4 Part Series on Anger. Part 2: Diffferent “faces” of anger

In part 1 of this series, I noted that for some people, anger is a “unitary” concept.  Anger is either present or it is absent.

“I am angry (or I am not)” is one “face” of, or one way to conceptualize, anger.

For other people, anger is conceived in “binary” terms.  For these folks, either there is no anger or their anger is out of control.

Here, the “face” of anger is, “I don’t usually get angry but when I do, watch out!”

The state of “no anger” may be their default state and is what they experience most of the time.

The state of maximum anger, or rage, is what happens when someone believes that another person has “made” them angry. The behavior of that other person is seen as so egregious and the threat so large that maximum force is needed to repel it and the raging person often either doesn’t feel responsible for their actions or feels justified, in the moment, for whatever they do or say.

For the record, it is impossible for one person to make another person angry.

When experiencing rage, these people tend to do or say something that results in unwanted consequences or  problematic outcomes for which they later may need to apologize.

The fact of the matter is that both of these ways of viewing anger are problematic in that they do not fully cover how anger is expressed and eliminate one’s ability to utilize anger as a strategic tool to improve one’s life.

Recall from my last post that anger, as a primary emotion, is a primitive threat detector, the function of which is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with a perceived threat.

With this in mind, the most effective way to think about anger is to use fire (as a survival tool) as a metaphor for anger.

Using fire as a metaphor, think about the difference between building a camp fire to stay warm (cold is the perceived threat), building a bigger fire to cook a meal (hunger is the perceived threat), and using a flame thrower in war (the enemy who wants to kill you is the threat). In each of these examples, fire is the power that is being deployed but the intensity of the flame is both proportional to and designed to overcome the perceived “threat”.

From this point of view, the emotion of anger should be seen as a continuum in which the energy expressed as anger ranges from a small amount to a very large amount.

The key component here is the nature of the perceived threat. One’s anger is initially a reaction, and then a strategically chosen response, to that threat.

The degree of threat that you believe, or perceive, exists is what elicits the anger that arises to help you deal with that threat. In other words, how you view the situation in which you find yourself determines both how you define the threat and the level of power you need to bring to bear to eliminate that threat.

By way of explanation, I should say that, while it is true that your perceptions of threat are linked to both the Model of your world which serves as a filter thorough which you view any interaction and the skill sets you bring to that interaction, these are topics for other posts. In this post, I am focussing just on the emotion of anger.

The “many faces of anger” then reflect the different levels of expressed anger that occur along this continuum from mild to extreme.  While all of these emotions are variations of the basic emotion of anger, the different levels of threat are reflected in the the different words we use to  label the emotions we experience.

Other words that describe different levels of anger and the different threats that are implied by these labels include frustration, annoyance, disappointment, indignation, resentment, exasperation and rage.

Think of these as different faces of anger.

Let’s start with some definitions from the New Oxford American dictionary.

frustration: the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something

annoyance: the feeling or state of being irritated

disappointment: sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations

indignation: anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment

resentment: bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly

exasperation: a feeling of intense irritation or annoyance:

rage: violent, uncontrollable anger

You might correctly be wondering at this point what difference any of this makes.  Why not just say: “I’m angry.” or “I’m very angry!”?

This is a binary approach to the emotion of anger.

And, while binary statements often are sufficient, they severely limit your options and possibly might make it more likely that you will overreact.

Let’s go back to our fire analogy.

Let’s say that you are camping and you tell your associates to build a fire. While you might mean a “cooking” fire, if they visualize a big warming fire, you might end up eating protein bars for dinner because you can’t get close enough to the flames to cook your burgers.

Or, if you are preparing for a Homecoming rally at the University and you tell your naive associate to build a fire and he (or she) builds a warming fire instead of a bonfire, all the boosters will show up and be clearly disappointed.

An example from the workplace..

Let’s say that you are working on a project with a co-worker, tasks have been assigned, and this co-worker comes to the working meeting without having completed their assigned tasks.

They give you their reason.

You  experience anger.

If that anger is disappointment, the perceived threat is that your expectations were  thwarted and the project deadline must be reset but you attempt to sympathize with your co-worker.

If that anger is frustration, the perceived threat is that your co-worker, for whatever reason, is messing up your plans to get this project done and you probably are not very understanding toward your co-worker.

If that anger is exasperation, the perceived threat involves more than just the incomplete task at hand, there are probably unresolved issues you need to work out with this individual and the project (and your relationship) may be at risk.

Finally, if that anger is rage, the perceived threat may only marginally be related to the incomplete task, you are in reactive mode, you most likely have led others in the room to either leave the room or think about calling security and you may have to seek some professional help.

Or, maybe you are angry but aren’t really sure why. Your co-worker’s “reasons” for the missing materials seem okay and the project can be rescheduled. Perhaps, however, what you are really feeling is hurt, let down or even betrayed but rather than own up to these emotions, you substitute anger.

This is anger as a secondary emotion.  It is dishonest anger as it is substituting for and covering up other emotions.

As you can see, the different label you use to describe your anger gives you bothbinsight into the threat you perceive and a clearer path to the way you choose to strategically respond to the situation.

In summary, in order to facilitate your being able to deploy it as a strategic tool, the emotion of anger needs to be viewed along a continuum.

The better you get at specifically identifying the level of anger you are experiencing…

  • the more effective you become at communicating what you feel to others so that they can appropriately respond and interact with you and
  • the more capable you become at choosing a response that is commensurate with and proportional to the real nature of the threat that exists.






