MacQuarrie Email Program #02 — What Is Anger?
Note: This is a sample of my email anger management program.
If interested further, please access this link.
This email is fairly long. Apologies.
To begin: Are you still reading your outcome title (Email #01), at least once a day? If yes, great. Congratulations. If not, that is the difficulty of discipline — you are not wrong, your behaviour is not wrong, but to the extent that you made a commitment, you did not keep your commitment. And people who do not keep commitments are much less likely to get outcomes that they want. Simple, yes; painful, yes! I did not say this program would be easy; I did suggest that it is effective. Please continue to read your outcome statement each day.
Task for this email: After reading this email, monitor your emotions for a few days (don’t attempt to change them, just monitor them). When you notice an obvious anger-based emotion, answer the following questions:
- Do you have a sense of power? Can you move forward with it? If so, likely it is anger.
- Do you feel overwhelmed? Is there an underlying powerlessness? If so, likely it is rage.
- Do you feel indignant, determined “it” should not be. If so, likely it is self-righteousness.
- Where in your body are you feeling this emotion.
What is anger? Most people know that they are emotional, but often they do not know what emotions are. Most people know when they are angry — you, for example, wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t angry, but you do you know what anger is. In this email, we clean up some language. (Suggestion: if you will pay meticulous attention to your language for six months, I guarantee you will change your life for the better. More in another email.)
What are Emotions? There are many definitions, but my best definition of emotion is “a biologically adaptive action tendency.” What does that mean? Well, you are designed to respond to your environment, and when things change, you as a biologic organism adapt — usually very effectively! When something happens, you (your mind) processes what is happening, usually at the other-than-conscious level and with amazing speed. Your mind then sends a signal to your body to react, to move into action. The very beginning of the experience of action is the felt sense called emotion.
Another definition of emotion I use is “energy to which I give meaning and direction.” In the so-called pleasurable emotions, I move towards something — I am excited or interested. In the so-called negative emotions, I move against or away from — I am angry, afraid, sad, et cetera. Check it out: notice what you are feeling right now, give it a name, and point to where that feeling is in your body. (Don’t be surprised if you cannot do this — when I first started my own therapy work, I could not do so.) How or to where does this emotion want you to move?(Suppose you are hungry. Where in your body? To where do you want to move?)
So, what are feelings? Aren’t they emotions also? Sort of. Again many definitions, but I want to make a clean distinction. Examples of emotional words are: angry, excited, afraid, et cetera. Emotions point at my body, and can be described in a single word. Yes, they can refer to something else, but the felt sense is in the body, and can be pointed at. Feeling words point to my relationships: hostile (towards), included (with), ignored (by), etc. Again, one word, but they point outwards. There is usually an underlying emotion, but the feeling points outwards. Then, to make matters more confusing, there are also the feeling judgments — my thoughts about my emotions and feelings: I feel that … (finish with the thought, e.g., “this is wrong.”). There is an underlying emotion or feeling (unnamed), but the description is a thought, and always more than one word is required.
What is Anger? Anger is an emotion, one that shows that my beliefs have been disrupted, without my intention or permission. Suppose someone in a crowd pushes me — my mind processes this, says this should not be happening (a thought), and sends a signal to my body that I push back: I’m angry. But perhaps I don’t — I also know, perhaps unconsciously, that the consequences might be less than pleasant, so my mind send a second message, very quickly: Stop! Be cautious instead. Angry and afraid at the same time. Did I say emotions, especially anger, were simple?
Now, suppose the same crowd, only this time we are friends, and we playing football. If someone pushes me, will I be angry? Not likely — because it is expected and allowed as part of the game. Same actions, but different emotions, depending on my beliefs! Complicated, again.
What about rage? Think about your own rage. Rage is also an emotion, this time more complex. When angry, I feel powerful — I can do something with my anger. But in rage, I feel powerless; I’m overwhelmed, and I puff myself up so as to get back to a state of power. And I don’t think clearly — a dangerous combination. At this point, I am likely to violate others — to violate someone is a behavior — to restrict them without their permission, to hit them, to block them, to scare them, etc. Not fun — for anyone!
Note carefully! Emotions and feelings are not wrong, or bad; they simply are. They are the way in which my body gives me information, sometimes information that I do not want to recognize. They always have a positive intention — the “negative” ones usually to protect me, in some fashion. What is potentially inappropriate is what I do with my emotions. This behavioral response can certainly be dangerous, unacceptable to yourself or to others, and much else.
Safety: So, anger and rage can be dangerous, especially if we are unaware of the complexity of what is happening (we will be exploring this in detail over the next weeks). My bottom line is safety, for myself and others — always, and to the best of my ability.
I sum up safety with two statements: No SAD and STOP. No SAD means:
- I will not intentionally Scare another human being,
- I will not Attack another biological creature, and
- I will not Destroy in anger that which I would not destroy when peaceful.
My experience, after 25 years of being a therapist (including as I resolved my own issues of anger) is that, if I stay within the parameters of No SAD, I can be fully expressive of my emotions, and both I and those around me are totally safe.
However, that does not mean that those around me will feel safe (more accurately, they do not feel secure) — my actions may still scare them — what I am doing may remind them of painful times in their own past. I do not intend to scare them, but that does not mean they are not scared.
STOP responds to this. STOP means that if I am told to stop, I stop immediately (no questions, no argument). Someone is scared — always inappropriate. Then I find another, safer way to deal with my anger. Usually this means I will take a time out to briefly separate myself from others, and thus allow them to recover from their scare (more about time-outs later).
Coming next: Awareness and Discipline