On how anger is kept inflamed

About two weeks ago, I began exploring the emotional experience of anger in humans. By identifying primary emotions behind it, my aim was to  show that anger is rarely a primary emotion; that it is, therefore, a consequence of another emotional state that has not been acknowledged or been poorly expressed in a person who is now being angry. If you haven’t read the last post, you may read it here.

Self Love Therapy for Anger

Today, I explore the general style of thinking that supports the progression and continuity of anger problem, by identifying four sets of fallacies in our ways of thinking: sense of entitlement, the “should mentality”, the fallacy of fairness, and global labeling.

~ entitlement ~

Have you ever wanted something so much that you had come to believe “I ought to have it”? What happens when you are not given that which you desire? The more intense your perceived need for something, the deeper it justifies the claim that someone else must provide for it. The undercurrent mental activity – known as cognitive process – is that if I am entitled to certain things in life, and if I don’t get them, someone is selfishly, deliberately or wickedly leaving me without them.

Let’s not confuse desire with obligation. The fallacy of entitlement is based on the false belief that wanting something very much makes it unacceptable for others to say no. Such demandingness requires that others give up their boundaries and limits because your need and pain must come first. To moderate such extreme levels of demandingness and entitlement, you may want to modify your speech with the following reminders:

·       I have my limits and you have your limits.

·       I am allowed to want, and he or she is allowed to say no.

·       I have the right to say no and so do you.

·       My desire doesn’t make it necessary for you to meet it.

~ the should mentality ~

Anger often follows after a judgment based on a set of rules about how people should and should not behave. Those who act according to the rules are right, and those who break the rules are wrong. The conclusion of angry people is that others know and accept their rules but willingly – and even viciously – decide to violate them. There are two problems with this conclusion.

Let’s be real: people with whom we feel angry rarely agree with us! Their perception of the situation leaves them fault-free and even reasonable. Their rules – and not ours – seem to exempt them from the judgments we think they deserve. The second problem with the “should mentality” is that people never do what they should do. Social psychologists have long agreed that we often don’t know why we do what we do, failing to fact-check our intentions behind actions. We tend to do what is reinforcing and rewarding for us to do. We can avoid imposing our values and needs on others and infer their ways of thinking by contemplating on …  

·       What problems, limitations or fears influence this behavior?

·       What needs influence this person to act this way?

·       What values or beliefs influence him to act this way?

·       Forget the “should mentality”, it only gets us upset.

·       People do what they want to do, not what I think they should do.

~ fairness ~

Recall a heated argument when you were called “unfair” and remember how you felt dreadful right away or even inflamed with anger. You felt you are being “more than fair” probably; and you are right! The fairness misconception is that there is some absolute standard of just and correct behavior that people should understand and aspire to. In the context of relationships, this fallacy of fairness can push us to always look out for balancing out what is given with what is received.

This is problematic as there is no mediator to sort through our emotional balance sheets in relationships and that people may not agree on what fairness is because it is a subjective judgment that depends on what each person expects, needs or hopes for from the other. As long as the idea of fairness remains a reflection of one’s beliefs and desires, people can practically call anything fair or unfair. To cope more effectively when feeling unfairly treated, you can use the following disarming as well as inviting strategies in your communications:

·       Our needs are equally important. Let us consider both of them.

·       Each need is legitimate – we can negotiate.

Also problematic are exaggerating words like terrible and awful as well as generalizing words such as always and never. “You never help” or “this is going to be an awful evening” are magnifications that wind up our sense of anxiety in a state of helplessness. It makes a person feel convinced that “I am innocent and they’re bad”. I recommend letting the following statements replace these extreme analyses:

·       Let the facts speak for themselves.

·       Accuracy, not exaggeration.

~ global labeling ~

Yes, relying on concrete categories simplifies our life, but it is neither a useful nor effective cognitive strategy in making sense of our life and the world around us. The ways in which anger is produced and regulated in human brain paves the path for labeling others as bad, idiot, selfish, screw-ups, and so on. Also, extreme and absolute categories leave no space for adequate perspective taking and reality testing. This is fuel for anger as it accuses the totality of an individual instead of focusing on a particular deed or manner. Once a person is labeled as completely flawed, it is easy to get angry with them. Try replacing a global way of relating to others with these assertions:

·       Be specific (please).

·       Do not assume anything, or else check out every assumption.

·       I don’t second-guess the motives of others. I ask questions.

During angry situations, it works better to invite problem solving strategies and give up altogether settling scores with your opponent. Fueling the underlying intention for punishing or hurting the other person only proves to be self-destructive and does not resolve the situation. Pain must not be paid back for it to heal. The resolution is found in understanding the feelings behind and the thoughts surrounding the experience of anger. My recommended self-love first-aid is: pause. And ask yourself this liberating question:

“what do I really need/want in this situation?”

In part three, I will provide the Biweekly readers with a step-by-step inner-work guide towards healing from anger. 

Thanks for staying this long and see you in a couple of weeks!

Dr. Hessam