If someone asked you to describe yourself, what would you say?
Most people will answer by talking about their career:
“I work for a multi-national company.”
“I manage 500 people.”
“I’m looking for a job.”
“I’m studying at Harvard University.”
“I’m an investor.”
“I’m a stay at home mother.”
“I own 139 properties.”
Some people define themselves as ‘victims’, just the product of their circumstances:
“I always do everything for everyone but all I get in return is being [turned on / shunned / criticized / abused / made to feel bad / taken for granted, etc].
“I’m a survivor.”
“I’m a single mother raising my children alone.”
Other people will define themselves by a particular character trait:
“I’m an introvert.”
“I’m a nerd.”
Some people will define themselves by their marital status, especially if they’re divorced or widowed.
Still others will define themselves by their religious beliefs:
“I’m an atheist.”
“I’m an orthodox Jew.”
And then you’ll find those who don’t know how to answer the question, so they try to dodge it:
“I’m nobody special.”
“I don't know.”
“I’ve never really thought about it.”
“Isn't it the eternal question as Paul Gauguin beautifully depicted ? “ Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
But are any of these responses really capturing the true beauty, the true essence of who you really are?
Even if you answered very fully:
“I run a successful accountancy practice in Connecticut, and my hobbies include writing free verse and playing the oboe. I’m married to a wonderful woman - my second marriage - and we have two teenager children. I’m a big believer in an open economy, I usually vote Republican, I’m quite a deep personality who thinks a lot about the meaning of life and often worries that I’m not quite doing what I should be with my life, and my favorite author is Thomas Hardy.”
Ok, so that’s a pretty [full] response, but if we’re honest, we can see that it doesn’t really capture the essence of a person.
So who are we, really?
There’s a short answer to that question which will do for now, but we will get into the longer and more complex answer a little later on, but slowly slowly. We can’t move too fast with this stuff without triggering off an all-out war from the backseat driver who’s got us all fooled that he is really us.
So for now, let’s try to define who we are by who we aren’t.
We aren’t our jobs.
People change jobs all the time, housewives become CEOs, car mechanics become taxi drivers, lawyers become authors or chefs. Especially in today’s hustle economy, no-one can really define themselves by their job even in the short-term, because the job, and the role a person performs in society is constantly changing and evolving.
So we aren’t our jobs.
We aren’t our circumstances.
There are so many rags-to-riches stories out there, and probably even more riches-to-rigs stories. Today’s front page socialite who has the world at her feet could so easily be tomorrow’s washed-up drug addict who’s continuing to sell copies of the National Enquirer for very different, unglamorous reasons.
Circumstances can and do change. And this tends to be the rule, not the exception in our lives. Sometimes, we perceive those changes as positive, like when we move up the property ladder to a bigger house, or when we get a promotion, or get some other lucky break, or enjoy some other delicious moment of serendipity when our circumstances fill us with joy.
But if you define yourself as a loser and a victim, or as a winner and a superman, then what happens to you when your circumstances change?
Let’s consider the case of Christopher Reeve, the powerfully-built actor who embodied the conventional idea of how a ‘superman’ should look and how he should act. On screen, Reeve was the caped crusader with supernatural powers who used his physical prowess and really handy flying abilities to save the world from baddies and natural disasters.
Off-screen, Reeve seemed to carry a lot of his character with him, and was a highly-successful, attractive and physically active man. Until that fateful day when he had a terrible accident whilst riding his horse and broke his neck.
Overnight, the muscular, powerful ‘superman’ turned into a total quadriplegic, almost entirely reliant on other people to help him do even the simplest things in life like eat and get dressed.
Most people would have been absolutely crushed in this enormous reversal in their circumstances. But Reeve wasn’t most people, and he rose to the challenge of expressing the essence of who he really was in completely different, non-physical terms.
For the decade of life that remained to him after his accident, Reeve was a tireless campaigner for disability rights and for disabled people.
It’s maybe the biggest irony of his life that he pulled off his most heroic role, and the biggest positive and lasting impact on the world, when he was physically paralysed and confined to a wheelchair.
A superman indeed.
But the point is, we aren’t our circumstances. Whether or not you have wealth, health, good fortune, a big house, good looks, loads of friends, physical prowess, intellectual abilities - all of those things can and do change from day to day, sometimes subtly, and often less so.
So we aren’t our circumstances.
We aren’t our collected personality traits, either.
