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Why Suppressing Your Anger Hurts You

Written by
Michael Wells

Why Suppressing Your Anger Hurts You

Written by
Michael Wells

Why Suppressing Your Anger Hurts You

Written by
Michael Wells
Why do I feel "creepy" about expressing attraction to someone? Won't that turn them off, piss them off or make them think I'm some kind of pervert?

Originally answered on Quora, this question was raised ...

When you’re really angry, what can calm you down in an instant?

This was my response.

Let me challenge your thinking here - no matter how good you get at calming your anger, that’s not the same thing as dealing with it.

As a young child, I grew up in an abusive home, with a dad who didn’t know how to manage his anger. When it came out, it came out big, and made a mess of things.

To my little kid brain, this was interpreted as-

“Holy crap anger is SO bad, look how much damage it causes, I never want that.”

So like you, I learned to suppress anger, I learned how to calm down in seconds, breath deeply, get perspective by looking back from the future… basically, to strengthen my rational mind enough that it could take control away from my emotional mind.

And I got pretty darn good at it.

Why This Doesn't Work

By the time I was a teenager, I was calm, cool, collected, even in  emotionally intense situations.

This seemed to work OK until something sudden would happen that I didn’t expect. In sudden situations, my rational mind couldn't react quickly enough to intervene between emotions and behavior. 

There's a scientific explanation for this...

Your emotional/feeling mind (aka “System 1”) is far, far faster than your rational/thinking mind (aka “System 2”).

When emotions like anger trigger suddenly at a high intensity- your rational mind has basically zero chance to put on the brakes.

… even the smallest, stupidest thing, like stubbing my toe on a step.

KA-BOOM. 

I will just say that I got fairly decent at drywalling.

The intensity of anger I’d feel in these moments was overwhelming. I could keep making my rational mind stronger, and learning new techniques, but the emotional mind was collecting this huge pile of repressed anger that wasn’t going away.

When a tiny thing would make me angry suddenly, the whole weight of that repressed anger would explode out with it.

It was like locking a tiny “anger puppy” away in the closet, only to have that closet burst open a year later with a full grown rabid rottweiler at your throat.

Why Does This Happen?

Anger is GOOD.

Anger is an essential, fundamental emotion, and it’s one of the main reasons you’re alive.

Anger is your brain saying “I feel threatened.” If you, or your ancestors had been incapable of feeling anger, you would have been eaten or killed by mother nature long, long ago.

Anger is your primary motivation to defend and protect yourself, and avoid being taken advantage of by others.

The foundation, roots, and neurochemistry of anger are wired deeply into the most fundamental parts of your brain's operating system. Short of a chemical lobotomy, you're not getting rid of it, and neither would you want to.

How I Deal With Anger

My process is very different now, and I find journaling helps tremendously.

Here’s the thing- no matter how much we try, we will always have both an emotional mind and a rational mind. We will always be half mammal, half human. Freud’s ego and superego. This is a fundamental human struggle, which many of us think we are supposed to fight.

When we try to shut one of these two brains down, and “be” the other one, we suffer terribly, because it goes against our fundamantal nature and design.

Once I learned the basic truth that all emotions are helpful. I stopped trying to suppress them, and instead, focused on learning how to listen and use them in my decision making.

When you feel any strong emotion, especially anger, here's what I recommend;

  1. Stop and take a moment to investigate what’s happening in your head
  2. Create space if you need to. You’ll need less space later - once you’re using anger effectively, you’ll no longer have the massive pressure of repressed anger adding to the situation.
  3. Ask yourself “why do I feel threatened?”
  4. If possible, record your answers - by writing or audio recording to your phone. I find saying this out loud to myself, to my phone recorder, is the easiest and quickest way for me to journal strong emotional states, and I get to learn more from them by listening to past recordings.

This process connects your rational and your emotional minds, so they’re speaking the same language. 

Once the thinking part of your brain understands why the feeling part is throwing a tantrum, it becomes very clear what’s happening, and what the best course of action is.

