The Key to Understanding Anyone Better..Hint: It is not empathy, although that would help. Part 1


  • You are interacting with another person whose behavior you find excessive, inappropriate, or “wrong” and you have no clue as to what is “causing” the behavior.
  • Because you have a “relationship”with this person, you want to gain a better understanding of them and their actions.
  • You have no clue how to begin the “process of understanding”.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar “situation”?

Most likely, the answer is yes.

Possible “relationships” include:

  • a parent with their child
  • a boss with his or her subordinates
  • a leader with his or her followers (volunteers/team)
  • a spouse
  • an adult child with aging parents
  • a person dealing with clients or customers
  • and so forth.

In pursuit of understanding, you may have read , or been advised, that you should “put yourself in their shoes”. This is what empathy is all about.

While empathizing with another person is good, there are at least 3 reasons why you might find it difficult to achieve.

  1. You may have tried to do this but “empathy” is not your strong suit.

I know of a very intelligent individual who works in the medical profession.  He views himself as very good at “understanding” the clients he works with but tends to focus on the issues he sees in the client’s reasoning or behavior.  He does not seem able to put himself in their shoes and experience his understanding from their point of view.

  1. The gap between you and the other person is too wide and inhibits your “putting yourself in their shoes”.

This gap could be due to a difference in age, gender, race, religion, or culture. Or, some other factor such as your values.

  1. You found yourself judging the other person as “wrong”.  When you judge another person, you have made a decision about them and the process of empathizing with (or even understanding) them stops.

While empathy is beneficial, it isn’t crucial.

So, even if you find it difficult to empathize with another person, you can still begin to understand them and their point of view.

Understanding another person facilitates your effectively interacting with them, improving the relationship you have with them and even, where appropriate, disciplining them.

A person’s behavior is based on their perception of the situation in which they find themselves.

Their perception of the situation is based on their “model” of the world.

Their “world” includes you.

In attempting to understand how another person is perceiving what is going on and the behavior they are engaging in based on that perception, you need to make three assumptions.  These assumptions set the stage and create an environment for understanding.

  1. Assume that the behavior you are seeing is neither “right” nor “wrong”.  It is just their behavior.
  2. Assume that every person’s behavior is “valid” for them because it is consistent with their model of the world.
  3. Assume that their behavior is the “best” that they are capable of doing given their current skill set and their model of the world.

I will discuss each assumption in more detail and give an example in Part 2 next week.

I hope the above was helpful.

If you find it useful, please send this link to someone else who might benefit from it.

And, finally, please leave a comment.


Anger: How to be calm and collected when you are angry and discuss an issue that bothers you?

When it comes to anger, control is important so that you do not go off the deep end.  This is what it means to stay calm.

Staying calm does not mean that you stop being angry.

What you want to learn is how to both manage and master your anger so that it works for you and you can use the energy it gives you to correct a negative situation.

This is what I mean when I talk about strategically deploying your anger.

Let me give you some background information so you understand what anger is and what happens to you when get angry.  I will then give you some suggestions you can use to help you master your anger so that you can say what you need to and deal with the situation.

Anger is one of the 6 basic emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, surprise and disgust) that humans have had since time began.  The job of anger is to prepare us to fight off threats that will harm us if not dealt with.  When we were living in caves, these threats were always real and usually were life threatening.  When angry, adrenaline is released into the body and prepares us for battle by giving us the energy we need to overpower our adversary

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Today, anger acts on  you the same way that it did for Mr. Caveman.

Your anger tells you that you perceive a threat to you.  Today, unlike for our ancestors, most threats are not survival based.  They are threats to our ego, our sense of right and wrong, our values and so forth.

I call these psychological threats.

With the above in mind, let’s take a look at what you can do.

  • The suggestions I will be making sound simple to do and they are.
  • However, they will not be easy to do in the situation when you are angry.
  • Consequently, in order to use these suggestions, you will have to practice them.

This is a mistake that many writers make.

  • The writer offers a strategy. The reader tries to implement the strategy.  Nothing changes. The reader feels more frustrated.
  • I hope this does not happen to you, my readers.

Anger management:

You should practice moving into anger management as soon as you become aware that you are getting angry.

You manage your anger when you create both psychological and physical “space” between you and the person with whom you are interacting.

You create psychological space when you lower your initial arousal level so that you can respond rather than react to your situation. You do this by taking a deep breath as soon as you become aware of your anger.

There are two reasons for taking a deep breath.

1. The first reason is that the deep breath relaxes you physically and lowers your arousal (level of energy).  If you need to take several deep breaths, that is okay.

Most people tend to get over-energized in angry situations.  The deep breath helps to counter this,

2. The second reason is that the breath gives you a few seconds to collect your thoughts.  Your thoughts (perceptions) are what create the anger in the first place.

You create physical space by taking a step back from the other person.

You do this for two reasons.

1. First of all, it gives you some additional safe space if you need it.

2. Secondly, it sends a message to the other person that you are not a threat to them.

This physical space can be a small or a large step back.

Anger Mastery

Anger management involves lowering your level of arousal and most writers talk about anger management as an end goal.