While this has the surface appearance of being a little closer to capturing the real essence of who we are, it’s still got the same limitation that applies to the other answers we’ve discussed: people’s personalities can and do change over time.
If a person is continually trying to work on themselves, and continually trying to uproot negative character traits, beliefs and behaviors, overtime their personalities will become more sparkly, spiritually shiny and beautiful.
And if we’re not trying to do that work, than typically overtime, our backseat driver will keep diverting us down more and more emotional dead-ends and black holes, and we’ll increasingly find ourselves sharing a ride with more and more feelings of anger, bitterness, resentments and regrets.
Which doesn’t make for a nice day out, by any measure.
So when some people say things like: “I’m just an angry person”, what they’re really trying to do is control their environment by getting themselves stuck in a persona that actually, really isn’t the true them.
“Watch out, I’ll get angry if you try to pull me out of my comfort zone, or expect me to change how I see the world, or react to things!”
It’s like posting a ‘Beware Dog’ sign on your perimeter. Statements like this are warning shots to try and keep people away from the real essence of who you are.
But guess what: you really aren’t the person who’s sticking those signs up - the backseat driver is.
And plenty of angry people calmed down and stopped been so aggressive and edgy once they learnt where their feelings of anger were really coming from, and how to deal with them properly.
And most importantly of all, when they realized that calling themselves ‘an angry person’ actually didn’t’ reflect the true reality of who they really are.
When you give your child a loving hug, are you an angry person?
When you say sorry to a friend for forgetting to calm them on their birthday, are you an angry person?
When you make a huge effort to cook a nice meal for your family, are you an angry person?
The honest answer has to be no. In that moment, with that action, you aren’t being an angry person at all.
So then, who are we, really?
If we’re not the guy in the backseat, and we’re not a collection of our successes, failures, job descriptions and labels, then who are we, really?
Who we really are:
Who we are is expressed in our collective impact on the world, both for the good and for the bad.
One of the most fundamental things to understand about C-PTSD – and basically any issue that is causing an individual to have some intense ‘friction’ with other people – is that any person who frequently beats themselves up is almost certainly going to be beating other people up, too.
Pete Walker, in his excellent book: C-PTSD: From surviving to thriving, gives a very insightful explanation for why this occurs:
“The ‘inner critic’ is the part of your mind that views you as flawed and unworthy. The outer critic is the part that views everyone else as flawed and unworthy….The outer critic… uses the same programs of perfectionism and endangerment against others that your inner critic uses against yourself... Via it’s all-or-none programming, the outer critic rejects others because they are never perfect, and cannot be guaranteed to be safe.”
Perfectionism, where we hold ourselves and others to impossibly-high standards is pretty self-explanatory. By ‘endangerment’, Walker means that C-PTSD people are always on the look-out for ‘clues’ that other people are going to ultimately be as toxic and damaging for them as their very difficult relatives were.
Of course, everyone, even nice, relatively sane, kind, generous, patient people will have a ‘off’ day, and occasionally react in a less than optimal way. We’re all humans, remember, and NO ONE is perfectly-mannered or switched-on all the time.
The problem for C-PTSD people is that because their primary caregivers were overwhelmingly ‘negative’ and damaging to be around so much of the time – i.e. genuinely caring, attentive and empathetic behaviour was very much the exception, not the rule – they view every imperfect ‘lapse’ as a sign that really, that otherwise ‘nice’ person is going to end up treating them just as badly as their difficult, abusive or absent parent did / does.
This is such a hard proposition for most C-PTSD to deal with (especially when they haven’t yet figured out that they actually have C-PTSD….) that it makes regular interactions with other people far too scary. It’s much easier to rubbish everyone else, and focus on their faults, in order to keep a ‘safe’ distance, than to let your guard down, and risk getting sucker-punched again.
Which is why so many of the C-PTSD people who are at the very beginning of their healing process frequently find it so very difficult to maintain good relationships with others, for any period of time.
Of course, this can be fixed! So don’t despair, and don’t give up of turning things around and developing much more forgiving, genuine, authentic and healthy relationships with others, but the starting point of the healing journey has to be awareness of what’s really happening because of the C-PTSD, and why.
The take-away point from this post is that for as long as you’re continuing to expect unreasonable perfectionism, and to be very hard on yourself, you will inevitably also be incredibly hard on other people and their ‘normal’ lapses into imperfect behavior – including your kids and spouse.
