Why it feels like someone else makes you angry. (Note: They don’t.) And, what you can do.

We’ve all experienced it or read about it.

  • We are trying to put together a shelf, a bicycle or a complex something or other and the instructions for taking the next step are mysteriously absent or lacking the information we need.  We are ready to go to war with the company.
  •  A celebrity  gets angry and beats up his girlfriend or does something equally as dumb and says “I got angry” but implies that his anger made him become aggressive.
  • You fill in your own experience.

it isn’t just that we get angry.  Indeed, we experience the anger as instantaneous and interpret what is happening in this way:

A: Something happens.

B: We react with anger.

C: A seems to cause B.

Or, to put it another way, A made us angry.

While it is true that your initial emotional reaction to a perceived threat is quick, automatic and beyond your control, it isn’t true that your emotion chooses your response and  coerces you to act out.

Let me explain.

Anger is one of 6 primary emotions for which we are hard-wired.

When we lived in caves, we did not have sharp teeth or claws like the predators who wanted to eat us and we had to be able to react quickly to both animal predators and other human predators who wished us harm.

Our emotions evolved to do this.

Basically, we did, and still do today, constantly scan our surroundings for any threat.  When a threat is subconsciously perceived, a fast track message is sent to the Amygdala in the brain which communicates, via the Thalamus, with the body.  We automatically go into fight or flight mode.

We are ready for battle or to run.

The threat response didn’t require a lot of thinking and always matched the threat (survival based).

The problem, today, is that our response often does not match the threat because the nature of the threats we face has changed (psychological based).

While this very quick reaction to threat was adaptive and helped us survive when we lived in caves, it hasn’t changed over the millennia and is the reason you perceive your anger to be automatic.

So, yes, your anger may be automatic.

And, if you react without much thinking, that’s your caveman coming out and it feels automatic and beyond your control.

Your behavioral response, however, is neither automatic nor beyond your control.  And, here is why.

As our brains evolved, the cerebral cortex, or thinking part of the brain gave us the ability to choose how we wanted to respond to the automatic or, more primitive, parts of our brain.

So, at the same time that the fast track message goes to the Amygdala, a relatively slower message goes to the Cerebral Cortex whose task is to interpret the nature of the threat and the best way to respond to it.

You’ve experienced a similar reaction-response sequence if you’ve ever made a quick assessment of  situation, reacted, said or did something, got more information and found out that your initial reaction was incorrect and did not match what was actually taking place.

The emotion you felt could have been anxiety if you were worried about something that was never going to happen in the first place such as when you wanted to ask your boss for a raise but avoided it  because you knew he would say “no” and were surprised when you finally got up the courage to ask and he quickly said “yes”. Or, it could have been anger if you went “off” on your kid for being late, saw his/her face, got more information and felt very bad when you found out that your kid drove his inebriated friend home and forgot to grab his cell phone.

The slower track message to your cerebral cortex ALWAYS give you a choice about how you will respond to your anger.

The challenge is that the quick anger reaction is both automatic and more attention grabbing than the slower, we’ll call it thinking, message.

You have to learn how to respond rather than react to perceived threats.

Here is the process..

  • Accept that you make you angry.
  • Learn to pay attention to the “signals” your body gives you when you are reacting with anger (warmth, tightened muscles, focused attention).
  • As soon as you become aware of your anger, remind yourself to take a breath and take a step back from the perceived threat.
  • Use this “break” to assess the real nature of the threat.
  • Choose an effective response which matches the nature of the threat.

It is not easy to learn this process but it is doable.

I welcome your comments.

Anger and Thirst

Recently, the following question appeared on Quora: 

When you get angry at someone, what do you do?

Two answers caught my attention because they reflect very common responses to dealing with anger.

1.When you’re angry, don’t act. Don’t speak. Don’t do anything.

2.When I get angry, I listen to music (not fast) and I eat some food. Maybe I’ll get some sleep or read a book.

Both answers reflect a common misconception of anger as a dangerous emotion which causes one to do something they later regret (my emphasis added).

The first answer suggests that you should do nothing.  This answer is misleading and may prevent someone (particularly a woman) from dealing with a perceived threat.

The second answer is about avoiding anger by distraction or avoidance.

Let’s clear up this misunderstanding.

Forget what you may have been told about emotions.

The facts is that anger, and all emotions, are your body’s way of alerting you to situations in your surroundings which require your attention and, possibly, a decision  from you about how to deal with that situation.

