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.