Then, your energy gets to go towards solving the problem, rather than trying to control your emotions.

Your anger is NOT the problem, it’s just a dashboard light, telling you something critically important. If you cover it with electrical tape… your engine will eventually explode.

How's your pain level?

Contact me for a free trial coaching session, if you want some change in your life.

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Addendum

Unanswered Questions

Do other mammals also experience lineality, and the doorway effect? Or is this a human mind function?

Is it possible that the doorway effect, and the lineal nature of the mind, is stronger in males, than females?

Notes

Of course, manufactured food has changed that equation drastically, since its easy to hack the minds evaluation of good and bad.

Identify the highest value resources

Avoid spending time on the lowest value resources

IDENTITY

Figuring out who we are in the context of the world around us

Like looking at a map.  

Friend v. foe

Danger v. not danger

Like me v. not like me?

And we do the same thing with places this is my property. That's your property.

Identity and Lineality

These reporters, we do that with things even though we're all human. We define racial boundaries and identities, we defined national boundaries and identities, we defined religious boundaries and identities. Because the question of who our people overall what makes them different, and how do we manage that? Who am I? Where am I, within that group? are two key questions that our brain constantly seeks to understand? Now, I'm not here to discuss whether or not that's actually a useful thing to do. Certainly, we're very preoccupied with it racism wouldn't exist without it. Norway nationalism or borders? Probably most laws would evaporate along the way. And yet the human mind finds these things absolutely essential and central to our experience of being human.

Autism

Are autistic people as lineal as non-autistic? Is Autism a natural evolution in which the mind is attempting to break down those lineal walls and expand the amount of information that we have access to at any given time?

The reason I suspect this is that the autistic savant- those few people who are "successfully" autistic, and have the ability to process ridiculous amounts of information in ways that our non-autistic minds cannot.

Synasthaesia is a great example of this- the ability for example see mathematics as colors and shapes, which most of us would separate as entirely different experiences.

single single tasking only focus on one thing at a time, planet stresses out quite easily if you try to overload it, which explains things like test anxiety you end up with a mental square peg round hole problem quite often when your brain tries to understand and manage emotions, which are not rational thought constructs in a direct way.

So, perhaps the the reason that we are so obsessed with linear reality with linear realizing our world is that it makes it possible for our system to mind to function as efficiently as possible on a very scarce resource, which is attention.

In fact, this idea of memories attached to space is so powerful, it's the basis for an entire technique known as the memory palace.

In this technique, you imagine a large house, every room is different, and each room has things in it to that you can visually remember.  A painting on the wall.  A table with 3 books on it.

All of this, purely imagined, and you walk through it in your head.

So the concept of lineality is not a physical thing- it's entirely mental, and 100%

Not just figuring out how to stay alive, but how to stay alive with style - lineality and judgement also help us Identify the highest value resources.

Does a cake taste better? or a brussel sprout?

Most people would go for the sugar- because your brain knows that sugar has more calories, and is therefore "better" for survival.

It takes rational awareness and understanding to overcome this mammal-brain reflex.

Quantum Reality and the Doorway Effect

You can totally ignore this. It is probably meaningless. I kind of rather hope it is totally meaningless.

But the little I know about the Observer principle in Quantum Physics suggests that reality only exists when you are aware of it.

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The quantum reality perspective on this is NO, it does not. In fact, the tree does not even exist as atoms until someone is there to observe it.

But consciousness, attention, awareness, observation- these are quite vague concepts that carry deep significance both in religions like Buddhism, and in quantum physics.

What does it mean to be aware of something?

If I enter a room, and close the door, and no one is outside that door, does the rest of the universe disappear, since I can no longer perceive it?

A fascinating rabbit hole of philosophy and science, to be sure.

The reason I bring this up is that it raises an unique corollary question in this article. Is it possible that when we're "in a room" in our head, that in essence the reason those other rooms unload is that they literally blink out of existence in some way.

I'm not proposing this as likely, just as... a fascinating thought.