Emotions are your “early warning system”.

Let me put this into perspective for you.

Suppose I asked you this question…

What do you do when your body tells you that you are thirsty?

And you responded, “Don’t act, Do Nothing, Go someplace and listen to quiet music.”

People would think your answer was very strange and that it seemed to miss the point of the question.

The reason for this is that everyone understands that “being thirsty” is…

1) your body’s way of alerting you to a possible threat of dehydration

and

2) a motivator moving you to deal with the threat by taking action (getting a drink).

Thirst is a messenger and a motivator.

Your emotions also are messengers and motivators.

The emotion of anger (one of 6 primary emotions) is a primitive threat detector.

Anger is a messenger and a motivator.

Anger both…

1) alerts you that you have perceived a threat (to your goals, values, view of right and wrong) in your environment

and

2) motivates you to take action to eliminate the threat.

Just like thirst.

Let me take it one more step..

Suppose you were really thirsty and you decided to go into a local store and steal some water at gun point.

Yes, I know I am exaggerating.

No one would blame the thirst for your behavior. They would say, “You were thirsty and you chose to steal the water.”

But, people do blame their anger for their behavior.

Think about the celebrity or athlete who who beats up his girlfriend and says, “My anger made me do it.”

He, in fact, blames his anger so that he can avoid responsibility for his decision to beat up his girlfriend.

I grant you that people do some really dumb things when they get angry. But, their behavior is always a choice.

Emotions motivate, they do not cause behavior.

The solution is not to ignore the anger as suggested in Answer #2.

If you ignore, or avoid, your anger and the situation about which your emotion sent out an alert, the emotion will just come back.

Just like you will continue to be thirsty.

Rather, as I have noted in my Amazon bestselling book: Beyond Anger Management Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, the solution is to …

*learn to recognize your anger,

*take a deep breath to calm yourself,

*take a step back from the situation to give yourself some perspective,

and

*choose how you want to respond to the situation to effectively deal with the threat.

You can download the first two chapters of my book by scrolling up to the welcome post above and clicking on the link.

By the way, I noted that your answer might rob someone of the opportunity to deal with a threat.

Women today (not my view but that of 2000 professional women on LI) do not feel comfortable expressing anger because when they do (in a professional setting), they are demeaned, labelled, and marginalized by their male co-workers.

I know this does not apply to all women in all settings.

By validating anger for both men and women and teaching them how to adaptively master their anger, everyone wins.

Why do I feel angry when I have no reason to be? P 2

This is the second of two posts addressing three possible explanations for the experience of feeling angry when there is no reason to be angry. In my last post, I discussed the first two possibilities.  In this post, I discuss possibility #3 and give some additional suggestions for actions you could take if this experience applies to you.

3. It feels like anger but isn’t.

a. Anger as a secondary emotion.

Sometimes men (more so than women) will express anger when there is no immediate threat.  When this happens, anger is a secondary emotion. It feels, and looks like, anger but isn’t.

There are at least two reasons why anger is expressed as a secondary emotion.

The first is that men, in our culture, are very familiar with and, in most cases, comfortable with the emotion of anger. They are less familiar with emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and vulnerability.  As a result, a man who feels vulnerable may express anger to cover over this other, uncomfortable, feeling.

Secondly, and similar to the above, anger is an empowering emotion which is experienced as energizing.  Other feelings such as anxiety, sadness and vulnerability are experienced as uncomfortable and weak.  Because of this, anger may be expressed as a secondary emotion in order to avoid discomfort.

b. Anger as an instrumental emotion.

When we lived in caves, our display of anger communicated to others that we were not to be messed with and should be left alone.  In caveman times, this anger display might have saved our lives.

Fast forward to today.  You are walking down the street and you see a person who is obvious angry and is loudly ranting and raving.  You probably will do what you can to  avoid this person.

Because of the nature of anger, it is possible to use anger to manipulate others into doing what you want in order to avoid having to deal with, or be subjected to, your anger.

When anger is used as an instrument to manipulate others, it is called instrumental anger.  It looks like anger but there is not threat so it is not valid anger. If you are not aware that you are using anger instrumentally, you may experience yourself as getting angry for “no reason”.

Some suggestions:

The antidote to all three of the above explanations is mastering your anger.

The Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC), a copy of which you can download by clicking on the link to the right of your screen, visually depicts the anger process and covers both valid (primary) anger and invalid (substituted) anger.

