My wide ranging and informative interview on anger.

This is a link to a podcast I did with Linda Wattley on The Truth Will Set You Free channel.

It is entertaining, informative and covers a lot of topics involving anger.

I hope you will click on over there, enjoy the 50 minute interview and leave a comment.

TLBTV: The Truth Will Set You Free – Let’s Talk About Anger America!

What’s the best advice for a young person suffering with “Anger problems”?

This is a question that was posted on a LinkedIn forum.  I believe the answer involves two issues.

The first issue involves the phrase “suffering with anger problems”. The second issue involves explaining emotions to kids. The two issues are related.

Let’s talk about the idea that your kid “suffers” from an  “anger problem”.

To approach your child and his (or her) behavior from this point of view will not, over time, be productive.  And, it is not accurate.

Your child may “suffer” from a cold, a  broken bone, or a rash all of which are physical in nature and each of which will eventually heal and go away.

Anger is an emotion which reflects how your child views his world and prepares him to deal with that world.

Anger is a primitive threat detector. Your child’s anger reflects his perception that a threat exists.  That threat could be to his goals, his expectations, or his immediate needs.  The behavior you see is his attempt to deal with the perceived threat.

Anger is a psychological phenomenon which is experienced physically.  Anger is never the “problem”.  It will not go away over time and there is nothing that needs to be “healed”. Behavior that is elicited in the service of anger may be problematic. The way to deal with anger is to understand the underlying perceived threat and address that.

It is important to note that your “advice” will vary with the age of the child.

I view all emotions, including anger, as tools. This is both a description of an emotion and a metaphor.

Anger as a metaphor lets you explain what emotions (including anger) are.

Using “emotions as tools” as a metaphor enables you to explain the concept of an emotion to both kids and adults. As a metaphor, your kid can understand that his anger, the TV remote, his phone/computer, or mom’s sewing machine are just tools that have a specific function. You can choose a “tool” that your child will relate to given the age of the child.

Anyone can understand that you have to learn how to use the “tool” in order to get the most out of it. This is called a learning curve.

From this perspective, you own  a phone, you do not have a phone problem. You experience anger, you do not have an anger problem.  What you do have, in both cases, is a knowledge or training issue.

Anger as a description lets you teach your kid about anger.

Anger, as a tool (description) is a primitive threat detector. When you get angry, your anger tells you that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. The anger cycle describes how mastering anger “works”.

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

When angry, your kid is perceiving a “threat” to his goals, his needs, his values, his sense of “fairness” or how he thinks things “should” be.

From this perspective, you can talk to him (or her) about the perceived threat (This validates him.), whether or not there actually is a threat (This is the beginning of anger mastery), and the best action to take in the situation (This empowers him.).

You can also talk about the consequences he currently experiences when he gets angry. These are the reasons you say he has an anger “problem”.

The issue here is not necessarily whether those who are labeling him are right or wrong. In fact, they could be either one.  The issue is that your teen is getting in trouble and needs to learn how to deal with that situation.

It is important to note that everyone, including your kid

To view anger as a tool validates (does not necessarily agree with) the anger and shifts the focus to your child, consequences, actions, and making a plan. This is what you want.

To view anger as a “problem” invalidates an important feeling and disempowers your child.

So, what do you say to a teenager who is being told he (or she) has an “anger problem”?

First, you need to ask your teen if he thinks he has an anger problem and what he thinks might be going on that someone else thinks he has an anger problem.

This should get you some valuable insight into how much your child knows about himself, to what degree can he empathize with others, and to what extent he tends to “blame” others for difficulties he is experiencing.

The information you are looking for is the “threat” your teen perceives which is eliciting the anger.

You can then validate his perception with or without corroborating the validity of the threat and attempt to move him toward an adaptive resolution of the interaction.

If his perception of the threat is accurate…

“I can see what you mean. What might we do to resolve this situation?”

If his perception is inaccurate…

“I understand how you might see the situation as you do.  Is there another way to look at it? What do you think it might take to resolve this situation?”

When you validate your child’s anger, you establish that you and he are on the same “team”, the goal of which is to understand the anger and help resolve the perceived threat. Again, remember that you are not agreeing with the anger (or that there is an actual threat). You are only validating that he is angry and that he perceives a threat.

You can then begin to discuss the nature of the threat and how you can help him (or her) resolve it.

I welcome your comments.

Feeling Lonely vs Feeling Alone

The words “lonely” and “alone” sound like they are the same but they are different.

Being “alone” refers to your physical status relevant to other people

Feeling “lonely” refers to your psychological status relative to others or to yourself.

You are “alone” when there are no other people around you.

You are “lonely” when you feel disconnected, unsupported, or separated, from the world around you. You are present, psychologically, in the moment but your experience is that something (or someone) is missing.

Please note that I am not talking about  being “dissociated” from the world.  Dissociation is a clinical symptom which implies that you have lost contact with the real world.  You may be in the world physically but you are not there psychologically.

You may have noticed that there are times when you just want to be left alone.  You need the solitude to recharge your psychological batteries, you need time to think about or process something that has happened to you, or you just want to enjoy some quiet solitude. For example, you might want to be left alone with your thoughts to contemplate a beautiful sunset or the quiet solitude of a forest.

You aren’t necessarily being antisocial although those around you may interpret what you are doing as antisocial.  You may, however, be choosing to be anti-social.

To be “antisocial” is to reject the idea that interacting with others is either necessary or important. Unless it is expedient, you have no desire to spend time with, and you choose to avoid being around, other people.

