Anger Mastery Techniques – 2 Actions and 3 Questions to Ask When Angry to Use Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

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:

  1. Controlling your anger.
  2. 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” explained.

  • 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

  1. Create physical safety by taking a physical step back from the situation.
  2. 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.

Mastering emotions as tools: Anger, and your car’s “smart cruise control”.

There is a widely held belief that our emotions control us and make us do things we may later regret.

The problem is that this is an  emotional myth!

I have attempted to address this myth in my blog posts, my responses to questions on Quora.com and in my podcast appearances because belief in the myth prevents people from taking control of their lives by utilizing their emotions as strategic tools.

In this post I will address this myth in a different way.

I will use your car’s cruise control as a metaphor for mastering your emotions.

Some definitions...

  • Classic or “dumb” cruise control: The traditional mechanism in your car that keeps you traveling at a set speed.
  • Smart cruise control: Technology which both allows you to set a specific speed and gives you additional options by automatically adapting to the surrounding situation and kicking in when an obstacle is present.
  • Set point: This is a specific number or limit which tells the device with a feedback loop that a specific designated action needs to be initiated.  It could involve a thermostat turning on the furnace or air conditioner or the cruise control speeding up the car.
  • Emotional set point:  The degree to which you perceive a specific situation as a threat which initiates an emotional reaction.
  • Your perception: The meaning you give to any situation you observe.
  • Emotional reaction: The subconscious physical changes which your brain (amygdala) initiates in your body when a threat is subconsciously recognized.
  • Emotional response: The action you choose to take to allow you to effectively interact with the perceived threat.

The “Tools” We Use

There are many tools  which you use on a regular basis.

“Task oriented” Tools

Task oriented tools are designed to complete a specific task.

Sometimes this “task” is simple. A screwdriver is just a screwdriver unless you don’t know the difference between a flathead and a Phillips.

At other times the “task” is very complicated. Your cell phone can do many things very well but it won’t replace a screw in your cabinet.

Examples of task oriented tools include your cell phone, your computer, your car, your TV remote, your sewing machine and a screwdriver.

While you may not think of your cell phone and computer as “devices”, they are also “tools”.

“Set point” tools.

Devises with set points make your life easier by automatically maintaining whatever “status quo” or set point you choose.

Examples of set point tools include:

  • The thermostat in your home or car that controls the temperature.
  • The spell checker on your word processor that monitors your document as you type.
  • The cruise control on your car that keeps you going on the freeway.
  • Your brain which encourages you to keep doing the same habits in the same way.

Everything is fine…Until it isn’t!

In most cases, our tools work fine and there is no problem.

  • (Thermostat)…The house/car stays warm (or cool) and comfy.
  • (Spell Checker)…The correction that is made is appropriate.
  • (Cruise Control)…We merrily move along on the road at a chosen speed and get to our destination.
  • (Brain)… The actions we take fit the situation, are appropriate, and lead to a desirable outcome.

The tool does what it is programmed to do.

It is not able to make adjustments for unique situations. In other words, it does not typically think about or take into consideration “exceptions” to the norm.

It is these “exceptions” that are often problematic.

The spell checker that changes the name of an important client in an email or changes a word that gives the sentence a totally different focus than what you intended.  You missed the changes in the overview before you hit “send”.

Your brain elicits an angry outburst which is hurtful, inappropriate and    unnecessary  because you misread the situation.

You get the idea.

Emotions as Tools

Emotions are hardwired tools..

  • Your emotions  unconsciously perceive threats
  • They unconsciously prepare your body to react and insure your survival.

You are hardwired to perceive threat in your surroundings.  This has been the case since humans lived in caves and this “ability” helped us survive as a species.

This is the first part of the emotions cycle and is mitigated by the Amygdala in our brain.

Each emotion has a set point at which it recognizes a significant event such as a “threat”.  This is the message of the emotion.

Your definition of threat is your set point and when that set point is reached, your emotional “cruise control” kicks in.

Below this set point, or threshold, there is no experienced emotion.

The characteristics of this process are that it is automatic, out of our awareness, and quick. This is our emotional reaction.

The characteristics which comprise your emotional reaction are critical if your survival is at stake. But, they are also the foundation for the myth that our emotions control us.

The critical difference is that when the emotional process “originally” appeared in our cave  dwelling ancestors, all threats were survival based and this fast emotional reaction saved lives. Today, most threats are psychological and our brains have evolved so that we now can evaluate the threat and choose our emotional response.

When the emotion is compelling, uncomfortable, or debilitating, this automatic process is viewed as undesirable.

Let me break it down….

compelling

The emotion seems to “take over” and “compel” one to act in a particular way.  Examples include anger (aggression) and jealousy (driven to take back what you believe is yours).

uncomfortable

The emotion just doesn’t feel good.  We call this its hedonic quality.  Examples include sadness, anxiety, guilt, and  jealousy.

debilitating

The emotion seems to sap us of energy and leave us feeling unable to take effective action.  Examples include anxiety (an inability to take action) and guilt (a sense of unworthiness).

