There is no such thing as an “anger problem”.

There is no such thing as an “anger problem”.

Following a recent college class I teach in which I discuss what emotions are and how mastering them is a key element of critical thinking, a student came up to me and volunteered, “I have an anger problem.”

When I asked him to explain, he noted, “When I get angry (emphasis added), I tend to (do inappropriate things).”

The things he does, when angry, get him in trouble, ruin relationships, or result in other issues he has to apologize for, and so forth.

You might think you have an “an anger problem” or that someone you know has an “anger problem”.

As I’ve written in many different places, the statement “I (or you) have an anger problem.” seems to make sense and to convey a statement of fact.

However……

At its best, what my student said tells me little about what may be going on with him.

At its worst, his statement is misleading and, potentially, harmful.

I see TWO problematic issues with his claim that he has an “anger problem”.

First of all, there are the facts about his situation and his anger.

His statement clearly identifies  the emotion of anger as the issue that needs to be resolved.  In other words, the anger, per se, is the cause of the challenges facing my student and it is the anger that needs to be fixed.

Other then noting that he has the “problem”, my student’s statement seems to eliminate himself as an issue. It is the same as if he said, “I have a cold.”

“I have an anger problem.” does not focus any attention on himself as part of the “problem”. Nor does it acknowledge the real “problems” facing my student.

These “problems” include, but are not limited to:

  • his tendency to inappropriately react when he gets angry,
  • his tendency to perceive another person, their actions, or their words as a threat when no threat may exist,
  • his low levels of emotional intelligence, and
  • his failure to assess the nature of the threat he perceives so that he can choose an appropriate response to what is going on.

In other words, he experiences complications with others because of:

  • his thinking about the situation he faces,
  • his tendency to react rather than respond to what is going on, and
  • the actions he takes when angry.

These are the factors that are at the heart of the consequences he elicits when angry and not his anger, per se.

His statement is misleading because, my student, his thoughts, his decisions, and the actions he takes are the “problem”.

Anger is never the problem.

Secondly, there are the psychological implications.

By “blaming” the anger as the problem, my student can avoid taking responsibility for his actions.  You see a similar situation with the celebrity who abuses his significant other and says “My anger made me do it.”or “If I wasn’t angry, I would not have done it.”  While it is most likely true that he would not have done it if he weren’t angry, his anger did not force him to do what he did.

If someone says that he ate too much because he was hungry, we don’t let him off the hook for violating his diet.

We say, “You are right, you were hungry so you ate. But, it was your choice to take that extra piece of pie.”

What my student  “sees” in a given interaction is that something happens (point Alpha), he gets angry and does something he later regrets.  He concludes that he has an “anger problem (point Omega).

Here is the process of getting from Alpha to Omega…

  • Someone does something. (Alpha)
  • He interprets their actions as a threat to his goals, values, basic beliefs, or opinion about the way things should be and he believes that he is more powerful than they are.
  • His Amydala picks up the interpretation and prepares his body for war.
  • He does not evaluate the situation but react as if the threat is real.
  • He takes action to eliminate it.
  • He does not  get the result he expected.
  • He blames the anger. (Omega)

His statement is potentially harmful because it directs his attention away from himself and his need for help to learn new skill.

Here is the solution to my student’s “problem”.

Anger management classes will teach him to calm himself down and prevent himself from taking action.

This is good as far as it goes but is often ineffective because it does not alter the problematic issue which is his thinking.

In my opinion, he needs to learn to master his anger.

The Anger mastery approach teaches that we need to start by taking a breath and a physical step away from the “threat” (anger management). Then we need to engage in the V.E.M.A process.

The V in VEMA stands for validate.  We validate our anger by acknowledging that we are angry.  By itself, this makes the anger a conscious response rather than an unconscious reaction.

The E in VEMA stands for examine.  The  next step is to examine the threat and decide whether it is valid and, indeed, a threat.  Perhapts, we have misunderstood what is going on and no threat exists.  We may have to ask some questions here to gain more knowledge about the person with whom we are interacting and their motivations.

The M in VEMA stands for motivation.  Based on our examination, we can decide what action we want to take and use the energy of our anger to push us forward.  This action can involve anything from a conversation to an apology or to aggression depending on the nature and urgency of the threat.

The A in VEMA stands for taking the action we have chosen.

Once we acknowledge that our thinking and not our anger is the “cause” of our actions, we no longer have an “anger problem”.  We are then empowered to initiate the VEMA process whenever we get angry.

While this is difficult to do, it is doable with practice.

You can download the first two chapters of my recent Amazon best selling book: Beyond Anger Management Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post above.

I welcome your comments.

 

Applying the Emotions as Tools Model to Business Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I discussed the Emotions as Tools Model, the concept of threat, and anxiety. In this part, 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 best selling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool specifically addresses the emotion of anger and is available on Amazon.

