What should a teenager know about emotions before entering adulthood?

There are many important lessons a teenager should learn before entering into adulthood including issues related to being responsible and accountable,  time and money management, how to interact with adults in different situations including job interviews, and so forth.  

My comments below are only directed to knowing about emotions, are not comprehensive, and are only intended to be a general overview.

The lesson: Know what your emotions are and how to use them as tools.

  • Emotions are tools, just like your cell phone, that you can learn to effectively use to your advantage. They may hurt like hell when you experience them but they are just tools.
  • Just like a computer game in which you must find a “secret” doorway to the next level, the “secret” to each emotion is the message it tells you about how you are interpreting the situation in which you find yourself. When you understand the message, you can move to the next level and master the emotion by choosing how you want to respond to the situation.
  • Know that you create all of your feelings by the thoughts you have about the situation you are in.
  • Others do not make you mad, anxious, guilty, shy, etc.
  • You are responsible for what you feel and, equally as important, for the actions you take  based on your emotions.
  • There are no negative emotions.  Some emotions hurt when you experience them but all emotions can be useful in helping you interact better with your environment.

 The message of the two most common emotions that you might have difficulty with and how to use them as tools are as follows:

Anger: The secret message of your anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if I throw enough power at it. Anger prepares you for battle.

Remind yourself that just because you perceive a threat, it doesn’t mean there is a threat.  You have to think about what is going on and “analyze” the nature of the threat.

Take a deep breath and DECIDE if the threat is sufficiently important (to life, values, critical goals)  for you to take EFFECTIVE (Doing something that resolves the issue without hurting yourself or someone else.) action to eliminate the threat.

If action is needed, CHOOSE an appropriate response.

The meaning of “appropriate” is that you should choose an action that will resolve the “threat” you face without doing unnecessary harm to you or the other person.   In other words, starting a conversation, and expressing your concerns, taking assertive action or walking away are different from starting a fight. You can always defend yourself physically if you have no other choice.

Beating up your girlfriend or cussing out your boss, parent or teacher is not acceptable.

Understand that, if you are male, anger may be substituted for other feelings because anger is energizing and empowering.  If you are female, you may be criticized for expressing anger. You may choose a different way to express but do not eliminate or suppress the feeling.

Anxiety: Anxiety is a future based emotion.  The secret message of anxiety is that you believe a threat MAY exist and that it MAY do you harm.

Evaluate the threat and the possible risk.

If your anxiety is telling you that you need to take action (If I don’t study, I will fail the exam.),  use the energy of the anxiety to motivate you to take effective action.

If you decide that you can survive the threat (I may not get the job if I interview but I will be okay.)  or  (Susie may reject me if I ask her out and it will really hurt but I will be okay.), take the action in spite of the feeling, deal with the outcome, and learn a lesson about how you can improve next time.

If you decide that there is no real threat and that you have misunderstood what is going on, remind yourself to “let it go” and move on.

Always remember that you are not alone and seek an adult you feel you can trust to ask for some help.

Learning how to master your emotions is the same as learning anything else like riding a bike, playing a sport, or getting to the highest level in your computer game.  It may be hard at first but it gets easier the more you do it.

I welcome your comments.

The Anger Cycle-“CliffsNotes” style

When I attended UC Berkeley, way back in the day, if you wanted a quick overview of a book or a specific topic, you could buy the CliffsNotes version.  This would give you all the important information about the topic and would save you a bunch of time.  If you wanted or needed more indepth knowledge, you could always go to the original source material.

In my most recent Amazon best seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I discuss the Anger Mastery Cycle in detail.  You can get a PDF of the Cycle by scrolling up to the Welcome Post and downloading it.

That being said, for any reader who would like it, here is the CliffsNotes version of the Anger Cycle.

Anger starts as a perception which gives rise to a feeling which elicits a reaction which is reinforced by an explanation which becomes a response.

Anger: This is the label we put on the emotion we experience.

Perception: By evolutionary design, we subconsciously scan our surroundings for any threat.  In caveman times, this was a specific survival mechanism as all threats would kill us.  Today, the scanning is the same but the nature of the threat has changed from a survival threat to a psychological threat.

Feeling:  This refers to the “sensations” you experience.  These sensations are matched to the threat you perceive and involve your body and your thoughts. Anger energizes you and prepares you for battle.

Reaction: This is the initial action you want to take to eliminate the perceived threat. The reaction is behavioral and not necessarily well thought out.

If the threat is not valid, your reaction will be seen as excessive.

Explanation:  This is the justification you give yourself about your feeling and your behavior which reinforces both the perception of threat and the actions you want to take to eliminate that threat.

When you master your anger, you take a step back from the threat and analyze what is really going on and adjust your explanation accordingly.

Response:  This is action you finally choose to take.

If you have evaluated the nature of the threat, your response will be valid for the situation and will include only the amount of force needed to eliminate the threat.  If there is no valid threat, there will be no aggressive force.

Again, as a reminder, you can download a PDF of the complete anger mastery cycle by scrolling up to the Welcome post.  You can also download the first two chapters of both of my Amazon bestselling books in the same post.

I welcome your comments.

The Golden, Platinum and Bronze Rules: Working with Others and Dealing with Yourself.

Working with others:

All of us are familiar with the Golden Rule which says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

This is an interpersonal rule from an intrapersonal perspective.

The problem with the Golden Rule is that it starts with you as the focus.  As long as everyone is the same as you, this Rule works and gives you very good guidance.

However, as  each of us is unique as an individual, the Platinum Rule teaches us to “Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.”  Steven Covey offers the same advice in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  where he says, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  The point here is that, in effectively dealing with others, we need to understand their point of view and gauge our interactions accordingly.

This is purely an interpersonal perspective.

While the Golden Rule might work when you are dealing with people who may be just like you, deploying the Patinum Rule will probably be more effective and work in more diverse settings.

Dealing with yourself..


Let me ask you a question I asked my students in my Personal Growth Class..

If other people said to you the same things you say to yourself about you, how long would you tolerate it?

When I ask my students this question, the answer is always “Not very long.” And yet, we tolerate it when it comes from ourselves.

Most of us tend to be very hard on ourselves when we make mistakes or when our lives are not going the way we would like them to go.  In other words, we tend to be very unforgiving when we are criticizing ourselves, trying to correct our own behavior, or just rehashing all the errors we have made in our lives.

I would like to propose a Bronze Rule to help you deal with your own issues.

The Bronze Rule says “Do unto you as you do unto others.”

The point here is that, in general, we all tend to be our worst critics. This wouldn’t be so bad, by itself, except that when you tell yourself something, you tend to believe it without question.  You do not apply the same filters to your own self-talk that you do to the comments others make about you.

When an associate, your kids, or a friend make a mistake, you probably attempt to understand them, give them the “benefit of the doubt”, offer some reassuring comment, or attempt to be supportive in some way.  I am not saying that you avoid holding them accountable.  I am only saying the the way you deliver your message may be couched in “warm fuzzies” rather than prickly thorns.

When your self-talk is directed at you, however, it is often “no holds barred”.

So, the Bronze Rule reminds you to implement some self-compassion when you are addressing your own issues.

When you are being hyper self-critical, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself how valid the criticism is, are you being overly harsh, is there another way to look at your situation, and so forth.

I am not saying that you should let yourself off the hook, so to speak, or that you should be too easy on yourself.  I am only saying that you should give yourself the same consideration and compassion you give others when they make a mistake or mess up.

I welcome your comments.

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.


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.