The Anger Iceberg

behind of woman gesturing

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Anger. Its one of those emotions most people struggle with, we often confuse anger with aggression or an emotion which breaks down relationships.

People either wield it so broadly it takes out everyone in its path and nothing is resolved.

Or people try and push it so far down they become depressed and continually try to keep the peace while internally seething and again the issues remain unresolved.

(Additionally I want to clarify this blog is about ANGER not to be confused with abuse or narcissism. Those are very specific issues which require a different set of understanding and tools.)

But have you ever wondered why we get angry? According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, “emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us.” Which sounds wonderfully logical and simple on paper but when we get the chemical flood of emotion its much more difficult .

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman tells us that anger causes blood to flow to our hands, making it easier for us to strike an enemy or hold a weapon. Our heart rate speeds up and a rush of hormones – including adrenaline – creating a surge of energy strong enough to take “vigorous action.” In this way, anger has been ingrained into our brain to protect us yet  we seem to have so many problems with anger.

The purpose of anger

Think of anger like an iceberg, a bit like the one that fatefully sank the Titanic. A large piece of ice found floating in the open ocean. Most of the iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water and we only notice the bit poking out of the icy depths.  Similarly, when we are angry, there are usually other emotions hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to see a person’s anger but can be difficult to see the underlying feelings the anger is protecting.

For example, Dave believed he had an anger problem. When his wife would make a request of him, he would criticize her. He didn’t like his reactions, but he felt he couldn’t help it. As he worked on mindfulness and started noticing the space between his anger and his actions, he opened up the door into a profound realization.

He didn’t really have an anger problem. Instead, he felt like his wife was placing impossible demands on him. By seeking to understand and accept his anger, rather than fix or suppress it, he began to improve his marriage by recognizing his anger as a signal that he needed to set healthy boundaries for what he would and would not do.

Dave’s story points out an important concept. As Susan David, Ph.D., author of Emotional Agility says, “Our raw feelings can be the messengers we need to teach us things about ourselves and can prompt insights into important life directions.” Her point is there is something more below the surface of our anger.

Anger as a protector of raw feelings

Anger is often described as a “secondary emotion” because people tend to use it to protect their own raw, vulnerable, overwhelming feelings. Underneath Dave’s anger was pure exhaustion and feeling that he wasn’t good enough for his wife. So his anger was protecting him from deeply painful shame.

Learning to recognize anger as a protector of our raw feelings can be incredibly powerful. It can lead to healing conversations that allow couples as well as children and parents to understand each other better.

Below is what we call the Anger Iceberg because it shows the “primary emotions” lurking below the surface. Sometimes it’s embarrassment, loneliness, exhaustion, or fear.

anger-iceberg-1

3 tips for listening to anger

One of the most difficult things about listening to a child or lover’s anger, especially when it’s directed at us, is that we become defensive. We want to fight back as our own anger iceberg rises to the surface. If this happens, we get in a heated verbal battle which leaves both parties feeling misunderstood and hurt. Here are three powerful tips for listening to anger.

1. Don’t take it personally
Your partner or child’s anger is usually not about you. It’s about their underlying primary feelings. To not taking this personally takes a high level of emotional intelligence.

One of the ways I do this is by becoming curious of why they’re angry. It’s much easier for me to become defensive, but I’ve found thinking, “Wow, this person is angry, why is that?” leads me on a journey to seeing the raw emotions they are protecting and actually brings us closer together.

2. Don’t EVER tell your partner to “calm down”
When I work with couples and one of the partners get angry, I have witnessed the other partner say, “Calm down” or “You’re overreacting.” This tells the recipient that their feelings don’t matter and they are not acceptable.

The goal here is not to change or fix your partner’s emotions but rather to sit on their anger iceberg with them. Communicate that you understand and accept their feelings.

When you do this well, your partner’s anger will subside and the primary emotion will rise to the surface. Not to mention they will feel heard by you, which builds trust over time.

