What type of “angerer” are you?

Let me start by saying that I made up the word “angerer”.

Think of the word anger-er in the same way you use the word driver (drive-er) or writer (write-er) or speaker (speak-er).  The driver drives, the writer writes, the speaker speaks and the angerer gets angry.

Nearly everyone gets angry sometime and is, therefore, by definition an angerer.  For most of us, our anger fits the situation in which it is expressed.  For others, not so much.

With this in mind, I will discuss  three types of angerers. I should note that this list is meant to be representative and not exhaustive.  Other types of angerers most likely could be identified.

Type 1: The master angerer. This is the type of angerer you most want to interact with or you want to become (if you are not already there). This person gets angry but realizes that anger is a tool.  He (or she) has learned to master his anger. He is emotionally intelligent, understands what anger is and the anger mastery cycle.  While he (or she), accepts responsibility for causing the anger, he realizes that the threat he perceives may, or may not be legitimate.  If there is a legitimate threat, he uses the energy of his anger to develop and implement a plan to eliminate the threat.  If the threat is due to a misperception, he changes his view of the situation and lets the anger dissipate.

Two basic definitions:

  • anger:  (a primitive threat detector)
  • anger mastery cycle: (unconscious sensory scanning, unconscious perception of threat and the body’s initial angry reaction,  conscious awareness of the anger, validating and assessing one’s anger, lowering one’s arousal, and choosing a response).

Type 2: The managing angerer.  This person gets angry but tends to view anger as a negative emotion that must be controlled.  He controls his behavior, lowers his arousal and attempts to eliminate his anger.  This is the individual who may be referred to Anger Management groups for treatment.  This individual may attempt to learn what his triggers are so that the situations which elicit his anger can be avoided.

Type 3: The primitive angerer.

   Subtype A: The Blamer.  This person, when he (or she) gets angry, tends to blame others for “making me angry” or  tends to lash out without much forethought and later blames the anger for any maladaptive things he may have done. He has a sense of entitlement, feels totally justified in being  angry and lashing out at others because his anger is controlling him.

Subtype B: The Suppressor.  While this person does not show anger outwardly, he (or she) is angry on the inside.  The reasons for not showing anger will vary and may include a concern about retaliation, a belief in the anger myth that anger is dangerous and should not be displayed, or a past experience in which the anger was displayed and an unwanted negative outcome occured. The problem for the suppressor is that anger is a response to the perception of threat.  As long as the threat exists, there is a real possibility that the held-in anger may become chronic and lead to either unwanted physical illness or an uncontrolled angry outburst that exceeds the situation in which the outburst occurs.

Subtype C: The Substituter.  This individual (usually male) is not comfortable experiencing or expressing feelings such as vulnerability, anxiety, guilt, jealousy, etc.  He is, however, quite comfortable with anger.  Consequently, when he experiences an uncomfortable feeling, he replaces that feeling with anger.  The cover-up works to shift his focus away from the situation as it is but does nothing to resolve the issues which exist and which elicited the uncomfortable feeling.

Subtype D: The Displayer.  This person uses anger instumentally to achieve a desired end result.  This person displays anger (looks like they are angry) eventhough they are not angry.

Two possible outcomes the Displayer desires are:

  1. Creating space.   Anger, as an emotion, tells people to back off.  This, by the way, is what anger, as a primitive threat detector, is supposed to do and may have helped our cave ancestors survive.  By displaying anger, the Displayer, can get people to back away and give him (or her) some physical and psychological space.

2. Manipulating others.   Another desired outcome might be to manipulate people into doing what the Displayer wants.  When anger is displayed, other people might want to appease the angry person by giving in to them.  When this occurs in the context of a relationship and the anger is legitimate, understanding, validating, and responding to the anger by “giving in” may be totally justified.  When the anger is used instrumentally to manipulate another person, the anger is primitive, dishonest and inappropriate.

If one of these subtypes of angerers is you, and your anger is working against you and making your life more complicated, you might want to take some time to assess whether your anger is working to improve your relationships and get your needs met. I have three recommendations for you.

  1. Scoll back up to the “Welcome” entry on this blog and download the first chapter of my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.
  2. Click on this link which will take you Amazon and buy my book.
  3. Leave a comment below that you want more information and I will attempt to provide it for you.

If you have to deal with any of these angerers (except the suppressor), the initial approach is the same.   The main idea behind approaching these people is that they believe their anger is appropriate to the situation. You will use the principles of anger mastery to deal with the angerer and the emotion being displayed.

Note: There is not a whole lot you can do with the Suppressor as he is not showing any anger.

The process of anger mastery involves validating the initial feeling, assessing the nature of the threat, and choosing a response that fits the situation.

Your first intervention is to take a step back from the.  Your second intervention is to validate their anger.  When you do this, you are NOT saying that you agree with their assessment of the situation or of you as a threat.  Remember that the message of anger is that the angerer perceives a threat they believe they can eliminate if they throw enough force at it. They believe that anger is the best emotion for the situation and you are not challenging this.  All you are doing is acknowledging their “right” to be angry.  Whether or not the anger is indeed, valid (appropriate to the situation) will come later.

Once you have given them some space, you can then ask for clarification regarding anything you may have done which led them to be so angry with you.

If you receive some information about the threat they perceive, you can choose how you want to respond to it.

I welcome your comments.