I suggest you move on to anger mastery which involves resolving the situation in which you find yourself by either strategically deploying your anger if the threat is valid or letting go of the anger if you determine that you have misinterpreted the other person’s behavior.

When you master your anger, you attempt to assess the nature of the threat and choose your most adaptive response.

When you are in the middle of an interpersonal interaction the goal of which is to communicate your concerns, there are two assessments to be made:

  1. On the one hand, you need to assess the validity of the threat that you perceive in the situation that is leading up to (not causing) your anger.
  2. Secondly, if the other person is expressing anger (or its lesser cousin irritation), you should attempt to assess the threat that he (or she) perceives in you.

There are two reasons for assessing the nature of the perceived threat (both yours and theirs).

1. When you think about the threat, you give yourself a few moments to “calm down” a bit further and plan your response.

Note: You are not becoming less angry.  You are simply letting some of the energy go so you can take effective action.

As an analogy, when you are in your car, you slow down just enough to get around the curve.  Too much speed, you get in an accident.  You don’t stop the car, you just drop the level of energy (speed, in this case) to remain effective.

2. Thinking about your adversary’s perception of threat gives you an advantage in that it helps you manage your own anger by giving you some awareness of where their anger is coming from so you don’t take it personally and helps you deal with him or her.

If you can’t figure out what their threat is, this is okay.  You can still master your own anger.

You may decide that there is no real threat and just let go of your anger.

If you decide that the threat is real, you can use all of your energy to effectively deal with it.

As I said above, it is easier for me to make these suggestions then it is for you to implement them when you are angry and over-energized. But you can learn to implement them!

With this in mind, I suggest that you “practice” these strategies.

Here is how

In the comfort of your own home,

A. Review the strategy in your mind ==>

1. As soon as I become aware of my anger, I will stop and take a deep breath.  If I need to, I’ll take two deep breaths.

2. Once my thoughts are more clear, I will think about the nature of the threat I perceive.  If I can, I’ll try to get a fix on his or her perceived threat.

3. As my thoughts continue to clear and my energy level drops just enough, I’ll engage him or her in conversation.

B. Next, think about the last time you got angry and did something that was not very effective ( like crying or screaming)==>

1.   Let’s say this is point B in the interaction.

2. Try to think back to point A when you first became aware of the anger.

3. Imagine yourself taking a deep breath and successfully implementing the strategy.

4. Do this several times.

C. You can also practice taking a deep breath with other feelings such as stress, anxiety and so forth.

The purpose is to give you a sense that you can do this (YOU CAN) so when you find yourself in the next angry encounter, you are more prepared to take effective action.

I welcome your comments.

How do I get over the fear of being wrong and the fear of failure?

This is a question that I was asked on  I thought  some of you might be interested in the issues this question raises.

Most of the answers that were given by others on Quora tended to focus on the reality that we all make mistakes and need to learn to accept that.

While this is a good response to this question, I, as an expert on emotions with two Amazon bestselling books, Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management, would offer a bit different perspective.

The above question uses the word “fear” as it is commonly used i.e. “fear of being wrong” and “fear of failure”.

Unfortunately, both of these uses are incorrect because the emotion the writer is really referring to is anxiety.

I should mention that, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t really matter which word you use. However, when you understand the difference between anxiety and fear, you enable yourself to master both emotions and the suggestions I make below will make more sense to you.

Fear is an in-the-moment emotion, the message of which is that you are perceiving a threat that will “kill” you unless you get out of that situation. Fear is the hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck raising up. The best response to fear is to get out of the situation. Too often, women, and sometimes men, experience fear but ignore it to their own peril. An example is when your feelings tell you the guy standing in the elevator is bad news eventhough he looks fine and has done nothing wrong. While you might be wrong about him, trust your feelings and take the next elevator.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a future based emotion the message of which is that there might be a threat that might hurt me.

Notice in the question that the writer is concerned about what might happen if, at some future date, he (or she) is wrong or experiences “failure”. Both are future possibilities. If the writer were wrong or had failed when they were writing the question, they would have asked a different question.

So, let’s address the question.

The antidote to anxiety (fear of being wrong) is to ask two basic questions about what might happen in the future.

The first and most important question is this: If the worst possible outcome happens to me (however you define “worst” and “being wrong”), can I survive (however you choose to define “survive”) it?

If the answer is “I won’t like it but I could survive it”, then you no longer have to dwell on the issue and can move on to the second question.

By the way, there are very few situations in which you would not “survive” if you made a mistake. So, the answer to question #1 will usually be yes. Now, if you are talking about being wrong about whether or not the mushroom you are about to eat is poisonous or not, or whether you have chosen the right rope to repel down the side of a mountain, well it will be in your best interest to get more information before you make a decision.

Whether you could survive the future or not, question #2 becomes your next focus.

Question #2 is: What do I need to do, learn, or make happen in order to reduce the possibility of “being wrong” or “failing”.

I need to explain that there are two types of anxiety. The first is called distress and the second is called eustress.