To be “anti-social” is to say that you want to be away from others for the moment.  You are choosing to be with yourself and not with others.

In other words, you want to be alone, for now.

When you are “alone”, you are very comfortable with your own company.  You are okay with being you in your own skin.

Being lonely is a different state of being.

You can be lonely in a crowd of people.

There are two different elements to being lonely.

  1. You can be lonely if you are in a situation in which you do not feel a connection to the people around you.  You miss being around someone you feel close to or supported by.  You are lacking a specific connection and feel isolated or lonely.
  2.  You may feel lonely when you are not comfortable with yourself, your inner thoughts or your sense of who you are psychologically. In this case, being lonely can be thought of as being without yourself. If this is the case, you will find that you must constantly be around someone in order to feel that every thing is okay.

If description #1 applies to you, my suggestion is to accept (validate) your feeling but do not give in to it and get through the situation in which you find yourself.  When you do this, you will notice that the feeling becomes less important and relevant.  This is what you want.  Once you have left environment in which you were feeling lonely, you can move on if the feeling subsides or reconnect with that special someone.

If description#2 applies to you, then you might want to get some professional help in order to explore your self-image, your self-worth, and your self-esteem.  The danger of #2 is that you can become too dependent on others or be seen as too needy.  Should this happen, others might push you away.

I welcome your comments.

The Key to Understanding Anyone Better..Hint: It is not empathy, although that would help. Part 2

This is Part 2 of my blog on Understanding another person.  If you have not read last week’s blog entry, please take a moment and scroll down to read my earlier comments.

Assumption #1: Here, the focus is on you.  When you assess, or judge, another’s behavior as right/wrong or good/bad, you are acting “as if” you already know all there is to know about the person and their behavior. Suspending judgment enables you to be more objective in your interactions with the other person.

While you may disagree with them and even have an opinion about their behavior, for the moment, it is best if you suspend judgement. At a later point, any disagreement you might have can become a focus of discussion.

Assumption #2 and #3 focus on the other person.

Assumption #2:  To assume a person’s behavior is “valid” only means that you are saying that they believe what they are doing is right for the situation in which they find themselves.

You are not saying their behavior is appropriate, effective, or even beneficial. You also are not saying that you agree with the behavior.

This is a critical key to gaining an understanding of another person.

Assumption #3: The basis for this assumption is the idea that each of us wants to engage in a behavior which will help us achieve whatever outcome we want in our present situation.  To the extent that this is true (as it most often is), we do what we have to further our own agenda.

There is no judgement here about the “agenda”.  The other person may be acting in their own self-interest or altruistically.  The only relevance here is that it is their agenda and they are pursuing it.

To do less than the “best” we can won’t help us achieve our agenda.

I am not saying that their behavior is the “best” possible.  In many cases, what they are doing clearly (initially to you and later to them) is not the best possible.  It is only their best in the moment given their model of the world.

This assumption also leads to the possibility that they might choose to change their behavior if they acquire new knowledge, new skill sets, or a  different model of the the world.

Based on these three assumptions, your task of understanding the other person can now focus on gaining information about, insight into, and a better understanding of their model of the world and their skill sets for dealing with those they come in contact with.

When you focus primarily on the behavior, which is what most of us do, you most likely will get bogged down in judgements (on your part) and rationalizations (on their part) and will find that your discussion does not lead to any useful understanding of what is going on.

Asking “why” is often ineffective.

So, another person does something we disagree with and we ask “Why did you do that?”

In an earlier post (9/28/16) entitled: “What” is a better, and more accurate, word to use than “Why”. Here is why. I discussed the reason you want to use “What” rather than “Why” whenever you are questioning your own actions or the actions of another person.

I noted:

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

  • What was the basis for your decision to (do what you did)?
  • What did you hope to accomplish (by doing what you did)?
  • What other alternatives did you consider (before you did what you did)?
  • What motivated you (to do what you did)?”
  • In what way might your opinion of me lead you to believe you needed to approach me in the way you did?

When you ask “why”, what you will likely get is an excuse.

While I did not really delineate it my earlier post, the rationale for asking “What” rather than “Why” involves gaining an understanding of the other person’s model of the world.

When you understand how they view their world, their relationship with you, their goals and their view of their ability to accomplish their goals, their view of their strengths and weaknesses and so forth, the behavior which originally prompted your concerns now becomes self-evident.

My California Youth Authority Example

When I worked in the California Youth Authority, many of my clients were young black women who had committed serious crimes including murder. I am a white male, raised in a middle class home, with no criminal past.

We were separated by age, gender, race, a criminal past, a history of physical and sexual abuse, and a variety of cultural issues.

This being said, it was my job as their therapist (There were no black female therapists at the time.) was to help them gain a better understanding of themselves, their self-image, their values and so forth.

I approached these young women by admitting that I could not “know” what they felt (empathy) or what they had experienced. I explained that they were an expert about themselves and I was an expert on dealing with (psychological) issues.  I needed them to help me help them. So, if they helped me understand how they viewed their world (Their model of the world, including me.), I could help them gain a better understanding of themselves and an improved ability to get out of “jail” and stay out.

While their crimes were always unacceptable and they were held accountable for what they did, the specific behavior which got them incarcerated could only be approached once it was clear to them that I had an understanding of what they were experiencing.

Understanding opened up the door to further exploration of important issues.

I was not always successful.  But, sometimes, I was.

This is an example of pursuing understanding not empathy.

I hope the above was helpful.

If you found this information useful, please send a link to anyone you know who might  benefit from it.

And, finally,  please leave a comment.