You can download the first two chapters of Beyond Anger Management by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post.  There is no opt-in.

As an entrepreneur, you might get angry at:

  • suppliers who do not fulfill the terms of a contract,
  • 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 who knows what reason. Notice the highly subjective nature of the words in quotes. While she has not expressed 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.

When an employee’s appropriate anger is either not validated or is marginalized, as is often the case for professional women, that anger can become chronic.

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 and fired him 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.

The Anger Mastery Cycle visually illustrates how the process of anger works and you can download a copy of The Anger Mastery Cycle for free with no opt-in above.

When you perceive a threat (as defined in my last post) that you decide you can eliminate or, overpower, you label the emotion you experience as anger. If you are naïve about your anger, you probably will react to the threat and later 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 creating both some physical space between you and the perceived threat (taking a step back from the issue) and some psychological space and by taking a deep breath and lowering your level of arousal.

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 are still angry and the threat is not “genuine”, your anger needs to be reevaluated and there are three possibilities:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 expressed as 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 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.

Finally, I welcome your comments.

Applying the Emotions as Tools Model to Business Part 1

In this post, I discuss anxiety and stress as they apply to business.

If you own a business, you should find this post and part 2 (next week), very informative.  If you don’t own a business but know someone who does, please send this link to them.

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 (employees, customers) 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 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 such as anxiety and anger 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 best selling books on the subject of emotions both of which are available on Amazon:

If you choose, you can download the first chapters of both books for free with no opt-in by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post above.

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 article (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:A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Emotions

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

Subtypes of Anxiety

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.

  1. 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.

When you are anxious in business:

  • you might not make an important, but risky, decision,
  • you might choose not to “manage” a difficult employee, or
  • you might not correctly deal with a difficult customer.

2. 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 as motivation to plan for and develop contingencies regarding future complications. This is mastering anxiety.

3. 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 and if you would like me to address these issues as a speaker in your business, my email is TheEmotionsDoctor@gmail.com

In Part 2, I will discuss anger.

What are Anger Myths (and why we should avoid them).

In Chapter 5 of my Amazon bestselling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I discuss 3 anger myths. In this post, I will introduce you to the concept of the anger myth and present these myths to you.

A myth is an idea that may  be popular, widely believed, or even partially true but which, in its entirety, is false or unsupported.

An example of a myth is that brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.  The truth is that egg color is related to the breed of the specific chicken and there is no correlation between egg color and the nutritional value of the egg. One inconvenient truth is that advertisers and merchants have found that they can charge more for brown eggs than white eggs.  This is why the myth persists. So, while you may think you are getting more for your money with brown eggs, all that is going on is that you are unnecessarily spending more than you need to.

When it comes to anger myths, the problem is that, because the validity of the myth is not challenged and our behavior is impacted by the myth, our ability to strategically deploy our anger gets impaired.

There are at least 3 anger myths.

Myth #1: Anger is a negative, dangerous, or bad emotion.

This myth is both widely believed and widely quoted although the form you see it in may change.

Examples of this myth include:

  • “Anger is a negative emotion.”,
  • “Anger is one step (or letter) away from danger.”, and
  • “It is bad to get angry.”

The myth probably persists because some people, when they get angry, do bad or regrettable things. And, because anger motivates us to take quick action toward a threat, it is easy to assume that the anger causes the negative behavior that becomes associated with it.

It is the association between anger and behavior that gives anger a bad reputation.

That anger causes behavior is another myth we will discuss next.

The truth is that there are no negative emotions.

Anger is a primary emotion and a threat detecting tool, the function of which is to alert us to a threat we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough force at it.  Anger prepares us for battle.

We can always choose, however, not to go to war.  Which takes us to Myth #2.

Myth #2: My anger (or some person or situation) controls me.

Examples of this myth include:

  • My anger made me do it (whatever action “it” refers to).
  • I had no choice (to do what I did).  I was so angry.
  • You made me angry.

The implication of the myth is that you are a robot without free will when it comes to the emotion of anger.

This myth persists in part because of the nature of anger and all emotions. Emotions have existed since man, as a species lived in caves or on the Savannah.  Emotions evolved to help us survive as a species. Humans survived by constantly scanning their surroundings for threats that would kill them.  When a threat was perceived (consciously or subconsciously), the brain automatically engaged a fight or flight reaction to protect the individual from the threat.  This process, initiated through the Amygdala and the Reticular Activating System in the brain,  was (and continues to be) fast and automatic as it should be if a genuine threat exists. The emotion that was experienced always matched the nature of the threat and prepared the person for appropriate action.

Today, because most of the threats we face are psychological in nature and not survival based, the match between the emotion and the reaction is less reliable.

Because of the automatic emotional reaction, it is easy to see why some people may believe the emotion forces them to act.