 

The application of the Emotions as Tools Model to Business Part 2

Last week, I discussed the Emotions as Tools Model, the concept of threat, and anxiety. In this post, I discuss anger.

Anger

Anger is a here-and-now emotion the message of which is: I am facing a threat that I believe I can overcome or eliminate if I throw enough force at it.  While you can get angry about something that has already happened (the past), or about what you expect to happen (the future), you are always angry in the present concerning a threat you are motivated to do something about now.

My book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool specifically addresses the emotion of anger.

As an entrepreneur, you might get angry at suppliers who do not fulfill the terms of a contract, at employees who are irresponsible or fail to deal appropriately with customers, your computer for not working right, yourself for not doing something you “should” have done, and so forth.  Now, you might rightly say that getting angry at a computer makes no sense. And, you would be right.  But, I did not say your anger had to be appropriate for the situation.  I only indicated that the message of anger is that you perceive a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  Ever heard of someone destroying a computer?

Employees can get angry at you for a perceived injustice, angry at each other, or angry at a customer.  I know of an individual whose job is technical support.  While she is technically very good and can answer any question that comes up, she does not do well with customers who “blame” her for advice they don’t like or unwanted results due to their not following the advice that was given, who direct their frustrations with the company or its policies at her, or who become “belligerent” for reasons unknown.  Notice the highly subjective nature of the words in quotes.  While she does not express her anger at the customer, she carries it with her and chronic anger can lead to physical issues for her or her leaving the company.

Customers can get angry at you or your employees for any number of reasons.

I recently had some landscaping done and the employee assigned to manage my “project” did a horrible job.  I was angry at both this staff member and the company for the poor work that was done.  The company was “angry” with the employee who they chose to fire because his “failure” could have negatively impacted an otherwise very good and hard won reputation. Fortunately, the company sent out a different employee who handled my concerns and alleviated my anger.

Understanding what anger is and how to master both one’s own anger and anger directed at you could benefit you, your employees, and your customers.

You can download a copy of The Anger Mastery Cycle for free by scrolling up to the Welcome  post.

When you perceive a threat you decide that you can eliminate or, in other words, that is less powerful than you, you label the emotion as anger. If you are naïve about your anger, you probably will react and later, if inappropriate, will regret what you did.

If you know what anger is and the message of anger, you can move into anger management and protect yourself by taking a step back from the issue (physical space) and lowering your arousal by taking a deep breath (psychological space).

You can then move into anger mastery which involves assessing the nature of the threat and choosing how you want to respond.

If the threat is genuine, you can use the energy of the anger as motivation to make a plan and deal with the threat.

If you, or someone else, are still angry and the threat is not “genuine”, there are three possibilities:

  • The first possibility is that there is no threat and you (or they) have misunderstood what is going on. For example, you thought your provider was intentionally messing with you only to find out that the delivery was delayed by an event beyond the provider’s control.
  • The second possibility is that the anger is being used as a secondary feeling. Anger, as an emotion, is both familiar and “comfortable” to men specifically. Anger is an energizing emotion and  elicits a feeling of being “powerful”.  Because of this, anger may be substituted for another feeling such as vulnerability, embarrassment, or hurt, which is less familiar and leaves a man feeling “weak”. An employee may express anger as a cover-up and substitute for feeling “dumb” due to a poor decision.
  • The third possibility is that anger is being used The individual isn’t really all that angry but knows that anger leads others to back off from or give in to the demands being made.  Instrumental anger is deployed as a tool to bring about a desired outcome. This can happen in an office (or other) setting.

While both secondary and instrumental anger are “dishonest” anger, they still appear to be anger and must be managed and mastered.

With the above knowledge, if you are angry, you can evaluate your perceived threat and your angry reaction to it and choose how you want to respond so that you can effectively deal with the situation in which you find yourself.

With another person’s anger, you can use your knowledge about this emotion to begin to manage (help them resolve) their anger.

Three steps are involved in dealing with anger that is directed at you:

  1. First, you need to validate their anger and their right to be angry because the emotion follows from their perception of the event and they are correct in their perception until helped to see otherwise. Once you have accepted their anger, you are no longer a direct threat to them. The reason for this is that they are angry at you (or what you represent) and assume you will act in a threatening manner which they are prepared to counter.  When you validate their anger (acknowledge their right to be angry not that they are right in their anger), you change the equation.
  2. Secondly, you can now assess the validity of the threat they perceive.
  3. Thirdly, once you have done this, you can choose how you want to respond to them and resolve whatever issue they have reacted to.

This is what happened with me in the example I gave above.

In parts 1 and 2 of this post, I introduced you the Emotions as Tools Model and how it can advantageously be applied to a business. I also specifically addressed the emotions of anxiety and anger.

For additional information, you can download, with no opt-in, the first chapters of both of my books by scrolling up to the Welcome post.

Finally, I welcome your comments and if you would like me to address any specific emotions related topic in a future post, or as a speaker,  please send me an email (TheEmotionsDoctor@gmail.com).

Thanks for reading.

The application of the Emotions as Tools Model to Business Part 1

If you own a business, have employees, or interact with customers, you know that dealing with emotions (or feelings as the two words are essentially the same) is an important element of what you do.  Sometimes, your own feelings are problematic and at other times, it is the emotions of others that demand your attention.