Once you have become aware that you are angry, the AMC indicates that you need to “assess/validate” your angry reaction.  In this step, you are engaging your cerebral cortex to determine whether a threat exists or not.

This will take some practice but I have given you some guidelines which should help focus your attention on what it is you are looking for in your assessment.

Possible arenas of threat include your goals, your sense of right and wrong, the way you think things “should” be, your values, your ego, your family, your finances, etc.  The next time you get angry, take a breath, take a step back from what is going on, and ask yourself “What is being threatened?”

As soon as you become aware of your anger,

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Next, take a physical step backwards from the situation.
  3. Then, just observe for a moment what is going on. Consider both your own perceptions and the feedback you are getting from others.  In this step, you need avoid getting defensive (not easy to do but doable with practice) and remain open to the possibility that what others are telling may be correct.

If you can ID a threat, great. You can choose how you want to proceed. In this case, you really are angry for a reason.

If you are unable to ID a threat, no problem. You may be angry “for no reason” and you have options.

  1. You can walk away and revisit the situation later.
  2. You can apologize to the other person.
  3. You can learn about what anger might be when it isn’t anger including anger as a substitute for other feelings such as anxiety, guilt, or sadness and anger as an instrumental emotion which is designed to manipulate another person.

The bottom line here is that you need to learn to always validate your anger as it is an important emotional tool that provides you with information. Validating, or accepting your anger does not mean that you have a valid reason for your anger.

Sometimes, you will be angry for a reason and sometimes you will be angry for no reason.  The goal is to learn the difference.

One issue is that the information your anger gives you, while based on your perceptions, may be incorrect because you have misperceived what is going on. Explanation 1 and 2 covered this and I gave you some ideas about what you can do.

The second issue is substituting anger for other feelings or intent.  This is explanation 3.  Becoming aware that this is how you are using anger requires that you be honest and open with yourself, get feedback (and help) from others, and work on developing new emotional habits.

Over time, you will become more adept at recognizing threats, when they exist.

I welcome your comments.

 

Emotions, Productivity, Using (or being used by) Anxiety, Assertion and More…

To my readers:

In this week’s post, I was going to conclude my two part series entitled: “Why do I feel angry when I have no reason to be?”

I decided, however, to alert you to this recent podcast I did with Productivity Expert, Mark Struczewski as I believe you will find the information contained in this interview very useful.

I will publish Part 2 in my next post.

Here is the link…..

https://markstruczewski.com/ed

A Conversation with Ed Daube – TMSP 130

During this podcast, we discussed the impact that emotions have on productivity with an emphasis on anxiety.

I noted that there are two types of anxiety.

The first is anxiety as distress.  This is the emotion you feel that leads you to procrastinate or avoid doing the job that is in front of you.  Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is: “There MAY be a threat ahead which MIGHT do me harm.”

This is the most commonly recognized form of anxiety.

There is, however, another form of anxiety called eustress which, as an emotion, facilitates productivity because it encourages action.

I discuss both of these forms of anxiety in the podcast.

We also discuss how to deal with both subordinates and superiors, in an office setting, who violate your boundaries when they insist on “visiting” with you.  This topic touches upon being assertive and “escalating” as needed.  I give specific suggestions for effectively handling these types of situations.

I also discuss the Relationship Prime Directive and how it applies to these types of interactions.

Lastly, but not finally, I talk about anger and how it can develop in a work setting and interfere with productivity.

There is much more to the podcast and I strongly recommend you click over and invest the 30+ minutes it will take to listen to and take notes from the program.

You may decide to listen several times to get all the “meat” you can out of the interview.

Why do I feel angry when I have no reason to be? P.1

This is the first of a two part discussion. 

There are at least three possible explanations for why someone might be angry and not be able to identify  a “reason” for their anger. In this post, I will talk about what anger is and discuss the first two explanations. 

In my next blog, I will address explanation #3 and talk about anger which really isn’t anger: specifically secondary and instrumental “anger”.

Recently, I was asked the above question on Quora.com and I thought I might address it here. If this applies to you, or someone you know, here are some insights that could be helpful.

As I have noted in previous posts, anger is one of six primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise).  With the exceptions of glad (happy) and surprise, the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors which appear in all human cultures and many subhuman species.