As humans continued to evolve and develop a bigger, more complicated brain, the cerebral cortex, or thinking part of the brain, gave us more alternatives.

Today, the emotional reaction still exists but we now have the opportunity to evaluate the nature of the threat and choose how we want to respond.

So, while the myth persists, the truth is that you are not a robot and you can choose what you want to do.

The myth also persists because it offers those who act out inappropriately both an excuse for and a way to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior and a way to blame someone elce for what they have chosen to do.

In other words, “I didn’t (mess up) because I am a bad or hurtful guy but because my anger gave me no choice. You are responsible for what I have done because you made me angry!”

Anger Myth #3 is the most disempowering.

Myth #3: (I, women, men) should not get angry.

Examples of this myth include:

  • I should never get angry (because every time I do, I mess up).
  • Women should not get angry (because it isn’t famine or the consequences aren’t worth it).
  • Anger is a problem when it is outwardly expressed.
  • Men should not get angry (because anger, as a secondary emotion which substitutes for feelings of anxiety, hurt or vulnerability, is dishonest).

This myth picks up where myth #1 ends.

This myth persists because the kernal of truth is that some men do mess up when they get angry, some men do use anger as a secondary emotion, and, for some women, expressing anger (especially in a professional office setting) can lead to unwanted consequences.

But, to conclude, as the myth does, that because there might be some unwanted consequences (or, in other words, risk), anger should be eliminated or avoided is faulty reasoning.

Based on this reasoning, no businesses would ever get started, we would never drive our cars or fly on airplanes and marriage–forget it.  All of these examples involve risk.

The truth is that everyone can both be aware of the risks and learn to strategically deploy their anger.  My book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool shows you how to do this. And, because these issues are rarely addressed, I have a whole chapter devoted to Professional Women.

In this post, I introduced you to three widely held myths about anger.  My goal was to show you these myths, make you aware of the various ways these myths present themselves, help you understand why the myths persist, and empower you to overcome these myths and strategically express your anger rather than be hobbled and let your anger be taken away from you by  half-truths, misinformation, and ingrained misunderstandings.

I welcome your comments.

 

Local Law Enforcement Officers put on their “emotional armor” when they go to work.

When a local law enforcement officer (LEO) goes to work, he (or she) puts on body armor to protect themselves from assault.  The body armor is a barrier in case of physical assault.

The streets increasingly can be an unsafe place to work.

At the same time, whether they acknowledge it or not, they put on their emotional armor. A LEO, during the course of a shift, witnesses many situations which, all would agree, could easily be characterized as emotionally jarring.  As the LEO must maintain a certain amount of objectivity, or emotional distance, in order to be effective in handling the situation which exists, emotional armor enables him to be involved without getting overwhelmed. The emotional armor is a barrier to emotional assault.

The streets increasingly can be a messy place to work.

There is, however, a balance.  Too much emotional armor and the LEO comes across as cold and uncaring.  Too little emotional armor and the LEO takes things too personally and may act out aggressively or gets too involved and can’t make important decisions.

It is, at best, very difficult to suppress all feelings.  It may, in fact, be impossible.  The hero is not the person who feels no anger, anxiety or fear. Rather, the hero experiences these emotions and takes appropriate action any way.

We have seen many instances in which a LEO acts very aggressively against a citizen and what we see in the video seems totally inappropriate. Sometimes, on later review, we find that the LEO acted within his training and policy and we just didn’t have the whole “picture”.  In these cases, the emotional armor worked. At other times, later reviews confirm that the LEO gave in to the emotions of the moment and acted way out of line given the situation. Typically, it is the often misunderstood emotion of anger that is involved. In these cases, the emotional armor didn’t work at all.

There is another situation in which one’s emotional armor must be taken into consideration. This is when the LEO goes home to a spouse and kids after a shift.

When the shift is over, the LEO removes his body armor. It is no longer needed.

He, however, may forget to take off his emotional armor.  If this is the case, he goes home and his spouse and kids, understandably, want him to be husband and dad and, because he is still emotionally armored, he isn’t ready to switch roles from LEO to lover or loving dad. Under these circumstances, he may overreact and yell at the kids or push them away and give them the impression that they have done something wrong.

A possible solution is for the LEO to take whatever time is necessary to decompress from, and leave work at, work.  Knowing that this time is often (not always) necessary, the LEO can teach his spouse and kids to give him this space without their feeling that he is insensitive and, when he is ready, he can become lover and loving.

Please share this post with a LEO if you think it would be helpful.

And, share your comments with me.

 

 

 

“Why do misunderstandings make others angrier?”

This is a question that someone asked me on Quora.com.

There are two reasons why this is an important question to discuss.

On the one hand, it addresses what probably is a very common source of angry reactions…misunderstandings.