Maybe you grew up in a family where anger wasn’t allowed, so when your partner expresses it, it feels paralyzing and you freeze. Or maybe you try to solve their anger for them because their anger scares you. Open yourself up to experience you and your partner’s full spectrum of emotions.

3. Identify the obstacle
Anger is often caused by an obstacle blocking a goal. For example, if your partner’s goal is to feel special on their birthday and their family member missing their special day makes them angry, identifying the obstacle will give you insight into why they’re angry.

The bottom line is that people feel angry for a reason. It’s more productive to sit with them in it and explore. By doing so, you will not only help them to understand their anger, but create more connection and solutions.

To find out more contact Caroline Williams therapycaroline@gmail.com or http://www.carolinewilliamsnz.com

The Art of Adulting

son in red superhero costume playing at home, father sitting on sofa behindBeing an adult is hard and sometimes we find ourselves sounding like our parents,feeling or viewing our partner as a 5 year old version of the adult self. ” OMG stop acting like a 5 year old..Act your age….You sound like my Mother/Father.I feel like Im turning into your Mother/Father” are comments and thoughts most of us can relate to at some point in our lives.

Now if we are 5 years old or the persons Mother /Father then these comments are accurate and fine. When however our partner is 45 grown adult and we find ourselves either saying or thinking  these things then we have a problem with the art of adulting.

Setting the scene is a couple Robyn and Chris ( notice gender neutral )just home from a long day of work /wrangling kids/work colleagues traffic and getting the wrong coffee order etc etc.

Chris- “Im so tired Im going to watch tv and just blob out for a bit with my beer/wine/chips/socks/Facebook/blanket fort”

Robyn- “But what about the rubbish you havent put it out yet and whose making dinner???”

Chris- “mutters under breathe- OMG just give me a break Im tired and just want a moment to chill.”

Robyn- “Oh great if I want anything done I have to do it youre like a teenager!”

Chris- “Well stop acting like my B%#$$Y Mother/Father  you’re  no fun.”

Robyn- ” Typical. Now I know just how your Mother/Father/geography teacher felt I always have to be the grown up”

This type of dialogue can keep continuing unresolved with ruptures in relationship and everyone being unhappy and no rubbish  EVER getting put out. Dinner tends to be a plate of hot resentment with a side salad of contempt.

So lets take a side step and look at some theory .

Based on his observations of people in his own clinical practice in the 1950’s psychologist Eric Berne developed the idea that people can switch between different states of mind and behaviour—sometimes in the same conversation and certainly in different parts of their lives, for example at work and at home.  He found that these states of mind fell into three types which he named Parent, Adult and Child and helped us respond to life in automatic ways. (Also known as PAC)Berne further broke these down into positive and negative roles within the parent and child states as in the diagram below.

parent-adult-child

The Parent state reflects the absorption over the years of the influences of our actual parents and of parent and authority figures such as teachers, bosses and so on.   One is to enable people hopefully be better actual parents of their children with the two main characteristics being critical or nurturing in a positive( teaching/boundaries/caring for appropriately) or negative way (blaming or smothering/rescuing).

The Adult state is where we hope to be as adults.  It is our adult selves, dealing with the never ending interesting facets everyday life. Its more logical, fair, solution based and It also has the function of regulating the activities of the Parent and Child, and mediating between them. IE Child- ‘I hate you and Im not going to eat my carrots’, Parent ‘You are so naughty and never do as your told. EAT YOUR CARROTS OR ELSE’. Adult ‘Hate is a pretty strong word , how about we mash them with sauce?”

The Child state consists of parts of ourselves which hark back to our childhood.  It is childlike but not childish. This child can be spontaneous, fun loving, rebellious ,trying to please or inquisitive IE  How does the moon not fall out of the stars….why are stars twinkly….why is twinkly called twinkly. You get the idea.