And, if you are like most people, while you experience feelings all the time, you do not really understand what feelings are, how they can trip you up, or what you can do to get your feelings to work for you rather than against you.

I developed the Emotions as Tools Model is to demystify the topic of feelings so that:

  1. Anyone could access and understand their feelings and
  2. Anyone could learn to master rather than be controlled by his (or her) feelings.

In contrast to other approaches which tend to view emotions as negative and which advocate controlling one’s emotions, the Emotions as Tools Model views feelings as innate tools which, like any other tool such as your TV remote, you can learn to use and master to take back control of your life and improve your relationships.

I have written two books on the subject of emotions both of which are available on Amazon:

  • Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings
  • Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

You can download the first chapters of each of these books if you scroll back to the top of this page.  Both of these links are in the “Welcome” post.

It is important to note that contrary to the way some feelings are portrayed or experienced, there is no such thing as a negative emotion.  All emotions are adaptive.

There are at least three “arenas” in which emotions can impact a business:

  1. You: your own feelings, as a business owner, about your business, your customers, or your staff
  2. Your staff: the emotions of your employees directed at you or at your customers
  3. Your customers: the feelings of customers directed at you, your employees, or your business.

Two emotions that are likely to surface in business are anxiety and anger.

While both of these emotions alert you to a perceived threat, each has its own message and time frame. I will address anxiety in this post (Part 1) and anger in Part 2.

A threat which elicits an emotion is defined as any situation, action, event, or transaction which challenges, calls into question, or negatively impacts one’s beliefs, values, survival, finances, important goals, family, and so forth in such a way that the threat must be dealt with, eliminated, or avoided at all costs. Minor mistakes, disagreements, and unintended consequences, while inconvenient, usually are not perceived as threats.

In applying the Emotions as Tools Model in business, the goal is to master the emotion and either strategically deploy the energy of the emotion to further the pursuit of business goals or constrain and let go of the feeling if it is impairing the completion of important goals.

Anxiety

Any time you worry about whether a decision, situation or outcome will work out to your advantage or create a disaster, from which you will have to recover, the emotion you are experiencing is anxiety. I have a chapter on anxiety in my book Emotions as Tools

Anxiety is a future-based emotion the message of which is: There may be a threat facing me and that threat may “kill” me.  The word “kill” is in quotes because I am not talking about physical death but about an outcome that could have serious consequences.  The word “may” is in quotes to reinforce the idea that the threat, or negative outcome, about which you are concerned or worried, has not occurred and is, therefore, in the future.

Anxiety often ignores the possibility that the threat might not occur at all.

There are at least two subtypes of anxiety based on how you experience the emotion, the response you make to it, and the extent to which you master the emotion or it controls you. I discuss emotional mastery below.

Distress:

In this form, anxiety can be debilitating and result in your “freezing” in place and not taking any action at all regarding the perceived (possible) threat.

This is the most common form of anxiety and occurs when:

  • you ask yourself the question, “ What if (the threat) happens and I fail.”,
  • you assume the future (unwanted) outcome will occur, and
  • you act as if it is a forgone conclusion, you can do nothing to prevent it and the negative consequences are inevitable.

This is the type of anxiety that most people think about, experience, and want to avoid. It is also an example of an emotion controlling you.

Eustress:

There is a second way to conceptualize, relate to, and experience anxiety.  This second type of anxiety is called Eustress.  You master anxiety as a tool when you relate to this emotion as Eustress.

Mastering an emotion involves:

  • accepting the emotion as representing your initial perception of your situation,
  • understanding the message of the emotion regarding the nature of the perceived threat
  • assessing the validity of the message (How real is the threat?)
  • choosing an appropriate response which either dismisses the emotion or uses the energy of the emotion to counter the threat.

Anxiety, as Eustress, accepts the valid probability of the possible threat and uses the energy of the anxiety as motivation to both prepare for the future threat and minimize any unwanted consequences. When my students study for an upcoming exam, about which they are concerned, they are validating their anxiety and mastering the anxiety as a motivator to prepare for and, thereby, minimize the impact of the exam. The entrepreneur uses anxiety to plan for and develop contingencies regarding future complications.  This is mastering anxiety.

Anticipation:

A third option is to maximize the desired impact of the upcoming event.

You might think of this as positive thinking but it is more than that.

Maximizing the impact of an upcoming concern involves asking yourself the question, “What if the (exam, negotiation, meeting) turns out well and everything works out?” When you ask yourself this question, you engage the flip side of anxiety, the emotion you experience is anticipation, and the energy that consumes you is excitement.

Positive thinking is a “Pollyanna” point of view that assumes life is rosy and everything just works out for the best.  It, often, does not.  Turning anxiety into anticipation uses the energy (worry) of anxiety to make and execute a realistic plan for the issue about which you are anxious and then choosing to act as if your plan will be successful. If the Plan doesn’t work out, you can change your plan.

As a business owner, you can master your own anxiety to push your business forward and you can use your knowledge of anxiety to help your employees master their anxiety when it involves changes in policy or procedures, new responsibilities, dealing with difficult clients, seeking new business and so forth.  Knowing that anxiety is a future based emotion which focuses on a perceived threat, you can anticipate the anxiety and allay that threat with information, training, calculated roll outs of new programs and so forth.

I welcome your comments.

I will discuss anger next week.

