The concept of power is widely misunderstood, yet how we conceptualize “power” — our own and others’ – shapes our innermost values, and thus the neurochemical processes that decide the direction of our behaviors, relationships and life.
As human beings, it is our nature to attribute meanings to our world through the use of language and symbols. These meanings in turn shape our lives, especially when they are hidden from view.
Our view of “power” forms a core belief system.
Several top psychological theorists of the 20th century, such as Alfred Adler, Rollo May, William Glaser, Abraham Maslow, Virginia Satir, Victor Frankl, Carl Rogers, William Glaser, among others, describe power as a healthy inborn striving.
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If you’ve ever experienced a moment of emotional connection with a loved one, then you know that, like the sweet fragrance of lemon blossoms, it can be a profoundly enjoyable experience, perhaps too heavenly for words.
To make this a regular experience, it takes a conscious plan, one that sets your intention on doing what you observe “works” to improve your life and relationships, and stop doing what doesn’t.
What will it take to have such command of your choices? A mindful mastery of the emotional-physiological states of your body, a conscious intention to focus your attention on being present in challenging moments of your life and relationships. This is a training of sorts that you consciously choose to participate in to cultivate your ability to handle, understand and regulate upsetting emotions of anger (and fear). You always have a choice, and cultivating a mindful mastery of your emotions is a conscious choice at any given moment to take action from optimal emo-physiological states of mind and body.
In Part 1, defensive ways of expressing anger, whether passive and aggressive, were described as toxic to relationships (in most situations). Like too much lemon juice, anger can have a souring effect that inhibits meaningful connection and intimacy. In Part 2, the emotion of anger was identified as essential, a potentially healthy, balancing agent that, when effectively expressed, can move us to take action to not only survive, but also to thrive, to live authentic lives; it prompts us courageously express who we are or what we think and feel, our unique talents and abilities, and so on.
Without the emotion of anger to propel us to take the reins of our lives as the choice-making agent we’re designed to be, conceivably, we might get so overwhelmed by the emotions of vulnerability associated with our hardwired emotion-drives, i.e., for meaningful connection and intimacy — that we’d fail to make any distinctions between ourselves and others as separate beings. It’s not a question of eliminating anger, it’s a question of how to direct this energy to create optimal outcomes, rather than tear down, punish, retaliate and the like.
A conscious plan to express anger effectively?
A conscious plan focuses your attention foremost on your highest intention, what you most aspire to realize. It takes into consideration both your personal wants, dreams, aspirations — as well as your hardwired emotion-drives to matter, that is, to uniquely contribute and connect meaningfully to life in and around you. There are at least 5 set intentions to include in a conscious plan:
1. Remain in command of your choices to handle anger effectively. (Replace defensive strategies with conscious communication.)
This involves a conscious choice to handle emotional responses of anger, your own and others, effectively, and thus stop letting your body’s survival system unnecessarily take control. This not only uses an enormous amount of energy on protection you mostly do not need, but also blocks the formation of emotional intimacy between you and the persons you most love in the process. Stop blaming one another, and “blame” the protective behavior strategies instead. It’s easier to make a passionate commitment to a conscious plan to change when you realize that the problem is not you or the other, but rather the defensive ways you (and the other) are attempting to establish a sense of personal safety or emotional connection. As actions, defenses tend to send a subconscious message, from your body to the other’s, that you have lost your own sense of safe connection inside, and thus cannot be present to see, understand or connect with them. This explains why defensive actions often activate the defenses of others, who also lose their sense of safe connection. (Remember: the sole purpose of protective action is to restore a sense of safety in order to lower anxiety by producing distance between us and a perceived threat.)
2. Know and remain aware of your triggers. (Accept anger as a valid, innate emotion.)
To express anger assertively and effectively, develop your awareness of your triggers, what is going on inside, and accept anger as a potentially healthy, action-activating agent., to identify our thoughts and feelings, and to learn how to process emotions of vulnerability, and get comfortable with what can be an uncomfortable process (at least initially). For example, you may be holding thoughts and beliefs, and thus acting in ways that are blocking you from fulfilling inner strivings for happiness because they’re not allowing you to meaningfully connect with the other. express yourself effectively. Defensive ways of expressing yourself are designed to do the opposite.It is by recognizing and owning our feelings that we can express them honestly and authentically, and that means without dismissing or disregarding the dignity of both self and the other. Remember: Anger is not the problem; it’s how we perceive, respond and express it.)