 

The above scenario highlights how individuals can get triggered by each other into unhelpful parental/child states and get caught in the drama triangle which I wrote about in a previous blog. Dreaded Drama Triangle

If as a child we had a critical parent we can SWITCH into this child rebellious/or over pleasing state when we perceive a criticism, equally if we see someone coming from a child rebellious state we can switch into our learnt parental roles of criticism or over nurturing. We can get stuck in these negative transactions and all our adulting goes out the door!

How it can look.

father and son in superhero costumes jumping on sofa at home

Chris- “Im so tired Im going to watch tv and just blob out for a bit with my beer/wine/chips/socks/Facebook/blanket fort”(child response)

Robyn-  goes over to Chris on sofa, gives a hug/head rub/kiss.( nurturing parent) “Was it a tough day Chris? How about we both get our selves sorted and think about dinner later?( adulting response)

Chris- “Yeah it was Im so tired can you make me dinner and bring it to me? (A mix of some adulting and still in child)

Robyn- ” No I cant as Im busy finishing a call but when your ready we can do it together or just have cake and pretend to be super heroes? ( mix of adulting and some healthy free child).

Chris- “Oh sorry I wasn’t thinking but ooooh  I love you I can get the ice-cream and fruit for us?”( adult,nurturing parent and healthy free child)

 

As you can see its not always about being firmly in the  ADULT, because the art of adulting includes having some positive child aspects and some healthy parent characteristics in the mix.

The art of adulting means we understand when we are getting triggered or coming from one of these unhealthy but automatic states and having the tools to shift gear. Important also is helping our partner get back on track and having healthy ways to discuss this.Try some homework question with your partner

  • What did you learn about being a parent from your parents?
  • How were decisions made? What were the rules?
  • How were boundaries set, critical or fair? What did they say do?
  • As a kid what was your way of dealing with this? Did you rebel or try to be the good kid?
  • How do you think this plays out with us?
  • How can we have more of the healthy child/parent roles?

Use these questions as a way of getting to know each other more and understanding that each of us is a product of our learnt relationship patterns which are often unconscious. When we can understand our selves and our loved ones we can communicate more effectively and build stronger connections together. These tools are also incredibly useful in other relationships whether work, family or friends.

Senior couple having fun at home.

Remember no matter how old we are its so important  to enjoy that positive child state with others as life is short and often far too serious! If you would like to learn more or work with Caroline to make this year the one that counts contact  Caroline now.

 

Creative Conflict

man-couple-people-woman.jpgConflict is one of those words most people have an instant recoil reaction to which often we avoid at all costs.

Whether because of negative experiences of conflict or just being bewildered by the whole messy concept, we as a general rule really don’t like it.

But what if i told you conflict wasn’t just useful it is absolutely vital to robust relationships and wellbeing?

Firstly lets clarify the concept. Im not talking about the arguments that go no where and get bogged down in stonewalling or defensiveness . Or the passive aggressive round and round of blame with no resolution .

Im talking about creative conflict  (no its not just a made up thing) it is an approach to relating which values differences and sees obstacles as a way to growth. This can be at work with friends ,family or loved ones. It can even be about how you relate to yourself!

In this blog Im going to introduce you to a couple of tools that can help you get the most out of conflict..

1- Agree to disagree.Creative conflict doesn’t mean you have to agree. Its not about who is right or trying to have only one view.You don’t have to agree and neither does the other party ,what is important is finding a solution which can work. Respecting each others unique perspective is key to working with creative conflict.pexels-photo-573238.jpeg

2- The aim is to listen to understand not reply. Do you really get where the other person is coming from and even their motivation or intent? Can you communicate this back to them clearly and most of all CALMLY? By creating understanding we BOND  (our body releases calming and connecting hormones)and when this occurs we are more likely to be receptive to new or difficult conversations.

3- Take the emotional punch out. Most problems arise when we feel attacked or we come from a critical/defensive place. Keeping the “start off” calm and open increases the chances of people being receptive and engaged No one responds well to being yelled at or intimidated as all our fight flight  and adrenaline responses tend to take over. Keeping our voice tone balanced, maintaining receptive eye contact ( thats right no rolling your eyes) with non threatening body language helps create a safe space to voice difficult issues.

