Anger: A Review

Anger is a powerful emotion.   And, it is highly misunderstood.

Some basic concepts about emotions…

The words emotion and feeling mean the same thing.

  • Anger is an emotion and all human emotions are tools which you can use to improve and gain control over your life.
  • We are born with primary emotions including mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, disgust, surprise and interest. These feelings are tools that our ancestors used to survive.
  • Just like the tools in your kitchen (the stove, specific pots, the thermometer, and the microwave), the tools in your office (the computer, the telephone, and the printer), and the tools in your garage (your car, the hammer, and the washer and dryer), each emotional tool has a specific purpose and serves you best when it is appropriately used.
  • Your eyes, nose and skin are sensors which, like radar, scan your environment. Your emotions inform you about what your senses have picked up. This is the message of your emotion. Your feelings also prepare you to take action and give you the opportunity to choose whether you want to do something about the situation facing you or ignore it.

The truth about emotions…

  • Your emotions are your first line of defense against threat.
  • Your senses first register a possible threat.

For example, you are on a hike in the woods and you see a snake on the path in front of you. The information from your eyes is picked up by a part of your brain called the amygdala which registers the threat and causes you to freeze in your tracks. This is done without any thought on your part as your survival may be at stake. The job of your brain is to keep you alive.

You want this reaction to happen automatically if your life is really on the line.

  • You REACT to your primary emotions the same way your ancestor, Mr. Caveman, reacted to his basic emotions.

When threatened by a predator (animal or human), here is what happened to Mr. Caveman…

  1. He got angry
  2. He made menacing facial and verbal expressions.
  3. Adrenalin rushed through his body.
  4. He was ready to fight for his survival.

When you get angry, the same process occurs, and you are ready to fight for your survival.

The problem is that, while the threat to Mr. Caveman was always real and his survival was at stake, with most modern threats your survival is rarely at risk.

You create the emotion you feel.

A short time after the amygdala receives its information from the eyes, the thinking part of your brain, the cerebral cortex, picks up the information and gives you the opportunity to evaluate how real the threat is. If you decide that the threat is real, the emotion you feel will reflect the nature of the threat you have decided exists. If there is no threat, there is no emotion. When you realize that the snake is really a tree branch, you calm down.

Your emotions are the result of the thoughts you have about your situation. You create your thoughts and the feelings follow

Because your feelings come from your thoughts about your situation, reading your feelings tells you how you perceive what is happening to you.

For example: Your anger tells you that you see a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough power at it. The threat may be to your safety, your body, your values, your finances, your goals, or your ego. Your anger tells you that you need to evaluate the true nature of the threat.

The actions you take are based on this evaluation and are your response to the situation. Acting without this evaluation is called a reaction and will often get you in trouble.

A basic misconception about anger..

  • People or situations make you angry.

Fact: You make you angry.

I know this is a tough one for most of us to accept so we can take a closer look and use a traffic jam as an example.

If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you will get upset or even angry at the traffic. If, however, you have all the time in the world, your favorite artist is on the radio and your car and the air conditioning are both working great, you will tend to sit back and let the moment pass. The same situation, the traffic, results in two completely different emotional responses.

If the traffic jam made you angry, it would affect everyone the same way.

The sun makes us hot. It affects everyone the same way and what we think about it is irrelevant.

The truth about anger..

  • The message of anger is that you believe you are facing a threat that you can eliminate if throw enough power at it.
  • When angry, your body prepares you to either fight off the threat or run away from it.
  • Anger causes you to focus your attention and your energy on the perceived threat. Your thinking is directed to how you can deal with the threat you see.
  • Being prepared in this way to deal with the threat is very healthy if the threat is real

Real threats involve significant risk to your life, your goals, your core values, your finances, your property, or your family.

It is the anger that gets blamed for the aggression that angry people engage in. In truth, it is the misjudgement about the nature of the threat that leads these people to REACT with aggression when the actual level of risk calls for some other, less offensive, RESPONSE.

  • Managing your anger involves CONTROL and is only a first step.
  • Mastering anger goes anger management and involves assessing the nature of the threat, choosing an adaptive response,  and focusing the energy of the anger to eliminate the threat.

Three anger mastery  techniques you can use today as soon as you notice you are getting angry…

I. Take a deep breath before you take any other action.

What does this do?

Taking a deep breath does two important things:

  • First of all, it has a calming effect on you.
  • Secondly, it gives you an extra second or two for your cortex to kick in so you can evaluate the nature of the threat.

II. Evaluate the nature of the threat.

What does this do?

Evaluating the nature of the threat allows you to choose a response that fits the situation rather than react to your first impression which may not be correct if there really is no threat.

Take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is at risk?
  2. How real is the threat?

For example:

  • Will the traffic jam I am stuck in kill me, my goals, or my core values?
  • While I do not want to stay at work, what are the life or death consequences at stake when my boss tells me that I have to work overtime?

III. CHOOSE the RESPONSE that best fits the nature of the threat.

If the risk is to your life, your core values, or your primary goals, you have only one choice

  • Use all the power provided by your anger that you need to overcome the threat.

Note: You can always choose what means you will use to eliminate the threat.

If the threat is not significant, you have three choices:

  • Choose an action that deals with the situation as it is.
  • Choose to walk away from the situation.
  • Choose to let it pass by ignoring it.

Choosing your response based on your evaluation is using your anger as a tool to interact with your environment. This is mastering your anger.

I welcome your comments.

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