But, this automatic process is only part of the story and this is where the concept of a smart cruise control becomes important.

So, you may ask:

“What does the concept of cruise control have to do with emotions?”

The short answer is that people believe their emotions function the same way their classic (dumb) cruise control operates.

  • They get into a situation in which the emotion is automatically triggered.

(Set point is reached.)

  • The emotion engages and elicits physical and psychological events

(The brain and body are engaged just like the car speeds up.)

  • The emotion is experienced as acting autonomously and without conscious  input.

(The cruise control, once set, functions without additional input.)

The implication is that the emotion reaches some set point after which it takes over and the individual has no choice but to give in to the feeling and either act out or do nothing.

This is the Myth…but, there is more to the story.

Most people relate to their emotions from a classical (or dumb) cruise control model.

I am suggesting that it is much more adapative to adopt a smart cruise control approach.

Your Cruise Control

Classic, or “dumb”, cruise control

This technology enables you so you to set a desired speed.  This is the “set point” for speed. The tech monitors your speed and, if the car falls below this set point, the automatic system engages and you speed up.

I call this accessory “dumb” not because I want to put down the technology but because it is blind to changing road conditions.   Once set, it does its job and maintains a certain speed.

As long as you are in an unchanging situation such as a stretch of road with limited or consistent traffic, you are golden.  The car stays at speed.

But, if traffic should slow and you are not alert, the car in front of you may have slowed or stopped, you remain at speed and plow into the stopped car in front of you!

Your “tool” is happy to keep you going at 69 mph. It is doing its job.

In order to avoid an accident, however, you will need to remain constantly vigilant, continue to assess your driving environment, and override or disconnect the cruise control as needed.

Smart Cruise Control

Your smart cruise control has a set point which it maintains. This tech, however, is designed to monitor your surroundings and when there is a car stopped in front of you, it slows you down. Once the obstruction is removed, you go back to your set point.

Our emotions CAN function the same way.

Indeed, the second part of the emotions cycle involves the cerebral cortex and gives us the option to assess our situation and choose our response.

Just like your smart cruise control monitors your speed and your surroundings, kicks in to both slow you down and give you a choice about what you want to do, and then defaults to your set point once the obstruction is dealt with, your cerebral cortex can automatically kick it and give you choices about how you want to deal with a threat.

Emotional mastery involves experiencing the emotion, slowing down, assessing the situation and choosing a response.

Emotional mastery is NOT automatic and must be learned!

Anger as a Tool and an Example.

Your anger is a tool that is designed to help you survive.

Your anger cruise control kicks in when you experience a threat that you believe you can handle if you throw enough power at it.

When you get angry:

  • You have perceived a threat to your life, your goals, your ego, your values.
  • Your brain has sent chemicals all through your body telling it to prepare for battle.
  • You are ready to go to war with the threat.

When all threats were survival based, your emotional cruise control worked perfectly.

The problem is that nearly all of the threats we face today are psychological and not survival based.

Consequently, what may seem to be a threat may, in fact, only be a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, your anger does not know the difference between a survival based and a psychological threat and you automatically go into self-protection or go-to-war mode.

If you lash out and say, or do, something you later regret, it is just like plowing into the car in front of you at high speed.

This is where the smart cruise control metaphor, the Emotions as Tools model and anger mastery come in.

Just as you should constantly monitor the traffic when your cruise control is on, you should constantly monitor your surroundings when you become aware that your anger (or any other emotion) has been engaged.

Once you become aware that you are angry, you should manage your anger by lowering your arousal and master your anger by assessing the threat and deciding whether to let your anger move you forward to take action (if the threat is real) or override the anger and shut it down.

The same idea works for other human emotions such as anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame.

The point, here, is that your smart emotional “cruise control” should always be set on automatic. This will let your emotions alert you to possible threats. When a threat is perceived, your “smart tech” will kick in and, before you react, you can evaluate what is going on  and decide what you want to do.

This is called mastering your emotions:

  • You accept and validate the automatic nature of your emotions.
  • You monitor your emotions and assess the situation.
  • You choose an adaptive response and initiate it.

The bottom line is that you want to approach your emotions from a smart cruise control model to get the most out of them as strategic tools.

 

 

Emotional Empowerment. Your Emotions are always Valid. But, They May Not be Appropriate! Anger as an example.

This is the first of two posts designed to help you own your emotions so that you can use them to empower yourself in your interactions with others.

This post looks at the issue of owning your emotions by validating them and whether you should express or discard an emotion based on how appropriate it is.

The bottom line is that all emotions are always valid but might not be appropriate.

I will use anger as an example.

Let’s look at some definitions. (from dictionary.com)…

valid: having force, weight, or cogency; authoritative.

appropriate: suitable or fitting for a particular purpose, person, occasion, etc.:

In the Emotions as Tools Model, all emotions are adaptive and, therefore, valid.

