4 part series on anger. Part 1: Is it okay to be angry?

P1 Is it okay to be angry?

This is an interesting question that was addressed to me on Quora.

The question is important because it reflects a common myth that “anger” is an emotion that is best either ignored or suppressed.

Note: For future reference, this is a link to a post I did on the three primary anger myths.

The belief that anger should be avoided stems from the (correct) observation that inappropriate behavior is often associated with the emotion of anger.  In other words, it is true that when people get angry, they are more prone to do dumb things. It is not true that anger is the cause of the dumb behavior.

As a primary emotion, the nature of anger is to prepare you for war.  When “war” actually is the optimum response, anger is the “optimum” emotion.

The “inappropriate” behavior we observe as a reaction to anger is often “inappropriate” because it does not fit the situation that actually exists and which elicits both one’s anger and reactive behavior.

To put it another way, the behavior that anger elicits is “designed” to fight off a “life-altering” threat. This is why “war”, as a response to a “life-altering” threat would be appropriate.  However, if this level of threat is absent, “war” becomes both inappropriate and overkill. This mismatch is what you observe when a celebrity assaults his significant other and, later, expresses his regret for and inability to understand what he has done.

The problem lies in both the initial assessment of the issue at hand (one’s perception of the situation) and the nature of the behavioral solution  to rectify that issue.

Anger gets the blame for a misguided and faulty analysis of the situation.

Here is the critical point: anger is just a tool.

If you hit your thumb with a hammer, the pain you feel is attributable to your inadequate handling of the tool not the tool itself.

Anger is, indeed, a human emotion and, therefore, should be strategically deployed so as to deal with and resolve the situation as it actually exits.

So, the quick answer to the question posed above is: “Yes, with certain guidelines, it is okay to get angry.”

With this answer as a background context, let’s look at different types of anger.

Most people believe that anger is a unitary concept in that you either are angry (appropriately or inappropriately) or you are not. While this is one “face” of anger as I will discuss in the next post, it is  misunderstanding of what Ange is and is incorrect.

In fact, there are different manifestations of anger.

The first, and most common, manifestation of anger, is that anger is a primary emotion that humans have had since we began to evolve.

There are 6 primaryemotions 4 of which are primitive threat-detectors.

The purpose of these emotions is to alert us to a threat and prepare us to deal with that threat.  The four threat-detectors are mad (anger), sad, fear and disgust.  The other 2 primary emotions are glad (happy) and surprise.  The purpose of glad is to engage us in an activity and motivate us to pursue that activity.

Anger is seen in almost all human cultures and in many sub-human species.  It appears in humans early after birth.

The nature of anger is to alert us to a threat that we believe we can overpower if we throw enough force at it.  (Note: If it was a threat that we could not defeat, we would experience fear.)  This is why anger energizes us to take action.  The amygdala in the brain is activated, our vision narrows and focuses,  and the body is put on red alert. We are primed to REACT.  When facing a true threat, this is as we would want it to be: automatic, outside of our awareness, and fast. This is also the fast track emotional pathway which goes from our sense organs directly to the amygdala and out to the body.

When we use our anger as a tool, we tap into the slower emotional pathway which goes from the sense organs to the cerebral cortex (our thinking center) in the brain.

You strategically deploy this tool when you validate the anger, assess the nature of the threat (does it really call for action or can I walk away, make an assertive response, or do nothing), and choose how you want to RESPOND to the situation.

While this is the most common manifestation, there are at least two others.

The second manifestation of anger involves using anger as a secondary emotion.

Some people, primarily men but women also, substitute anger for other feelings such as guilt, shame, hurt, or anxiety.  Anger is an energizing emotion which  is experienced as pleasurable and (for men, at least) as familiar  while these other feelings are experienced as unpleasant and unfamiliar.  So, we show anger rather than feel vulnerable and exposed with these other feelings.

When anger is a secondary emotion, it is advisable to not express it, learn to recognize it, and, if necessary, get some help learning to express these other feelings.

Lastly, anger can be used instrumentally to achieve a specific end.  When used this way, the individual gets angry in order to manipulate or intimidate others.  When anger is used to manipulate others, it is a dishonest anger and others should, if they can, work to nullify this expression of anger, redirect the individual and encourage them to find other ways to get their needs met.

Part 1 of this four part series provided a general overview of anger.

Here is what I will cover in the next 3 posts:

P2 –The different faces of anger

P3– You are Not Your Anger

P4– 4 Secrets for Unlocking Your Anger and Deploying It Strategically

If you find my blog posts interesting or useful, please send a link or a recommendation to click over to my blog to anyone you know who might be able to benefit from the information I provide.

Thanks, in advance.

See you in the next post.

