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Working Effectively with Anger — The Solution Might Surprise You


Anger seems to be all the rage these days (pun intended!), with many people in full-throated celebration of it. Rage and disdain have become acceptable expressions of anger. But are they effective?
The words anger, rage, and outrage are often used interchangeably but they are not the same. Anger is an emotion stemming from other emotions, including anxiety, despair, or frustration. I feel angry, for example, when something does not go as I expect and have planned for. My expectations have not been met.

Rage and the “dis- words” (disregard, disrespect, disdain), on the other hand, are expressions of anger. They are choices we make, without fully considering all of the choices available to us.
When we express outrage, we are choosing to shame another, and shaming rarely produces the results we want. Similarly, rage is an expression of anger that fills the space but is hard to work with. Disregard and unresponsiveness are frequently an avoidance of our own discomfort with a given situation. All of these responses are laden with judgment, usually without full knowledge and understanding of the complete picture.
The most effective way to deal with anger is to “look under the hood.” Examine why you feel as you do; not everyone feels the same for a given circumstance, and we all connect the dots differently. Consider your assumptions and what you do not know. Explore choices thoughtfully. In other words, work with the complexity and make intentional decisions about how to respond, keeping channels of communication open. By doing so, you are much more likely to achieve your intended aim, and also more likely to benefit from unexpected opportunities.

Many who read this post will nod and say: “Yes, that makes sense.” But mindfully attending to our emotions and responses is hard to put into practice without guidance. Coaching helps us to develop healthy and fruitful practices of reflection that lead to the outcomes we want. I have benefited enormously from the guidance of coaches and counselors over the years. We are all a work in progress, and we all benefit from coaching. (See our coaching services here, and particularly the quote by Atul Gawande.)
Anger is a natural emotion. How we respond to that anger is a choice. We have far more agency than we realize to modify a situation and create positive outcomes. Contact us to learn more.


Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.



A Mind-bending Concept

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Emotions play a large role in any discussion, including political discussions. We react with excitement when someone shares our view, and outrage when a person expresses a view we find offensive. We may also feel disdain, amusement, joy, anxiety and many other emotions when in conversation with others, whether we show it or not. We feel entirely justified in our emotional reactions because we are defending our worldview, which is deeply rooted in our beliefs about right and wrong.

Several social scientists (most notably, Jonathan Haidt) have shown that emotions play an important role in our sense of morality, and that emotions and morality influence our rational arguments far more than we realize.

Now, some fascinating new research reveals that our brains create our emotions in a predictive process based on past experiences. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a social scientist and professor of psychology, recently published her research findings in a book titled How Emotions are Made. She also expounds on the topic in a TED Talk. (I have watched the Talk but not yet read the book.)

“Emotions that seem to happen to you are actually made by you.”

“Your brain does not react to the world. Using past experience, your brain predicts and constructs your experience of the world.”

These ideas are similar to the philosophical underpinnings of meditation, yoga, and some East-Asian teachings, which suggest that our thoughts and emotions are separate from us; we can observe them, view them through another lens, and perhaps come to a different conclusion.

Barrett seems to take this a step further. Where Buddhism says that we can choose how to interpret a situation and how to respond, Barrett is saying that we can also influence what emotion we create in the first place. This is a mind-bending concept, and the implications are profound. We have far more agency than we realize, and we can make intense discussions more fruitful with a new approach and a bit of practice.

I look forward to reading the book and learning more. In the meantime, I am practicing greater awareness of what I feel and how I interpret. Then again, there are some situations that are fine just as they are. Today I was moved to tears as I listened on the radio to the wistful and wishful lyrics of the Beatles’ song, Imagine. I have no idea why my brain created these emotions; it intrigues me, but I’m willing to just let it be a mystery.


Copyright © 2018 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.