“What the heck is it about this ‘do anger’ stuff? It’s like you feed my wife all the words and empower her to say just what she needs to say. I’ve heard nothing since you did that talk about people who ‘do anger!’ What else do you expect me to do with it?”
I had to chuckle, because lately what I speak about seems to get me in trouble-often!
“I’m not an angry man, it’s just the way I communicate. She ought to know after all these years that just because I might have a little scowl on my face, and my tone might be a little rougher than she likes…None of that makes me an angry man!”
I could see he was looking to me for some sort of explanation…Or something?!
“I’m just curious why it is, that you have so much investment in convincing me, that you’re not an angry man?”
By my mischievous grin, he knew he’d been cornered and retorted, “Because I’m in a heap of trouble if you don’t clear me,” he said with a wink!
Because I was enjoying the banter, in an innocent voice I asked, “If I can’t clear you of what?”
Because for a moment he was speechless, I acted as if I had had a huge ‘aha’ moment and queried, “Oh…You mean you walk like a duck, you quack like a duck, but you want me to clear you of being-duck? Did I get that right?”
We both got a good laugh, but it was too late…I’d already experienced his anger at first sight!
It can be a gift.
But most often…
Most people who are angry hate the word “anger”. They prefer words such as:
It’s one of my first clues that I’m working with someone struggling with anger. Because they find it their mission to “dumb down” the word to make it seem like something minor. There’re many words that can be used to describe anger, but let’s just be honest adults here…they all belong to the anger family:
- Seeing red
- Ticked off
- Bent out of shape
- Riled up
- Up in arms
There are hundreds of others. The point I’m making is, that whether you have a little impatience, or you have a flying off the handle pedigree…you’re dealing with anger.
What is anger? It has been defined as:
- An emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has done you wrong.
- A response to an unmet need, such as the need to feel safe or heard.
- A response to a situation, event, and/or person that’s not living up to your expectations.
According to others anger is a prison. Nelson Mandela said:
(“As I stand before the door of my freedom, I realize that if I do not leave my pain, anger, and bitterness behind here in this cell, I will still be in prison.”)
Anger not only imprisons us, but it also takes hostages; those who experience our anger. (Referred to as secondhand anger).
Let’s examine and get real about what really happens in our brain when we feel anger.
When we experience anger, and we act on the anger, we’re not using the thinking (cerebral cortex) part of our brain. But we’re acting from the limbic center in our brain where our yesterdays are stored.
We call that limbic system the amygdala. Which stores our emotional memories. The moment we receive any signals from ourselves or the external world, it passes through the amygdala, that decides whether to:
- Send that data to our limbic system or
- Send it to our cortex system.
If the amygdala decides that, is it’s an emotional issue…
It overrides thought.
It overrides good judgment.
It overrides reason.
And the door to us JUST ‘reacting’ stays open!
At that moment we’re using the lower part of our brain. The lower part of our brain doesn’t care about consequences, good evaluation, or our impact on others. Let me say that again…The lower part of our brain doesn’t care about consequences!?
Suddenly a flood of hormones are released that create fight or flight, leaving the person out of control with their thoughts, good judgment, or caring about the impact. In addition, longer lasting hormones are released that impact us anywhere from several hours to several days. In molecular madness mode!
The same occurs in the person experiencing the display of anger. Whether it be a heaving sigh or in an explosion of rage.
Everything from exhaustion, health consequences and/or great damage to relationships. (More on health consequences below).
When I explained all of that to my client, he stared at the floor with great shame and said, “So she’s right? My anger is the cause of my high blood pressure, plus it’s destroying our relationship and our kids?”
He stared at me and waited. He had that look-help me.
“All of that’s possible. But before I agree blindly, let’s work through some things together,” I said.
He was visibly relieved that at least he could defend himself. I worked through all 5 points. I’ll cover points one and two this week and the others the following week. Hopefully these will be of great assistance to you too.
1. The right to “do” anger vs the right to “be” angry.
“You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So, use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”
Dr. Maya Angelou
My client was ready to celebrate when I said: “You always have the right to be angry.” But before you get up and do a celebration dance, let me add the second statement.
“It’s how you choose to ‘do anger’ that has the potential, to become a-big problem!” His face fell when he heard that!
Anger is meant to be a gift. What’s the gift?
POWER, STRENGTH, MOTIVATION!