3. Acknowledge when you feel anger. (Tune into underlying emotions and your body’s signals for survival, psychological as well as physical.)
It is not about eliminating anger (and fear). It is about growing your skills and capacity to feel and effectively process anger, which means also handling the emotions of vulnerability that underlie anger, whenever they show up. Shift to viewing anger as a “secondary” emotion that seeks to shield you from emotions of vulnerability. Ask yourself, “What emotions underlie anger” (See List of Feelings.) If you can embrace them as friends with messages (authentic wise-self) rather than perceive them as enemies to attack, eliminate or hide from (wounded ego-self). As a secondary emotion, at subconscious levels, emotions of anger tell us that we’ve lost our sense of safety and seek to block emotions of vulnerability.
4. Ask, “What emotion-drives underlie these emotions?” (Note anger helps you take action to fulfill inner drive to do more than survive, to also thrive associated with core intimacy fears – See List of Emotion-Drives)
Regardless how cruel a word or gesture, it is a cry for help, a cry for a holding place that is unconditionally secure and stable to help us reset and refresh our main connection to the resources that sustain — inside. Perhaps no one needs our love and compassion than one who feels unlovable, in short, one who has lost their connection to their own source of compassion inside. As Brian Tracy notes, “relationships are the hallmark of the mature person.” And healthy relationships require us to cultivate our capacity to love and live authentically, with our whole hearts. Persons with weak ego-strength operate from their wounded ego-self tend to stick to what “feels” comfortable and lack the resiliency to deal effectively with emotions of vulnerability and core fears, i.e., inadequacy, rejection, abandonment, which are associated with fear of emotional intimacy. In contrast, persons with well-developed ego-strength understand life and operate from their authentic wise-self, and are willing to put in the hours, sustained effort.
5. Follow through with action. Ask, “What action is this emotion calling for?” or “What response would better express my feelings (and better meet my emotion-drives/needs)?” (Remember to reathe, remain relatively Calm, Confident, Centered, 3 C’s)
How anger is expressed is learned – and can be unlearned. Action seals the deal. The way we express anger is learned, and thus can be unlearned. These emotional-command brain circuits can be unlearned and replaced with behaviors that form new emotional-command neural pathways.
Expressing anger effectively is all about relationships, how we relate to self and other by the actions we take to keep our relationships alive by: treating one another with dignity, even and especially when we’re lost in our worst, seemingly most unlovable states.
To the extent defensive anger is used to influence others, our relationships erode, the hearts of loved ones remain closed, resistant or defensive, making our influence even less likely. The use of defensive anger merely reinforces emotional-command neural pathways, which can intensify anger into harmful, isolating and futile levels of rage, hatred or bitterness.
You can develop your skills to be and express your self in ways that neither stomp on the agency and worth of the other, on the one hand, nor get so overwhelmed by others’ demands that we say yes when we want to say no, on the other hand, the emotion of anger will activate our body’s survival response and ensure we activate defensive strategies that keep us at a “safe” distance from one another. Work with a therapist, if necessary.
Anger and healthy personal power?
There’s no avoiding the emotion of anger. Anger helps us stand up for what we believe in and express who we are — at minimum, creative beings in process of learning how to optimize our quest to matter, to meaningful contribute and connect, and to be treated with dignity along the way.
Anger is not the problem. Expressing anger defensively, either directly by yelling or blaming or indirectly by withdrawing or telling lies, is the problem. Anger is a creative action-activing energy that is essential to our personal growth and development, as well as the realization of our full potential to love and be loved unconditionally.