THE FOUR STRESS TYPES
Another thing to add here is that your main ‘stress’ type – i.e. FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE/FAWN – will also very much affect how the dynamic between inner / outer critic really plays out in your life, in real time. (See the infographic.)
FIGHT types nearly always polarise over to constant ‘outer criticism’, and controlling behaviours of others, and very rarely acknowledge that this is attitude is a corollary of having an enormous inner critic at play. Fight types are very prickly, to prevent people coming too close, but will also expect 100% compliance for their wishes, viewing anything less as complete betrayal and ‘abandonment’.
(Yes, that’s why ‘fight’ stress reactions are typically underneath so many so-called ‘personality disorders’ and anti-social behaviour.)
FLIGHT types tend to flip the most between the two poles of inner and outer critic – and are typically the ones most caught up in ‘comparisons’ with other people and competitions to see who’s doing the best or worse. When they’re ‘winning’ – they’ll be highly judgmental of others. When they’re ‘losing’ – they’ll be highly critical of themselves.
FREEZE types often fall into making blanket statements about the whole of humanity being bad, untrustworthy, rotten and unfixable. Again, this is a defensive move which gives the FREEZE C-PTSD person the justification they need for retreating away from the outside world, and wrapping themselves entirely up in their own misery and imagination. (Again, ‘FREEZE’ types are typically identified as having issues with depression.)
Again, the outer criticism is married to a very harsh ‘inner critic’ that makes the FREEZE person feel completely worthless and pointless.
FAWN types rarely risk making openly critical statements of others, whatever the justification. They tend to be the most self-critical of all four groups. But, that doesn’t mean that FAWN types only ever beat themselves up, because as we’ve learned, if you’re regularly beating yourself up, than it’s GUARANTEED that you will also regularly be beating others up too, especially your kids and spouse.
Because FAWN types hate confrontation, most of their ‘outer critic’ attacks will be conducted via passive-aggressiveness, where other people are ‘silently blamed’ and railed against for causing all the issues.
Passive-aggressiveness can be very tricky to deal with, as it’s often so hidden away. Here’s some of the more common examples of passive-aggressive behaviour identified by Pete Walker:
Again, the main take-away point from today’s post is simply the understanding that ‘inner critics’ always come along with ‘outer critics’ – and that both are unhealthy ‘evil inclination’ behaviors. Being able to evaluate ours, and others, behaviour is clearly a very crucial skill required for good emotional health.
That’s the whole idea between the Jewish concept of making a daily accounting of our thoughts, words and actions, to see which ones may have been a little ‘off’, and require some work, or rectification. But healthy, compassionate self-evaluation is worlds away from beating ourselves up for not being perfect.
Before we continue with our discussion about C-PTSD, I just wanted to talk a little about the phenomenon of ‘projection’, which will help you understand one of the most puzzling aspects of dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals.
On some level of another, emotional disturbance occurs when a person isn’t acknowledging the truth of who they really are, how they really behave, and what they really think.
Now, this characterizes all of us from time to time. All of us have things we’re in denial about, or facets of our personalities that we’d rather not acknowledge, or things we do that we try to play down or minimize. That’s human nature.
The more emotionally and spiritually ‘transparent’ we are, the better our emotional and mental health usually is - and vice versa. By the time you get into the murky area of things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Anti-social Behavior Disorder (AsBD), Disassociative Identity Disorder and schizophrenia, for example, that healthy ‘transparency’ has become so opaque it’s literally led to a breakdown in the affected person’s grasp of reality.
When a person can’t honestly accept and acknowledge facets of their own personalities, thoughts and behaviours, they start PROJECTING these things on to other people - which can be completely head-wrecking, until you understand what’s really happening
Here’s an example: a restaurant in Hawaii put up a notice saying no “Trump fascists” would be served on its premises. That restaurant owner is acting in precisely the ‘fascist’ way they’re accusing Trump supporters of doing - which is classic projection.
Multi-billionaire George Soros accusing Trump of being a ‘wannabe dictator’ is also a classic case of projection. Now, I’m not saying that projection and emotional disturbance only happens by liberals and left-wingers, because it’s a problem that crops up all over the place. But what I have noticed is that there an awful lot of ‘projection’ stories hitting the headlines in the wake of Trump’s win, as one emotionally-disturbed celeb after another is using Trump’s win to vent their own emotional issues.