Distress is disabling, focuses on the worst case scenario, and leads you to act as if this undesirable outcome is inevitable. It is distress that the writer is most likely referring to when he talks about the “fear of being wrong”.

Eustress is enabling, uses the same motivating energy of anxiety, and focuses on what you need to do to make the right decision. This is the energy my students use to motivate them to study for an upcoming exam. When you prepare for a future event, you no longer have to avoid it because you are now prepared for it.

So, if you are prepared for the future event and you can survive it if goes bad, you will no longer have a “fear of being wrong”. You may not like it, but you won’t be “afraid” of it.

Finally, let me give you a different definition of “failure”.

Most people think that “failure” is a destination. You either “succeed” and reach your goal or you “fail” and fall short.

This is a disabling definition as it only gives you two options-achieve your goal and label yourself a success or miss your goal and label yourself a failure. And, as all kinds of things can happen which delay or interfere with you reaching your goal, you are more likely to experience “failure” rather than a need to recalculate and redirect your attention.

A more adaptive definition of failure is to see it as a process or journey. As a process, failure is defined as “falling short Y times and getting up X times, where  X > Y”. It is this definition the person who quoted Edison  as saying: “I didn’t fail 1000’s of times to make a lightbulb. I found 1000’s of ways that didn’t work.” is referring to.

As long as you pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, make the corrections you need to make, and move forward, you can’t fail. You only fail when you give up.

I hope that gives you, my readers, a bit different perspective on this question and I welcome your comments and feedback.

Things happen after an “anger”.

You are probably wondering what an “anger” is.  And, rightly so. I am using the emotion of anger as a noun or as an event.  In other words, when you get angry, I am suggesting, for the sake of the discussion, that you are experiencing an “anger”.

In both of my Amazon bestselling books and other posts, I have written about anger  as an emotion that:

  • communicates a specific message
  • can be mastered
  • can be strategically deployed to improve your life and your relationships.

Whenever I write about specific emotions, about emotions in general or about the model of emotions, I talk about all emotions, including anger, as tools.  This is a very useful metaphor because you use tools on a daily basis including your cell phone, your computer, your car, your TV remote and so forth. In the same way that you learn how to get the most out of your cell phone as a useful tool, you can learn how to get the most out of your anger as a useful tool.

While this model of emotions  remains useful, I want you to think about the display of anger as an “event”. In other words, your getting angry at someone is an anger event (or an “anger”) and you can get a better understanding of anger by analyzing this event and learning from it.  This is true whether it is your anger or anger directed at you.

My goal is provide many different ways of understanding anger not because one is better than the other (They are all effective.) but because one metaphor may work  better for you than another.  You pick which model works best for you.

Or use some parts of each model.


Let’s say you are setting up an “event” such as a book promotion, a soft-opening for a new business, a surprise birthday party for a good friend, a plan to study for an upcoming exam or a trip to the store to do grocery shopping.

Every event can be analyzed in terms of at least three elements:

  • What is the purpose you wish the event to accomplish?
  • What set of actions do you need to complete in order to fulfill the purpose of the event?
  • What is the outcome that you can measure to determine whether or not your event was “successful” in fulfilling the purpose?

This “outcome” is what happens after the event has taken place.

Anger as an event.


Anger, as an emotion, has two purposes.

  • One purpose of anger is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with a perceived threat.  Typically, this threat will involve a specific goal of yours, a basic value such as respect or your view of right and wrong, your finances, your view of “territory” including your personal space, your home, your family and so forth.
  • The second purpose of anger is to warn others that you perceive them as a threat, that you are prepared to defend yourself and that you are ready to go to war to eliminate the threat.

Actions needed

When you get angry, you choose the amount of force needed to eliminate the perceived threat.

If the threat is relatively minor (yet important enough to be seen as a threat), you will act accordingly including engaging the other person by expressing your concerns and so forth.

If you perceive a major threat, you may go on “red alert”, fire up your “phasers”, and take your best shot. (Sorry for the Star Trek analogy.)

Measuring the outcome.

Once you have completed your “anger” (remember the event), you can look back on it and decide whether it was successful or not.

This is the step that most anger management approaches miss because they tend to focus on controlling the anger rather than mastering it as a strategic tool.

Your own anger.

Let’s go back to the events listed above and say that the specific event we are looking at is a trip to the store.

You go to the store, do your shopping, get home and realize that

1) you forgot to buy milk,

2) you spontaneously bought some items you really didn’t need (Think about all those goodies beckoning you on the shelves by the check-out counter.)or 3) you purchased some items you already had at home.

When you analyze your shopping event, you realize that you made some mistakes.  You did not make a comprehensive list and you were hungry when you went to the store. So, while you did get many of the items you needed (advantages), you had outcomes you didn’t want (disadvantages).

So, let’s look at your anger.

You get angry and, once you calm down, you look back on your anger event so that you can learn from it for next time.

Did you achieve your purpose in that the threat was eliminated without unnecessary collateral damages?

If you were ignored or criticized for your anger, or you ended up hurting someone physically or emotionally, or the threat was not nullified, then your anger was not completely successful and you will need to make some adjustments the next time you perceive a threat and get angry.