In humans, the primary emotions function as primitive threat detectors which both alert us to potential threats and, subconsciously, prepare our bodies to deal with the threat.  While I discussed sadness, fear, anxiety and other feelings in my first Amazon  Best Selling book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, my second Amazon Best Seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool focuses on Anger specifically.

Each emotion communicates a different message about the perceived threat. The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough power at it. Your body is prepared for battle.  You are ready to fight.

Whenever you get angry, it is because you perceive a threat.  This the reason behind your anger.

This question appears to address the experience in which one feels angry but can’t seem to identify a specific threat.  The apparent absence of an identifiable threat implies that there is no reason for the anger.

This may, or may not be true.

There are at least three possible explanations for what may be happening.

  1. No threat exists and you have misperceived was is going on.
  2. A threat exists but it is not obvious and, therefore, is not consciously identified as a threat. The individual has, however, subconsciously, identified a threat and reacted to it.
  3. While the emotion expressed appears to be anger, it is not anger as a primary emotion.  Rather, it is either secondary anger or instrumental anger and the individual is not aware that the emotion is not primary anger.

Let’s look at the first two.

  1. No threat exists.

Imagine a situation in which you get angry and everyone around you looks at you as if to say,  “What is going on with you?”. Their comments imply that there is no reason for your anger and that your anger is inappropriate.

There are at least two possibilities here.

On the one hand, you may have correctly perceived a threat and your perceptions are not being consensually validated.  Your experience, based on the feedback you are  getting, is that you are angry for no reason. The truth, however, is  that you are correct and they are incorrect.  There is a reason for your anger and they are telling you there is no reason.

On the other hand, you may have misunderstood the actions of another individual.  Your experience, based on the feedback you are  getting is that you are angry for no reason.

The truth is that you perceived a threat and reacted.  You just were incorrect in your perception. In this case, you are not “angry for no reason”. Rather, there is no reason for your anger.

2. A threat exists but it is not obvious.

The actions of another person are not always what they appear to be.  This can happen when one is being sarcastic, cracking a joke, using evasive or insincere language, or giving a “double message”.

You may get angry because you correctly sense the actual meaning (threat) underlying the communication you are receiving but you don’t consciously identify the threat because it is not obvious.

When this happens, I suggest that you validate and honor your anger as alerting you to a possible threat.  You should not act-out in anger but you do have at least two options.

On the one hand, you can choose to ignore the possible threat because the individual’s message is indirect and, therefore, not actionable.

The second option is to note that you aren’t sure what the person is trying to say to you and ask for clarification.

I will address the third explanation in my next post.

 

How can one control short temper?

This is a question I received on Quora and my response to it.

Before I answer this question, I must assume that by “short temper” you mean that you are quick to react to an anger eliciting situation and do something you later determine was not appropriate to the initial situation in which you chose to get angry and ended up acting out inappropriately.

Let me elaborate on the italicized words above….

React: The goal in dealing with any situation in which you get angry is to respond not react. To react is to take action without giving much thought to what you do. To respond is to reflect on the situation and choose an effective response which both matches and deals with the situation. This is the heart of anger mastery.

That being said, you should know that anger, as a primitive threat detector, prepares you to react to a dangerous situation and eliminate it with a show of force.

Thus, while to react is normal, it is often not optimal and needs to be resisted.

Anger eliciting: Situations in which you find yourself appear to cause your anger. This is an anger myth. Your perception of your situation as a “threat” is what elicits or leads to your getting angry. You can see this visually in The Anger Master Cycle pdf which you can download, without opt-in by scrolling up to the top of this page and clicking on the link to your right.

Chose: It is important to note that while the initial reaction to a threatening situation is anger, the behavior you engage in is ALWAYS a choice. In addition, whether you stay angry or let your anger dissipate is also a choice and is based on how you evaluate your situation and the nature of the threat you both initially perceived and the perception that arises after you have evaluated what is going on.

Not Appropriate: When your short temper results in your reacting to a situation in such a way that it does not match what is going on, your behavior is seen as inappropriate. It is this lack of a match that results in your thinking you need to control your short temper.

Your belief is that if you control your short temper, you won’t get angry, you won’t do inappropriate things, and you won’t get in trouble or cause trouble which you later regret.

Sorry for the long intro but I needed to establish a context for my answer.

Controlling your anger is only the first step to mastering your anger. Many anger management courses teach that control is not only an important step regarding anger but the most important step. This is incorrect.

