Anger doesn’t have to be a problem

I used to have an anger problem. It wasn’t all over the place, I wasn’t a “rage-a-holic”, and I didn’t cause awful amounts of destruction. There were times, though, where I honestly “blew a gasket”. I simply didn’t know what else to do at the moment, that I used words or actions that I absolutely regretted afterward.

NOTE: If you are truly being threatened, treat the situation seriously: learn how to protect yourself, learn to avoid dangerous situations, and get help as soon as possible.

Thankfully, I learned and practiced my way out of my anger problem. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Anger is healthy: feeling angry is a natural, biologic response to feeling threatened. There is nothing wrong with the feeling of anger.
  • The reason I feel angry may be distorted: I may have misunderstood something, and clarifying that is essential, otherwise I’m reacting to something that simply isn’t true.
  • Feeling threatened is all about personal boundaries: if my boundaries have been impinged upon, either I haven’t been clear about the extent of my boundaries, or the person in front of me isn’t. Regardless, it’s up to me to make sure that the boundaries are clearly defined.
  • If a person doesn’t respect my boundaries, RUN! Why would you want to deal with someone that doesn’t respect you? Maybe you won’t literally run away, but disrespect is a clear indication that you need to treat the relationship appropriately.
  • In society, there are almost zero situations that are actual emergencies: you can almost always excuse yourself to cool down. Every single emotion you feel will pass, without exception. Our bodies literally can not maintain an emotional state forever. If your emotions are in control, you can choose to remove yourself in order to regain composure.
  • Your actions are all your responsibility: acting out of anger is almost never helpful. There are far more options available to you once you regain composure.

This is not the be-all-end-all primer on anger management. There are numerous resources available for finding ways to better manage anger. If you have other helpful hints, leave them in the comments.

When are you willing to feel pain?

Are you, or do you know someone, able to completely avoid pain and discomfort? I doubt it; I certainly haven’t met anyone. A more interesting question, though, is “when are you willing to feel pain?”

Some people will pursue that pain from exercise (“Feel the burn!”), some people will repeatedly find themselves in tragedy and drama (“I can’t believe this is happening again…”), and some might experience it in pursuit of something greater (Thomas Edison’s perseverance).

When are you willing to feel pain? If you find yourself having to admit to things that you don’t agree with, are you willing to change? If not, why not?

Everything and anything can change, but first you have to become willing.

Emotional responses occur 100% of the time

As biological beings, humans are wired for emotional responses. As I understand it, given any stimulus, humans will have an emotional response every single time, 100% without fail.

(For discussion purposes, let’s say “stimuli directly affecting ourselves…” In response, I was feeling safe, at peace, unaffected.)

This may be completely obvious to many of you. For me, it wasn’t obvious for quite a long time. In many cases, it was typical of me to say “I don’t feel anything”, and I truly believed that. I was that disconnected from how I felt. More often than not, the feelings that I was disconnected from were of anger or fear. It was usually safe enough for me to feel happiness, but early on in life, for various reasons, I protected myself from admitting feelings of anger, fear, shame, embarrassment… feelings of discomfort.

When I eventually learned more, and considered the biology of things, it made total sense to me that I would be wired for emotional responses. Seth Godin talks about our lizard brain being powerfully in controlSally Hogshead discusses how our triggers control much of our behavior and choices. Our senses perceive non-verbal communication far faster than our intellect can. There is vast information on how we’re still (human) animals.

For me, coming to accept this as a fact made it “academic”, an obvious and understandable mechanism, that I would have some emotion at any given moment, and my job was to name it, understand where it came from, and decide what I wanted to do about it. This helped me to become much more personally responsible by removing blame; I no longer could hold other people responsible for what I perceived, how I felt, or what I chose to do.

Can you say “personal power”?

How to process emotions

I grew up as an ABC PK(6), one of three Asians in a school system with 300+ students in each grade. My parents divorced when I was four, and it was not pretty. I felt clumsy, insecure, and I ended up shutting down emotionally.

Not entirely. I was cheerful, friendly, good at communicating and very empathetic. I got along that way, up until about 36 year old or so, when I finally learned about the parts of me that stopped developing way back when as a child. This was one of the ways in which I learned about the dysfunction of stunted growth, or emotional immaturity. There were fundamental times in which I simply didn’t register my emotional responses; I was “in denial of my feelings”.

Thankfully, I found a teacher I could work with. One of the very many things that Michele Downey taught me was her “GATE Method” of communicating experiences. Yes, she actually had little picket fences I could hold in my hands, covered with names of emotions. I literally read these to help figure out names for what I was feeling during our work together. There were many times in which I felt lost, unable to name my feeling(s); that’s how disconnected I was from my emotions.