Some relevant questions.

  • Did you misperceive the nature of the threat?
  • Did you miscalulate the amount of force you needed to deal with the threat?
  • Was your message misunderstood, misinterpreted or ignored?

Someone else’s anger

I wrote  three part series of posts entitled “You are the target of someone else’s anger.”  which covered this topic in great detail.  You can get to these posts by clicking the February and March 2017 tabs in the archives.

The short version is that you can get a better understanding of this other individual by analyzing his anger (event).

Some relevant questions to gain understanding.

  • What is the nature of the threat that he perceived as he interacted with you?
  • Did he correctly interpret something you did?
  • Did he misunderstand what you were doing or saying?
  • Did he want me to give him some space (put me on notice)?

Some important questions to determine your response.

  • What is my goal in this interaction?
  • What is the best way to communicate with him in this situation?
  • If I was “wrong”, how can I effectively apologize?
  • If I did nothing wrong, how can I help him understand what I have done?
  • If I can’t directly deal with this person because of his “superior” authority, power, or potential to “harm” me, how can I safely accomplish my goals with “indirect” action?

I think you get the idea.

When you get angry, you set in motion a series of consequences, actions, and reactions that are directly related to your “anger”.  This is inevitable.

Your responsibility, after an anger, is to analyze whether you were effective or ineffective in resolving the situation which elicited your emotion and resulted in (not caused) your anger.

When you learn from your experience, you have the opportunity to change your behavior the next time you perceive a threat, your “anger” becomes more adaptive, and you avoid making the same mistakes.

You can become a better..

  • shopper
  • event planner
  • student
  • angerer

I welcome your comments.





What is the difference between guilt and shame?

The emotions of guilt and shame are often confused and I devoted an entire chapter to these emotions in my first Amazon Best Seller Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings.

While different from each other as we discuss below, both of these feelings are elicited when an action is taken that is viewed as

  • wrong,
  • violating some value, or
  • hurting another person.

The Emotions as Tools Model notes that all emotions are tools which help us understand how we perceive what is happening to us and which can, with practice, be mastered to help us interact with our surroundings in a more adaptive manner.

A quick overview

The message of guilt is that “I have done something wrong.”

The message of shame is that “There is something wrong with me.”

The bigger picture


As a tool, the emotion of guilt informs us that we have violated a standard of behavior.  This standard can be internal and based on our own values or an external standard of behavior.

In other words, you feel guilty when you realize you have done something wrong. This is an error of commission.

You might also experience guilt if you failed to take some action you reasonably could have been expected to do.  This is an error of omission.

Both of these two cases are included in the message of guilt.

This is what a court is saying when you are found “guilty”of an offense. Because you did something or you were negligent and failed to take action, you will be punished.

As a motivator, the emotion of guilt moves us in the direction of taking responsibility for and taking action to correct the “wrong” that we have done.

In this sense, guilt is an adaptive emotion which facilitates social interaction.

Let’s look at the phrase… “You are making me feel guilty.”.

You might say this if someone is talking to you about something you have done, or something you might not have done, that they might view as inappropriate.

While no one can make you feel anything, the point of what they are saying to you is that you need to take a look at what you did, take personal responsibility for it, do what you need to do to make it right, and learn from your actions so that you do not do it again.


While all emotions are adaptive in that we can learn from them, master them and develop psychologically, shame is an emotion that…

  • can lead to destructive outcomes,
  • is often unwittingly elicited, and
  • should probably be avoided or replaced by other feelings under most circumstances

Shame implies self-repudiation.  The message of shame is: “There is something wrong with me.”

We know from history that if an individual violated cultural norms, he (or she) might be publicly shamed, branded, or even excommunicated.  The message was that not only was the behavior unacceptable but the individual was tainted.

I will give you two examples of shame.

Many of the young women I worked with in the Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division had committed some heinous crimes.  Based on their crimes, they experienced intense shame.  They had concluded that, based on their crimes, they were damaged beyond repair.  For most of these young women, this was not true.  While horrific, their crimes could often be understood in terms of situational conditions which led to the crime.  They were still responsible for their actions and were punished for what they did. But, and this is critical, I had to help them realize that while their actions were “monstrous” they were not monsters.  I had to help them move past shame or they would not grow psychologically.

A second, and more common example that you might hear in a park, in a restaurant, or, possibly, your own home is a parent saying to their child in reacting to some undesirable behavior, “You are a bad boy (or girl). What is wrong with you?”

While I am not suggesting that if you have ever said this to your child, you done irreparable damage.  No, you have not.  I even have said it, in anger, once or twice.  Well, maybe it just slipped out?

What I am saying is that you should carefully think about what your child is hearing you say.  This is not always the same as the words you are using.

As a humorous example, think about the next time you see an acquaintance and ask, “How’s it going?” The intent of your words is usually to acknowledge the other person and maybe, or maybe not, start a conversation.  The typical expected response is, “Fine, and you?”