I heard the story once that Susan B. Koemen’s sister struggle with anger after she lost her sister. But she used the anger as power, strength, and motivation to create the organization that’s provided some of the greatest advancements in breast cancer research.
When we fail to “do anger” in such a productive way, we’re likely doing damage to ourselves and others.
In order to learn from how we “do anger”…I helped my client with these questions that I’d like for you to answer for yourself. I’ll share the questions, along with his responses, hopefully to give you clues to your own responses.
Remember, this is a “fact gathering exercise.” Not a “shaming exercise.” The facts will help us make any needed changes.
When you’re angry, what does your face look like?
“Well, my wife says I get a little red, raise my eyebrows, and furrow my brow. And I throw my head back like I’m a little cocky or something.”
When you’re angry, what does your body language look like?
“She says I push my chest out in a threatening way and get very Italian with my waving arms and gestures.”
When you’re angry, how’s your breathing (sighs, grunts, etc.)
“Oh yea! She talks about the sighs and heaves of disgust.”
What’s the tone of your voice like?
“I’m sure it sounds irritated.”
What’s the pace of your speech?
“Well, I think I’m usually on a roll until I finish spewing.”
Do you ask if it’s a good time to share your thoughts or just make a splash?
“A good time? It would never be a good time for her. But I guess that’s the point?”
Do you share it as information or an explosive tirade?
“Of course, I’m animated.”
Are you aware the effect is the same on those exposed to it, whether it’s about them, or not?
“Not really, I guess. Is that a problem?”
“Well, I’m glad you asked. Studies have revealed some of the warning signs that your anger could be a problem to you and others.” I read the list and asked him to respond yes or no to all of those that he might do in a typical month. (I placed a check mark at the end of those he was willing to own up to).
- You express your anger with unhelpful or harming words. Ö
- You express your anger during projects by throwing tools or other objects. Ö “But not that often,” he added.
- Your anger is having a negative impact on your relationships (which you vehemently deny). Ö
- You medicate with alcohol or drugs. Ö
- You get irritated easily Ö
- Your thoughts race and you cannot find words to adequately communicate what you’re feeling or experiencing
- You complain of chest pains and wonder if you’re having a cardiac event Ö
- You complain of fatigue often (maybe even nap, or sleep long hours, and are still exhausted) Ö
- You make apologies, but repeat the same behaviors Ö
- You emotionally neglect the people that desire your time (spouse, children, family) Ö
- Your self-talk is even lower than “stinking thinking”
- You isolate Ö
- You swear even more than usual in an outburst
- You deny you have an anger problem, and defend, explain, and justify if confronted. Ö
- You have unresolved trauma that you either unaware of, or refuse to engage in a healing process for it
“So did I pass or fail?” he demanded.
“It depends on how you define pass or fail,” I retorted.
“You know what I mean! So?” I did know what he meant.
But I responded: “You passed!”
With enthusiasm he asked: “So you’re going to clear me?”
With a grin, I responded: “Yes, I’m going to clear you. And if you do the work…I’ll let you pass on duck season too!”
We had a good laugh. I continued.
“Out of 15, a person only needs to check 5 to be someone who needs to address an anger issue. You have 11 check marks. You ‘quacked’ the code…and passed!”
He gave me the global (hand-palm-ease-up-sign) as he smiled and shook his head. I continued as we were now on the same page.
“You’re definitely a person who needs to address an anger problem.”
He challenged me with: “But, you said I had a right to be angry!”
I soothed his ruffled feathers with, “Yes, I did. And yes, you do…but I didn’t say you had a right to ‘do anger.’ Doing anger is how you act it out and what you do with it.”
He gave me that duck in headlight look and didn’t blink as he went on.
“So, if I have a right to it, but don’t have a right to act it…what the hell am I supposed to do with it?”
I almost gave him a quack.
“Actually, I’m glad you asked, because that’s where we need to do some work.”
Before you do anything with your anger, including body language, speaking, movement, sighing, rolling your eyes, etc., decide what you’re angry about. Then with:
- As normal of a tone as possible
- As normal of a pace as possible
- With no animation
- With no accusation
- With no judgment
Use this formula:
When ___________________ happened, I felt ______________________ ANGRY (or FURIOUS, or FRUSTRATED). I would like ________________ ____________________________________________________________
I asked him to think of a moment when his wife had commented on his anger so we could use it for an example.
