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.