On the other hand, it clearly perpetuates an anger myth which both wrongly depicts how anger works, and shifts the responsibility for anger away from the person getting angry.

I should point out that the person who asked this question was most likely just curious about wanting an answer, innocently posted the question, and, along with most people, had no clue either about how anger works or about the existence of disempowering anger myths. So, please do not misinterpret my response as a criticism of the questioner. This is not my intent.

Anger and Misunderstandings

I have, in other posts on this blog, spoken about how anger is one of six primary emotions that have existed in “man” for eons. Four of these primary emotions, including anger, are primitive threat detectors the function of which is to alert us to perceived threats in our surroundings and subconsciously prepare our bodies to deal with the threat and insure our survival.

Your anger is a threat detecting tool.

Your anger tells you that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate by throwing enough force at it. Anger prepares you for battle.

A misunderstanding is defined by Dictionary.com as:

 To take (words, statements, etc.) in a wrong sense; understand wrongly.

When it comes to anger and misunderstandings, there are two issues:

  • What we have actually done or said
  • How the other person perceives or gives meaning to what we did or said.

It is the failure to keep these two issues separate that results in the escalation of anger when misunderstandings occur.

This is how the process works.

You do (or say) something that another person perceives as a threat to their goals, values, self-image, or “survival”.

In other words, the person interacting with, and getting angry at, you believes what you have done or said is “wrong” (for a variety of different reasons). If they do not attempt to validate the situation and their anger, as happens when anger is mastered, they “go” with their opinion and their perception, logic is suspended and the interaction deteriorates.

You, in the same self-preserving approach that they are using, see your actions as valid, view their “aggressive” stance as a threat, get angry, and escalate the interaction.

This is not to say that what you have done is objectively wrong  (as seen by an unbiased observer). Rather, it is subjectively wrong as defined by the other person.

This is an important distinction.

You may have done nothing wrong (what you did) and the other person misperceived or misinterpreted (their perception) your actions based on their own psychological state at the time, the situation or surroundings in which the actions occurred, or some other, unknown, set of circumstances.

That a “misunderstanding” occurred means, by definition, that no wrong was done. If this is never questioned, the anger intensifies on both your part and theirs.

Now to the myth.

I discuss three anger myths in my Amazon bestselling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

One of these myths is that our anger controls us. It is a myth because it isn’t true.

When the writer on Quora asked about how (misunderstandings) MAKE (emphasis added) others angry, he implied that something outside of the other person had the power to control them and to cause (read force) them to get angry without their permission. This is the anger myth. If this were true, which is is not, the other person would be a robot and would not be responsible for anything they do when they get angry.

By the same token, the myth implies that you, if you get angry, are also a robot with no control over yourself or your emotions.

This myth is widely believed.

We see the impact of it when a celebrity or athlete beats up his girlfriend, does something really stupid, or makes a fool of himself and says, “My anger made me do it.” Another example is the spousal abuser who tells his spouse, “ If you hadn’t done (whatever), I would not have gotten angry and (hurt you).”

In both of these examples, the aggressor takes no personal responsibility for the actions taken and blames the other person for causing both the anger and the aggression.

In fact, all of us are responsible both for the anger we feel and the actions we take when angry. While it is true that the aggressor would not have done what they did if they were not angry, the anger did not force them to hurt another person (other options exist) and the aggressor could have decided to change their perception and not get angry.

By the way, I have addressed how to deal with another person who directs their anger at you in a series of three posts entitled: You are the target of someone’s anger.  Part 1 is archived in February 2017 and parts 2 and 3 are archived in March 2017.

So, the initial question has now been addressed in terms of the process underlying the connection between anger and misunderstandings and the myth that the misunderstanding makes the other person angry.

I welcome your comments.

A more adaptive, way to look at (and discuss) anger.

Have you ever needed to address the anger of yourself or another person and got resistance, justifications, or rationalizations whenever you opened a discussion on the issue?  Read on.

Anger is often portrayed as a negative emotion.  Not only is this portrayal incorrect but it is also potentially destructive as it implies that anger should be eliminated.

This is like saying that you should toss the smoke detector in your house because it sounds an alarm when you burn the toast or it wakes you up at night with that annoying chirp when the battery is low.

Anger is never a negative emotion.  It is always adaptive and should not be eliminated.

Let’s take a closer look at the concept of negative emotions.

Emotions as Tools

I maintain that there are no negative emotions. 

My reasoning has been that all the emotions are adaptive tools in that they provide us with actionable information we can use to improve our lives and our relationships.  Emotions as tools are neither positive or negative.  While you may get annoyed at it, your computer is neither positive or negative.  It is just a tool you need to learn how to use.

With emotions, you need to learn how to strategically deploy them and the information they provide.

Experiencing an Emotion

Emotions can also be viewed in terms of their hedonic quality. 