Covid-19 and Panic from an Emotions as Tools Perspective

Note: In my last post, I published part 1 of a 4 part series on anger.  I was going to publish part 2 today but decided to give you some perspective on the Corona Virus and the panic behavior you are seeing.

I’ll get back to part 2 of the series in my next post.


There are many issues involving the virus that could be explored.

This post looks at the panic buying we are seeing and explores this phenomenon from an Emotions as Tools perspective.

First, as the virus is spreading, many people are panicking.  The store shelves are, in many cases, empty of product.  People are lining up, sometimes in the rain and hours before opening, at big box stores to stock up on toilet paper, water and hand sanitizers.  People are acting as-if there is a major shortage of these items while the facts are that if there was no panic, there would be no shortages.

Let’s look at two commodities

Toilet paper.

The shelves at Costco have been decimated.  According to estimates, published in a recent LA Times article, Americans use less than one roll per week on average.  So, if your household has 15 people in it, you would rip through a 30 pack of Kirkland Signature two-ply over the 14 day quarantine period.  If you are a couple, the one Costco pack of toilet paper would last you four months.

Hand Sanitizers

The experts tell us that properly washing hands for 20 secs is both more effective and better for you than hand sanitizers.  So, if you wash when you can and only use the sanitizer when water is not available, how many bottles of hand sanitizer do you need?

I am not saying that people should not buy what they need. They do and should.  But, to panic and stockpile to the detriment of everyone who needs these commodities is both unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Hoarding, however, is an emotional issue with real world implications such as the shortage of respirator masks which can impact the ability of first responders to have access to the safety they need to protect themselves and the people they are attempting to save.

The Emotional Issue

Panic can be viewed as an extreme form of anxiety.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat out there and that threat MAY kill me.

When deployed as a strategic tool, anxiety (as eustress),  is a motivator which leads us to take effective action to deal with the perceived threat.

So, being worried about needing supplies in a disaster should act as a motivator to go out and get what you need before the possible event occurs.

This is what should have already happened in many states. Indeed, being anxious about earthquakes, wild fires, or natural disasters,  should have been enough to encourage most of us to stock up for when the “disaster” arose.

And, it would lead to people buying needed supplies now.

However, what we are seeing in many instances is NOT anxiety as eustress.

What we are witnessing is anxiety, as distress and its extreme cousin, panic.

You may experienced anxiety as distress when you were asked to give a speech at work, or you needed to “confront” someone, and you took no action  (immobility)  because the anxiety level was so high.

In other words, you froze (choked).

Anxiety as distress is very common and probably familiar to most of us.

Anxiety, as distress can also lead to extreme overreacting.

Panic and many phobias are examples of extreme overreacting .


Panic, as an emotion and the action that this emotion elicits, happens because of two psychological processes.

By the way… please notice that I said above that the emotion of panic ELICITS or leads to an action.  The emotion does not CAUSE the action to occur.

The first psychological process involves acting as if the threat is  certain and imminent.  In other words, it will happen and it will happen soon.

The second psychological process involves catastrophising.

Catastrophising involves..

  • projecting yourself into the future
  • focusing your energy only on the worst case scenario and
  • acting as if the worst case scenario is the only possible outcome.

This is what we are seeing in the stores.

People are acting..

  • as if there is a massive shortage (there is),
  • that the shortage is real (it is a result of our actions)and
  • that they will be suffer horribly because of the shortage (if we act mindfully, there will be no suffering)

The unexplored and (largely) incorrect reasoning here is..

  • the municipal water supply will become impaired,
  • Proctor and Gamble and Georgia Pacific will no longer be producing toilet paper and people will have to perform their personal hygiene any (primitive) way they can and
  • the lack of hand sanitizer will leave them extremely exposed and vulnerable to the virus.

While all of these are possibly true, none of them, as of this writing, have occurred.

  • The water supply has not been impacted.
  • Stores are restocking shelves.
  • Toilet paper is being produced.
  • Washing hands is just as effective as hand sanitizer and formulas for creating sanitizing wipes at home have been published.
  • The virus is real.

The bottom line is that we do not have a supply chain catastrophe.

What we have is a pandemic and need to act accordingly.

The ANTIDOTE to anxiety as distress.

The prescription for avoiding anxiety as distress (and panic) is mindfulness.

A lot has been written about mindfulness as you will see if you google it.

In its most basic and useable form, mindfulness simply means to be in the moment.  It has been associated with meditation but you can be mindful and present in the moment without meditating.

The reason that mindfulness counteracts anxiety as distress and panic is that when you are in the moment, you attempt to assess what is actually happening choose the most effective response to help you both manage the present and plan for the future.

When you are present in the moment, you recognize any attempt by your mind to catastrophize because you are aware that your focus is only on a worst case scenario occurring at some future time.

You also recognize that we are, in fact, experiencing a pandemic and need to change our behavior.  Acknowledging this reality, we can plan and execute the actions recommended for dealing with the pandemic including self-distancing and how we buy what we need.

The bottom line is that…

  • We all need to be mindful and present in the moment.  This curtails panic.
  • We need to take the recommended actions to keep ourselves and others safe.

When you get a chance, click on over to vigyaa.com and read an article I wrote on looking at the virus as a relationship issue.  The link is below.

And, then, come back and join me for my next post in two weeks.

Dealing with the corona virus as a relationship issue