You Verses Your Anxiety: 3 Secrets and 4 Steps to turn Your Inner “doom sayer” into an inner “motivator”. Part 3: The 4 steps.

In part 1 of this three part series, I introduced you to the emotion of anxiety.

In part 2, I addressed the 3 secrets to mastering your anxiety as a strategic tool.

In this post, I will discuss the 4 steps to mastering your anxiety.

Mastering (getting the most out of) your anxiety.

When I first got my iphone, I only used it to place and receive calls.

I had to learn how to master my phone and while it still does a whole lot more than I need it to, I have made progress.  Today, I use it to record my ideas for future posts and books (memo app), provide a countdown timer for my barbecue ribs, remind me what I need to buy at the store (list app) and so forth.  These are tasks my phone could always do but I needed to learn how to effectively use it as a tool to improve my productivity.

The same is true for you and your anxiety.

You need to know how to make it work for you.

Four Steps to Mastery

Mastering your anxiety involves four steps, each of which you can learn to do.

Step#1: As soon as you experience anxiety, create a psychological safe space.

Physical signs

There is an unspoken assumption here and this is it.  I am assuming that you know your body well enough such that you know your physical signs indicative of the emotion of anxiety.

Do you experience anxiety as…

  • faster heart beat
  • sweating
  • changes in skin temperature
  • and so forth?

I devote a chapter to the physical signs of emotions and include checklists in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings which is available on Amazon.

You can google “physical signs of emotions” or here is a link to a website.

Create a psychological safe “space”

You do this by taking a deep breath (or two).

Let’s say you are worried about an upcoming interview and you are getting all tied up about what might happen.

Rather than “go with” the anxiety and react as if the danger is real, stop what you doing (thinking) and force yourself to take a deep (full bodied) breath.  Fill those lungs up over a count of 4, hold it for a 4 count, and exhale over a 4 count.  By the way, you might have to do this a couple of times.

This process does two things.

  • First of all, it naturally relaxes you a bit.
  • Secondly, it breaks the connection with your anxious thoughts and, thereby, sets you up to assess your situation. This gets you out of the what-if whirlpool and sets you up for step #2.

Step #2:  Ask yourself this question—How real is the threat?

Have you ever been caught in a “rip-tide”?  Well, if you are in the ocean and you find yourself being pulled out to sea by the current, the worst thing you can do is try to swim to shore.  You will tire out and die.  The correct technique is to swim parallel to the shore and out of the current.  You can then swim back to shore.

What-ifs are like a rip tide (or a whirlpool).  If you try to answer each hypothetical what-if, you’ll wear yourself out.  Instead, focus on two questions:

  1. Do I have any evidence that this particular “what-if” is even a possibility.
  2. What other possible outcomes (more positive and less catastrophic) am I not considering?

The reason what-ifs and catastrophising are so debilitating  is that people tend to view them as “probable” rather than “possible”.  In other words, when you ask yourself “What if I go to the interview and blow it?”, instead of viewing this outcome as one possibility because it could happen, you react to this hypothetical outcome as if it is both probable, highly likely to occur and inevitable, as in the only outcome that will happen.  This is why your what-ifs draw you in just like a whirlpool or a riptide.

Step #3: Assess your answers and your options.

There are three possibilities here…

First: The threat is real (the interview could go bad).

Assess your options by asking yourself–Can I survive it if it goes bad?

In nearly all cases, the answer will be “yes”.

This answer does two things for you.

  • It frees you up from disabling worry by  reminding you that no matter how bad the outcome is, it won’t kill you. You can take yourself off “red alert”.
  • it reminds you that you will still have options (eventhough they might not be all that great).

Second: The threat is not as bad as you thought or isn’t really a threat.

This answer tells you that you have misunderstood the threat and you can let go of your anxiety.

Third: The threat is real and your anxiety is telling you that you need to take steps now to avert the threat.

This is mastering your anxiety as the tool it was designed to be.  You are using the energy of your anxiety to motivate you to take corrective steps.

This is what my students do prior to an exam.  Their anxiety motivates them to study.

Step #4:  Use the energy of your anxiety to develop a plan to deal with the threat and work your plan.

Once you have created a psychological safe place and lowered your anxiety such that you are able to think things through and make some decisions, you can  assess the future threat and make some plans regarding any action you might take to minimize the threat.

Remember the example in my last post about asking for a raise.  Actions you can take on your behalf is to make a list of all the value you bring to the job and the reasons you believe you deserve a raise.  You can’t really know what issues, if any, the boss may bring up but you can be prepared to make your case.

And, by the way, it is also possible that the boss scheduled the meeting to praise you and inform you that you are going to get a raise.

You’ve made it through all three posts covering the emotion of anxiety.  You are now in a position to begin the process of mastering your anxiety as a strategic tool.

You can do it.

I welcome your comments.