The basis of mastering your anger as a strategic tool (the title of my Amazon best selling book) is to validate and accept your anger, control your behavior, evaluate your situation and choose whether to hold onto and take action using the energy of your anger, or let the anger go.

Ok, let’s look at the issue of control.

Control happens when you put a pause between the initial awareness that you are angry and the choice to take action.

Adding this pause to your behavioral repertoire can be learned but it takes a bit of effort and “practice”.

The principle you will be using involves “mental time travel”. Don’t freak out here as I am only asking you to take a moment, relax in a chair, and visualize yourself at some future date being in an anger eliciting situation, beginning to get angry and pausing.

If you have difficulty “seeing” yourself doing this, you can talk yourself through it.

My boss just did xyz. I’m getting angry. I really want to go off on him. I stop myself, take a step back from him, and take a deep breath. This is my pause. I now use that pause to think about what is going on and what actions I choose to take.”

As you go through this script, do your best to “see” yourself doing these steps. Be patient and stay with it. This may be a new “skill set” for you and it may take several tries before it becomes more comfortable to you. There is no failure here. The more you attempt to visualize the future you want, the better you get at it.

By the way, this is not pseudo psychology as there is neuroscientic evidence that this mental time travel is effective.

The most important parts of this pause are 1. taking a physical step back from the situation which is eliciting your anger and 2. taking a deep breath.

Doing these two steps will give you the pause that you are trying to learn.

So, you are “training” yourself to take a step back and take a deep breath whenever you get angry.

Old reaction: Get angry ==> take action

New reaction: Get angry ==> step back and take a breath.

That is the answer to your question but I would like to go a bit further.

Once you have stepped back and taken a breath, you will need to assess what is going on so that you can choose a response.

In the interest of not making this post too long, I refer you back to the Anger Mastery Cycle so that you can see the options available to you as you seek to master your anger.

I hope this answers your question. If it does, or it does not, please leave a comment.

What are the tips for increasing anger? Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the person who gets angry but does not express it and I gave some suggestions this individual might use to express (or increase) his (or her) anger.

In this post, I will talk about the person who does not recognize that they are angry. This individual gets mad but does not identify the emotion as anger.

What might account for someone developing in this manner?

Upbringing, lessons learned, and indirect anger.

Well, suppose you grew up in a family where anger was either strongly denied or egregiously displayed?  In response to these messages, you might have decided that you would never allow yourself to get angry.

Well, the unfortunate truth is that the emotion of anger, while it may lie dormant or be indirectly expressed, is a part of you and has been with you since birth.

Some people express their anger indirectly through passive-aggressive behavior.  Through a process of delay, making excuses, not completing goals, procrastination, sarcasm and so forth, one can “get back” at a potential threat without acknowledging anger.

If this applies to you, it might be in your best interest to explore how you avoid interpersonal threat and, with help, learn to acknowledge the threat directly, allow yourself to get angry, and interact more directly with others.

Anger by a different name.

There are emotions which you might feel comfortable expressing which, while not identified as anger, actually are elicited by a perceived threat. Examples include annoyance, frustration, bitterness.

To the extent that these emotions are a reaction to a perceived threat and motivate action to deal with the threat, what you are experiencing could very well be anger.  You just are not labeling it as anger.

Think about it for a moment. The message of anger is that the angry person perceives a threat he believes he can eliminate.

The message of annoyance and frustration is that an event has occurred that is perceived as an unexpected obstacle that needs to be handled, bypassed, or worked through. In either case, the event is perceived as an inconvenience rather than a threat.

If you have been taught that you should never get angry because your anger will make you act out and hurt others, then you may have chosen to “eliminate” this emotion from your emotional toolkit. It’s okay for you to be annoyed but not angry.

It is important to note that sometimes, frustration and annoyance just reflect being frustrated or annoyed. Your goal has been blocked and you don’t like it.  There is no threat, just an obstacle that needs to be  overcome.

No threat— no anger.

The good news and the bad news.

If you are substituting anger with indirect behavior or other feelings, your anger is still a part of you.

You may see this as bad news if your goal is to eliminate your anger.

It is good news because you have a tool you can learn to use to improve your life and your relationships.

Maybe this will help. Let’s say you are not familiar with power tools and you have always used a screwdriver when needed.  You are about to build a fence and you are dreading all the screws you will need to use.  Someone introduces you to an power screwdriver and your job has been transformed.

Now I am not saying that you have to get angry.

