We all get angry sometimes. But, most of us are poorly educated regarding what anger is or how to deploy it as a strategic tool to improve our lives and our relationships.
When you Google “anger management”, you will find a ton of links and lots of suggestions. The “experts” will tell you that you have two basic choices with many different options within each choice.
The choices suggested by the “experts” are:
- Controlling your anger.
- Ignoring your anger by distracting yourself through telling jokes, yoga, or relaxation.
The vast majority of these “experts”, however, miss the point when it comes to understanding what anger, as an emotion, is.
They speak of anger as if it is a runaway car or a menacing dog that must be chained up rather than as an important tool that you need to learn how to master..
Or, they minimize anger as an emotion and label it as secondary emotion (as in a substitute for other emotions).
What most “anger” experts FAIL to recognize is that:
a. Anger is a basic emotion that communicates important information.
b. Sometimes, anger IS a secondary emotion that (men mostly) use to avoid experiencing emotions such as anxiety, guilt or sadness.
c. There are times when being angry is both necessary and appropriate.
d. It is the behavior of the angry individual that is always the issue, not the anger itself.
d. The real issue is learning how to master your anger as a tool rather than to control it, reduce it or avoid it.
It may surprise you to know that… You do not “get” angry!
Rather, you experience yourself getting angry.
“Wait a minute, now,” you say “what does that mean?”
Anger originates as a perception which gives rise to a feeling which elicits a reaction which is strengthened by an explanation which might become a response.
So, when you get into a situation which might be a threat to you, your brain unconsciously prepares your body to fight the threat or flee from it. This is a survival mechanism that humans have had from the beginning of time to help us survive.
Anger is a reaction to the perception of a threat that you, subconsciously, believe you can overpower. Anger prepares you for war.
When you notice the changes in your body that relates to your perceiving this type of threat, you label the emotion you are experiencing as “anger”.
In other words, you experience yourself becoming angry and you label this experience as anger.
- Anger is one of 6 primary emotions we are born with and which have existed in humans since we lived in caves.
- Anger evolved to alert us to and prepare us to deal with a threat by going to war.
- Anger is primarily a threat detector.
There is a better way to approach anger:
Use your anger as a strategic tool to improve your life and your relationships.
Note: A strategic tool is one that is applied in a specific situation to accomplish a specific task unique to that situation.
Two actions to take and three questions to ask when you experience anger.
Taking these actions and asking (and answering ) these questions will help you respond rather than react to your the situation and doing something you may later regret.
The two actions
- Create physical safety by taking a physical step back from the situation.
- Create psychological safety by takeing a deep breath (or two).
The three questions.
I. What is at risk?
What does this question do?
When you look at “risk”, you are assessing the nature of the threat. “Survival” threats are unambiguous and involve your life, your primary finances, or your values. “Psychological” threats are ambiguous and easily misunderstood and involve your ego, your goals, your beliefs or your dreams.
The nature of the threat will determine your response and takes you to the next question.
II. What do I need to protect or accomplish in this situation?
What does this question do?
This question begins to match the situation you face with the actions you will take to deal with it.
Protection involves a “survival” risk. You need to do whatever it takes to protect your assets.
Accomplish addresses “psychological” threats and tells you that you have many options including:
- Doing nothing if there is no threat.
- Calming down the situation so you can seek a win-win solution or a compromise,
- Clearing up any misunderstanding that is being seen as a threat and generating anger,
- Deciding what actions are needed to insure that…
a. your opinions are heard,
b. your beliefs are expressed,
c. your needs are met,
d .your relationships are maintained or healed,
e. your disagreements are resolved.
III. What is my most effective response?
What does this question do?
This question directs your attention to the RESPONSE you will choose based on reason and away from a REACTION which is an unconscious behavioral outburst.
This question looks at your options and seeks to match your response to the situation and threat you face.
Examples of a response include:
- Taking physical action against a perpetrator,
- Talking to a supervisor or filing a formal complaint at work,
- Engaging in conflict resolution strategies to clear up misunderstandings or disagreements,
- Walking away so you do not hurt yourself or someone else so thatbboth of you can cool down and come back later to reach a win-win resolution or a compromise.
In learning to master your emotions as tools…
- taking a physical step back from the situation gives you physical space or safety,
- taking a deep breath creates psychological space, and
- asking the right questions informs you about how you can strategically respond to the situation which elicited (did not cause) your anger.
Once you understand what anger, as an emotion, is (a strategic tool that detects threat and prepares you to deal with that threat) and the strategies you need to engage to master it (two actions to take and three questions to ask and answer), you are in a position to deploy your anger strategically to improve your life and your relationships.