The 3M approach to feelings. Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the 3M approach to feelings and discussed the first M: Management.  In this post, I will talk about the second and third M and conclude with how you can apply the 3M approach to the emotions of another person.

The second  M ==> Mindfulness

When you are mindful, you are present in, and aware of, the moment.

While we experience an emotion in the moment, our  perceptions of the situation we are facing may be impacted by extraneous information. As these perceptions elicit our feelings, “irrelevant” information can lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions.

This irrelevant information can involve:

  • any experiences we have had in the past which are similar to, but not the same as, our current situation,
  • our tendency to project ourselves into some unwanted future, or
  • our tendency to overreact for a number of reasons.

When we talk about our “buttons” being pushed or “jumping to conclusions”,  we are referring to these three sources of misinformaiton.

Examples include:

  • getting anxious (a future based emotion) because we didn’t do well in a previous interview and we react “as if” our next interview will turn out the same way
  • getting angry (a present based emotion) because we misinterpret the actions of another as mistreatment without getting all the facts
  • becoming jealous because our spouse seems to be giving attention to someone else without really understanding what is going on

Mindfulness says that you should stay in the moment and fully understand what is actually taking place before you “interpret”, “judge”, “draw conclusions about”, or take action concerning the perceived threat your feelings are telling you exists.

When you are mindful, you ask questions about what is going on, you gain the information you need to decide what actions you will take, and you reserve to yourself the option of choosing what you will do.

The third M ==> Mastery

The anger mastery cycle, which applies to all emotions including anger, can be downloaded from this website and involves the third M or Mastery of the feeling.  Mastering an emotion picks up where Managing one’s emotion ends.  Once you have lowered your arousal, you can remain mindful, or in the moment, and assess or validate the threat you perceive exists.

The process of assessment involves:

  • gathering information about what is happening by asking questions,
  • learning about the process and intent of the other person with whom you are interacting,  and
  • evaluating your own perceptions.

Assessment sets you up to make a decision about how valid your emotion is and how you want to respond to what is happening.

If the perceived threat is genuine, mastering your emotion dictates that you use all the energy the emotion provides to develop and execute a plan to eliminate the threat.

If the perceived threat is not genuine but is due to a misperception of what is happening, mastering the emotion dictates that you change the thoughts which are giving rise to the feeling and, by so doing, change the feeling or let the feeling diminish and go away by ignoring it.

The same three M’s can also be applied when you are dealing with someone else who is directing their emotions at you. The process involves lowering your own arousal (managing) so that you don’t react and escalate the interaction, (This can also result in the other person “powering down” somewhat.), remaining mindful so that you gather information about how the other person perceives you as a threat (mindfulness), and mastering their emotions by assessing how they see what is going on and responding to their perceptions (if they are open to this) by acknowledging or validating their emotion, apologizing (if appropriate), and suggesting a resolution.

I have a whole chapter on dealing with someone who is angry with you in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

I have covered the entire 3M process and I welcome your comments.

 

 

The 3M approach to feelings. Part 1

In previous posts, I have talked about the Emotions as Tools Model which

  • takes all the mystery out of the topic of feelings  (Remember that the words emotion and feeling are interchangeable.),
  • reminds you that you can learn how to use your feelings to improve your life and your relationships in the same way that you learn to use your computer or TV remote (gain knowledge about the tool and practice), and
  • ultimately, gives you back control of your life.

I introduced the Emotions as Tools Model in my first book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings.  If you haven’t already done so, you can download the first chapter of my book for free with no opt-in by scrolling up to the top of this page in the Welcome entry.

I also addressed using anger as a tool in last week’s post.

In this post, i would like to give you a quick way to remember and implement the Emotions as Tools Model: The 3M approach to feelings.

As you continue to learn more about the message of each emotion, how your body informs you about a feeling by the way you experience each feeling in your body (your physical correlates), and the thoughts which both inform you about how you perceive your surroundings and which elicit each emotion, you can break the emotional process into three steps, each of which begins with the letter M.  The three steps involve Management, Mindfulness and Mastery.

The 3M approach works both for your own feelings and when you are interacting with the emotions of another person directed at you.

The ultimate goal is to master your emotion so that you can strategically apply it to any situation in which you find yourself.

I will talk about the first M in this post and the second and third M next week.

The first M ==> Management

The emotional cycle is always working and begins with the process by which we all unconsciously and continuously scan our surroundings for any threat. This process is hard-wired in our brains and is a primordial survival mechanism that allowed us to survive as a species when we lived in caves.  Once a threat is perceived, the Amygdala (emotional center in the brain) sends a fast track message to the Thalamus to prepare the body to fight, flee, or freeze (the fight or flight response).  At the same time, a slower message goes to the cerebral cortex (the executive part of the brain) which allows us to make a decision about the threat.

We become aware of an emotion in one (or both) of two ways.

One the one hand, we need to learn to identify how our bodies react emotionally.  In my books, I call this one’s physical correlates.  Secondly, we should learn to identify the thoughts which accompany and elicit each emotion.

As soon as you become aware of an emotion, you should begin to manage that emotion. The process of managing one’s emotion involves lowering your arousal level.

There are at least two reasons you want to do this.

The first is so that you can take a physical step back from the “threat”. This is the establishment of physical space.

The second reason is to give you some psychological distance between you and the “threat”. This psychological space gives you the opportunity to respond rather than react to the threat.

