over and invest the 30+ minutes it will take to listen to and take notes from the program.

You may decide to listen several times to get all the “meat” you can out of the interview.

Why do I feel angry when I have no reason to be? P.1

This is the first of a two part discussion. 

There are at least three possible explanations for why someone might be angry and not be able to identify  a “reason” for their anger. In this post, I will talk about what anger is and discuss the first two explanations. 

In my next blog, I will address explanation #3 and talk about anger which really isn’t anger: specifically secondary and instrumental “anger”.

Recently, I was asked the above question on Quora.com and I thought I might address it here. If this applies to you, or someone you know, here are some insights that could be helpful.

As I have noted in previous posts, anger is one of six primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise).  With the exceptions of glad (happy) and surprise, the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors which appear in all human cultures and many subhuman species.

In humans, the primary emotions function as primitive threat detectors which both alert us to potential threats and, subconsciously, prepare our bodies to deal with the threat.  While I discussed sadness, fear, anxiety and other feelings in my first Amazon  Best Selling book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, my second Amazon Best Seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool focuses on Anger specifically.

Each emotion communicates a different message about the perceived threat. The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough power at it. Your body is prepared for battle.  You are ready to fight.

Whenever you get angry, it is because you perceive a threat.  This the reason behind your anger.

This question appears to address the experience in which one feels angry but can’t seem to identify a specific threat.  The apparent absence of an identifiable threat implies that there is no reason for the anger.

This may, or may not be true.

There are at least three possible explanations for what may be happening.

  1. No threat exists and you have misperceived was is going on.
  2. A threat exists but it is not obvious and, therefore, is not consciously identified as a threat. The individual has, however, subconsciously, identified a threat and reacted to it.
  3. While the emotion expressed appears to be anger, it is not anger as a primary emotion.  Rather, it is either secondary anger or instrumental anger and the individual is not aware that the emotion is not primary anger.

Let’s look at the first two.

  1. No threat exists.

Imagine a situation in which you get angry and everyone around you looks at you as if to say,  “What is going on with you?”. Their comments imply that there is no reason for your anger and that your anger is inappropriate.

There are at least two possibilities here.

On the one hand, you may have correctly perceived a threat and your perceptions are not being consensually validated.  Your experience, based on the feedback you are  getting, is that you are angry for no reason. The truth, however, is  that you are correct and they are incorrect.  There is a reason for your anger and they are telling you there is no reason.

On the other hand, you may have misunderstood the actions of another individual.  Your experience, based on the feedback you are  getting is that you are angry for no reason.

The truth is that you perceived a threat and reacted.  You just were incorrect in your perception. In this case, you are not “angry for no reason”. Rather, there is no reason for your anger.

2. A threat exists but it is not obvious.

The actions of another person are not always what they appear to be.  This can happen when one is being sarcastic, cracking a joke, using evasive or insincere language, or giving a “double message”.

You may get angry because you correctly sense the actual meaning (threat) underlying the communication you are receiving but you don’t consciously identify the threat because it is not obvious.

When this happens, I suggest that you validate and honor your anger as alerting you to a possible threat.  You should not act-out in anger but you do have at least two options.

On the one hand, you can choose to ignore the possible threat because the individual’s message is indirect and, therefore, not actionable.

The second option is to note that you aren’t sure what the person is trying to say to you and ask for clarification.

I will address the third explanation in my next post.

 

How can one control short temper?

This is a question I received on Quora and my response to it.

Before I answer this question, I must assume that by “short temper” you mean that you are quick to react to an anger eliciting situation and do something you later determine was not appropriate to the initial situation in which you chose to get angry and ended up acting out inappropriately.

Let me elaborate on the italicized words above….

React: The goal in dealing with any situation in which you get angry is to respond not react. To react is to take action without giving much thought to what you do. To respond is to reflect on the situation and choose an effective response which both matches and deals with the situation. This is the heart of anger mastery.

That being said, you should know that anger, as a primitive threat detector, prepares you to react to a dangerous situation and eliminate it with a show of force.

Thus, while to react is normal, it is often not optimal and needs to be resisted.

Anger eliciting: Situations in which you find yourself appear to cause your anger. This is an anger myth. Your perception of your situation as a “threat” is what elicits or leads to your getting angry. You can see this visually in The Anger Master Cycle pdf which you can download, without opt-in by scrolling up to the top of this page and clicking on the link to your right.

Chose: It is important to note that while the initial reaction to a threatening situation is anger, the behavior you engage in is ALWAYS a choice. In addition, whether you stay angry or let your anger dissipate is also a choice and is based on how you evaluate your situation and the nature of the threat you both initially perceived and the perception that arises after you have evaluated what is going on.