But, let’s suppose the response you get is, “I’m glad you asked.”  And they proceed to tell you everything that has happened to them. TMI.  They have heard you asking them to fill you in on all the intimate details of their life.  Same words on your part but the message they received is very different.

If you react to your child’s inappropriate behavior by focusing on the child, you may be communicating to them that they are somehow damaged.  The emotion they may begin to embrace is shame.

If your goal is to eliminate the unwanted behavior, then that needs to be the focus of your interaction with the child.

When someone has done something wrong, guilt is an appropriate and adaptive emotion which can, and does, motivate that person to correct the injustice they have committed.

Shame, on the other hand, is an emotion that is difficult to justify, often hard to overcome if it is deeply embraced, and insidious in its potential effects on the self-image of the person who feels damaged,or irreparably flawed.

I welcome your comments.




What to do when it feels like anger but isn’t.

In my most recent Amazon Best Seller Book, Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I discuss the Anger Mastery Cycle.

The Anger Mastery Cycle:

By the way, you can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle by scrolling up to the top of the page, looking over to the Right hand side of the page and clicking on the “Anger Mastery Cycle PDF”.

Once you have labelled the emotion you are experiencing as anger and moved into anger management which involves lowering your arousal and creating both physical and psychological distance between you and the perceived threat, you can then move into anger mastery.

You master your anger when you take a moment to assess and validate the nature of the threat.

There are only two options here:

  • You are expressing anger and there is a genuine threat.
  • You are expressing anger but there is no threat.

If the threat is genuine and your initial perception is accurate, you stay angry and you choose how you will respond to the threat.

If you are angry and there is no threat, there are three possibilities:

  1. You have misunderstood or misperceived the situation in which you find yourself
  2. You are using anger as a secondary emotion
  3. You are using anger as an instrumental emotion

If you have misunderstood or misperceived the situation, you can change your thoughts about what the interaction in which you find yourself. When you do this, the anger goes away because there is no threat.  This is what you want to do when your understanding of an interaction changes.

Secondary and Instrumental Anger

This is the real focus of this post.

Both secondary and instrumental anger look like valid anger but do not function as valid anger.  There are at least three reasons for this.

  1. Definition:

Valid anger is an emotion, the function of which is to alert you and prepare you to deal with a threat you believe you can eliminate.

Secondary anger is an emotion that is deployed to substitute for another emotion you would rather not feel

Instrumental anger is deployed as a blunt force instrument designed to manipulate another person into doing what you want them to do.

2. Threat:

With valid anger, there is an observable threat.

With  both secondary and instrumental anger, there may not be an observable threat to your goals, physical integrity, or basic values.

3. Function:

The function of valid anger is to prepare you for battle.

The function of secondary anger is to insulate you from experiencing uncomfortable emotions.

The function of instrumental anger is compensate for inadequate social skills and facilitate you getting your way.

Some explanation:

Anger, by evolutionary design, is a powerful emotion.  This is true in both how we experience anger and in how our anger is experienced by those with whom we interact.

This is the key to understanding secondary and instrumental anger.

Secondary, or substitute, anger.

For men, primarily, emotions such as hurt, anxiety, and guilt are experienced as uncomfortable. With these emotions,  a man can experience himself as vulnerable, exposed and even weak. Vulnerability and exposure, while part of the message of hurt, anxiety and guilt which can be utilized to master these emotions, typically elicits a desire to avoid these uncomfortable emotions. Men are not used to these feelings.

Anger, on the other hand, elicits a feeling of power.  When angry, men are prepared to take on the world and go to war.  In addition, men are socialized to experience and are usually comfortable with anger.

Consequently, a man is motivated to substitute anger for feelings of hurt, anxiety and guilt. Hence, anger as a  secondary emotion.

  • The upside of secondary anger is that a man can avoid uncomfortable feelings.
  • The downside of secondary anger is that it is dishonest and that it prevents its user from dealing with the issues at hand about which the adaptive emotions of hurt, anxiety and guilt are alerting him and attempting to prepare him to address.

Instrumental, dishonest, or manipulative, anger.

Anger, by evolutionary design, prepared us to deal with a survival based threat. We were set up for fight or flight.

Well, “fighting”, which involves confrontation, can take many forms.  We can go to war and physically engage the aggressor. Or, we can display our superior force and hope the aggressor backs off or disengages.

  • You see this in movies where an aggressor assesses the armies of an enemy and decides whether armed aggression will be successful or not.
  • You can see it when you look at videos of “aggressive facial expressions of  pacific islanders”.
  • And,  you can see it in news stories of people backing away from someone on the street who appears to be angry and aggressive.

Anger, with its accompanying facial and physical expressions, communicates the message that you are a formidable and powerful individual who should not be messed with. Our cave dwelling ancestors may have lived to fight another day if their display of anger “convinced” a marauding predator to leave and go somewhere else.

Based on this function of anger, men, more so than women but women as well, can use a display of anger to manipulate another person to change their behavior and conform in order to avoid the wrath of the “angry” person.

Please note that I am not talking about the display of valid anger.  If there is a valid threat, you experience and display anger, and the threat is neutralized, you have mastered your anger. This is honest, or valid, anger.