Learning to express anger effectively is an essential exercise of our personal power, a built-in ability to make choices that either optimize our connections with life in and around us — or not. We always have a choice to act or respond in ways that grow strong, vibrant, mutually enriching relationships (with self as well as others) - or hide behind our body’s automatic defense system (fight or flee response).
In the long run, angry outbursts leave us feeling powerless inside because, apart from giving us quick-fix feel-good (illusion of power), i.e., seeing others scurry about trying to appease us, they literally cause others to increasingly resist us (often with passive aggressive responses).
Our relationships are governed by laws of physics such as: for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The more aggressively we seek to change another (i.e., so we may feel more effective, loved, important, valued, etc.), the more they find ways to withdraw and perhaps even move in the opposite direction of our wishes.
Learning how to express anger effectively is a process, a mindful practice you can chose to make your own. Each time you lose control of anger, for example, why not remind yourself that, when you express anger defensively, such as with blame, denial, or lies, you are actually giving your personal power away?
Anger is all about the exercise of your personal power, the question is will it be effective or ineffective? A conscious plan allows us to transform our fears and anger into action-generating assets.
Largely, it’s a combination of what we consciously or subconsciously believe and what we most want or (emotionally) need in the situation. What we believe is possible or what we believe we or others “should” (or shouldn’t) do, for example, activate emotions and neural command networks in our brain that shape our behaviors.
The questions below are designed to expand awareness of your emotional experience of anger, what you’ve learned and believe, and perhaps the beliefs that underlie how you express or respond to anger, others’ as well as your own.
Instructions: Write down your responses to the following questions:
1. Anger is…
2. When you were growing up, what did your mother do with her anger? Your anger?
3. When you were growing up, what did your father do with his anger? Your anger?
4. As a child, what did you decide about expressing your angry feelings?
5. Who taught you “how” to express or not express anger?
6. In what situations did you learn to express anger or silence anger?
7. In the present, what do you do when you are angry at your partner? Child? Parent?
8. How long does it take you to let go of angry feelings or stewing inside (days, hours, minutes etc.)?
9. Are you satisfied with how you resolve your anger with your partner? Child? Parent?
10. What do you want to change so you will feel good about how you resolve anger?
Rarely the primary focus, codependency issues are often identified in connection to the treatment of a family member with an addiction. A person in a significant relationship with someone addicted to a substance or activity is at risk of developing a set of behaviors (also an addictive pattern) from which they too need healing to restore life balance, integrity and peace of mind.
Codependent persons have a developed ability to “read” the moods of others, and take pleasure in “knowing” what others want, how to pacify or appease. Pleasing others, however, is rooted in fear, and a wishful fantasy or expectation that, somehow or someday, the ones they seek to please will recognize, appreciate, and value them for the efforts they make.
This set of behaviors, sometimes referred to as “enabling,” is known as “codependency” or “co-addiction.”
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Though we commonly confuse the two, simply put, “wants” are something we can live without, and needs are essential to our life and health.Our personal “wants” can shape our behaviors as much as our physiological needs and emotion-drives. When we’re thirsty we take action to get a drink of water, for example. Similarly, when we want to reach a goal, i.e., get closer to a loved one or excel in a particular sport, we take action accordingly.
factors disconnect In interactions with others, for example, when our attempt to fulfill our drive to find value or matter in relation to another is blocked, we experience painful emotions. This pain is healthy, providing we know how to interpret and respond to it. It is our body’s way of letting us know to take some action, preferably one that is informed by our inner understanding and wisdom.
The two exercises in this step are designed to build awareness and strengthen your ability to consciously connect to your emotional needs as a means of calming and centering yourself in challenging situations.
Conscious harmony between your wants and needs?
A conscious plan focuses your attention foremost on what you most aspire to realize. It takes into consideration both your personal wantsand aspirations as a unique individual — and at the same time, yourhardwired emotion-drives to matter, making unique contributions while also securing safe mutually enriching, healthy relationships.