Of course, projection also happens much closer to home, too. If you want to know what an emotionally-ill person really thinks about themselves, pay close attention to all the insults and put-downs they start shooting your way, especially those that are completely off the mark, seem completely out of context or are just plain bizarre.
Say, you’re a gourmet chef and someone starts ranting at you that you couldn’t even make a decent piece of toast. The chances of that statement being true about a gourmet chef are practically nil, so you know you’re dealing with a pure piece of projection. But the projection can be much harder to spot if you’re being accused of a problem you really do have yourself.
For example, if you’re being accused of not doing enough ‘soul-searching’ by someone with zero interest in spiritual issues, that’s obviously projection, but it could also still have a crumb of truth in it. Some effort will need to be made to figure out how much of that statement is pure projection, and how much is actually relevant.
Another point to make about projection is that whatever we’re accusing other of doing (at least directly, to their faces) is nearly always an indication of something we ourselves need to work on.
The more I’ve been trying to work through my own issues like arrogance and anger, for example, the less those traits are disturbing me when I see them in others, and the less likely I am to comment on them in a critical way.
God created the whole world as one big mirror, to show us what we ourselves need to work on and fix. Any trait or behavior you see in someone else that hits a nerve is something you yourself need to deal with, and work on. If it’s not agitating you, it’s not your problem in the same way, even if it’s still objectively nasty, bad and mean behavior.
You could write a whole book on this subject, but I’ll stop there.
In the meantime, here’s some rough rules of thumb for dealing with projection:
I personally now almost enjoy my abusive correspondence (almost….) as each fresh batch of emails gives me a clearer picture of their state of mind, which is sometimes even entertaining (almost…)
The last thing to say about projection is that God is still hiding messages for us inside all the projected statements from the emotionally-disturbed people we know, but it’s very rarely the ‘face value’ message of what we’re being told.
Recently, I’ve been pondering the mechanism that’s going on in a person’s brain and / or soul that prevents them from assimilating new information when it’s presented to them, and changing course as a result.
There’s been many prompts for my ponderings, vis:
All of us have come up against these types of people or issues over time, and probably all of us have been left scratching our heads as to what exactly is going on, because on some level we can see that the failure to integrate and to respond to information is clearly a sign of mental ill-health.
Is it cognitive impairment, or something more sinister?
Two options present themselves: Either, there really is some sort of cognitive impairment going on (more on this in a moment); or, the people involved are morally corrupt and deliberately going out there to hurt and mislead other people by ‘playing dumb’.
The more I’ve researched this issue, the more I’m starting to believe that the issue really is one of cognitive impairment, aka brain damage.
Here’s why: I did this infographic (at the top of the page) a little while back to show how important our frontal lobes are, when it comes to things like exercising free choice, assimilating new information, and overcoming our primitive, knee-jerk reactions to act like a mensch.
When the frontal lobes are ‘off-line’, the ability to choose how to react, to weigh out our options, to see other people’s points of view, to empathise, and to respond to new information and stimulus and really internalize it is very impaired, or even non-existent.
This type of ‘brain damage’ is caused by trauma, especially the type of trauma that results from emotional neglect and abuse in childhood, plus other more obviously traumatic experiences like being bulled, being seriously ill, losing a parent via divorce or bereavement, or experiencing a bad car crash, physical assault or terrorist attack.
Trauma takes out the ability to believe, act and think differently
To put this another way: Most people today are traumatized, and the effects of being traumatized are to amplify the influence or emotional and primitive parts of the brain, and to shut down the part of the brain that enables people to process new information, consider their actions, behavior and beliefs in a rational way, and to choose to act, think or believe different, as a result.
Here’s the good news: the brain is ‘plastic’, and new research is building up by the day to prove that the function of the brain is shaped by our experiences, and that our brains continue to grow and evolve and change until we take our last breath.
Traumatised brains can be ‘un-traumatised’, and when that occurs people regain their humanity, their ability to change and to aspire, and their connection to their souls, their higher selves, and to God.
(God willing, I’m currently pulling together a whole bunch of information on the best, easiest and most effective ways of ‘un-traumatising’, and I’ll post it up when it’s ready.)
But until and unless that happens - you’re dealing with brain-damaged individuals who really can’t process the new information or facts that potentially change the whole picture.
They really AREN’T doing it just be stubborn, obnoxious, hurtful, destructive and 'evil', although of course we often still experience their behavior like that, and we have to take any steps required to protect ourselves from the fall-out.