However, when you are not angry because there is no valid threat and you display anger because you know the other person will submit to you, then you are using anger to manipulate that person. You are using anger as an instrument to accomplish a specific end.  This is dishonest or manipulative anger.

Hence, it is instrumental anger.

Your next step

If your goal is to master your own anger or the anger of another person, the most important question you can ask, in the presence of anger, is this: “What is the perceived threat?”

If you are using anger as secondary or instrumental emotion, it will become clear to you that there either is no significant threat or that you are experiencing an uncomfortable or unfamiliar feeling informing you that an issue you are facing person needs to be addressed.

  • Hurt: Someone has done something that leaves you feeling interpersonally wounded or damaged and you need to address this with them.
  • Anxiety: There is a future possible threat that you need to evaluate and possibly prepare to confront.
  • Guilt: You have done something wrong that you need to take responsibility for and move to address and make right.
  • Manipulation: You are using anger to manipulate another person either because anger seems more efficient in the moment or you lack either the power or the interpersonal skills to interact with this person and facilitate their changing their behavior.

Once you identify your anger that isn’t anger, you can choose to approach the situation in which you find yourself in a different manner.

You might have to acquire some new skill sets to do this.  But, it can be done.

If the secondary or instrumental anger is being displayed by someone elce, questioning the nature of the threat should begin the process of understanding and mastering their anger for your and their benefit.  Just be aware that a man covering up feelings of vulnerability with secondary may not be willing to give up his cover.

I welcome your comments.



A comprehensive video overview of emotions and emotions theories

I am including this video from YouTube’s Crash Course on Psychology for any of you who might want more indepth information on what emotions are and the psychological theories which attempt to explain them.

Full disclosure:  This is a 10 minute and 50 second video. While the information is quite good, it is somewhat long.  So, if you aren’t really interested in diving this deep into emotions and emotions theory, skip this post and we’ll see you next week.

How Healthy Is It to Save Anger?

This is an interesting question that was asked on The question presupposes that anger can be “saved”.

For this to occur, anger would have to be a source of energy like electricity that could be stored or it might be an emotional placeholder that could be held in stasis and returned to at a later date much like a document that is “saved” until it is retrieved to be worked on or utilized in some fashion.

The quick answer is that you can’t save anger and chronic anger is unhealthy.

What actually is anger?

  • Anger is a primary emotion, the function of which is to alert us to and prepare us to deal with a threat we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough force at it.
  • Anger, as an emotion, is a primitive threat detector. This is how anger evolved, how it worked when we lived in caves, and how it continues to operate today.
  • Anger prepares us to go to battle. In “cave days”, all threats were survival based (would kill us) so being revved up for war was necessary, appropriate, and life saving.
  • Today, our threats tend to be psychological so, while it may initially be useful to prepare for battle, studies show that it is counterproductive and even unhealthy to stay in a constant state of anger.
  • Anger is a motivator and, within a specific context, provides us with the energy necessary to confront and overpower a threat.

How does Anger happen and what are its consequences?

The emotion of anger follows a specific cycle.

In my most recent Amazon best selling book Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I discuss the Anger Mastery Cycle which starts with the unconscious scanning of your surroundings for threat, going into fight or flight when a threat is perceived, managing your anger by reducing your arousal and creating both a physical and psychological space between you and the “threat” and then mastering your anger by assessing the nature and validity of the “threat” and choosing an effective response.

By the way, you can download a copy of the anger mastery cycle and the first two chapters of my book by scrolling up to the Welcome post.

Secondly, anger prepares your body for war.

Chemicals are injected into your body which heighten your awareness, reduce your unimportant bodily functions such as digestion, and increase the ability of your blood to clot.  If you were facing a saber toothed tiger who wanted to eat you, you would want to be able to focus your attention on the beast, be protected from blood loss, be able to run away from the danger and so forth.  You wouldn’t care about digesting your lunch if you were about to become his lunch. These chemicals also give you the energy to fight off the threat.

It is important to note that many studies have noted that these physical changes when associated with chronic anger can have severe negative impacts on your body. In other words, chronic anger can make you sick.

Thirdly, you cannot “save” anger.

The emotion of anger is situation specific and is elicited when you perceive a threat. There is no organ in the body which stores anger.

Anger is elicited when you subconsciously perceive a threat or you “recreate” that threat in your mind when you dwell on a previous event. While it may seem like you have “saved” your anger, in fact, you generate “new” anger every time you revisit the threat. And, if you generate new anger often enough, it is experienced as chronic.

So, what can you do?

Well, if you perceive a valid threat, you can use the energy of your immediate anger to develop and execute a plan to deal with the threat. This is how you master and deploy your anger as a strategic tool. This assumes that you are in a position to directly deal with the threat.

Sometimes, however, as I discovered when I asked many professional women about anger, it is not always possible to directly deal with a threat. This is because there may be unwanted consequences to the direct expression of appropriate anger or you do not have the status to directly deal with the threat. If this is the case, you use the energy of your anger to plan an indirect approach to the threat. You are strategically using your anger but you are not directly expressing it. This is not the same as suppressing your anger which would involve invalidating it and pushing it down inside of you. Suppressing your anger can have both unwanted physical and psychological consequences.