1. Are your wants mostly conscious or subconscious?
There’s a key difference between what you think you want and what you consciously want. What you think you want is mostly subconscious, which means there are unresolved conflicts that prevent you from realizing what you want, for example, you may “want” to be slim and trim but you also “want” to watch TV rather than exercise. Which will win out? The one that’s backed with the most passion. Your body’s operating system, the subconscious mind, knows what you really, really, really want by what gives you the most pleasure inside. This inner “feel good” fires and wires actions and momentum with the release of feel-good chemicals.
For the most part, the subconscious mind manages the energies of your body based on a simple formula: whatever you really, really, really want is what you get.
Conscious wants take this into consideration. Based on the understanding that you’re going to get whatever you really, really want, it’s wise to carefully ponder, reflect and choose accordingly. If you do not, you’re leaving too many life- and relationship-shaping decisions to your subconscious mind.
Some insist they “don’t know” what they want. This is resistance. It is a learned and passive aggressive way of protecting our self, thoughts, wants from the criticisms, evaluations, and other intrusions of others. It’s a velvet glove way of saying “you’re not the boss of me” to others. In other words, its defensive strategy, it’s a way of controlling your life from the influence of others, for example, to protect what you really want from other’s evaluations, expectations, criticism or demands. We always know what we or others want by the actions we take or don’t take. Never go by what one says they want or intended. The conscious mind is often in the dark, completely unaware of what the subconscious mind wants. Behaviors are the only reliable way of knowing what we (and others) really want. The actions we are willing to take or not take on a consistent basis best inform us of what we really, really want.
2. Are your wants aligned with your hardwired drives (needs)?
WhatIf what you want is not aligned with the highest directives –hardwired drives or needs — of your brain and body — which is to balance your drive for connection, to form healthy mutuality enriching relationships, with your drive for autonomy, to matter as a unique being, you’re likely to waste time a lot of time on futile endeavors. It’s like ignoring that your body needs food, water and oxygen to survive and thrive.
Human beings are hardwired to learn and grow, heal and transform in the context of healthy, mutually-enriching compassion-based relationships with self and others, and life.
Ignoring these imperatives is the cause of suffering and addiction.
Drink of water photo available from Shutterstock
Most understand the links between our thoughts or self-talk and our emotions and feelings — not so with emotion-drives. How can they be as as real as our physical needs for food and water? In Part 1 emotion-drives were described as action-motivating factors that propel us to take action from within to matter and meaningfully connect to life within and around us.
The concept of “emotion-drives” as life shaping and connected to our health and survival is more challenging to understand. And, we rarely think of or explain our own or other’s behaviors in terms of these powerful universal strivings.
This is surprising when we consider that several top psychological theorists in the 20th century, among others, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May and William Glasser, viewed human behavior as primarily motivated or purpose-driven to meet social needs, such as love, belonging, contribution, all of which are emotional in nature.
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Emotion mastery, or the ability to regulate our emotions, is essential to our personal and relational health and happiness. It is a built-in capacity that must be cultivated, yet often ignored. No easy task, this inner work requires an ongoing willingness to develop awareness of our emotions and feelings, and an openness to feeling and understanding them.
Like gauges, emotions are status checks, personal messages our body-mind (subconscious) sends at any given moment to keep us (conscious-mind) informed on what most concerns us.
Essentially, emotions tell us where we are or how well we’re doing, so to speak, in relation to what and where we most aspire to be in life, with regard to the following:
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When it comes your body or life, not much happens without emotion. To your brain, emotions are essential chemical signals that connect all the systems of your body 24/7, in a complex and sophisticated communication network like no other.
To your mind, or conscious and subconscious self, your body’s ability to transmit signals of emotion and physical sensations help you survive and thrive the myriad of social, intellectual and emotional (spiritual?) challenges of life, which are natural to your own unique growth and development patterns.
How vital is this communication? Quite. As it is impossible not to communicate or to relate, it’s a quality of life matter.
Like it or not, you are a walking-talking communication system. To be alive is to communicate, to relate, and to connect with the world within and around you. Your brain is a relationship organ, which makes you a social being at heart.
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Conscious communication is a window into the world of our heart and mind – and another’s from their vantage point.