Not Appropriate: When your short temper results in your reacting to a situation in such a way that it does not match what is going on, your behavior is seen as inappropriate. It is this lack of a match that results in your thinking you need to control your short temper.

Your belief is that if you control your short temper, you won’t get angry, you won’t do inappropriate things, and you won’t get in trouble or cause trouble which you later regret.

Sorry for the long intro but I needed to establish a context for my answer.

Controlling your anger is only the first step to mastering your anger. Many anger management courses teach that control is not only an important step regarding anger but the most important step. This is incorrect.

The basis of mastering your anger as a strategic tool (the title of my Amazon best selling book) is to validate and accept your anger, control your behavior, evaluate your situation and choose whether to hold onto and take action using the energy of your anger, or let the anger go.

Ok, let’s look at the issue of control.

Control happens when you put a pause between the initial awareness that you are angry and the choice to take action.

Adding this pause to your behavioral repertoire can be learned but it takes a bit of effort and “practice”.

The principle you will be using involves “mental time travel”. Don’t freak out here as I am only asking you to take a moment, relax in a chair, and visualize yourself at some future date being in an anger eliciting situation, beginning to get angry and pausing.

If you have difficulty “seeing” yourself doing this, you can talk yourself through it.

My boss just did xyz. I’m getting angry. I really want to go off on him. I stop myself, take a step back from him, and take a deep breath. This is my pause. I now use that pause to think about what is going on and what actions I choose to take.”

As you go through this script, do your best to “see” yourself doing these steps. Be patient and stay with it. This may be a new “skill set” for you and it may take several tries before it becomes more comfortable to you. There is no failure here. The more you attempt to visualize the future you want, the better you get at it.

By the way, this is not pseudo psychology as there is neuroscientic evidence that this mental time travel is effective.

The most important parts of this pause are 1. taking a physical step back from the situation which is eliciting your anger and 2. taking a deep breath.

Doing these two steps will give you the pause that you are trying to learn.

So, you are “training” yourself to take a step back and take a deep breath whenever you get angry.

Old reaction: Get angry ==> take action

New reaction: Get angry ==> step back and take a breath.

That is the answer to your question but I would like to go a bit further.

Once you have stepped back and taken a breath, you will need to assess what is going on so that you can choose a response.

In the interest of not making this post too long, I refer you back to the Anger Mastery Cycle so that you can see the options available to you as you seek to master your anger.

I hope this answers your question. If it does, or it does not, please leave a comment.

Yoda quotes and emotions as tools

In the Phantom Menace, Yoda says “fear leads to anger .. anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering ( or s/t like that).

While I can’t address Yoda’s universe, using the emotions as tools model, we can unpack and gain a better understanding of what this quote means in our universe.

Fear and anger are two of 6 primary emots which helped us survive as a species when we lived on the savannah and it was “eat or be eaten”.

Fear prepares us to freeze or flee. The message of fear is that the threat we face is dangerous and our life is at stake. The reaction to fear is immediate and taken without a whole lot of thot. This is how we were hardwired and was “designed” to keep us alive just as the same process may have kept a deer pursuer by a predator alive. Fear works today the same way it did so many eons ago.

Anger prepares us for battle. The message of anger is that we are more powerful than our attacker. Our body girds for war, our attention narrows on the opponent, and “it’s on”.

We’ll get to hate shortly.