Bear in mind, as I’ve previously written, I was suffering from Major Clinical Depression as well as Alcoholism. Both of those ailments had to be addressed in order to make progress in my emotional development. Thankfully, I found treatment and remission for both since then.

Over time, by practicing over and over, I developed my emotional fluency. By fully using the GATE Method, I not only learned to name what I was feeling, but I was able to fully process my feelings. Here’s how the GATE Method works…

  1. Describe the event that I’m responding to… (“When I hear/see/think/perceive…”)
  2. Name the emotion(s) that I’m feeling… (“I feel…”)
  3. Describe the thoughts behind those feeling(s) (“Because my thought is…”)

This process helped in numerous ways:

  • It gave a chance to confirm my perception(s): Did I really hear someone say “Burt, you smell”? Did I really see someone stick their tongue out at me? Was my wife really saying I was lazy and irresponsible? Did I accurately hear what someone was trying to tell me?
  • It gave me a chance to name my emotions: Was I feeling happy, mad, or sad? Was I confused because of what I heard? Did I need to ask for more information or clarification?
  • It gave me a chance to consider the thoughts behind my feelings: Was I reacting to something from my childhood? Was I not focused in the present moment because I was hungry, angry, or tired? Was I more focused on how I felt than on what was going on in front of me, within the person I was talking to? Was I having an unconscious reaction rather than building a conscious  response?

This process helped to clarify my perceptions, my feelings, and my thoughts. It helped me to become more present in the moment, rather than regressing into my past or projecting into the future. This helped me to recognize old thought patterns, as well as the emotional binds those thoughts kept me stuck in. I became adept at my senses, fluent with my emotions, and responsible with my thoughts and responses.

The GATE Method can work in every instance of communication, with myself or others. As I became more familiar with myself and the process, I didn’t have to speak as regimented, but the consistent structure was more than worth it based on the personal freedom and power that I received as a result.

If this is something that you can relate to, seek help from a therapist or counselor. Working on emotional development is powerful, and it can require skilled and highly educated support. Insist on finding someone that can give “tough and (objectively) honest love” in support of your highest good.

Relinquishing the need to be “right”

I watched a terrific TED talk given by a “wrongologist” named Kathryn Schulz. Her message was that the learned attitude of being “right” has hurt our ability to see and celebrate alternatives, at least in a general sense.

I agree with her that the pursuit of being “correct” or “right” limits perspective and attitude. Even with an open mind of evaluating alternatives in the process of finding the best answer, the attitude is still restrictive in that there are limited values in the solution set, the set of possible answers.

In fact, there was a time in my life when I deliberately replaced the words “right” and “wrong” with “functional” and “dysfunctional”. This helped me to off-load some of the pervasive judgments I applied against myself, my perceptions, and the entire world as I travelled through it. In fact, one of the most powerful shifts for me was to begin viewing the world with a mind towards what worked (functional) and what didn’t (dysfunctional).

Also, this approach intrinsically minimizes the process itself to be a “means to an end”. All the work along the way toward the final outcome is in service of the outcome, yet there is so much to gain from the process, the journey, itself.

Can you relate? Have you felt the pressure stemming from a need to be the best, to win, to be the most right in some apparent competition? Or, how about the intensity and restrictions caused by having to defend a position or opinion; say your choice of religion, your race, or your support of sexual orientation?

Maybe you can relate from being on the receiving end of “righteousness”; I’ve experienced that countless times, but the funny thing is that many of those experiences were perpetuated by me. Someone may have proposed the disagreement, and I heartily went along saying, “you’re wrong (or right), and I’m right (or wrong)!” In fact, I can safely say that the vast majority of the conflicts in my life have been based on me and another person arguing over who’s right or wrong.

So, I offer to you today, the opportunity to defuse conflicts within yourself or your relations. The next time that someone tries to pick a fight (or argument), try asking instead, on behalf of all involved, what’s working and what isn’t.

When getting support, why learn the “hard way”?

If you went to a doctor with a significant problem, how willing would you want your doctor to figure things out from scratch? Understandably, we can’t all afford the very best physicians in the world, but it doesn’t make sense to hire someone with zero experience in your problem, does it?

The same rule applies when building a support network: for business, growth, healing, learning…

In my experience, I’ve often looked for people that can relate to my situation first-hand, and equally important, have found a solution for our common problem(s). I also look for people I can respect and communicate with. They don’t necessarily need to be miles ahead of me in progress; in fact, I often hold off on those too far advanced for me, at least until a later time when I can more closely relate and understand them.

One of the great things of being a coach over a span of time is meeting other coaches who have different strengths and experiences. I’d be the first to admit if I wasn’t a good fit to support someone; thankfully, I know of scores of others that I can refer people to.

If you’re looking for help, I offer this first: know that you are not alone. There are people that can relate, that are willing and able, to help you.