The Amygdala “assumes” that all perceived threats are genuine and will kill us. While this was true when we lived in caves or roamed the Savannah, it isn’t necessarily true now.  Indeed, being stuck in rush hour traffic or being given the “one-finger salute” may be exasperating but is not fatal.  While we have evolved as a species, the Amygdala has (at least in this aspect) not evolved. The Amygdala just reacts and prepares our bodies to take action.  Our bodies being prepared for action is experienced as heightened arousal, muscle tension, and other physical correlates.

When you are energized and ready for action, you are more likely to react to the perceived threat.  While this may be okay if the threat is genuine, if there is no threat, you may do something you might later regret. Lowering your arousal reduces the likelihood that you will react.

There are a variety of ways you can lower your arousal.  You can take a deep breath. You can learn relaxation techniques.  You can remind yourself to slow down.  Taking a physical step backwards can act as a reminder to “take a breath”.

While the process of managing an emotion applies to all of the “threat detector” emotions, the field of “anger management” specifically has tended to focus on the process of management as a desired end result. Because I believe that one can go beyond managing one’s anger to mastering one’s anger (the third M), I tend to take issue with many anger management approaches.  I talk about this in my second book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Once you have lowered your arousal, you can continue the process of emotional mastery by assessing the nature of the threat.  In order to do this you must be “mindful”.  Mindfulness is the second M.

I welcome your comments.

 

Anger Mastery – Using Your Anger As a “Tool” Allows You to Take Control of Your Life

The Tools We Use on a Daily Basis

In your daily life, you use many different tools.  Some are task oriented tools such as a sewing machine, the TV remote, and a screwdriver.

Others are “set point” tools which make your life easier by automatically maintaining whatever “status quo” or set point you choose.

Examples of set point tools include:

  • The thermostat in your home or car that controls the temperature.
  • The spell checker on your word processor that monitors your document as you type.
  • The cruise control on your car that keeps you going on the freeway.
  • Your brain which encourages you to keep doing the same habits in the same way.

Okay, this last one may sound a bit strange but, if you have ever tried to change a habit like trying to lose weight or start an exercise program, you know how difficult it can be.  Old habits seem to take on a life of their own. This is true because habits are actually behaviors that have become automatic because they become hardwired in your brain. Habits save energy and allow us to multitask. Habit trained into first responders equip them to react quickly in crucial situations.

Emotions are hardwired “habits” designed to unconsciously react to any perceived threat and prepare your body to insure your survival.

In most cases, our tools work fine and there is no problem. The house stays warm (or cool) and comfy. Our documents come out great. We merrily move along on the road at a chosen speed and get to our destination.

The tool does what it is programmed to do. It is not able to make adjustments for unique situations. In other words, it does not think about or take into consideration “exceptions” to the norm.

This is where problems can arise. Consider your cruise control.

You set your cruise control to 69 mph (so you can get there faster and not get a ticket). It then monitors your speed and auto- corrects for any deviation.

As long as there is no traffic that is going slower than you, everything is fine. If traffic slows down, however, your car will plow into the one in front of it unless you disconnect the cruise control by stepping on the brake.

Your “tool” is happy to keep you going at 69 mph. It is doing its job.

In order to avoid an accident, however, you will need to assess the situation, decide that there is no “threat”, and override the cruise control.

Anger as a Tool.

Your anger is a tool that is designed to help you survive. Your anger is turned on when you experience a threat that you believe you can handle if you throw enough power at it. When you get angry:

  • You have perceived a threat to your life, your goals, your ego, your values.
  • Your brain has sent chemicals all through your body telling it to prepare for battle.
  • You are ready to size up the threat and take effective action to overpower it or run away from it.

(This is called the fight or flight response. When we were cave people, this response kept us alive every time it was turned on. This is because a threat was always a threat!)

You have a built-in “cruise control” that automatically turns on your anger. Your definition of threat is your set point. Just like the cruise control in your car turns on when your cruising speed is “threatened”, your anger turns on when your “normal” life is threatened.

The problem is that nearly all of the threats we face today are psychological and not survival based. Consequently, what may seem to be a threat may, in fact, only be a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, your anger does not know the difference between a survival based and a psychological threat and you automatically go into self-protection or go-to-war mode.

If you lash out and say, or do, something you later regret, it is just like plowing into the car in front of you at high speed.

This is where the Emotions as Tools model and anger mastery come in.

Just as you should constantly monitor the traffic when your cruise control is on, you should constantly monitor your surroundings when you become aware that your anger has been turned on. Once you become aware that you are angry, you should manage your anger by lowering your arousal and master your anger by assessing the threat and deciding whether to let your anger move you forward to take action (if the threat is real) or override the anger and shut it down.

The same idea works for other human emotions such as anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame.

The point, here, is that your anger “cruise control” should always be set on automatic (as it was designed to be to insure your survival) but, before you react, you should always evaluate what is going on (when your anger is turned on) and decide what you want to do. This is called choosing a RESPONSE rather than REACTING to the situation and your anger.

Responding rather than reacting could save..

  • Your relationship (if you “explode” on your significant other)
  • Your job (if you “explode” at work)
  • Your freedom (if you physically “explode” on a cop or a citizen who presses charges)

I welcome your comments.

“What” is often a better, and more accurate, word to use than “Why”. Here is why.