If you experience chronic anger, I suggest you take some time to really look at the unresolved threat you keep reliving and develop a plan to either deal with it or accept that there is nothing you can do about it, forgive the person who hurt you, and get on with your life. Forgiving, by the way, is not absolving this person of responsibility for their actions. Rather, forgiving another person only means that you psychologically remove yourself from, or let go of, that person rather than carry them around with you in your head every where you go.

I worked with young women, all of whom had been physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused. Forgiving was the only way they could grow psychologically and move on. Again, this is not absolving anyone of responsibility for their actions. Nor, is it forgetting any healthy lessons that one needs to remember from past experiences. Nor, is it putting something in the past and not taking any action in the present to prevent any future actions from taking place. Forgiveness only means that you are no longer negatively impacting yourself regarding a situation you can’t change. If you go to March 2017, in the archives above, you can access a post on forgiveness.

When you forgive another individual, you let go of your anger as there is no immediate threat that you can go to war with and eliminate.  However, as you want to remain alert to any future threat, you could become committed and determined. You may choose to experience the emotion of commitment in that you are determined to never submit yourself to the kinds of threats you experienced in the past.  Determination will motivate you just as much as anger will and it is a more effective and sustainable emotion.

In summary, anger, as an emotion, is situation specific and, while anger energizes and motivates you to fight off a threat, the emotion doesn’t act as a “place holder” and the energy that is generated in your body can’t be saved.

I welcome your comments.

Facts about emotions you didn’t know. Part 4: You create your emotions (and this has implications).

What was your first reaction to the title of this post?

Was it…

“What does it mean that I create my emotions?” This expresses a lack of knowledge.


“My emotions just happen to me. I don’t create them.” While partially correct, this reflects a common myth about emotions.

My goasl with this post are to help you understand both how you create emotions and the responsibilities that you have because you create your emotions and to clear up some common myths.

What does “to create” mean?

I have written two books and, while working with wood is not my best skill, I built shelves from scratch in my garage because I needed more storage space.

I can say that I created the books and the shelves.

Here are two “facts” about the books and the shelves…

  1. I envisioned, designed, and brought into existence the books and the shelf.
  2. As the creator, I am totally responsible for the content of the books and the physical integrity and appearance of the shelves.

While the process of creating emotions is different from books or shelves, the responsibility you have for the emotions you create is the same for any thing you create.

How do you “create” an emotion?

In order to answer this question, you have to understand how the emotional process works.

Here is an overview.

You are constantly scanning your surroundings for threat.  When you perceive a threat, your Amygdala unconsciously prepares you to REACT to the threat.  Almost simultaneously, the thinking part of your brain is alerted which gives you the opportunity to evaluate and RESPOND  to the the threat.  Threats are not always what they initially appear to be. The choices you make determine the emotion you end up expressing.

There are 6 (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise) primary emotions. All of these primary emotions with the exception of glad and surprise function as primitive threat detectors and all have been around since we, as a species, lived in caves or on the Savannah.  The purpose of these threat detectors was, and is, to keep us alive so that we could procreate and insure survival of the species.  While our survival is no longer an issue, these primitive mechanisms continue to function today as they did eons ago.

Incidentally, you are hardwired to constantly scan your surroundings for and react to any threat.

When you perceive a threat, an unconscious message is rapidly sent to the Amygdala in your brain which prepares your body for:

  • battle (so you can confront and overpower the marauders who want to kill you),
  • running away (so that you can escape from your enemies and live another day), or
  • staying in place (freezing so that the saber toothed tiger can’t see you and will move on).

I call this the “fast track” reaction. It is also called the fight or flight response.

You do not control fight or flight. Nor, should you, if your life depends on it.

This unconscious reaction is linked to your very quick (and not always accurate) initial perception of the threat.

You haven’t started to create, yet.

At the same time that your body is reacting to the fast track message from your sense organs, a slower track message goes to the thinking part of your brain, the Cerebral Cortex.

Now,  you start creating.

As soon as you become aware of your emotional reaction, you can choose to assess the nature of the threat and the appropriateness of the emotion.

In other words,

  • how real is the threat,
  • to what extent does your initial emotional reaction fit the situation, and
  • to what extent does the action you were initially motivated to take match the situation in which you find yourself?

If you do nothing, go with your initial emotional reaction and do something you later regret, you, in effect, have chosen to let the initial reactive emotional process proceed.  This is now your emotional response and you are now responsible because you have “created” (by choice) the emotion on which you are acting by doing nothing to change it.

If you take the opportunity to assess your situation and either strengthen the initial emotion (if the threat is valid) or change it (if there is no threat), you are “creating” an emotion and acting on it.

The implication here is that you are always personally responsible for any actions (responses) you take which follow from the emotions you are experiencing. This is true because you are “creating” that emotion by the choices you make after the initial emotional reaction.