They're doing it because they currently can't access the ability to choose differently. But one day, and I really do believe it will be one day soon, that will change.
Following on from Dassie’s excellent comment on the post about parental abuse giving kids brain damage (which you can read in full HERE), I just wanted to flag her main points, as I think they sum up what’s really going on with our negative character traits, like anger:
"Personally, I've tried many, many methods for dealing with anger over the years. And the best I've found is the approach of emuna (as you write so often), in that, out of love, God WANTS my child/spouse/neighbor/washing machine to behave a certain way. It's from Him, not them. So why should I get angry at them? Also, the knowledge that things are going right according to God's Plan. It has helped me a lot."
For as long as we can’t see ‘behind’ the person who’s hurting us, annoying us, inconveniencing us, or upsetting us in some way, it’s going to be very hard, and probably even impossible, to get over our natural angry reaction to these occurrences.
Most holistic health people can quote stats and facts about anger being bad for health until they’re blue in the face. But the real question is this: HOW do we get rid of that anger? HOW do we fight it off, or over-power it, or defuse it in a healthy way, when people really are doing horrible, upsetting and destructive things to us?
That’s really the crux of the matter.
For myself, this is how I try to respond to angry-making situations (which believe me, I seem to be having tons of experience with, at the moment):
For example, one time I’ll figure out that I actually need to work on my boundaries more with that person, so they can’t put me in the same situation again. Another time, I’ll figure out that I actually need to apologise, because I was in the wrong. Another time, it’ll be something super-simple like ‘eat enough, so you don’t get grumpy and exhausted’. Yet others, it’ll be something hugely profound like ‘that was so weird, it just has to be unfinished business from a past life’.
And so on, and so forth. But the key is to put God in the picture, and get Him involved, and to understand that nothing is happening randomly, or just because you happened to be friends with a few ‘Class A’ jerks.
Without that understanding, it’s so hard as to be impossible to NOT get angry at the people who twist the windscreen wipers off your brand new car just for kicks, to use just one recent example from my own life.
So to sum up: if we don’t have God in the picture, and if we’re not trying to internalize that everything that happens is just a Divine message for us to work on, change, acknowledge, or fix something, then overcoming negative character traits like anger is going to be really, really hard.
You know, I’ve spent the best part of four years studying personality disorders, and all the related mentally-ill behaviors and traits that people display when they’ve got a serious screw loose.
I can quote whole parts of the DSM by heart; I’ve been exploring the links between trauma, and particularly the fight/flight/freeze response and emotional and mental illness; I’ve written a few books on the subject too, looking at how emotional difficulties and physical health problems go hand-in-hand.
And yet last week, it still shocked me to realize that certain patterns of behavior that I’d been on the receiving end of (and also, to my deep dismay, reflecting along the chain to others) – was actually emotionally abusive.
I’ll give one example: for the past couple of years, certain people have been giving me the cold shoulder. To my knowledge, I haven’t done anything ‘bad’ to them, and I’ve spent the last two years reaching out, apologizing for ‘whatever it is’ I might have inadvertently done, and generally beating myself up over clearly being a horrible person.
Last week, as I was researching all the information for the ‘Emotional Abuse’ infographic that I posted up yesterday, it suddenly struck me that given someone the silent treatment for two years, and completely ignoring them – without any explanation or reason – is classic emotional abuse.
And then my jaw really dropped, because once I realized how warped it all was, I could finally stop beating myself up over the issue, and get the clarity that the problem, whatever it is, wasn’t mine: it was 100% the other person’s.
Here’s where it’s important to clarify a little, as if there’s one thing I’ve learned with all my work in trying to separate out what’s emotionally normal, versus emotionally toxic behavior, the devil is ALWAYS in the details.
Sometimes, I also don’t respond to people’s emails, phone calls or overtures.
Sometimes, I haven’t got the energy or ‘space’ to deal with the second person, even if I love them to bits. Sometimes, I get random emails from people I’ve never even heard of asking me inane things that are not relevant to my life in any way, shape or form – and I often ignore them, or just delete.
But here’s the difference: even when I’ve taken a week or two off from ‘correspondence’ mode, if I know the person in any way, or if they’ve asked me something that genuinely requires a response, even a short, negative one, I always try to give it to them.
Sure, I’ve also been very upset at certain people in my life, and haven’t wanted to hear from them in any way, shape or form if they weren’t ready to apologize, or make some move, however small, towards opening a meaningful dialogue and discussing the issues we might have had.