In other words, how is the emotion experienced?   Is it experienced as “good” (I like this feeling and want it to continue.) or as bad (This feeling sucks and I want it to end.) An emotion that feels “bad” tends to get incorrectly labelled as “negative” based on how it is experienced.

Emotions and Behavior

The function of emotions is to motivate us to take action.   As I illustrate in the Anger Mastery Cycle, our senses constantly scan our surroundings for threats.  When a threat is subconsciously perceived, the body automatically goes into fight or flight.

The emotion that you experience is linked to the perceived threat and automatically prepares you to deal with it.  This is the message of the emotion.  The actions you want to take should match the nature of the perceived threat.

Hence, when you are sad, the perceived threat is loss and you want to withdraw and recover. With anxiety, the threat is a future based something that might occur and you want to either escape from it (distress) or prepare for it (eustress).

This fight or flight process is very quick, happens outside of our immediate awareness (until we experience the emotion) and was designed to save our lives when we lived on the Savannah (or in caves).

Today, if the action our emotion motivates (not causes) us to take is seen as destructive, the emotion gets blamed for the behavior.

Anger

The message of anger is that you perceive a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. Anger prepares you for war.

Anger often gets labeled as “negative” because some people tend to do negative things when angry and then blame their anger.

Interestingly, anger (hedonically) feels good.  Anger is energizing.  We feel powerful and ready for action. It is the action we take that is often problematic.

Incidentally, this is the reason that men may choose to use anger as a secondary emotion.  Anger is substituted for emotions such as anxiety, vulnerability, hurt and guilt which do not feel good (are hedonically negative).

A Different approach: Constructive verses Destructive anger. 

I developed the Emotions as Tools Model because I needed a way to talk about feelings such as anger with the under-educated incarcerated teen age girls I was treating in therapy and the often jaded men and women correctional staff I was training to deal with the girls I was treating. What I learned in graduate school didn’t prepare me for these tasks. 

I needed a new model and the Emotions as Tools Model worked well.

And, it still does.  But, sometimes, a different approach might be useful.

From the perspective of talking about anger to others or understanding our own anger, the idea of constructive and destructive anger might help you open up a discussion.

Constructive anger moves us forward and is beneficial. 

Destructive anger elicits actions we later regret and wish had never occurred.

Anger, per se, remains just a tool that is used constructively or destructively. If you take a hammer and destroy a vase when you are pissed off, this is using the hammer destructively.  If you use the same hammer to build a house… I think you get the idea.

Let’s explore the idea of constructive anger in more detail.

Constructive anger is strategically deployed.

  • You have assessed the nature of the threat and determined it is valid
  • You use the motivational impact of your anger to propel you to take action.
  • You match the amount of anger force with the nature of the perceived threat. This is what it means to strategically deploy your anger.
  • You may use additional anger force, if necessary, to deal with the threat.

This is called assertion and escalation.

Destructive anger is problematic.

  • The actions you take when angry are either excessive given the threat or unnecessary in that no threat exists.
  • The anger is a substitute for another feeling (secondary anger).
  • Anger is used to manipulate others into taking the action you want them to do (instrumental anger).

Using this Approach

Your teenager, spouse, employee, or friend gets angry and does something they later either regret or make excuses for.  You need to address their actions but get resistance when you do.

Note: This discussion can also apply to you if you put up a wall whenever your anger (and behavior) are discussed.

Here is a way to open a discussion and avoid the resistance.

When you need to address your own anger or the anger of another person, talking about constructive and destructive anger enables you to discuss the topic of anger without placing blame or establishing responsibility. While you may have to address the issue of responsibility for one’s actions, it can be done at a later date once you have opened a dialog about constructive and destructive anger.

How helpful was this post?

I welcome your comments.

Managing vs Mastering Anger: Let’s clear up a misunderstanding.

And the judge said:

“Guilty! You are sentenced to 30 days in county jail and anger management classes!”

You see it in movies, on TV and in the newspapers.

Someone (usually a public figure or a celebrity) acts out inappropriately, goes to court, and gets sentenced to, among other punishments, Anger Management (emphasis added) classes.

This is one way that many people get introduced to the misuse of anger. The other way is by observing their own behavior. Observing the misuse of anger is responsible for maintaining belief in the anger myths. One myth says that anger is a dangerous emotion which should be eliminated. A second myth says that one should not get angry because there is always a negative outcome.

All the myths are false.

So, what is wrong with this scenario?

There are two implied assumptions behind anger management classes that are rarely acknowledged.

Two implied assumptions.

  1. The first implied assumption is that anger is like a wild animal that must be tamed, caged, controlled, and managed or it will turn a person into a wild robot who has no choice but to act out and hurt others.
  2. The second implied assumption is that this person’s behavior is caused by his out of control anger and that he needs to go to classes to learn how to regain control of his anger.