The reason all emotions are valid is that your emotions reflect and are a direct result of how you (subconsciously, at first) perceive your situation.  Because they are a reflection of you, your emotions have cogency and are authoritative in that they reflect your initial “analysis” of your situation.

Your brain constantly scans your surroundings for any possible threat and, when a threat is detected it subconsciously and quickly formulates a fast analysis of the threat. The function of your emotions is to alert you to the threat prepare your body to act quickly to help you survive.

The words threat and survive are italicized because they are highly subjective and are based on you, your current situation, your past, and so forth.

Your emotions inform you about a possible threat based on this initial, very quick, scan of your situation. This means that your emotions start out being highly idiosyncratic (or unique to you).

The emotion, per se, is the same for everyone.

My anger is the same as yours and conveys the same message that there is a perceived threat and that this threat can be eliminated or overpowered.

How the emotion reflects your perception of threat, however, is unique to you.

In other words, there are three “reasons” why there is a distinct possibility that your initial assessment could be inaccurate…

  • your emotions reflect your initial assessment
  • your initial assessment is based both your past and present experiences and
  • the actions of another person may be ambiguous,

Your perception may not be accurate to the extent that you have…

  • misunderstood your situation (the other person’s actions are ambiguous)

or

  • misinterpreted your situation (you have viewed their actions through a filter clouded by  your idiosyncrasies).

Therefore, your emotion, which reflects that perception, may not fit the situation and may not be appropriate to what is going on.

The emotion of anger informs you that you perceive a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  Anger prepares you for war.  The threat can be physical and involve your personal safety or it can be psychological in that it reflects an “attack” on your ego, your values, your sense of right and wrong and so forth.

The perception of a psychological threat can be very subjective.

It is, however, important to note that just because your perception is subjective does not mean it is inaccurate, incorrect, or inappropriate.

You may be very subjective and you might be very accurate in that you are being “attacked”.

The task, then, is to acknowledge your emotion as real  and valid and then to assess each emotion as soon as you become aware that you are experiencing it and determine the extent to which that emotion accurately reflects the situation in which you find yourself.

In other words, the appropriateness of the emotion.

A visit to the Index tab, above, will give you access to many posts which will help you learn to do this.

In my next post, I will address the issue of reclaiming your emotions.

 

 

A New Podcast-Different Topics

These are links to my recent podcast on PositiveTalkRadio. In this interview, I discuss topics which were not addressed in the podcast I noted in my last post.

I’ve included these podcasts because some of you may prefer to get your information in a video or audio format rather than reading it.  If this is your preference, click on the Contact Me button above and leave me a message.

Audio only...

https://www.positivetalkradio.net/ed-daube-the-emotion-doctor/

Video

https://www.positivetalkradio.net/videos/ptr-ed-daube-phd-the-emotions-doctor/

Here are some specific issues which might interest you:

11:47 The problem with asking “why” questions and how “what” may be better.                                                                                                                                          19:10 The value of apologizing                                                                                          20:28 Personal responsibility and the challenge of believing that emotions control us.                                                                                                                                                 23:42 Jealousy
24:34 Hate
28:23 Fear and anxiety
32:10 Emotions gone astray and two issues… immigrants and the lady who called police on a black man walking his dog
37:34 Healthy disagreements with a spouse.

How to master your anger when someone lies to you.

Someone on Quora.com asked me:

How do I control my anger when someone lies to me? (emphasis added).

While my original response to this question prompted this post, my response below is more updated, more detailed and more adequately addresses the important issues.

Anger Myths and  Controlling Your Emotions

There are two operative myths regarding one’s emotions (or feeling) and the  concept of control.  Both myths have some truth to them.  They are myths because they don’t tell the whole story.

The first myth is that emotions such as anger (and others) control you.

The second myth is that it is important (even beneficial) that you control your emotions.  While the idea of controlling your emotions is probably more frequently applied to anger because of the inappropriate actions take while angry (and blame the emotion for those actions), people believe they should control any emotion that doesn’t feel “good” to them like anxiety, guilt, hurt, sadness.

Let me address both these myths in the context of the Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC).

Note: By the way, you can download a free PDF of the anger mastery cycle by clicking here  or on the tab above.

Myth #1: This myth is partly true.  It is a myth because it doesn’t take into consideration the entire AMC.

Your emotions don’t control you.  The perception of control happens because of the unconscious part of the Anger Mastery Cycle.  You are hard wired to constantly scan your surroundings for threat.  Humans have done this since we lived in caves. Our ancestors depended on their emotions to both alert them to and prepare them to deal with threats that would kill them.  This unconscious process still operates today as it did back then.  Because the process is fast and unconscious, people believe that their emotions control them.  And, at this early stage of the EMC, that is true.

The issue of control and emotions is a myth because it fails to consider that evolved humans (you and me) have developed the ability to assess our emotions and choose how we want to respond to them.  This gives us control of our situation and allows us to utilize our emotions as tools.

We don’t control our cell phones (an important tool). We learn how to. master it and make it work for us.  It is the same with all emotions (including anger). The ultimate goal in dealing with any feeling is to use the information your emotions, including anger, give you to improve your life and your relationships.  I discuss this below.