How many times have you been asked by someone, or you asked another person, “Why did you do that?” The most likely answer is: many times.

Well, when you were asked, “Why did you do that?”, what was your emotional reaction?

Probably, you became defensive, or maybe a bit anxious or angry, and you attempted to offer an excuse or a reason which would justify whatever you did and, at the same time, help you avoid getting in trouble.

If you felt anxious, you interpreted the question as challenging, or judging, what you did and as implying some sort of future negative consequence if your answer to the question was not satisfactory.

If you felt anger, you interpreted the question as inappropriately challenging. or judging, what you did and as intrusive. You saw this question as a threat to your autonomy, your judgement in choosing the action you took, or your competence.

Whether you felt anxiety or anger, your reaction was to defend yourself and you offered an excuse or justification for what you did.

The tendency of the word  “why” to elicit a defensive reaction is the reason you probably want to minimize using this word in your interactions with others. Especially, your kids.

I am not saying you should never use the word. Rather, I am suggesting you think about the reason for the question you are asking (Why you are asking it.) and the information you seek in the answer you receive.

When you ask a person, “Why did you do that?”, what you really want to know is:

  • What was the basis for your decision to (do what you did)?
  • What did you hope to accomplish (by doing what you did)?
  • What other alternatives did you consider (before you did what you did)?
  • What motivated you (to do what you did)?

Notice that all of these questions begin with “what” instead of “why”. The weakness of the word “why” is that our behavior is multi-determined.  In other words, there are many underlying reasons or motivations  for the actions we take. Consequently, when you are asked “why”, you may not, in most cases, exactly know why you did what you did.

Now, in some cases, you may know why?  For example, you can say why you chose to watch the football game instead of the cooking show or why you chose the iPhone over the google phone.  And so forth.

The word “what”, in contrast, focuses your attention on the choices you made or the reasons you used prior to taking the action in question.  If you think about it, this is the information you are actually seeking.

For the reason, the next time you question someone about an action they took, start your question with the word “what” followed by the information you want instead of the word “why”.

In so doing, you are mastering emotions because you are using your awareness of the emotional process to avoid eliciting an emotional reaction which may negatively impact your relationship with the other person.

If it is you to whom the question “why” is directed, master your emotions by not reacting to the implications of the question.  Rather, answer the question as if the word “what” instead of “why” had been used.

I welcome your comments.

Mastering Emotions and the “irrational” beliefs of Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Therapy and an early pioneer in the field of the cognitive behavioral approach to dealing with emotional issues, discussed several “irrational” ideas.  These ideas are “irrational” because they are extreme, can’t be supported in our interactions with others, and elicit emotions which can prove problematic.

This is where emotional mastery comes in.

Remember that the foundation of emotional mastery is the emotional process which involves the unconscious scanning of our surroundings for any possible “threat”, the unconscious reacting to the threat facilitated by the Amygdala and designed to insure our survival, initially validating the emotion, “managing” the emotional reaction by lowering our arousal level before we act out, and mastering the emotion by assessing both the nature of the “threat” and the thoughts we have about the threat and choosing how we want to respond to it. If the threat is genuine, we  accept and validate the emotion, plan our response to it and take action.  If the threat is not genuine, we “invalidate” the emotion, change our thought about the situation, and choose what we want to do next which might involve walking away, apologizing, ignoring the situation and so forth.

While not given as much attention as it deserves, it is important to note, and Ellis emphasizes this point, that the thoughts we have about our surroundings are often the underlying basis for the Amygdala’s analysis that a psychological threat exists.  Psychological threats underly the emotions of  anger, anxiety, guilt and shame. I say “often” because, as with the emotion of fear, the threat that is perceived is a survival threat and is not based on our thoughts. Ellis’s irrational ideas are, of course, thoughts.

Ellis listed at least 11 irrational ideas or beliefs.  I will discuss 3 of them.

  1. It is essential that one be loved or approved by virtually everyone in his community.

This is irrational because it is unattainable.  It is certainly desirable to be loved and accepted by others and we might need to examine our own behaviour if we are not getting along with others, but the rational person realizes that people’s reactions to us are often based on their perceptions and we have no control over what others do.

If you act as if others must accept you and they don’t, you most likely experience anxiety if you focus on a future threat that might occur because of this lack of love or acceptance or anger, if you believe you deserve or must be accepted, are not getting what you deserve, and will go to “war” to get what is yours.

In mastering your emotions, if you are feeling unloved or unaccepted, look for this irrational idea, examine what the other person is telling you about you, decide if their comments are more about them than you, and choose what you want to do next.

2. Unhappiness  (and, I would add, all feelings) is caused by outside circumstances and the individual has no control over them.

Ellis notes that most outside events are psychological in nature and can’t be harmful unless one allows oneself to be affected.  If you disturb yourself by noting how horrible it is that someone is unkind, annoying, etc, you create the maladaptive feelings you experience. The rational person realizes that he can change both his internal verbalizations about the event and his reactions to that event.

The idea that others (or events) cause our feelings is wide spread and is the reason I developed the Emotions as Tools Model.

The corollary of this idea which is not emphasized by Ellis but is often talked about in the literature, is that our emotions are negative and must be overpowered by us.  The emotions as tools model specifically notes that there is not such thing as a negative emotions and that all emotions are adaptive.