But if they even made just the tiniest move towards reconciliation, I have responded as fast and as positively as I could.
So what’s the difference between an emotionally abusive cold shoulder, and a too-tired / stressed / upset-to-deal-with-you right now cold shoulder?
Here’s my take on it:
The Silent Treatment is Emotionally Abusive When:
I mean, I know all this stuff cold, and I was still shocked to realize that (yet again…) I was on the receiving end of some seriously mentally-ill behavior for years, without even knowing it. And then, the really hard work begins, of spotting when I might have 'cold shouldered' others in an emotionally-abusive way, as described above.
So, dear reader, I’m going to continue writing about it, and doing infographics, and trying to find other ways of helping us all to join the dots about what types of behavior are literally making us crazy and ill.
And hopefully, one day soon, it’ll stop coming as such a surprise to us all to realize that so many of our friends and relatives are certifiably bonkers, and that if we want to be really happy and healthy people, a lot of stuff has to change in terms of how we treat each other.
Probably the single biggest thing that stops people from dealing with the reality of what’s causing their mental and emotional health issues is family loyalty. As Bessel Van Der Kolk writes in his book: The Body Keeps The Score: “I have never met a child below the age of ten who was tortured at home (and who had broken bones and burned skin to show for it) who, if given the option, would not have chosen to stay with his or her family rather than being placed in a foster home.”
If that’s true even in the most destructive situations described by Van Der Kolk above, little wonder that those children grow up into adults who are unwilling to accept that their traumatic childhood experiences are connected in any way to their emotional difficulties. And this goes double when the traumatized child turns into the trauma-inducing parent, and starts mistreating their own offspring.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people say to me: ‘But if I blame my parents for my problems, that’s exactly what my children are going to do to me, when they grow up…’
I know that’s a scary thought for most of us, and justifiably so, because even the most saintly parent in the world can’t ALWAYS do the right thing and treat their dependents with kindness, patience, acceptance and understanding. Because all parents are human beings, and not angels, and human beings are very flawed creations.
So how do we square this circle?
In the secular world the approach has usually been to either:
The main problem with the first approach (and probably the main explanation why Miller’s work was uniformly sidelined by the establishment) is that very few people actually want to have such an openly hostile, angry relationship with their parents. Call it family loyalty, call it the fear of being shunned by other family members, or anxiety about rocking the boat and calling down more punishment and ‘blame’ down on themselves by exposing the family’s dirty laundry – it all comes down to the same thing: most traumatized children won’t choose to save themselves and their mental health if it’s going to cost them their connection to the parents.
(And if that’s true even when dealing with absolutely horrendous issues of physical and sexual abuse, it’s even more true when the abuse is ‘only’ verbal, emotional or psychological.)
The main problem with the second approach is that it doesn’t actually address the underlying causes of mental illness and turns people into drug addicts and ‘hopeless cases’, while storing up even more problems for the next generation.
When an abused child isn’t enabled and encouraged to tap into their true feelings, and to acknowledge and then release their disgust, anger, fear, shame and helplessness, those feelings don’t just magically ‘disappear’: they back-up in the person’s system, and they become all sorts of strange mental, emotional and even physical issues which tend to only worsen over time, if not properly treated.
Worse, an abused child who doesn’t have their experiences validated, and who isn’t helped to identify the ‘wrong’ that was done to them then becomes an abusing adult when they grow up – and the cycle starts all over again with their children.
So how can we validate, acknowledge and give a voice to that traumatized child within, without it completely rupturing our family relations?
There is an answer (probably, even a lot of them...) and I'll share a couple of my favorite techniques with you this week.
The first thing you should know is that when it comes to dealing with angry outbursts, willpower and determination is not always enough – although being determined to get on top of your anger is still a key part of overcoming it.
To understand what might help you to overcome your anger, it’s probably useful first to understand that all our negative emotions, anger included, contain a message or clue that we need to decipher. They aren’t just random occurrences, they are always sparked-off by something, either internal or external.
The message that anger is usually coming to teach us (broadly speaking) is that we’re feeling threatened by something or someone, and that we’re actually feeling very scared inside.
Sometimes, anger shows up to give us some very helpful warnings that we’re dealing with dangerous people, or unpleasant, potentially harmful situations, or that we’re feeling threatened in someway by something in our environment. (We often don’t realize what our body is trying to tell us via our emotions, but it’s often much more attuned to dangers in our environment than our more logical intellect is.)