Myth #2: This myth is also partially true and it also fails to consider the whole anger mastery cycle.

The first part of the anger mastery cycle is anger management. This is the “control” issue that most people refer to when they say you should “control your anger”.

Yes, you need to lower your arousal and control your behavior to prevent yourself from reacting to the other person and possibly doing something you later regret. But, this is only a step to mastering your anger. You control your anger at this point by taking a deep breath, “forcing” yourself not to react to the person, and taking a second or two to assess the situation as described below and choosing how you want to respond.

Please note that while it is easy for me to tell you what you need to do and it is doable, it will take some practice on your part to put it into action.

Anger, lies and you.

Anger as a primary emotion is a primitive threat detector. I discuss anger as a primary emotion and a threat detector in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool . You can also access all of my posts on Anger by clicking on the Index  tab above and the anger category.  Access to all of my posts on anger is then one click away.

The message of anger is that you perceive the lie and, possibly the individual who lied to you, as a threat. This is where anger mastery comes in.

Mastering anger in the context of being lied to.

As I have said, anger is a tool. To master anger as a tool involves assessing the validity of the threat you have perceived.

Your anger informs you that you perceive the act of being lied to as a threat.

Well, there are several possibilities here:

  • There is no lie.  You have misunderstood what was said to you.
  • You are being lied to and that act is a threat to something that is important to you such as your goals, your trust, your values, your expectations and so forth.
  • You are being lied to but there really is no threat to you.  The lie is the problem of the lier.

Given multiple possibilities, you have to assess the nature of the threat.

Your first choice should be to clarify what you believe to be a lie.

You start here, by the way, because if there is no lie, you avoid later complications and, if there is a lie, you still have all of your options available to you.

You do this by asking for clarification of the issue.  This involves stating your own understanding of the “facts” and giving them an opportunity to clarify as needed.

Secondly, if convinced that a lie has been told, you need to decide what is it about this particular lie from this particular person that you perceive as a threat?

This is a critical question in addressing your question for this reason. You can’t decide how you want to respond to this person (another step in the anger mastery cycle) until you decide the nature of the threat.

For example, if the “liar” is your kid, the threat you perceive might involve issues of trust, insuring that your kid understands certain values or develops a moral compass and so forth. If this is the first time he (or she) lied to you, you might choose to approach it as a teaching moment. Or, suppose that your kid lied to protect another kid from being beaten up? Again, you might have initially perceived a threat to your sense of right and wrong when you found out about the “lie” but, once you understand the reason for lie, your response to your kid could change.

If the liar is your spouse, or significant other, and this is reflective of a pattern, the threat might be not only to your sense of right and wrong but to the very foundation of your relationship.

If the liar is a co-worker, again, you would need to assess the nature of the threat.

I think you get the idea.

Thirdly, you might decide, for whatever reason, that there is no threat, you would move down one fork of the anger mastery cycle which involves:

  • choosing to do nothing
  • letting the anger dissipate, and
  • moving on.

Finally, if you decide there is indeed a threat, you move down the other fork of the cycle, which involves:

  • deciding what action you need to take (noting that you are angry, disappointed, etc and assertively questioning the person, questioning what result the individual expected to achieve by lying, seeing a counselor or a lawyer, and so forth
  • making a plan, and
  • taking action on that plan.

In order to implement some of my suggestions you may need to assertively respond to the person who lied to you.  If you are not familiar with the concept of interpersonal assertion, I suggest you Google “interpersonal assertion” (or click on the link) for more information as this topic is beyond the scope of this post.

 

The Anger Mastery Cycle Explained

This is a detailed explanation of the Anger Mastery Cycle.  If you just want a quick overview, click here for the “Cliff Notes” version.

In my Amazon bestselling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I published a chart titled The Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC) which visually lays out the process by which anger is initially experienced and adaptively mastered.

You can download a PDF of the Anger Mastery Cycle by going to the “Pages” section on the right hand side of this page and clicking on The Anger Mastery Cycle PDF.

The Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC).

The AMC can be  broken down into three parts:

I: Subconscious Reaction.

II: Conscious Assessment.

III: Choosing a Response

I: Subconscious Reaction.

The first part  of the AMC involves the “built-in” process of scanning your surroundings and reacting to what you perceive.  This process happens automatically and continuously without you having to initiate or think about it.

Because this initial reaction happens both quickly and “subconsciously” as we would want it to if we were facing an actual life-endangering threat, it is experienced as beyond our control. Problems arise when people overgeneralize the experience and incorrectly  assume that anger controls them.

Yes, the initial emotional reaction is beyond our control.

And, no, anger does not control us as the most important aspects of the AMC are definitely within our control.  Indeed, the ability to strategically deploy our anger to improve our lives and our relationships is the essence of the AMC.