Both are incorrect and misleading.

The basic (misunderstood) facts.

Anger is just an emotion, the function of which is to prepare your body to fight off a perceived threat.  Anger is a motivator of action but does not cause any specific behavior

Each person is always responsible for the actions they take based on the decisions they make.  There are always options.

Those people who act out and get in trouble when they get angry represent only a small minority of people who get angry.  For the vast majority of people who get angry but who do not break the law, anger management as a general approach to dealing with anger falls short.  For these folks, anger mastery is a more fulfilling option.

The facts explained.

Anger is one of 6 primary emotions.

The other 5 are sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise.  While some writers say there are only 3 primary emotions and some say there are more, 6 is a standard widely agreed upon number.

Emotions have existed in humans since we lived on the Savannah and/or in caves and, it can be reasonably argued, are responsible for our survival as a species.

Here is how emotions worked when we were a very young species.

Our senses constantly scanned our surroundings for threats which, if not dealt with, would kill us.  All threats were survival threats. When a threat was perceived, a subconscious process was set in motion which involved a fast track message going to the Amygdala and from there to the Thalamus.  The Thalamus prepared the body for action. This is what you would want if your life depended on your reaction.

Each primary emotion elicited a different reaction based on the nature of the perceived threat.

Anger prepared us for war as the threat was perceived to be one we could eliminate by throwing enough force at it.  By contrast, disgust prepared us to move away from a threat which could harm us and fear prepared us to run away (or freeze) from a threat that would kill us.

Today, the same primitive reactive process still exists. However, the nature of the threats we face has changed. Most of the threats we face are psychological.  In addition, we now have the ability to respond to the threat.

As our brains grew and developed over eons, the cerebral cortex gave us the ability to assess the nature of the threat and choose a response. So, while a fast track message still goes to the Amygdala for fight or flight, a slower track message goes to the cerebral cortex and gives us options.

Revisiting the original implied assumptions:

  1. While anger autonomously prepares us to take action relative to the perceive threat, it does not force us to take a specific action.  Anger is a tool we need to learn to use not a wild horse we need to break.
  2. The cerebral cortex always gives us an option to choose the actions we take relative to the perceived threat.  Consequently, we are always responsible for what we do. 

By the way, the perpetrator who hurts others and blames his (or her) anger is trying to avoid taking personal responsibility for their actions so blaming the anger is an easy out.

The statement: “If I wasn’t angry, I wouldn’t have done (xyz).” may very well be true.  The implication that the anger made him do it is always false. Unfortunately, this distinction is often not recognized.

Managing versus Mastering an emotion:

Managing anger involves lowering your level of physiological arousal by taking a breath or using relaxation techniques.

This is fine as far as it goes.

However, while the anger management folks concede that anger is a natural emotion, it is viewed as the cause of the behavior and the focus of treatment.

This is where most anger management classes often fall short.

To be fair, good anger management classes will teach you ways to develop empathy and build trust and to use good communication and conflict resolution skills.

This is excellent. But, I maintain, for many people it doesn’t go far enough.

I believe there is a place for anger management skills. But, I believe you should learn to master your anger as a tool.

In my Amazon best seller book, Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I discuss the Anger Mastery Cycle. You can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle by scrolling up to the welcome post on this blog.

The Anger Mastery Cycle does not demonize anger.  Anger is viewed only as a tool which provides information about one’s surroundings. As a tool, anger can be mastered so that it works for you. The Anger Mastery Cycle includes the assumption that you are always responsible for how you use your anger as a tool.

The Anger Mastery Cycle starts with you constantly, and subconsciously, scanning your surroundings for threat. When you perceive a threat you believe you can eliminate by throwing enough force at it, you experience anger and your body automatically goes into fight mode.

This is the fast track primitive reactive process I noted above.

Once you recognize that you are angry by knowing how your body alerts you to this emotion (your physical correlates), the Anger Mastery Cycle suggests that you create some “space” between you and the threat.

This takes us into anger management.

Creating space serves to protect you both physically and psychologically. By taking a step backwards (physical space), you protect yourself and you communicate to the person who you are angry at or who is angry at you that a moment of reflection is needed.

The skills you learned in your Anger Management classes to lower your arousal level serve to create some psychological space. Psychological space is needed to give your cerebral cortex some time to kick in so that you can decide how you want to respond rather than react.

This is where we move into anger mastery.

The anger mastery process begins with assessing, or validating the nature of the threat.

The perceived threat may be genuine in which case action to eliminate the threat is justified.

Or, the original perception of threat is not accurate and something else is precipitating your anger.

When you realize there is no threat, your anger should subside. If you are still angry and there is no threat, you are either using your anger as a secondary emotion or you are using anger instrumentally.