This is the ‘fight’ part of the physiological reflex that’s called the ‘fight of flight’ response. It’s governed by the limbic system, or the so-called ‘lower brain’ (which according to Chinese Medicine, is in turn governed by the Triple Warmer Meridian.) You can learn more about the Triple Warmer Meridian in this article:
Unfortunately, the fight or flight response is often tripped-off far too much in people who are highly-sensitive to stress, or who have undergone some sort of previous acute trauma or chronic abuse (and a few other things, besides). To put it another way, most people today have a fight-or-flight response that’s permanently on high-alert, which means a lot of people are having a lot of anger issues.
Donna Eden’s book ‘Energy Medicine’ explains a great deal about the Triple Warmer meridian, and the role it plays in things like the fight or flight response, and I highly recommend it.
So now, what can you actually DO about your anger?
Human beings are made up of three parts, their body, mind and soul. In order to give yourself the best chance of uprooting anger, you have to tackle it across all three levels. Here’s how:
Physiologically, there are lots of things you can do to ‘retrain’ your Triple Warmer meridian, and your primitive brain, to get it to calm down and stop tipping you over into rage fits.
JEMI's Basic Guide to Balancing your Meridians (click the blue) describes a whole bunch of fast and easy-to-learn techniques to get your Triple Warmer to come off high-alert:
If you try a few of these techniques, you should see some big things start to shift, especially if you try to do them for a couple of weeks.
Exercise is also a very good ‘stress-buster’, and can help to remove the excess stress that’s building up in your energy system, and keeping you on high alert.
If it’s a very big issue in your life, that you might also want to give an energy psychology procedure like EFT (tapping) or the Tapas Acupressure Technique a try. These techniques are very easy to self-apply, but if you’re not getting anywhere (or you’re worried that your anger is rooted in something very deep and traumatic, and you need help to manage what might come roaring out if you let it out of its box) – then you can also find energy psychology and EFT practitioners all over the place, and even a short session could really help you.
If you want to self-apply, take a look at these links:
How to do TAT (JEMI article)
And also, pick up a copy of EFT for dummies, which is very easy to follow.
As mentioned, you need to take a look at who and what is threatening you in your environment – your anger is coming in response to a trigger, and is NOT random. Often, the triggers are internal negative thoughts (more on this in a moment), but just as often, especially these days, we can get tripped-off by threatening individuals who are mistreating us in some way and making us feel very wary.
Sometimes, we’re aware of their impact on us, but sometimes, we aren’t. If we’re getting regularly guilted, criticized, blamed, or otherwise manipulated by people in our environment, that can make us feel very angry, without really knowing why. This article can help you to work out who might be pressing your ‘anger’ button without you noticing:
The Seven Types of Negative People
The 'Anger Train' Visualisation
The following visualization can also really help you to ‘get a grip’ when you’re about to get overwhelmed by anger (it really helped me a lot).
If you can keep a lid on your anger for the first 5 seconds or so, and do this visualization instead of lashing out, the angry impulse will start to defuse by itself OVER TIME. It’s not a quick a fix, and it can take weeks, months and even years until you really start to see some big improvements. Which brings me neatly on to my last point:
Like many things in life, we can’t really get a grip on anger by ourselves (although we clearly have to make our best effort to do so, and to try all the other things described here.)
But even with the best will in the world, we’ll still occasionally get angry. That’s why we need to put God in the picture, and to ask Him to help us keep our cool.
There’s another ‘moral’ dimension to anger, too, and that’s to ensure that we apologise to anyone we hurt in any way when we’re having a rage fit. It’s not realistic to say ‘we’ll never get angry again’, but once we start to take responsibility for the damage we do when we’re angry, and to acknowledge it, validate the other person’s hurt feelings, and accept that our anger is truly unacceptable, THAT’s what’s going to give us the real motivation to change, and also minimize the emotional mess we make while we’re still working on it.
TO SUM UP:
Tackle your anger across all three levels of body, mind and soul as follows:
Body: Defuse the physiological fight-or-flight reaction by calming down your Triple Warmer meridian, and doing things like EFT, TAT or other energy psychology techniques; exercise regularly to defuse the stress build-up.
Mind: Work out who or what is making you angry, and what you need to do to stop feeling threatened, intimidated, manipulated or victimized. Try the ‘anger train’ visualization when you feel yourself getting angry.