As a tool, it’a a way to manage the energies we bring to our communications, so that we remain consciously aware of what is going on inside of us, our feelings, thoughts, what we want and need, and so on, without getting triggered.
In Part 1 we described eight attributes of a conscious way of talking. In this post, the focus is on attributes of conscious-listening.
Conscious-listening is a way of being intentionally present to see, to know and to recognize our own and another’s felt presence and unique value in the relationship. Safe to say, it’s not possible to authentically love another, without being willing to freely give the essential gift of listening. In other words, if we’re not genuinely listening to another, sooner or later, they will stop listening to us. (They have no choice, it’s physics.)
Listening as critical to healthy relationships?
Listening is perhaps the most critical component of effective communication. That’s because we are hardwired with emotion-drives that propel us to feel known, heard, understood, valued, and so on, aspects of our overarching drive to do more than merely survive life, to also thrive, to matter and meaningfully connect in relation to life around us. In fact, our drive to thrive in life is also critical to our physical health and survival, as stress directly impacts our health, emotional, mental and physical, in negative ways.
As important as it is to resolve past or present problems, for example, when one or both parties lack empathic listening skills, problems quickly rise to the level of seeming “impossible” to solve. Why?
In short, our drives to thrive are emotional and thus also relational in nature, and thus issues cannot be solved with logic (alone). In fact, our attempts to resolve them with “logic” are the cause of much resistance, suffering, confusion, despair, perhaps also loss of hope and feelings of powerlessness.
(It’s physics: For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.)
Most emotional distress or overwhelm roots back to blockages or inability to find healthy options to satisfy our core emotion-drives.
One-sided listening (focusing mostly on the concerns of one, and not the other is a very common problem in relationships…) always breaks down eventually (unless of course it’s in the nature of a “working” relationship, such as parent-child, therapist-client, etc.). When our thoughts or views feel dismissed, unimportant, ignored by the other, eventually, our body subconsciously recognizes them as “threats” (eventually even “enemies”), thus, activates our defenses, perhaps for the smallest infractions.
This form of “listening” often stems from fear, shame or guilt shuts, which are emotional states shut down the processes of the frontal cortex. It is not real listening and rather a form of “obeying”; doing what another wants “without questioning” is also obeying and not real respect per se.
The challenges of resolving issues can be lessened considerably when we understand that, ultimately, it is in our highest interest as individuals to consciously act in ways that treat both self and other with dignity, and do so unconditionally. It is the key to growing healthy, vibrant relationships.
There are at least five attributes of conscious-listening:
1. Train your mind to listen with an open heart.
Listening is the part we tend to find most challenging. And yet conscious-listening is incomparably more powerful than force. Failing to see this, we often rely on defensive tactics instead, which are punitive ways and energy-wasting ways of “fighting” to be heard, understood, appreciated. We do not realize the extent to which these actions are what blocks us from getting the love and connection we yearn for in our key relationships. We need a way of listening with an open heart, in which we consciously choose to treat one another with dignity, thus, consciously avoid judgments, accusations, blame, and other anxiety-provoking responses – like the plague. Is it easy? No! The good news? Our brains are hardwired for change. It’s known as plasticity. At any time we choose, and want to do so, we can learn skills and develop our capacity to be intentionally present to listen with our heart, more specifically: to focus on understanding (the heart of) what the other says, such as their positive intentions, not just their words; to be willing to let go of and suspend judgments or doubts; to practice listening objectively, for feelings, emotion-drives, positive intentions, as well as for layers of feelings and drives beneath the feelings, i.e., unfulfilled expectations, wishes, and so on; and last but not least, to believe we can.
2. Be an empathic presence.
To resolve conflict, regardless how intense the disagreement, we need to be willing and open to listening empathically. This allows us to remain connected to our compassion. (For self and other, based on the way our brains are hardwired with mirror-neurons, as compassion seems to be a two-way street.) Place yourself in the other’s shoes, and really look at the world from their perspective, understanding his or her feelings, emotion-dirves. What is the underlying message? This does not mean you need to agree. Just see the world from where they are. When you do, this sends the heart warming messages such as:
“I value you as a person and recognize your unique perspective and experience of the world.”