All humans are hardwired to continuously scan their surroundings for any perceived threat.  This unconscious process helped Mr. and Mrs. Caveman survive in a world which was populated by “threats” including animals and other humans that would kill them.  Most primitive emotions were, and are, primitive threat detectors the purpose of which was to both alert us to and prepare us to deal with a threat before it could kill us.

Early humans evolved 6 primary emotions which we experience today just as our cave dwelling ancestors did.  In other words, while humans have continued to evolve, as reflected in parts 2 and 3 of the AMC, the primary emotions, per se, have not.

These emotions are mad, sad, fear, disgust, surprise and glad.  The function of all of these emotions is to facilitate our engagement with our surroundings. Each primary emotion, working through the Amygdala in the brain, reacts to a different environmental stimulus and elicits an physical correlate in our bodies.  This is the initial emotional reaction which, if you are to become effective in mastering your emotions, you will need to learn to recognize.

It is also the “message” of the emotion.

I have discussed the message of all of the primary emotions in other posts.

The message of anger is that your initial perception of the threat is that you are more powerful than it is and that you can eliminate it if you throw enough force at it.  This is your initial thought about the threat.

Anger physically prepares you for war.

Your muscles tighten and your vision narrows and focuses on the threat.  This is the fight part of the fight, flight, or freeze reaction you have probably heard about.

As soon as you become aware of your physical reactions to the perceived threat, you are ready to enter the second part of the AMC.

II: Conscious Assessment.

Now that you’ve become aware of the threat that you have subconsciously perceived and you are “prepared” to engage with the threat, emotional mastery calls for you to consciously assess the threat to determine whether or not a threat actually exists.

As an example of how this process works, think about your smoke detector.

You are sitting at your kitchen table and the smoke detector blares.  It constantly scans your house and is alerting you to a possible threat.

Do you jump up and call the fire department? Of course not. No, you assess the situation and notice that the toast is burning and you pop it out of the toaster.

The blaring of the smoke detector is equivalent to the unconscious reaction of your anger and your conscious decision about the nature of the threat is what the second part of the AMC is all about.

Following your awareness of a physical emotional reaction, you begin to clarify the emotion you are experiencing by giving it a label.  If you are tuned into your body, you know what the initial reaction indicative of anger feels like and you can now apply the label of anger as in “I’m angry.”

Once you have labelled, or acknowledged, your emotion as anger, the next step is Anger Management.

The term “anger management” is generically used to describe any treatment for issues involving anger.

The concern I have with the term “anger management” is that it perpetuates the misconception that all that is needed to effectively deal with anger, as an emotion, is to control, or manage, it.

Two points are important here…

The first is that one of the biggest myths about anger is that it is a dangerous emotion that causes people to do inappropriate things and must be tightly controlled or it will take over. This widely believed conceptualization of anger is not correct, misrepresents anger, and misleads people whose involvement with anger is problematic.

Anger is just a tool.

Which is the second point I want to make.

You don’t control your cell phone, the tv remote, or a sewing machine.  You learn to master these tools in order to get the most out of them.  It is the same with anger, as a tool.

You need to learn to master it in order to get it to work for you.

That being said, anger mastery does begin with anger management (or control).

As I noted above, the function of anger, as a tool, is to both alert you and prepare you to deal with a perceived threat.

When we lived in caves, this unconscious process worked flawlessly, reliably and consistently because all threats were survival based and would kill us if not eliminated.  War was what was needed to insure our survival. The only assessments that were required were how many of us were needed and what weapons would we use.

While the emotion of anger has not changed, the environment in which you live, and get angry, has changed significantly!

Indeed, most of the threats you face are psychological and do not require you to go to war.

So, in order for you to get the most out of your anger as a threat detector and engage the thinking part of your brain, you need to lower the initial arousal of your primitive anger cycle. If your involvement/arousal level is too high, it will be difficult to think clearly and objectively.

Managing your anger by lowering your arousal level is what you need to do.

In the AMC, the process represented by S.T.O.P. enables you to do this.

S stands for stopping the unconscious anger process by creating both a physical and a psychological safe place.

T involves taking a step back physically and taking a deep breath.

The step back is physical.

The deep breath both relaxes you a bit and shifts  your focus. This is the psychological space. Your goal is to associate a deep breath with the initial experience of anger.  You are still angry but less aroused.

This shift in focus gives you the space to both observe what is actually going on and practice emotional intelligence which involves engaging the thinking part of your brain.

The process of anger mastery involves assessing the nature of the threat so you can decide what actions are needed to effectively deal with the threat.

In the world you live in, your anger, as a tool, alerts you to the possibility  of a threat and gives you the energy to deal with a threat, if it exists.

But, for you, it is necessary to determine whether there is a genuine threat or something else (other in the AMC) is going on.

As you can see in the AMC, there are three possibilities that could explain one’s anger when no real threat exists.

  • There is no actual threat and you have misunderstood or misinterpreted the situation you are facing.
  • You are using your anger as a secondary emotion to cover over other feelings such as shame, hurt or anxiety.  Anger is a powerful energizing emotion while these other feelings may sap your energy or leave you feeling somewhat helpless.
  • You are using your anger as an instrumental emotion to manipulate others into doing what you want because they are intimidated by your anger.

