Anger #20 What Gets You Angry? (Values and Beliefs)

Comment: Values and beliefs, especially values, are what drive responses.

MacQuarrie Email Program #20 — What gets you angry? (Values and Beliefs)

In this email, I want to explore what drives your anger, and your conflicts.

angry06a-thepotIn Email #06 The Pot, I indicated that the pot is filled with energetic experience based on values, beliefs, memories and expectations (VBMEs). All four processes are linked to each other in complex ways. For lack of a better term, I designate the entire process of my (or your) anger and conflict as an emotional experience, an experience to which I give meaning (much of which is other-than-conscious) and behavioral direction (matter-energy). It manifests as meaning, emotion, and behavioral expression.

Such experience, especially that of meaning, is driven by my values and my beliefs. My values refer to any concept that I consider important. My beliefs refer to the generalized linkages I make between my experiences. For example, if I have red hair and every person I meet has red hair (my experiences), I am likely to believe (a belief subject to further experience) that “people have red hair.” I may not value this belief, but it will be part of my belief system, one of the thousands of beliefs that influence my behaviors.

I may then meet someone with black hair, and perhaps feel abhorrence—somehow I have unconsciously valued red hair as “normal” or “healthy” or “appropriate,” and the person with black hair has stepped outside my value system, because I value red hair, and they have black.

It is important to realize that both my values and my beliefs are useful fictions—there is no way to prove their validity, although it is possible to disconfirm false beliefs. I can, as well, make agreements with others that certain beliefs or values are more important than others, and that there are consequences to certain beliefs and values. I then have an ethical system by which I choose to live my life, based on what I consider important, and whereby I develop emotional experience. Frequently, when applied to a group, we call this a society based on law or social convention.

But as individuals, we are not uniform. We all have differing values and beliefs, most of which we have learned from parents and family (rather than “society”). Amongst our beliefs and values are many that are self-contradictory and/or dysfunctional — they do not serve us in health.

The task for this email is to explore your values by doing the following exercise created by my wife, a gifted trainer in NeuroLinguistic Programming. (NLP is a very sophisticated exploration of consciousness, and provides many skills to allow therapeutic change.)

  1. Make a list of the values that are important to you. (up to ten values, e.g., respect, kindness, understanding, et cetera), values that you want to maintain concerning your own behaviors, in major relationships. They describe how you would like to be when in relationship with others, not how you would like others to treat you.
  2. Copy these separately onto slips of paper, one per slip. Add two extra (blank) slips of paper to the pile. Thus you will have twelve small pieces of paper. [You could do the exercise with many more values; ten is a practical number for the exercise.]


  1. Remember a time you had a conflict (an argument or fight) wherein you created stress within yourself. Recreate and act out that scene again while holding your slips of paper in your hands. While doing so, consider your values, and drop any value that you yourself do not maintain in the conflict. (Acting out the conflict in an associated mode will give you much more information than doing the task from a dissociated position.)
  2. Take up the position of the other person in the conflict (if any). Act out the conflict again. Explore what you have done from their perspective. Continue to drop any more values that you find you yourself did not maintain (from their perspective).
  3. Stand on a chair and look down at yourself in the scene, from the perspective on a neutral observer. Continue to drop any more values that you did not maintain.
  4. Return to the floor, and leave the values you dropped on the floor. Discover how you feel without them. (NB: On first doing this exercise, most people drop all their values!)


  1. Now, take the two blank pieces of paper, and write down the life values you held (safety, need to be right, et cetera) that allowed you to drop any of the other values. (These will be the values you were holding onto via your other-than-conscious mind, and are probably more important to you than the values you originally wrote down! These values are usually so deep in the other-than-conscious that we do not consider them because in some fashion we want our list of values to “look good,” rather than real.)
  2. Again, leave all values you dropped on the floor. Discover how you feel without them.


  1. Now explore. What needs to happen for you to start dropping your values. I suggest you explore in two ways:
    1. First, re-enact the conflict in an associated position, but this time very slowly, almost millisecond by millisecond. Explore as in the John James Game Plan of Email #10: what happened first? What happened next? Et cetera.
    2. Now question yourself: “I get angry. What needs to happen for me to get angry? What do I see or hear?” Continue to ask until you find the tiniest detail ‘x’ that is the trigger. Test by asking “If this detail ‘x’ was different, would I get angry and drop my values?”
  2. Trace all this back in your life by taking the feeling that the ‘trigger’ gives you, and find out if it is connected with someone or something in your childhood or youth.
  3. Explore this question: “What needs to happen for me to maintain my values? What do I need to change about myself so as to change my triggers?”
  4. Re-enact the scene, this time taking whatever steps necessary to hold onto your values. How does the situation change?

What do you need to change in your life so as to live according to your values?

Coming next: Perspective

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