Soul: Ask God to help you keep your cool, and apologise for and acknowledge your bad behavior, when you get angry, to avoid seriously damaging your nearest and dearest.
Thanks for the question!
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(A lot of what follows is based on stuff in my new book, Talk to God and Fix Your Health, out in the Fall, BH.)
So how can we really manager our anger, in a healthy way?
First, we need to acknowledge that we’re actually feeling angry, and stop pretending otherwise.
Second, we need to know WHY we’re getting angry, and WHO or WHAT is sparking it off.
(HINT: It's usually a feeling that we're being mistreated, ignored or hurt in some way by other people, including people we expect more or different from).
This article can also help to give you some ideas about who and what might be making you angry:
The 7 types of negative people and how they can affect your health.
Once we’ve started to got those pieces of the puzzle in place, the next question we need to explore is whether our anger is a reasonable response (ie, almost anyone in the same circumstance would feel anger, on some level), or unreasonable (ie, most people don’t go ballistic just because they didn’t get enough whipped cream on their coffee.)
By this point, we’ll probably be learning some pretty profound, and maybe even surprising, things about ourselves and our relationships with other people.
If we believe our anger to be a reasonable response: ie, someone hurt us badly, cheated us, deliberately let us down, etc, the next stage is to learn the lesson the anger is coming to teach us.
See this article for some clues: Why we need our negative emotions
Maybe, we need to stand up for ourselves more, stop being so trusting, have better boundaries in place with certain people? Maybe, our latest experience was part of a pattern of negative behaviour, and we’re getting angry because someone we believe is our meant to be caring for us and looking out for us is doing the exact opposite?
If we believe our anger is unreasonable – then we have to do some serious inner work to start working out why we’re chronically angry, and even the smallest things can set us off.
(This is a whole big subject by itself. There’s often some very painful childhood experiences, trauma and ‘inner child’ neglect occurring underneath chronic feelings of anger, and uncovering what’s really going on takes a lot of patience, determination, self-compassion and talking to God about it all.)
In this case, the lesson we need to learn is something about our own beliefs, experiences and reactions.
In either case, the last and final stage is to ask God to help you to let the anger go.
The good news is that once you’ve learnt the lesson any negative emotion like anger is coming to teach you, it often just disappears by itself, without any further effort.
To sum up:
1) Acknowledge them
2) Learn the lesson they’re trying to teach us
3) Let them go
And if we get stuck on any of these steps, we should talk to God about what’s going on, and ask Him to help us make the changes we need to make in order for our anger to become a thing of the past.
The honest answer is: there are no ‘best ways’ to vent your anger.
Because venting your anger can cause you all sorts of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health issues and problems.
Spiritually – angry people can do and often do commit some of the most terrible crimes in the world, including murder and child abuse.
Emotionally and mentally – angry people find it very difficult to maintain healthy, loving and caring relationships. People either keep their distance, scared to get caught in an angry person’s outburst or rage fit, OR stay around and put up with being regularly bullied, criticised and blamed by the angry person.
Even when the angry person is successfully keeping their anger under wraps, people can still feel that they’re angry (this is the underlying component of passive-aggressive behaviour, where a person pretends they aren’t angry, but then indulges in all sorts of ‘bating’ and neglectful behaviour to ‘get back’ at other people.)
If they’re not successful at keeping their anger under wraps, angry people will hurt and alienate their nearest and dearest time and again, even without meaning to.
(As a sidepoint, uncontrolled anger is often one of the key diagnostic points in personality disorders including Borderline Personality Disorder, and Anti-Social Behaviour Personality Disorder.)
Emotionally, feeling anger is a very uncomfortable and negative state for the angry person to experience themselves, and can lead to some huge amounts of stress and frustration. Think of all the ‘angry’ people we see who didn’t get their mocha latte served to them exactly how they wanted, or who get stuck in a traffic jam, or who’s cake didn’t turn out as planned.
Angry people are frequently very miserable.
Physically: Anger has been directly linked to a number of physical issues, like heart problems, digestive issues and insomnia.
So, ‘venting anger’ is not a good thing, by and large. BUT – we still have to deal with, and acknowledge, our angry feelings, because we all still have them, and just trying to ignore them or repress them can cause even more havoc to our emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
In the next post, we'll discuss some strategies for how to deal with anger in a healthy way.