As a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have written extensively about using all emotions as tools and about specific emotions such as anxiety and anger. Of all the emotions, I have focused most of my posts on mastering anger as it seems that many people do not understand what anger is and seem to blame anger for any problematic behavior that anger appears to elicit.
As most of the literature focuses on managing anger, which involves controlling the emotion and is often unsuccessful, I have chosen to go a step further and emphasize mastering anger as a tool.
With this in mind, in this post, I am offering a way to remember the process of mastering your anger. Everyone is familiar with macaroni and cheese either as a kid or as an adult.
So, if you can recall macaroni and cheese, you can remember the four steps to mastering your anger using Love Mac And Cheese (LMAC) as a mnemonic devise.
Anger Mastery-Simplified (managing vs mastering anger)
- Management => Controlling Anger
- Mastery => Using Anger as a Tool
Remember that anger management involves lowering your arousal level and controlling your anger while mastering your anger allows you to use your anger as a tool to improve your life and your relationships.
Anger mastery involves:
- validating the emotion and knowing that you are angry,
- initially managing your anger by controlling your arousal,
- mastering your anger by assessing the situation and
- choosing an appropriate response to effectively deal with the situation.
The 4 steps to Mastering Your Anger: LMAC (Love Mac And Cheese):
The 4 Steps to Mastering Anger are:
- (L) Label the emotion,
- (M) Make a safe space.
- (A) Assess the situation
- (C) Choose an effective response and do it.
Step #1: Label the emotion
All emotions start with an unconscious reaction to a situation.
When we lived in caves, we were constantly on the alert for threats that would kill us. As all threats were both real and dangerous, we evolved a process which would continuously and subconsciously scan our surroundings for any threat. When our subconscious scan picked up a threat, our bodies automatically went into fight/flight/freeze. We were on alert and ready to act.
Again, back then, ALL threats were survival based so this automatic process was both efficient and effective.
As we fast-forward today, the problem is two-fold.
- First, most of the threats we now face on a regular basis are psychological (not survival) based.
- Second, and perhaps more importantly, while we, as a species, have evolved in many ways, the automatic alert process that operates subconsciously has not evolved.
Emotionally, this plays out this way….
Anger is one of 3 primitive survival- based threat detectors. The other two are fear and disgust. These primitive threat detectors are designed to set us up for flight or fight.
Other emotions such as anxiety, pride, and jealousy have evolved to denote psychological threats.
The issue is that the primitive part of our brains reacts to any threat today just as it did eons ago.
To the primitive part of our brain…
Each emotion alerts us to a situation we are facing and prepares us for action.
As we initially experience all emotions physically, the first step in mastering anger is to be able to identify how your body tells you that you are angry and to label that emotion as anger (as opposed to hurt, jealousy, etc.)
There are two possibilities here:
- Your initial assessment is accurate and there is a real threat.
- Your initial perception of the threat is not accurate and the emotion you are experiencing doesn’t match the situation you are facing.
Hence, the need for Step 2.
Step #2: Make a Safe Space.
Whether you are accurate in your initial assessment of the threat or not, it is important that you create some “space” between you and the threat.
Step #2 calls for creating both a physical and a psychological safe space.
The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. You are ready for WAR.
If you are facing a physical threat, taking a step back creates some space between you and the threat.
This can communicate that you are willing to defend yourself or it can communicate to another person that you might not be the threat they initially perceived.
By taking a deep breath, you automatically reduce your level of emotional arousal. Lowering your physiological arousal allows you to engage the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex) and makes you better prepared to make logical decisions.
This sets you up for Step #3.
Step #3: Assess the situation
You will need the thinking part of your brain to help you BOTH assess what is really going on in your situation and to decide the most effective action to take to resolve what is taking place.
You have have an opportunity to determine whether your initial assessment of risk was accurate or that you misjudged the situation for reasons including:
- You initially looked at the interaction through the biased lens of some prior experience.
- You misjudged the other person’s actions because what they did was ambiguous.
- They misjudged you and your intent.
If you decide based on new information that your initial assessment was not accurate, you can change how you view what is happening. When you do this, what you feel will also change.
If your initial assessment of risk was accurate and the emotion you are experiencing is preparing you for effective action, your thinking brain will help you choose the best course of action to take.
With anger, the threat is real.
But, it may be more effective to talk rather than to attack.
You are now ready for Step #4.
Step#4: Choose an effective response and do it.
Once you have accurately matched to and validated your emotion within the situation, you are now ready to engage the thinking part of your brain to choose the most effective response to the threat and to use the energy of your anger to execute the action you have chosen to deal with the “perceived” threat.
This might involve:
- Further engaging the other person by talking to them
- Attacking them
- Apologizing for any misunderstanding
- Disengaging by walking away
Remember that the job of your anger, as a tool, is to..
- alert you to a possible threat.
- prepare you to deal with the threat and
- give you the energy to take effective action.
LMAC reminds you of the four steps you need to take to master your anger as an emotional tool.
Learning to effectively implement these steps takes time and is NOT easy. It is, however, DOABLE with practice.
I welcome your comments.