It is this personal responsibility that gets denied when someone acts out on their anger and says, “If I had not been angry, I wouldn’t have (x)”or “If I had not been so anxious or nervous, I wouldn’t have (y)”.  Yes, your initial emotional reaction set you up for the action you took and you probably would not have done x if you had not been angry or anxious. This, however, is not the issue.

This is the same as saying that because the forward momentum of your car was taking you directly into the pedestrian in the cross walk ahead of you, the law of physics are responsible for the accident not you. If a child runs into the street in front of you, physics may be responsible.  If you could have assessed your situation and chosen to stop or diverted the car in a different direction, it’s on you.

Not to choose is to choose.

Regarding your emotions, the truth is that you did not assess your situation and the appropriateness of the action you were initially moved to make.  Had you done this, the action you eventually took most likely would have been different.

The point here is that, while you are not responsible for the initial emotional reaction to which your perception is leading you, the slower track message to your cerebral cortex empowers you to  make a decision about how you want to proceed.  This is the point at which you “create” the emotion that elicits your behavior and puts the responsibility for your actions on you.

Emotional mastery suggests that, as soon as you become aware that an emotional reaction is starting in your body, you need to create some physical and psychological distance between you and the perceived threat by taking a step back and a deep breath.  In doing this, you give yourself the time and space to assess what is going on and choose how you want to respond to the situation.

You are responsible for any actions you take and the consequences of those action which occur after the initial emotional reaction.

Accepting this responsibility will give you the motivation you need to learn how to master your emotions by:

  • learning to read your body,
  • knowing the message of each emotion,
  • creating physical and psychological space,
  • assessing the nature of the the threat and
  • choosing an effective response.

All of these specifics are covered in earlier posts and in my two Amazon best selling books:

Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

You can download the first two chapters for free without any opt-in by scrolling up to the Welcome  post.

Ignorance is no longer (and probably never was) a justification.

I welcome your comments.



Facts about emotions you probably didn’t know. Part 3: Functions of emotions 6 through 10.

Just to recap, in my last post, I discussed 5 functions of emotions.  What I have called functions are labelled as “aspects”, “values” or “purposes” of emotions by authors Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D. in their book  The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion   from which this list is taken.

The comments on each function are a combination of the two authors and my own take on the specific function being discussed.

6. The Motivational Function: Emotions are a barometer of needs unmet or goals unfulfilled.

This is the very essence of what emotions are.  They are motivators and, by evolutionary “design” prepare us for action and “propel us toward acceptance or rejection of whatever external reality (we) (are) encountering” (The authors).

7. The Ethical function: Emotions facilitate socially acceptable behavior and serve as a powerful reminder when one fails to live up to standards whether held internally or externally.

Emotions such as guilt, shame, pride, and embarrassment appear in our children around the ages of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2.  They appear once the child had the cognitive ability including memory capacity to conceive of himself as a separate being in time and space.  These emotions are called self-conscious emotions.

These emotions alert us to our views of ourselves and our behavior often in the context of our goals (pride), and how we measure up to internal and external standards (guilt, shame, embarrassment).

The message of embarrassment is that we have violated some standard.  The message of guilt is that we have done something wrong which we regret.  The message of shame is that there is something wrong with us as a person.

The ethical function of self-conscious emotions is to alert us to when we have crossed some internal or external line of appropriate behavior and to motivate us to take action to  correct the transgression.

8. The Developmental Function: Emotions are essential to personal development and self-actualization.

The authors note that emotions alert us that we are in the middle of a difficult situation so that we can learn from it much like a fever alerts us that we are fighting off an infection.

9. The Evolutionary Aspect: The emotional feedback loop, which involves the recognition of what we and our fellow individuals are feeling, is the driver of our species’ progress.

As I have noted in my books and my posts, emotions evolved to help us survive as a species.

The authors note that the emotional interaction between human beings      “(drives) our species’ rapid intellectual and cultural development”.

10. The Qualitative Function: In tandem with thinking, emotions determine the quality, value, and, ultimately, the meaning human beings place on their lives.

I teach an Introductory Philosophy Class and one of the topics I cover is what makes each individual unique.  One of the examples I discuss is a man who was very interactive, emotionally expressive and involved with his family and his surroundings.  Following a brain tumor, he was unable to experience emotions.  He would look at a picture of a man emaciated by hunger and note that he was looking at a “very skinny man”. Intellectually, he responded to the picture but he was devoid of emotion.

Emotions add color to our lives. Emotions allow us to experience  an interaction in addition to understanding it.  The technical term for these experiences is qualia.   A physical example of qualia is the difference between knowing about and seeing a red apple and experiencing the essence of a bright red apple.

Your emotions allow to experience many different aspects of an interaction. You go to a lecture. While I can video the lecture and record the content, what you take away from the lecture will be very different if you are bored than if you are excited.  This difference is entirely based on the emotions you experience.  This is qualia.

The authors quote Psychiatrist Elio Frattaroli who states, “The simple act of paying attention to your inner world, to the finely tuned layers and qualities of inner experiencing… crystallizes the core meanings of your life.” (citations noted in the book).

The qualia in your emotions creates your experience.

I welcome your comments.