So, with all due respect to YODA, fear is separate from and would not lead to anger. Run and attack are mutually exclusive.
You could, however, decide that you’ve had enough of being fearful and become angry.
As a domestic abuse victim, with nothing  more to lose, you might decide to go “all in” and attack. Or, the community ravished by gang violence picks up hammers, tire irons and “pitchforks” and says “enough is enough”.
The important point here is that fear did not lead to, elicit, or morph to become anger. Anger was expressed because the victims changed the way they chose to view their situation. They redefined themselves as survivors and thrivers rather than as helpless victims.
The Emotions as Tools model tells us that after we react emotionally to our perception, we choose our emotional response by the thoughts we have.
When you change your thoughts, you change your feelings.
This process is what happens in therapy when cognitive restructuring is used to treat maladaptive thinking and the psychological pain that follows from it.
YODA says that anger leads to hate.
Well,maybe.
As I noted in a previous post, the message of hate is that you both detest
(and are obsessed) another person or his (or her) actions of another.  At the extreme, you may think of nothing else but that which is the object of your hate.
While hate and anger share some characteristics including the perception of threat and a desire to eliminate that threat, hate is all consuming! Anger can become chronic and all consuming.  When this happens, anger, as a primary emotion, has morphed and become a maladaptive anger.  This cancerous form of anger is not only unhealthy psychologically but can also lead to sometimes fatal physical illnesses.
So, getting back to YODA, in the case of anger and hate, he may be right but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.
Here is the progression from anger to hate.
If you are angry with someone and the perceived threat is indeed valid, your anger could become chronic or you could begin to hate the other person if you chose to avoid dealing with the because, perhaps you perceived an insurmountable power difference between you and the other person and you were concerned about your own well-being.
In this example, anger has not led to hate but has morphed into hate.
Not exactly what YODA is implying.
YODA seems to be saying that we should not get angry.
This is very similar to those who say “Anger is one letter away from danger.” and “Anger is a negative emotion.”
While it is true that anger energizes us for battle and that people, when angry, can do things they later regret, anger is ONLY (emphasis added) a tool, does not cause you to do anything, and is not to be blamed for the poor decisions you might make while angry.
The goal is to acknowledge that anger is just a tool and learn how to master it to improve your life and your relationships.
My most recent Amazon bestselling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool shows you how to do this.
You can download the first two chapters of my book without opt-in by scrolling up to the Welcome post above.
Finally, YODA notes that hate leads to suffering.  In this observation, he is absolutely correct.
When you hate, you become obsessed with the object of your hate.  This obsession can cloud your thinking and result in actions you might later come to regret.  Doing something that might get you locked up or destroy a relationship could easily be seen as causing “suffering”.
This does not mean that you eliminate the emotion of hate.
Again, hate, like all emotions, is just a tool.  When you understand and master your hate, your validate the emotion, assess the information that emotion is communicating to you, and choose how you want to respond to the emotion and the situation about which the emotion is informing you.
In the case of hate, the message of obsession and loss of objectivity could be enough to move you away from hate and back to anger and lead you to formulate an effective plan to deal with the perceived threat.
I welcome your comments.

Emotions and disagreements.

In a recent LI post, an article is cited in which the author writes about an interaction between a woman and her spouse. She has been thinking about a romantic trip to Paris and, as she goes into the living room to tell her husband about the trip, she is thinking to herself “I hope he agrees.”

When she tells her spouse about the trip, he says, “I disagree.”

The article breaks down the origins of the words “agree” and “disagree”.

The focus of the article is the the word “disagree”. As far as the author of the article is concerned the words “I disagree.” really mean (my interpretation) that the spouse has no intention of going to Paris.

“Disagree” is a ‘stop’ word.

In other words, the spouse has thrown cold water on his wife’s dreams and is prepared to go to battle with her using his logic about all the reasons that a trip to Paris is a non-starter.

By the way, this same scenario could occur if he approaches her with an idea which is of importance to him and she says, “I disagree.”

It is an interesting article and I recommend reading it.

But, I have a different take from an emotions as tools/anger mastery perspective.

While briefly acknowledging that “disagree” might have some other, less draconian, meaning, the author doesn’t spend much time on this possibility. Nor, does he talk about the woman’s feelings.

Let’s explore some options.

She goes into the living room and shares her dreams with her spouse. When he says he disagrees, she may feel (at least one of the following):

  1. disappointment
  2.  anger
  3. anticipation.

All emotions alert us to how we perceive our surroundings and prepare us to deal with the situations we encounter. This is the message of the emotion. How we choose to respond to the message is what mastering the emotion is all about.

Note: This italicized comments are intended to communicate a general idea rather than a specific dialog.

The message of disappointment  is that an anticipated event has not gone the way you would like. It is focusing on the implied reaction to the event rather than on the motives of the person with whom she is interacting. If she is disappointed, she has interpreted the words, “I disagree.” as meaning… Well, perhaps this trip was not a good idea at this time as my husband’s clear head usually prevails in these type of situations.

The message of anger is that she perceives a threat and is prepared to go to war to overcome the threat. Here the focus is on both the actions and the motives of her spouse. If she is angry, she may perceive him as being oblivious to her needs by thinking only of the cost of the trip, his own desire not to go to Paris, or his too quick reaction to find fault with the idea rather than explore options. She has interpreted the words, “I disagree.” as meaning.. I don’t care what you say, the answer is ‘no’ and that’s final!

The message of anticipation is that there is a future event coming which could have significant beneficial outcomes and which one is looking forward to. If she feels anticipation, than she has interpreted his words, “I disagree.” as meaning… I can’t really see Paris as a possibility now but let’s discuss it and see where it goes.

If she has learned to master her emotions as tools, her feelings will give her some guidance about how she wants to interact with her spouse. Once she identifies and validates the feeling, she can assess whether her perceptions are accurate by interacting with her spouse, expressing her perceptions and getting feedback from him. Based on this interaction, she can choose how she wants to respond.

I welcome your comments.

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 TheEmotionsDoctor.com

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.