Anger mastery includes but goes beyond anger management in its conceptualization of anger as a tool that can be understood and utilized in different ways.  The skill sets which comprise emotional intelligence imply an anger mastery approach to this emotion.

For some people, managing their anger may be the best they can do. These folks may not be very emotionally intelligent and may not be able to move beyond a behavior-focused concrete approach to anger. And, they may not do well in anger management classes.

For others, however, mastering their anger gives them an understanding of what anger is and provides more options for dealing with their own anger and anger directed at them.

I value your comments on the above.

 

Your emotional toolkit.

As I have discussed before, the most adaptive way to conceptualize and think about your feelings is to view them as tools.  This metaphor not only accurately describes the way emotions “work” (as tools to accomplish a specific task) in your brain and body but also allows you to demystify emotions in general.  When you view emotions as tools, it is easier for you to realize both that the tool (your feeling) doesn’t control you and that you can learn to master the tool to get the most out of what it was “designed” (by evolution) to do.

Emotions are experienced as happening very quickly and, therefore, seem to have a life of their own.  This is how you would want emotions to work if your life depended on an emotional reaction to a survival threat.  A good example is the emotion of fear (not anxiety).

Based on this experience, however, many people tend to (incorrectly) believe that their emotions control them.

But, think about it.  While you may have some challenges getting your smart phone or TV remote to do what you want, you never complain that the phone “made” you upset, controlled you in any way, or acted upon you in some autonomous manner. The phone or remote is just a tool.  You control (or not) it and not vice versa.

You have, however, probably said (or heard someone say) “You made me angry.”(Someone else has absolute power over you.) or “I wouldn’t have (fill in the blank) if I hadn’t been so angry.”(Your anger has absolute control over you.)

Your emotions were “designed” by evolution as tools to do a specific task. My goal, with my books and posts, is to help you learn what the task of each emotion is and how to master each emotion as a tool.

That being said, let’s carry the analogy another step forward.

And, by the way, while it may be applied differently, the information in this post is useful to both men and women

If you are like me, you have a tool kit, tool bag, or some collection of familiar tools in your shop, your car, your kitchen, or some other easily accessible place.  While the specific tools you have in your kit will vary with the job your set of tools is designed to help you do, let’s look at a standard household tool kit.

The kit probably contains a hammer, a pair of standard pliers, two screw drivers (both Flathead and Phillips), a tape measure and so forth. These are basic tools which will allow you to do most of the repair jobs that come up. You may also have some “specialized” tools like different size screw drivers (tiny for your glasses or small parts of your sewing machine) a rubber mallet,needle nose pliers, power tools and so forth.

You set up your toolkit to be there for you when something requires your attention because it needs to be fixed.

Have you ever been faced with a job that required a tool you didn’t have and you either tried to use the tools you did have to do the job or you gave up?

For instance, you needed to fix the side of a piece of furniture or cabinet and, where you should have used a rubber mallet (which you didn’t have), you used your regular hammer and left a dent. Or, you tried to use a Flathead screwdriver and stripped the Phillips head screw.

Or, you couldn’t get your cell phone or TV remote to do what you wanted and just gave up.

Now, while the analogy isn’t perfect, it can be informative. So, please, allow me a bit of leeway here.

You also have a “standard” emotional tool kit which would include all the basic emotions you are used to experiencing including  anger, sad, happy, anxiety, surprise, vulnerability, fear, and disgust.

Unlike the physical toolkit we spoke about above, all the emotions are somewhere in your emotional toolkit.  However, while they are all there and you can learn to access them, you may not experience most of them. For example, you might not experience Guilt, Envy or Jealousy but they are there. And, the emotion of Shadenfreude (feeling pleasure about the discomfort of another) is also in there but would be invisible to you unless you spoke German as there is no English equivalent.

Let’s look at some of your basic emotional tools and what they do.

Anger

Anger, as a tool alerts you to a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

The proper use of this tool is to assess the nature of the threat your anger has alerted you to and, if it is a valid threat, use the energy of the tool to motivate you to make a plan and eliminate the threat. This may be the tool you use the most.

Anger prepares you to go to war.

There are three main issues with anger.

You might deploy your anger when no real threat exists as that you might have misjudged the threat. You have misunderstood what tool is needed and just grabbed a familiar one from your tool kit.

You might not be able to use your anger directly because the environment in which the threat occurred either does not tolerate the expression of anger in general or specifically denies you the expression of anger because of your gender, status, or color. You have a hammer but you can’t use it because it is too heavy, too big, or not the right material for the situation.

You are deploying your anger as a secondary emotion.  In this case, it is the wrong tool for the job but it is the only tool you feel comfortable using.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat out there that MAY harm you.