What I am saying is that you were born with a very good threat detector…your anger.

While it is important to recognize that while some people may do harmful things when angry, their behavior is ALWAYS the result of the choices they make. Anger alerts you to and prepares you to deal with a perceived threat. Anger NEVER causes or forces you to do anything.

You can learn to both recognize and master your anger.  In fact, my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool will help you do that.  You can download the first two chapters by scrolling up to the Welcome Post above.

I welcome your comments.

 

A

What are the tips for increasing anger? Part 1

This is an interesting question that I was asked on Quora.  At the time, it raised an issue I had not previously thought about.

Indeed, usually, people question how to reduce anger.

As I thought about it, there are people who claim that they do not get angry.

Indeed, I can think of at least three types of people who do not get angry.

  1. The person who, for whatever reason, never perceives any injustice in the world.  As even the Dalai Lama has said that he gets angry, this type of person would be very rare.
  2. The person who does not recognize that they are angry.  I will discuss this person in the next post.
  3. There is the person who gets angry but does not express it.  I believe that this is the individual to whom this question applies.

Anger is one of the five basic emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear and disgust). Everyone develops these emotions. Some are present at birth and others develop over time. The message of anger is that we are facing a threat that we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough force at it.

The word threat is in italics because each of us defines and perceives situations as threatening in different ways.

The word force is in italics because some people overreact and become unnecessarily aggressive when angry, others use just enough force and assertively handle the situation, and still others do not use enough, or no, force to handle a genuine threat. (They know a threat exists but choose to do nothing.) This is called passive, or non-assertive behavior.

Looked at another way, anger is a self-protective mechanism that automatically turns on when you believe you need to take action to prevent some sort of harm from taking place and you have the capacity to take that action.

As I noted in my last post, anger is both a messenger and a motivator.

There are two components to anger which are relevant here…

1. the perception of threat

(This is the messenger component.)

2. the belief that you have the ability to overpower and eliminate the threat and the physical preparedness to take action

(This is the motivator component.)

If you perceive a threat that will harm you and which you can’t eliminate, you will feel fear NOT anger.

Getting back to the question…

Your anger will increase in direct proportion to…

1. the level of threat you perceive in a situation

(The more threat you perceive, the greater will be your anger if you believe you can do something about the threat.)

2. the extent to which you believe your values, goals, plans, finances, family,self-worth, etc are important enough to protect and defend

(You must believe that you are, important. If what you are, do, or believe have no value, there can be no threat and, therefore, no anger.)

3. the extent to which you believe you have the knowledge, skills, and ability to defend yourself against the threat you perceive.

If you want to increase your anger, you will need to examine two aspects of your life.

1. How important or significant do you believe your values, your possessions, your beliefs, your self-image, your friendships, your sense of right and wrong, etc are?

This question may expose you to issues involving self-doubt, low self-esteem, or personal self-worth you may not have been aware of.  If this happens, you can seek  professional help to sort out the issues that arise.

2. How capable do you believe you are to assertively handle challenges to your beliefs, your values, etc?

This question will alert you to any deficits you may have regarding interpersonal assertion and self-expression.  These are specific skill sets which can be learned and there may be a need to get some outside advice/training specific to you and your situation.

When you believe you have something to defend and you have the skills to do what is necessary, your anger will be proportionate to the threat and will energize you to take action.

I welcome your comments.

The “Me-to” movement and Anger Mastery

As I am writing this, the “Me-to” movement seems to be gaining momentum.

Following the revelations of sexual indiscretions and the abuse of power by males in the entertainment industry toward “subordinate” females, many women and men have come forward in different industries to both acknowledge the abuse of power that exists and support those who have been victimized and have chosen to share their stories.

When I thought about the “Me-to” movement, I realized that these individuals not only were angry (understandably so) but were also mastering their anger (using the energy of their anger to accomplish a goal).

Let me set the stage for you.

Anger is one of 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise) which appear in all human cultures and some subhuman species.

With the exception of glad and surprise, the primary emotions evolved, through the emotional process, to keep our ancestors alive so that we, as a species, could survive.

While there are many ways to conceptualize what emotions (or feelings) are, I choose to think of all emotions as tools. I will elaborate below.

Here is the short version of how the emotional process  worked when we lived in caves and continues to work now.

You are hardwired to scan your surroundings for possible threat and to REACT to it.  This was very useful to our ancestors who faced threats that would literally kill them.