The idea that our emotions can overpower us is the basis of the Anger Management Approach which emphasizes lowering arousal and controlling behavior. While lowering arousal and controlling behavior are important, mastering the emotion by looking at the nature of the threat and choosing a response goes beyond managing the emotion and is consistent with Ellis’ approach.

3. It is a terrible catastrophe when things are not as one wants them to be.

This is an erroneous exaggeration.  According to Ellis, while frustration is normal, getting severely upset is illogical since there is no reason why events should be different from what they are, it is not rational to think that our happiness or satisfaction can only happen if a certain event goes our way, and if we can’t do anything about what is happening, we should just accept it,getting upset rarely

My discussion above about the emotions of anxiety and anger also apply here.

The message of the emotion of frustration is that a goal toward which we are striving, has been blocked.  Mastering this emotion involves lowering one’s arousal by taking a breath and stepping back from the goal (establishing both physical and psychological distance), validating that we are frustrated, avoiding blame, analying both the nature of the goal and the nature of the blocks, and choosing an effective response.

If you have ever tried to assemble a piece of furniture or a present such a bike on Christmas Eve, you will be able to identify with this irrational idea. I certainly have told myself “These instructions should  be more accurate!” or “These pictures are terrible and piece A does not fit into hole B!”

The emotion I feel is anger because things are not as I want them to be.

I think you get the idea.

The same phenomenon occurs when we tell ourselves, “I should have gotten that raise/promotion!”  or “My boss should not treat me that way!”

Albert Ellis calls this process “shoulding” on oneself.

As you practice mastering your emotions, take a look to see if one of these irrational ideas is at the heart of and is eliciting the emotion that you are experiencing.

I welcome your comments.

Emotions As Tools – Seven Top Conflict Resolution Tips Using Emotions As Tools

If you have not done so, already, I encourage you to download the first chapter of my book Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings  by scrolling back up to the top of this page and clicking on the “EMOTIONS as TOOLS TOC_Intro_Ch 1 PDF link.  This is not an opt-in.

If you have ever found yourself facing another person who is angry with you because of something you did (or did not) do something the other person thought was important, you have experienced conflict.

When this happened did your conflict resolution strategies include using your emotions as tools to gain valuable strategic information?

If not, the 7 step process below will teach you how to use the information provided by emotions to resolve conflict between you and someone else or between two other people.

So that we are all on the same page, here are some basic working definitions:

Difference of Opinion: A misunderstanding between two people that may involve some mild emotions and can be usually be dealt with through discussion, clarification, and compromise.

Conflict: A strong disagreement between two parties that involves some action that was taken or some action that was not taken. Conflict is always accompanied by strong emotions. With human beings, conflict is almost impossible to totally avoid.

Emotions as Tools model:

1. States that our emotions are created by our thoughts and how we perceive the environment

2. Every emotion has an underlying message which reflects the perception that created it.

3. By reading the emotion and understanding the underlying message, we can address how a person perceives his or her situation and help them change that perception.

4. When the perception changes, the emotion changes.

The three steps of conflict resolution:

1. Finding out what the presenting issue is by asking questions and actively listening to the answers.

2. Using the information provided by reading emotions to determine the real underlying issue.

3. Taking the necessary time to address the underlying issues and come to an agreement about how to best deal with the presenting issue so that both parties are satisfied (win/win) or at least agree to live with what is agreed upon (compromise).

The 7 step process:

Step 1: View all disagreements as a difference of opinion NOT as a conflict.

With a difference of opinion, the presenting issue is what it is. Two people have differing opinions. Depending on the situation, the emotions that go along with misunderstandings or differences of opinion are surprised, confused, possibly frustrated, or maybe even amused. These tend to be milder emotions that usually do not get in the way of further discussion.

Differences of opinion can escalate into conflict if not resolved.

Step 2: Recognize a “conflict” by identifying the emotions (specifically anger) that are present.

If you notice that you or another person is getting angry about an issue, it is likely that a conflict has developed.

This is why.

The message of anger is that the angry person both feels threatened and believes that if he demonstrates his power through his anger, he can eliminate the threat.

When we are in threat prevention mode, we are not in problem solving mode.

The specific threat may be to his (or her) ego, to some goal, or to an ideal such as fairness. When you see anger, it means that, in addition to the presenting issue such as when a teenager gets angry when her parent sets rules for dating, there is an underlying issue of perceived threat which must be addressed first for successful conflict resolution to occur.

The presence of a perceived threat is what leads to a conflict.

Note: A future article will address the indirect anger shown by women in our society and the tendency of men to use anger as a substitute for hurt. You can, for now, assume that anger in a conflict reflects some underlying threat. You will not lose with this strategy.

Step 3: Keep your own head level.

Adopt a conflict resolution mind set.

This includes:

-Acknowledging and understanding your own perception of threat if you are angry.

-Having mutual respect for everyone and their position.

-Remaining non-judgemental.

-Being willing to actively listen to the other party and hear their story

-Expressing your own story without accusing the other party.

-Remaining open to possible solutions other than your own.

Step 4: Address the underlying issue of perceived threat.

In most cases, when anger is present, one (or both) party perceives a threat. Examples include:

(i) Threat to Autonomy

Strategy: Reaffirm the maturity and independence of the other person.

(ii) Threat to a sense of Fairness

Strategy: Reaffirm that any decision made will only be reached after all sides have been heard and an agreement reached that is agreeable to both.