Once you have assessed the nature of the threat, you enter the third part of the AMC which involves choosing a response.

III: Choose a Response

There are two basic possibilities here.

The threat is genuine or it isn’t.

If the threat is genuine, you stay with your original thoughts about the threat, you remain angry and you use the energy of your anger to execute whatever is needed to eliminate the threat.

If there is no threat, you need to change your thoughts about the situation you are facing and how you are responding to it.  You have many options here but it boils down to doing nothing or choosing a more effective method of resolving whatever is going on.

Summary

To summarize, the AMC begins with anger functioning as it has always done as a primitive threat detector and motivator. The emotion alerts you to a possible threat  by eliciting an unconscious physical response.

The AMC then progresses through anger management, or S.T.O.P., which lowers the initial unconscious reaction just enough to allow you to engage in anger mastery which involves assessing the nature of the threat and choosing an effective response which either matches and  dispatches a genuine threat or moves beyond the emotion of anger which isn’t really appropriate.

 

 

If you misuse anger as a primary motivator, there are better alternatives.

Some people use their anger to motivate them to take action.

If you are in a situation where someone or something is theatening you, then using the power of your anger is very appropriate.

In fact, this is reason that you have your anger.

Let me explain.

There are five basic emotions that all human beings and some nonhuman species have.

The five basic emotions are mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, and disgust.

Without going into a lot of detail (as I have talked about the basis of emotions in other posts on this blog), each emotion communicates to us how we see our environment and give us the opportunity to react, or respond, to our environment.

NOTE: If you have not done so already, I encourage you to click on the Index Tab above and access the PDF which lists all of my posts by category, title and date.  You can then access any post you want in the Archives.

Anger, as an emotion, communicates to us that we perceive a “threat” that we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough power at it. When angry, adrenaline flows through our body and motivates us to take action against the threat. This is the power that you feel when angry.

Anger prepares you to go to war.  In other words, you are energized and ready to attack the perceived threat and eliminate it.

The challenge in using anger as a primary motivator is that you may overreact and do something inappropriate.

The issue here is two-fold..

  1. What if you have misperceived the nature of the the threat and your attack is inappropriate?
  2. What if the “threat” is a  person (like a boss) who has more power than you and your “attack” would end up “hurting” you?

Issue number 1 involves anyone who uses anger as a “shield” (or secondary emotion) to protect them from other feelings such as inadequacy, shame, anxiety, hurt, and so forth.

The most conspicuous example of this is when a man abuses his wife and later attempts to blame his anger for his actions.

The issue here is  there the perceived threat is psychological. The reaction implies that the threat is survival based, which it is not. In other words, there is an ego threat and emotions, other than anger need to be addressed.

Issue number 2 involves an interaction where someone who has more power or status takes advantage of you because they believe they are immune to anything you might choose to do.

This could be a boss or a supervisor.

It could involve a situation where a male superior takes advantage of a  female subordinate.  There are numerous examples in the news highlighting this situation.

But, it could also involve a superior taking advantage of a subordinate (same gender) by undercutting them  or stealing their work without giving the necessary credit.

In this case, a direct “attack” may not be possible.

You can, however, still use the energy anger of your anger as a motivator.  You just have to develop and implement an indirect “attack”.

But, what if you misuse your anger as a motivator and “manufacture” some sort of threat so you can use the anger energy.  Let’s say that you get angry at a project so you can complete it.

Well, there may be a better way.

Barbara Fredrickson looks at “positive” emotions.

While I do not believe that emotions should be labeled as “positive” or “negative” for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, I will talk about positive emotions here for the sake of discussion.

Fredrickson writes that the purpose of positive emotions is to keep us engaged or motivated with our environment.

The emotion of glad, or happy, motivates us to become involved in whatever we find “pleasurable”.

I suggest that you use the emotion of “glad” to motivate you to engage yourself in tasks at work or in relationships which will help you achieve your goals or improve your relationships.

To be more specific, think of how achieving a specific task, improving a relationship, reaching your goals, or becoming a better person will be advantageous to you and experience “pleasure” at the gains you will experience.

When you do this, you experience the motivation you are looking for without having to worry about overreacting. In other words, you can still “attack” the situation with adaptive energy and feel good about what you’re doing.

This is what we all do when we are preparing to go on vacation and we zip through projects, clear our desk, and clean our e-mail boxes before leaving.

If you are skeptical about finding tasks at work “pleasurable”, then you can access a different emotion. While Fredrickson doesn’t discuss it, other writers do. The emotion is “pride”. This is a self-conscious emotion that can become maladaptive if it becomes narcissistic. If used as a motivator to complete a task that is “important” to you and reflects your “sense of competence”, self-worth, and desire to “do put your best foot forward”, pride will function as a “positive” emotion and give you the energy/motivation you seek.

This is adaptively and appropriately using your emotions as tools. It is matching the emotion to the situation.