Once a threat is subconsciously detected, the Amygdala (part of the brain) sends a fast track message to the Thalamus to prepare the body for fight (battle) or flight (escape).  This is our emotional reaction. Again, all of this is outside your awareness.  And, if your life is at stake, this is exactly what you want.

The Amygdala perceives all threats as survival based.

The challenge, today, is that the threats we face are more psychological than survival based.

As our brain continued to develop and we evolved beyond our cave ancestors, the thinking part of the brain, the Cerebral Cortex, began to take on a more significant role in our lives.  So, while the fast track message went to the thalamus, a slower track message was now sent to the Cortex.

It is this message that gives us the opportunity to think about and assess the nature of the threat (survival or psychological) and choose how we want to respond to the perceived threat. This is our emotional response.

Emotional Mastery and emotions as tools

Think about your cell phone (or computer) for a minute.

While you now may have mastered it so that you can rapidly send a text, download a song, or watch a You Tube video with relative ease, you probably were not so proficient when you first encountered the phone.  While you may think of it as your lifeline, your  phone is just a tool.  Your proficient manipulation of your phone is merely proof that you have mastered it as a tool.

The same process applies to other tools such as a car, a table saw, your smart TV, a sewing machine, or your anger.

Anger

The emotion of anger is a tool which informs you that you have perceived a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it and prepares you to go to war.

Let me repeat this: Anger PREPARES you to go to war.

It is important to emphasize that anger does not CAUSE (or force) you to do anything.

Anger Mastery involves understanding what anger is and what it does (the emotional mastery cycle) and then using the energy of one’s anger to effectively do what is necessary to eliminate the threat.

Let’s go back to the “Me-to” movement.

Clearly a threat has been identified. While the short term “threat” is the men who have abused their power, the longer term threat is to change the climate which empowers and perpetuates this abuse.

People who get angry and lash out at others are reacting to their anger. We saw some of this when the revelations of sexual transgressions first began.

The “Me-to” movement, while still encouraging victims to come forward, is focusing its angry energy on bringing about cultural changes.  This involves an approach other than direct attacks.  Choosing how one can most effectively respond to the threat is what anger mastery is all about.

I discuss in much greater depth the whole topic of mastering anger in my most recent Amazon best selling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.  You can download the first two chapters of this book by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post above and clicking on the link provided.

To get a broader understanding of emotions as tools, I recommend my first book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings in which I discuss the emotions as tools model and specific emotions of anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt and shame.  You can download the first two chapters of this book by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post above and clicking on the link provided.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

 

Holiday rage: Where does it come from and what you can do about it.

This is a republication of a post I originally wrote last year.  I have updated and republished it here because you are most likely in the middle of your “Holiday Season” and this information might be useful to you.

If you think someone else might benefit from it, send them the link.

……

The upside of the holidays is that most of us are in a festive mood with all the decorations, the music, the food, getting together with family, and so forth.

But, there is a darker side of holiday feelings. This darker side can include feelings of extreme anger (or rage), feelings of depression, and so forth.

In this article, I will address holiday rage.

During this season, we may find ourselves scurrying around to do last minute tasks (get somewhere or do something) and someone (or something) wrongly gets in the way and thwarts our efforts to accomplish our goals.

When we in a hurry, we may feel stressed and outside of our comfort zone (the place where things are going along as they should be).  When stressed, the threshold at which we get angry is lowered.

Note the words in italics.  “Scurrying” implies that you are under some pressure and “wrongly” implies that the person or thing that is blocking your goals is doing so intentionally. “as they should be (going)” implies that we are less in control of our and what is happening to us.

Let’s look at each of these “issues” and see how they relate to increased anger.

Scurrying

When you are “scurrying”, you are already in a heightened state of arousal.  In other words, you are on an emotional edge. This sensitizes you to (and amplifies or magnifies) any possible impediment (or threat) to your goals.

This magnification is similar to what happens when you speak into a microphone.  The amplifier attached to the mic takes your voice and makes it louder.

Because you are in a hurry, behind schedule, over-scheduled, late, or just trying to do too much at one time, you are overly focused on your immediate goal and you will tend to perceive anything (or anybody) who gets in the way of your goal as not only a threat but, because of your heightened state of arousal, as a mega threat.

