Anger #14 The Rules

angry14-rulesComment: If you understand the rules, you will know when to follow them, and when to break them — a very powerful tool at your disposal.

MacQuarrie Email Program #14 — The Rules

Question: Why do you get angry? Please sit with this question for a few minutes, and give serious attention to the question. Why do you get angry?

The task for this email is to write down some examples of when you have had specific emotions, and then to examine the underlying mechanisms. Specifically, and without reading further, briefly write down one or two examples of when you have been: 1) angry, 2) guilty, 3) resentful, 4) embarrassed, and 5) ashamed. For each example, write down the belief that contributed to the emotional experience. Question: What are the common features of the experiences?

Now, work your way through the rest of this email, and check out whether (or not) my explanations fit the above experiences. Other instructions follow.


I said in Email #1 What is Anger? that emotions are “energy to which I give meaning and direction.” Emotions describe what is happening in your body; feelings describe what is happening in your relationships. From my perspective, the above energetic words (anger, guilt, …, all of which are emotions or feelings) are anger words, and the meaning is that someone has broken the rules. In each experience, you are pushing against something — the rules.

[A sidebar that will become important later. In each example, you are likely pushing against the third limb of the emotional triangle (external or internal) that characterizes the situation.]

But what are the rules? In each example that you wrote down, you can possibly identify what specifically you were angry about in that specific example. However, I want to go deeper; I want to explore the general characteristics of the rules that were being broken.

How do you know the rules? How did you learn the rules? What are the rules?

Imagine you are a two-year-old, playing with mommy or daddy. As a two-year-old, you are now in the Why?Why?Why? stage, repeatedly asking Why. for every experience, and when answered, returning with another Why?. Essentially you are attempting to make sense of your world, and to learn the rules of how to interact with others, specifically your parents (or your other major caretakers).

If mommy or daddy are in a good mood, they answer you, and perhaps chuckle at your persistence in asking Why. But what happens if they are not in a good mood (“a bad day at the office,” et cetera, as we all have). Then it gets tricky. Mommy and daddy are likely to be impatient, if not irritated, and at the extreme, highly critical, or worse. (The closer to worse, the more the following becomes important.)

You are a two-year-old. You are vitally dependent on mommy and daddy for security, and as a human being, you are also a pain avoider. You need to avoid mommy and daddy being critical! But how? The simplest way is to stop asking Why. But then what? How do you learn the rules?

And anyway, you are a spontaneous two-year-old; asking Why is deeply engrained. To cope with this, you bury the need to ask below consciousness, so that you indeed stop asking — you stop thinking about the rules. So, Rule #1: Don’t think about the rules!

But you still need to learn the rules! Therefore, in order not to break rule #1, you make up a second rule. Rule #2: Everybody has the same rules!

Everybody has the same rules, don’t they? It makes sense to the two-year-old. He or she looks around the family and sees that everybody is acting out the same rules, more or less, so “Everybody has the same rules!” In the family, it works.

But what happens when baby grows up, and finds a new somebody so as to form a new family, or when baby meets people from other families? Well, they have the same rules, don’t they?

No! But in order to really grasp this, baby has to break Rule #1 and think about the rules. Tricky!

But this is fundamentally how we function. And the more pain we have had in childhood, the harder for us to think, especially to think about the rules. Because it lead us into our pain. It is far easier to avoid awareness, and thus avoid pain. (Somewhat! It creates another kind of pain!)

So, now on to the emotions I asked about: anger, guilt, embarrassment, resentment, shame.

When angry, you are relatively conscious of what rules has been broken. Relatively!

Next, imagine the following conversation. Sailor #1 (S1) does something, or wants to do something. Sailor #2 (S2) says “Don’t do that!” S1: “Why?” S2: “You’re breaking the rules.” S1: “What rules?” S2: “Don’t ask! You’re breaking the rules again!” There is no exit from this — an exit requires that the rules be broken, which breaks the rules. Crazy, eh! This conflict between S1 and S2 is called guilt.

If instead, I imagine that you are going to criticize me (S1), I then displace S2 onto you, and again there is no exit. This conflict is called embarrassment.

As well, if you break the rules (my rules), I cannot tell you that you are breaking the rules. That would break the rules! And besides, you know you broke the rules — we have the same rules, don’t we? But I can’t ask — that breaks the rules! This conflict is called resentment.

And if in all this, I make myself bad for breaking the rules, I call the experience shame.


The exit from all of these states is to name the rules! Make them conscious, and make a clean choice as to whether or not you wish to live your life based on this rule. If you want this, make a clean choice as to whether or not you will break the rule on this occasion. It is a choice.

I maintain than anger, guilt, embarrassment, resentment, and shame are useful for ten minutes. In ten minutes, I can identify that I am in the state, that I have broken a rule, and that I can make a choice about the rule. It takes practice. With time, it becomes easier, almost automatic.

[A sidebar. Imagine that you have swallowed the rules, and they are sitting in your gut, undigested. And you don’t want to think about them. What then would you do with them? This is called introjection, one of the primary blocks of awareness. Otherwise, the fermenting mass can contaminate your body (retroflection), it can contaminate your mind (confluence), or you can vomit them out onto someone else (projection). Or you can digest them! It’s a choice. Incidentally, it was my experience in my own work that on occasion I actually needed to vomit.]

Coming next: Sloppy Language

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