He immediately explained, “So last week, our HVAC went out. She called a repair company to come. I knew it only needed freon…yes, it’s old. When I got home, she showed me a quote for over $5,000. I was just livid. So, I just said: ‘What the hell?! I knew I should’ve taken off work. What kind of idiots would’ve given this kind of ludicrous quote for an old system repair. Obviously, the company you called is a Piece Of S**t company’.”
Maybe there was a little more swearing.
He admitted to raising his voice, showing all the signs about furrowing his brow, using Italian hand and arm motions. I knew he wanted to continue.
“What the hell would you do. If you had a $5,000 quote. For repairing an old HVAC?”
I declined to answer the question, but instead answered with my own question, “Would you like to know the healthy way to handle it?”
“I guess so…”
I took him back to the formula and suggested, “I feel absolutely furious reading this quote. It feels like the company is trying to take advantage of us. Do you mind calling another company for a second opinion?”
He admitted, “That’s where we finally landed.”
“At what cost,” I inquired?
“With her sleeping in the guest room and telling me to handle it myself as she slammed the door. And I’m in the doghouse watching the evening duck parades in the backyard…Again.”
“Let me ask you an honest question…If you had cut all the charades and just said as I modeled it above, would the outcome have been different?”
“Yea, I guess. But how am I supposed to do that?”
Another great question.
“Commitment and practice. You’re better than that. Commit to yourself to monitoring your anger. Commit to being the man you truly desire to be. When you feel that anger, pull this card out of your wallet and follow the formula.” (I have business cards with the formula printed on them as reminders for those who’re learning how to “do anger” in a healthy way. But you can write it on the back of any business card or put it as a note in your cell phone.)
“One more thing. Tell your wife (and your kids if appropriate) that you’re working on it and give them permission to remind you of your formula (but only if they can do it as a gentle reminder).
What about you, my friend? Do you need to “rework” how you “do anger?”
I often tell my clients in fun, and I’m saying it to you now: “All of your sins of ‘doing anger’ from this moment backwards are forgiven. Go forward with your formula and you’ll sin no more!”
2. RESEARCH ON ANGER & YOUR HEALTH
Study after study show great health challenges that can be the result of anger. Again, not the result of the healthy expression and processing of anger as outlined in point #1. But the unhealthy expression, or the stuffing of anger can cause health challenges.
If none, other than this one was listed, it’s worth all considerations.
A study completed at McLean University has shown that anger can cause invisible damage to the structure and function of brains in children, as early as birth. Additional studies show it can affect the brains of adults.
It can damage the prefrontal cortex in our brains. That part of our brain manages our ability to focus and pay attention without random interruptions. It also manages our executive function (the cognitive process that allows us to plan, organize, solve problems, be flexible in our thinking, and control impulses).
That’s SCARY stuff! THAT…alone should be motivation to address any anger issues.
However, that’s only the beginning of a very long list.
Consider these additional challenges that have been found in research regarding ongoing anger issues:
- Binge eating
- Binge drinking
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension and pain
- Joint pain
- Heart disease
- Increased risk of heart attack
- High blood pressure
- High risk of stroke
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory impairment
- Significantly increased risk of overdose (drugs, alcohol poisoning, etc)
- Extreme fatigue
- Significantly increased risk of car accidents
- Eczema and other skin problems
- Breathing/pulmonary problems
In addition, anger issues have been linked to every single major cause of death.
Remember that these are not just potential challenges to your health, but also to the health of your spouse, your children, your co-workers. We refer to this as “secondhand anger.” Just like ‘secondhand smoke’…it affects all of us exposed to anger. Whether it’s about us or not!
I asked my client if he’d experienced any of the health challenges listed. He nodded ashamedly.
But I asked him, as I am asking you, “Be honest with me…since you now know that you’re presenting those potential health challenges to those you love, do you REALLY want to deny that you need to deal with your anger issues?”
A long pause told me he was searching for words. I waited, knowing I was breaking through.
He looked up from an extended pause, and sheepishly responded, “No ma’am. I don’t. You don’t need to clear me, but I hope to God, you can steer me.”
“Many children are shamed for their anger. Children often see parents angry and rageful. The message is all too often that it’s okay for parents to be angry, but it’s not okay for children.”
Dr. John Bradshaw…The Homecoming
What about you, my friend. I’m steering you with these 2 points this week with 3 others to follow next week!
The question is…will you allow me to walk with you though them?
There’s a little duck in all of us, so let’s ‘quack’ the code that keeps us from using anger in a healthy way…instead of letting our anger use us…that’s champion style stuff!