Remember that the message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

Consequently, you will tend to get very angry and energized to overpower the mega threat which is impeding your completing the task at hand. Notice the implication of the italicized words. The arousal of your hurrying about magnifies your perception of threat and amplifies the arousal of your anger.

The slow line, poorly written instructions, or distracted clerk which under “normal” conditions would elicit a feeling of frustration or mild upset, now elicits extreme anger or rage.

Wrong and intentional.

To see another person’s actions as both wrong and intentional will always push your anger button. In fact, the element of intentionality is a key component of anger that is often overlooked.

As an example.. you are walking down the street and someone forcefully bumps into you.  Your initial reaction might be to “push back”.  If the person apologizes or if the person is visually (or otherwise) impaired, the “bump” is now viewed in a very different context and there is no anger.

Or, if the actions of another are viewed as inappropriate but not as intentionally attempting to hurt or damage you in any way, you might feel annoyed but you don’t escalate into anger.

So, if someone makes you late by intentionally taking your parking place or cutting in line, the inadequate instructions prove that the company doesn’t give a rip or care about you, the end-user, or the distracted clerk is only there for the money, is poorly trained, or would rather be somewhere else, they are a mega-threat and your anger is completely justified to nullify the threat.

Again, notice the implication of the italicized words.

The way things should be..

This implies that you have a model of your world in your head which you may or may not be aware of.

Your model might involve wishful thinking along the lines of “I wish the lines would be shorter.” This is experienced as The lines should be shorter! It isn’t right that the lines are this long! or All these people are making it more difficult for me to get my shopping done!

The discrepancy between your model and reality may be perceived as a threat which can then elicit anger.

So, what can you do about it?

There are four actions you can take:

  1. take a breath
  2. Assess the nature of the threat, your model of the “world” and whether or not a real threat exists.
  3. Think about what could happen if you react in the way you are just about ready to do.
  4. Choose an appropriate response.

Take a breath.

The first step when you are dealing with any of the threat detecting emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, anxiety) is to take a breath. Taking a breath lowers your arousal and gives you some psychological distance between you and the threat.  The few seconds or that you gain give you an opportunity to assess the nature of the threat and your options.

Note: If you are experiencing fear (not anxiety), you always want to escape from the situation.

The second step is to assess the nature of the threat and your model of the world.  Perhaps your model of what should be happening is inaccurate given your timing, the nature of the situation in which you find yourself, and so forth.

Thirdly, think about the the actions you are contemplating doing.  This is really a cost-benefit analysis.

Some examples:

Stolen parking place…

Is it really worth risking an accident to try and get that parking space? Probably not. Yes, it should have been your space but there is no “mega-threat” as you can find another.  What if you stop your car and cuss out the other driver and you get into an argument? Now, not only has a scene been created but you will be delayed even more.

To illustrate this, I remember years ago when I got a speeding ticket and went to driving school.  The instructor made a comparison on the board between speeding and getting a ticket.  He noted that speeding might save me maybe 10 minutes on my arrival.  If I got a ticket, the time it would “cost” me to deal with the cop would be more than the time I would save by speeding.  Other costs included fines (if any) time spend in driving school and so forth.  The cost-benefit analysis of speeding clearly showed that the benefits did not outweigh the costs.

Person cuts in line…

You can say something to the person who cut in line.  However, if you approach this person with all the energy of your heightened arousal, the reaction you get might not be the apology you deserve but an aroused angry over-reaction. Is it worth it to get into an argument when an apology would restore the situation?   Probably not.

Poorly written instructions for the toy you are trying to put together at 11:00 PM…

well, I have been there and done that. And, no, getting angry at the company, the person with inadequate writing skills, or the editor accomplished nothing.  I still had to do the best I could to figure out what I needed so I could build the bicycle and get it under the tree.

I think you get the idea.

If someone directs their anger is at you..

The process is similar to the that outlined above.  The only difference is that when someone directs their anger at you, you need to take a breath to lower your arousal so that you don’t react and, remembering that he sees you as a mega-threat, apologize for any misunderstanding (not for doing something wrong). You can then ask him how you can help to make things right.

The exception to the above is if you feel fear in the presence of someone directing their anger at you.  If this is the case, walk away.

So, my suggestion is that you enjoy all the great feelings that the holiday season elicits and be alert to anger if you experience it.  Master the anger so that it doesn’t escalate and potentially ruin your holiday.

I address the emotion of anger directly in my Amazon best selling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Have a great holiday and I welcome your comments.