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.

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.

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”?

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.

Yes, it can be scary to heal the smallest parts, but…

There are very few people I’ve met that are absolutely “fearless”. In fact, the more typical truth is those people feel fear, but go forward anyway; a working definition of “courage” that works for me.

The vast majority of people, though, can probably admit to things that they’ve kept private, safe, and protected (sometimes vehemently) from others. A quick scan of magazine covers will describe the pain and destruction caused by secrets.

Even if people don’t keep absolute secrets, if they do have people they trust to tell their secrets to, they often stop there finding comfort in simply sharing a secret. The downside to that is that they don’t grow through it, often leaving the secret to be a pain point that remains perpetually sensitive. What I’ve found is that this represents a lack of trust and safety, two very precious commodities.

In my personal experience, it took significant effort and time to find people that were trustworthy and safe; not only that, but they also had to be willing to help. I never would have begun to develop support for myself like that, except that I had gotten into enough pain that it became worth doing something, anything, besides what I had been doing. I was in enough pain to raise the white flag.

Yet, it is absolutely unnecessary to come to that level of pain first. It is necessary to do the work, to find people willing and able to help heal an injury or a weakness. People do it all the time for sniffles and aches in their bodies; it just seems scarier when dealing with emotional or “psychic” pain. Using the analogy of physical ailments, there are countless aids and remedies, all depending on the type and severity of trauma. The same applies to emotional issues.

I’ve gone through this process numerous times, for so many of my deepest (and darkest) secrets, and there’s something very cool that I can share about this work — it was often much easier than I imagined it would be.

Looking back, I found that many of the things I thought were scary, embarrassing, or shameful, felt really “big” and powerful, but from a very immature place. Many of those thoughts about myself or the world came from when I was very young, as a child or teenager, and when I was finally able to look at them with more maturity (either by myself or with help from someone else), the issues seemed much smaller and more manageable.

Working through issues like that has consistently provides immense freedom and power in my life. There are fewer things within myself subconsciously driving me to do things, or holding me back.

If you know of, or suspect that there are delicate things in your mind, body, or spirit, I encourage you to seek help. It’s available.