4 Part Series on Anger. Part 4: 4 Secret Tips for Unlocking Anger and Deploying it Strategically

In my last three posts…

I noted that anger was just a tool that could be strategically deployed and that anger did not control you, make you angry, or cause you to act in any particular way.

I discussed different manifestations and several faces of anger…

In this post, I discuss 4 tips regarding how you can unlock the power of your anger.  I call them secret tips because they are not obvious and tend not to be widely recognized or emphasized.

When utilized, however, these tips will both legitimize your anger and guide you to using your anger as a strategic tool to improve your life and your relationships.

The four secret tips:

#1 Practice “safety” first.    (create both psychological and physical space)

This tip is part of the anger mastery cycle and is absolutely critical to learn.

The goal is to create a habit that focuses your attention on creating safety for you and others  as soon as you become aware that you are angry.

This tip also sets you up for the other 3.

Two points are important here:

  • The first is that it will take practice to link the action of creating safety to the awareness that you are angry.
  • The second point is that the “safety” you are creating is both for you and for  the other person (or people) you are angry at.

Let’s unpack these points to make this tip more accessible.

When I use the word “link”, I am referring to the creation of a habit.

A “habit” is a sequence of behaviors that becomes automatic so that, when the sequence is triggered, one action follows the other without requiring a whole lot of thought.

As an example.. When I had hair, I would get in the shower and go through my hair care routine (shampoo, rinse, conditioner, rinse).  After doing it so many times, the hair care routine became an automatic sequence of behaviors. In other words, a habit.

Now, the evolutionary value of a habit is that you can actually multitask without losing any effectiveness.  Once a habit was formed, I would execute the sequence of behaviors while thinking about something else.  When I exited the shower, I often couldn’t remember (without some effort) whether I had used the conditioner or not.  I had, in fact, applied the conditioner but it was “automatically” done without much thought by the habit I had created.

Habits can work for us if the behavior we are automating is advantageous.  If, however, the behavior is destructive, the habit will still automate it but it won’t be good for us.

So, the habit I am suggesting you create for anger will increase your ability to practice safety first and involves this routine:

As soon as you  become aware (by knowing how your body signals to you that you are getting angry), you immediately take a deep breath and take a physical step backwards.

The breath creates psychological safety in that it lowers your arousal level and gives you the time you need to assess the situation. The “safety” here is the gap that you create between the initial angry reaction and the response you will make to the situation.

The physical step backward creates a physical safe zone both for you by separating you from the other person and for them by separating them from you.

With practice (and, like with any habit, you will have to practice it in order to make it automatic), the routine becomes:

  • unconsciously perceive a threat
  • experience anger physically in your body
  • create safety by taking a deep breath and stepping back from the situation

The logic behind thinking safety first is this…

The idea of safety is already a concept that is familiar to everyone.

When you link safety to anger, you are acknowledging that anger is a strong emotion that prepares you for war.  But, you want to plan for war from a position of safety so that you don’t make the wrong decision that could negatively impact you and the person you go to war with.

Keep in mind that creating safely first does not eliminate any of your options regarding the situation and does not invalidate your anger in any way (which is the next secret).

#2 Validate, do not  engage, your anger.

Validation means to accept that this is your anger and that it might be important.  By validating and accepting your anger, you are acknowledging it as a possible source of useful information.  This means that you do not fight your anger, try to deny your anger, or resist your anger in any way.

Validating your anger keeps all of your options on the table.

When you engage your anger rather than validate it, you give in to it.

This means that on some level you are assuming that it is legitimate anger and accurately reflects what is actually going on.  Engagement acts as-if  the threat is real and that it is what it appears to be.

Let’s look at the logical options here..

1.The threat is real.

If the threat is real, then engaging the anger would be appropriate, functional and effective if you make the right choice of how to overpower the threat

If, however, you act impulsively and your intervention is either too excessive or too weak, then you have made the situation worse.

2.The perceived threat is not real and you have made a mistake.

If there is no threat and you go to war when you engage your anger, you will most likely overreact and create significant problems for yourself interpersonally and, possibly, legally.

This is the mistake that those whose anger seems to be controlling them make.

Validating your anger serves two purposes.

On the one hand, it acknowledges your anger and helps to prevent resisting or denying your emotion. Resistance and/or denial only make the anger stronger.

Secondly, it prevents you from engaging your anger and acting impulsively.  This keeps open all of your options for responding to the situation in which you find yourself.

#3 Assess twice Act once (resist reacting)

This is very similar to what people who construct things advise which is to “Measure twice, cut once.” The idea in construction is that you should double check your measurement before you make a cut that you can’t undo.

When it comes to anger, the idea is that you assess the nature of the perceived threat, think about it and then take a second look before you do something that you can’t take back and might have to atone for with an apology or, perhaps, a trip to court.

Assessing twice does not necessarily take a lot of time.

If you decide to exit the situation, think it over, and then reengage with the person  you are mad at, then assessing twice will take some time.  And, it may be time that is very well spent.