“You are important to me, you are cared for, you are a real presence in my heart.”
“I believe in you and trust your ability to think, make choices and learn from any mistakes.”
These messages can be conveyed even without saying these words, or any words. Although hearing such words can be powerfully healing, these messages are also expressed by being consciously present, in mind and body, also aware of your body-talk when you are listening, making eye contact, giving your full attention, the look on your face, perhaps touch when appropriate, all show your concern or care.
3. Give empathic responses.
Every communication is a bid for connection. Responses are powerful in that they let the other know whether you are empathically connected or not. When your response communicates you’re not connected to place where you seek to understand the other, you send a message that you do not care. Emotions directly affect your and their physiology, thus your communication. When you are not present, the other feels the disconnect in relation to you, and, unless they are have a set intention to remain aware and present, they can lose their own sense of safety and connection. For example, let’s say Jonathan comes home from work and says the following to his partner Sue: “My boss blasted me in front of my colleagues today!”
Examples of non-empathic responses:
Sue: “Look at you complaining again. Why don’t you just quit?”
Sue: “What did you do to get him angry this time?”
Neither of the above responses are effective. In the first, Sue’s comment dismisses John’s concern, treating him like a child who should stop complaining and grow up. In the second, even worse, the comment accuses, blames and attacks him as a person, sending a message that his effectiveness as a person is in question.
Examples of empathic response:
Sue: “I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been embarrassing.”
Sue: “How insensitive of him. Are you still upset about it?”
Though emotions span a broad range, pitch and depth in intensity and complexity, from the perspective of the body’s autonomic nervous system, ultimately, love and fear are the two main signals or feeling-physiological states of the body. In other words, all feelings root back to either love- or fear-based emotions.
4. Be accepting.
Unconditional acceptance means letting go of judgments of the other as a person. Judging sets a competitive tone that turns conversations into competitions for who is superior and who is inferior, right and who is wrong, good or bad, better or worse, and so on. There are NO winners in these competitions when it comes to family relationships! To stop being judgmental, practice the following (it takes work!): consciously separate the worth and value of a person from their actions or behaviors. While it’s necessary to assess and think of what behaviors are harmful versus enriching, when we attack or condemn a person’s character, we are literally striking lethal blows to the relationship we have (or had). It’s just human nature. Relationships follow laws of physics, such as: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Although common, it’s unrealistic to attack a person’s worth or capacity as a person, and then expect them to change their behavior, even thank and love us more! People tend to live up to expectations, and we wonder why. Be accepting and believe in others instead. It’s much more powerful than judging. Focus on giving unconditional acceptance instead.
5. Use clarifying questions.
Paraphrasing or repeating back what you say allows you to clarify meanings and understand the other. Sometimes it is necessary to ask questions to clarify meanings, such as “I’m not sure what you mean, can you tell me more about this?” or “What do you mean by ‘too upsetting to deal with’? Asking for addition information not only helps you to better understand the other, it also sends a positive underlying message that “I want to know and value your perspective.” Nothing warms the heart more than sending a message that you value the other by valuing their viewpoint.
Conscious communication is an intention, in challenging moments, to remain empathically connected to self and the other, rather than triggered and defensive. When we feel safe enough to be present, we are more likely to express ourself authentically, and thus more likely to be listened to, validated and valued in return.
It takes courage to consciously love another, as authentic love is more than a feeling, and rather ongoing acts of courage that mutually nourish self and other, as we stretch to be a listening presence, so we may better understand our self and the heart of another, as a non-judging witness to our and their personal concerns, needs, dreams and frustrations, etc.
We can choose to ignore but never change the reality of how we’re hardwired: Our deepest yearnings are to matter, to meaningfully connect, to contribute value in our relationships, and thus at minimum, we yearn to be treated with dignity (especially when upset).
When you talk and listen in ways that stretch you, particularly in moments where you may not “feel” like doing so, you exercise your ability to stretch and courageously develop the capacity to authentically love your self and another.