The proper use of this emotional tool is to check out how valid the future threat is and use the energy of the tool to motivate you to prepare for what is out there. This is anxiety as “eustress”.  When you use the energy of your anxiety about an upcoming speech you have to give to prepare yourself, this is using your anxiety as a tool to move you forward.

Many people, however, experience anxiety as distress and get stuck. This is a misuse of this emotion.  Anxiety, as distress, reacts as if the perceived (possible) threat is both inevitable and that there is no way to avoid being harmed by it. I’ve discussed the process of catastrophising as a worst case anxiety scenario in a previous post.

Vulnerability

The message of vulnerability is that a weakness of yours may be exposed.

The proper use of vulnerability as a tool depends on the circumstances. Being vulnerable in a relationship and sharing your concerns can enhance the relationship. Women, in general, may be better at using vulnerability as a tool.

Men, in general, tend to misuse the feeling of vulnerability because of a belief that weakness is to be avoided.  Instead of examining the perceived weakness and whether it has any merit, men will tend to express anger to cover up feeling of vulnerability. This is anger as a secondary emotion.

The next step is to look at your emotional toolkit.

  • Are you familiar with the emotions you typically use, the information they provide, and the best way to master them?
  • Do you have the right tools to match the interactions you have with others?
  • What information do you need to get in order to make you better at mastering your emotional tools?

I welcome your comments.

Is anger an “objective” term? Yes and No.

This is a question someone asked on Quora.com and as I hadn’t really thought of anger in this way, I decided to address it.

YES    Anger, as an emotion, is an objective term as it can be as it can be clearly and “objectively” defined. We tend to think of anger only as an objective term and as I will discuss below, this can be problematic.

NO Anger  as experienced and expressed by an individual is a subjective term because how you experience and express your anger is very “subjective”, or unique, to you.

Objective

Anger, as an emotion is one of the 6 primary emotions “discovered” by Paul Ekman. These emotions are mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise. All of them can be seen across human cultures and in some subhuman species. If you have kids, you have learned to recognize these emotions in your kid’s faces when they were too young to think about, or subjectively configure what they were feeling.

With the exception of glad and surprise, all of the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors the evolutionary function of which is to alert us to the presence of a threat and subconsciously prepare our bodies to deal with the threat. You can think of emotions as tools. I have written about this emotional process in my first Amazon best selling book entitled Emotions As Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings. You can download the first chapter of this book by scrolling up to the Welcome post on this blog with no opt-in.

When a person is subconsciously alerted to a threat through the Amygdala and the Thalamus and experiences anger, he or she is “set up” to REACT to the anger. With anger, we are set up to go to war.  When we were living in caves, this was a good thing and helped insure our survival.

Subjective

There are two aspects to anger as a subjective term.

The first is how you experience anger physically.

How does your body alert you to the emotion of anger?  This is important information to have as your “physical correlates” of anger are the first indicator to you that you are getting angry.  I have included several checklists to help you identify how your body reacts in anger in my first Amazon best selling book Emotions as Tools A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Emotions.  You can download the first two chapters to this book by scrolling up to the top of the blog.

The second aspect of anger as a subjective term is how you respond when you are angry.

Today, we have a choice about how we want to RESPOND to a perceived threat because our nervous system alerts our cerebral cortex (thinking part of the brain) about the situation we are facing.

While our brain automatically sets us up to react, the threats you face today are psychological not survival based. How you choose to respond to the threat is highly subjective and can either be adaptive and useful or maladaptive and problematic.

There are three general subjective responses to anger.

The first personal subjective response to anger is to go with the anger rather than learn to master it.  It this tendency to go to war without really assessing the nature of the threat that has given anger a bad reputation. This choice can get a person in trouble in that it leads them to blame their anger for their inappropriate behavior. They feel their anger controls them and do not take personal responsibility for their actions. This may not feel like a choice but it is. In addition, this choice is very maladaptive in that it does not work to the advantage of the angry person

The second personal objective response to anger is to master the anger as I discuss in my current Amazon best seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.  By the way, you can download the first chapter of this book for free with no opt-in by scrolling up to the top of the blog.

The choice to master your anger is adaptive because it takes into consideration what is happening in the situation, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what works best for you and the other person.

A third personal subjective response is to use anger as a secondary emotion.  This is dishonest anger as the anger is used to cover up other feelings such as anxiety, vulnerability, sadness, hurt and so forth.  While the emotion looks and feels like anger, there is not obvious threat and the “angry” person knows the emotion is a cover-up.

Problems can arise when we treat anger as if it is always an objective term. This implies that anger is the same for everyone. With the exception of anger as a secondary emotion, it is true that everyone who gets angry perceives a threat. But, and this is the important part, how a person defines, perceives, and responds to that threat is highly subjective.

When we deal with another person who is angry, we need to find out how they are subjectively responding to the situation.  We can use this information to develop our response to them.

As always, I welcome your comments.