But, in a tense situation, assessing twice can simply mean that you immediately guage the situation, take a second deep breath, make a second assessment and then respond.

#4 Choose an effective response

Let’s break this one down.

First,you need to be aware that your goal is always to respond and not react.

Secondly, you are always responsible for any action you take even if it is a spontaneous reaction to an event. As I’ve noted above and in other posts, you can never justify the excuse that “My anger made you do it.” because, ultimately, all your behavior stems from thoughts and decisions that you make.

Finally, your response should be effective in that you have determined that it will neutralize the threat with a minimum of collateral damage.

There are several elements involved in effectiveness…

  • your assessment of the threat,
  • the level of “force” needed to meet and deal specifically with the threat,
  • the skills you need to implement the action you will take and
  • the degree to which you can carry out your plan.

Finally, in choosing an effective response, there are 4 important considerations:

  • it is important to accept that you are making a choice as to what you will do.
  • You are not forced to do anything.
  • You are responsible for the choice you make.
  • You might make the wrong choice and can always make a different choice.

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4 Part Series on Anger. Part 3: You Are NOT Your Anger

When  you saw the title of this post, did you wonder what point I was trying to make?

Or, did you think something along the lines of, “Duh!”?

In either case, the point I am making is that sometimes people act as if their anger has taken control of them. Or, in other words, they have become their anger.

As I will discuss below, while it may feel like your anger is is calling the shots, your anger NEVER has control over what you do. It is always a tool that you can deploy to make your life better.

Let me unpack this a bit using pain as an example.

Let’s say that you have a headache. You are uncomfortable and, maybe, you are even a bit surly with those around you.

I know this has happened to me.

Should you be challenged about your behavior, you probably would apologize and explain that you have a headache and it was really bothering you.

If the headache persists over time and doesn’t go away after you’ve taken some OTC medication, you might decide to call your doctor.

This action of using the pain as a source of information encouraging you ro get some help is actually using your pain as a tool.

Pain is a physical phenomenon which, as a tool, both informs you that something is wrong and encourages you (because it hurts) to stop what you are doing (straining something) or seek professional help to look into what is going on inside you that might be problematic.

By the way, this is the function of pain.

You would not say that the headache forced you to be surly or that the headache was in some way controlling you.

In other words, it would always be clear to you that you had a headache and not that your headache had “become you” and taken control of you.

If you did blame your headache, then you would be engaging in the psychological phenomenon of suffering from your pain. Suffering involves giving unwarranted meaning or significance to the physical pain.

This process is analogous to that which happens with the  emotion of anger.

Here is how the Anger Cycle works:

  • You are hard-wired to constantly, and subconsciously, scan your surroundings for threat.
  • When a threat is perceived, a fast message is sent to the Amygdala in your brain telling your body to prepare for battle.  This is your anger reaction. The physical signs of this preparation are the changes that your body goes through when you get angry.
  • At the same time, a slower message goes to your cerebral cortex which tells you that a threat has been perceived.  This gives you an opportunity to assess the nature of the threat and choose your response.

As I have noted in other posts, anger is a tool, the function of which is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with perceived threat. Your anger is like the smoke detector in your house.  It sends out an alert and screams “Check out what is going on!”

Your anger does not tell you what to do next anymore than the smoke detector tells you to grab your “go-bag” and move to higher ground.  After all, it may be that the toaster just burned the toast. Or, you could have just misunderstood what was said to you.

Or, there just might be a fire and the perceived threat is real.  This is where your assessment and response options become important.

Sometimes, however, a person will act as if their initial reaction is absolutely correct (and not take the time to assess the situation) and go to war.  In this situation, they have become their anger and that the anger is eliciting behavior that is often seen as inappropriate or extreme.

 

Notice the words in italics.  (Act as if) The individual, here, is abdicating any judgement to the anger and is assuming that “war” is, indeed, called for.

It is, as if, the anger got inside them and, like an insidious virus or alien being, took control of their actions and gave them no choice but to lash out at or hurt another person.

In other words, they have become their anger!

When called out for their actions, while angry, they will plead that this just wasn’t like them and that their anger made them do what they did.

When a person takes no responsibility for their behavior and blames their anger, they might as well saying that they were possessed.

To put it another way, when you over-identify with, and distance yourself from, your anger, you, in a sense, become your anger.

In essence, you are acting as-if it controls you.

Three important points are critical here.

First, your anger, as an emotion,  results from how you perceive your surroundings.

Secondly, because anger is a hard-wired emotion and can happen very quickly,  your experience may very well feel like your anger is controlling you. This is the fast track process of anger that I have addressed in other posts and in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Thirdly, because the emotional process of anger, always sends a slower message to the the thinking part of your brain (the Cortex), you always have a choice as to how you will respond to the perceived threat.

In other words, your anger does initially happen to you based on how you perceive your surroundings.  But, it never becomes you as you always have a choice as to how you will respond.

You just have to learn how to recognize and strategically utilize this choice.

 

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.