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….
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?
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.
Why the disconnect?
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:
Emotions may be triggered by what’s going on around us, however, our emotion-responses are primarily activated by a combination of internal factors, that:
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.
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?
But not because men and women are from different planets. As a recent study showed, in truth, both are from the same planet Earth; they share more in common, at least intellectually, mentally and emotionally, than they are different.
And the differences? Well, let’s just say, “Vive la difference!”
Myths that baffle men and women?
You wouldn’t know how much men and women have in common from what science and other writings have proclaimed for centuries, and in more recent decades, media and entertainment industries (and especially pornography) have reinforced and embellished mythical portrayals of women as potentially dangerous to men, akin to unruly children who must be dominated, not trusted or spoiled (“for their own good”).
Myths of romanticized dominance (eroticized, for men) still prevail. It’s not unusual for male partners to think its their job, on the one hand, to fix or set their partners straight, tell them what to do or think, scold or punish if she doesn’t follow his advice, and then blame her for making him feel inadequate for not allowing him to do his job.
While it may feel he has failed, the real problem largely lies in a set of strategies men are conditioned from boyhood to use in order to deliberately block emotional intimacy.
Despite misconceptions, as discussed in Part 1, expressing anger is a choice between actions that are defensive in nature and thus increase distance between us, and actions that are effective in increasing our understanding of one another, and keeping communication lines open.
Just as the uses and benefits of lemons are more numerous and significant than most can imagine, so are the possibilities of anger, when expressed effectively, to clarify, spark and produce a deepening of our connections with self and other, and emotional intimacy.
Truth be told, the ability to handle (listen to, feel and express, etc.) anger effectively is essential in building strong, mutually enriching and mature relationships. And, because our brain is a relationship organ, our personal wellbeing is all about how we “do” relationships. In the words of top selling author and personal success expert Brian Tracy notes, “relationships are the hallmark of the mature person.”
To learn how to regulate and express anger effectively, however, like any thing else, it’s essential to better understand our anger, its potential benefits as a healthy emotion, its risks and potentially damaging impact.
Also like anger, lemons are balancing agents. They cleanse and set the pH in your body in balance. At the same time, they were never intended by nature to be digested as a main course.
The health benefits of lemons are many, in other words, if you know when and how much to use in proportion to other ingredients, and so on.
Similarly, anger is an emotion that activates, as an agent that helps you regulate and reset the balance of seemingly opposing inner strivings — to stay connected to your self and life around you – yet never meant to be overused as an emotion to hide or to hide behind.