Note: If the issue is between a parent and a child, a different approach may be needed

(iii) Threat of Loss

Strategy: Acknowledge their sense of loss and reaffirm that each loss also may involve a gain.

An example is when you give up some autonomy to do your own thing and gain cooperation and harmony in an office setting.

Step 5: Address the presenting issue.

Once the threat is addressed, the conflict becomes a difference of opinion and the presenting issue can be addressed.

Step 6: Resolve the conflict

Once the issue is addressed, a win/win solution or a compromise can be agreed upon. Or, you can agree to disagree. Always seek a win/win solution first.

Step 7: Finalize the agreement

State the agreement or write it down with information about who will do what by when and any consequences that will happen if “WHAT” and “WHEN” are not done by “WHO”.

As establishing that you understand the other person (empathy) can be very important in resolving conflict, I encourage you to scroll down this site and revisit my earlier posts on empathy.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

You Cannot NOT Communicate

The title of this blog post may look like I added an extra word.

I assure you, (no pun intended) that I did not..

The point I am making, and that most people miss when they interact with others, is that we are always communicating something whether we intend to or not.

Most people believe that communication is a fairly simple process. This is an unfortunate myth.

The process of communication, while I admittedly am simplifying the process, can be illustrated with two examples.

Example #1: Think back to the days of the telegraph.  If you wanted to send a message, you had to write out the message, the telegraph operator had to convert it to Morse Code, the wires had to be in place between you and the place to which you were sending the message, the receiving  operator had to get the signal, decode the message, and write it down so that your target person could receive your message.

The first example illustrates the verbal communication process.  Most of us can easily encode an idea into words, deliver the words, and expect the receiver to accurately decode the message and understand what we mean and intended to say.  And, in most cases, when it is factual information we are communicating, this process works.

There are some underlying assumptions here.

  • Both of the participants speak the same language and can understand the words being used.  Words can be thought of as one “filter” through which ideas are processed. (One way to understand the idea of a filter is to think about what happens when you take a black and white picture with your camera or smart phone. The filter takes out the color.) Words can have a multitude of meanings and, therefore, can be thought of as a filter in that you choose the words you eventually use based on what you want to convey.
  • The message is clear, does not involve emotional issues in either party, and is not easily misinterpreted. (Emotions are another “filter” through which ideas are processed.)
  • Both participants are paying attention to each other, are not distracted by “noise” in the environment (think about having a conversation in a loud lounge), and are “actively” listening with the goal of receiving and understanding the message.  They are not  “passively” listening while engaged in some other activity such as texting or planning tomorrow’s schedule.

If we are dealing with issues involving emotions (or complex issues), the process becomes more complicated.

Example #2: Think about the last time you sent a text or an email thinking that you were being very clear only to have the person to whom you sent this electronic message get upset because they misinterpreted the message they received.

The second example illustrates a situation in which the message has several different “layers” but the only layer of information that is “available” is what is “written” down.

There are several possible complications here:

  • The message may contain implied emotional overtones. For example, you are upset with the person and have not directly expressed your feeling.
  • You may have directly expressed your feelings but the meaning of the emotional words you have used were misinterpreted when “decoded” by the recipient of the text.
  • You tried to use humor in your text or an emoji.
  • And so forth.

By the way, the above process is why we are frequently advised, and warn our kids, to be very careful about what they send in an email or a text.

There is a quote from the Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication (to the receiver) is the response that you (the sender) get regardless of what you intended to say.”

The receiver’s (upset) response clearly suggests that he (or she) viewed the message as “threatening”. This is the “real” meaning of the message to him.

If the communication process is to be successful, you will need to determine where the “disconnect” is. Perhaps, the misunderstanding occurred because the message contained implied emotional overtones that were included in the message (either intentionally or unintentionally) or the receiver read emotional overtones into the message that were not there.

When you are involved in a face to face conversation, there are additional complications that can take place because of the nature of non-verbal signals.

  • Non-verbal signals comprise a significant (perhaps, major) portion of the communication process and involve your tone of voice, the expression on your face, the way you are standing and so forth.
  • An important part of the emotional process is the constant scanning of our surroundings that our senses engage in, our Amygdala monitors, and our bodies unconsciously react to if there is a threat.
  • Our primitive brain is programmed to “read” non-verbal signals because they are often a more accurate (though not always so) indicator of possible threat. This is because humans are not very good at modifying their non-verbal signals (unless they are trained to do so).

Consequently, you are always communicating non-verbally and your listener is always tuned into your non-verbals.  Hence, the title of this blog: You cannot NOT communicate.

An example of this potential conflict is  the saying “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

Communication problems can arise for at least two reasons:

  1. The meaning of non-verbal signals is not always clear and can easily be misunderstood.
  2. The non-verbal signals you are communicating with your tone of voice or body language are not consistent with the verbal message.

You master your emotions (and the emotions of others) when you are aware of and utilize the nature of non-verbal (and verbal) signals.

  • In your own communications, take extra care to insure that the message you are conveying non-verbally is consistent with the words you are using.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal signals your receiver sends to you, the emotions indicated by those signals, and the message those emotions tell you about how he or she has interpreted your communication. Using this information, you can seek clarification if what you see in their response is different from what you expected and you can clear up any misunderstanding.

I hope this information is helpful and I welcome your comments.