A warm approach of ” hey I have something important to talk with you about and I’d like us to be able to work out what might be a tough discussion. When would be a good time?”

Quick tips also include.

  • Only one issue at a time
  • No personal attacks instead  use ” I “statements
  • Take a breather to keep things calm
  • Take turns to talk, listen and recap.
  • Most of all look for options and ways forward .

If you would like to learn more about how to navigate conflict and improve your relationships call  or email Caroline at 

0210706343

therapycaroline@gmail.com

Resources of interest

http://www.georgekohlrieser.com/book-hostage-at-the-table.html

Gottman Institute

 

 

 

When Your Get Up and Go Walks Out The Door

Angel with hearts and gift. Greeting card. Watercolor illustratiI woke up one Monday morning and it dawned on me that my “get up and go” had actually done exactly that. It had got up and slipped off without me realising it had happened. I was shocked and wondered  “was there a moment or conversation which was the crucial point when my motivation just stopped?”. I know I’m not alone in this because it’s a topic which rears its lethargic head  regularly with clients or friends.

Have you ever found yourself waking up in the morning and after you have shuffled out of bed to get your coffee thinking “Oh no here we go again”?
Do you have a list of “things to do today” which was really a list of things to do last month?
Are you finding much of your time is spent “forcing yourself” to do things or trying to enjoy activities?
Often it creeps up on us and slowly but surely we find ourselves just getting by rather than living a life which has meaning and joy at its core. We all have times when we feel that our motivation has somehow drained out of us while we were asleep, or suddenly found ourselves living a life of quiet discontent. Have you ever found yourself waking up in the morning and after you have shuffled out of bed to get your coffee thinking “Oh no here we go again”? Do you have a list of “things to do today” which was really a list of things to do last month? Are you finding much of your time is spent “forcing yourself” to do things or trying to enjoy activities? Often it creeps up on us and slowly but surely we find ou selves just getting by rather than living a life which has meaning and joy at its core.

So how can we change this slow shuffle to the grave and start to re engage with our passion, motivation and joy again? To help create change its important to understand that our thoughts,feelings and behaviours are all interconnected . Habits are  created by our behaviour and thinking in the moment which is reinforced by our feelings,these feelings are often mistaken for fact and override our logical goals and needs.
While we have “control” over what we think how we behave we don’t have this same control over our feelings, often people mistake feelings for being “fact” when actually they are merely just signals to our brain and body to:

  • Interpret the world
  • Warn us of danger
  • Are hard wired to seek lifes “ings” (eating, sexing, drugging, shopping,facebooking, gambling, relationshiping etc)
  • Communicate and understand
  • Prepare us for action/inaction

 

So imagine one of your goals is going to the gym, while logically you know it’s good for you, is in line with your goals and will help you feel more energetic, you lack the feeling of “motivation” and create an unhelpful emotional equation.
 
GYM + NEGATIVE EMOTION +NEGATIVE THINKING = AVOIDANCE
We listen to the “feeling” as being fact and then our thoughts “I never follow through, I will always be unfit etc” and behaviours ( withdrawal, eating comfort food,engaging in pleasurable distractions) follow suit creating a habit which is powerful and very convincing. We then associate “going to the gym” with a negative feeling and negative feelings are powerful demotivators!.  Many people make the mistake of believing feelings are fact, need to be acted on and that they are permanent,often waiting till they feel like doing something before they start.When in reality if we think well,behave well our feelings will generally follow and create a different and more joyful habit.
Steps to Create Change

Break down goals into simple steps using SMART goal settings and keep this some where visible. Your goals should include the strong positive emotional states you are seeking and thoughts kept positive and empowering so you change those unhelpful habits into empowering and ones full of joy!

 

 Here are some useful suggestions to get moving and get out of the rut.

  • Post it notes ,liquid window chalk, quotes,images and reminders in your environment
  • Get a friend to buddy up so you keep each other on track
  • Download phone apps ,10 minute motivators,alarms with motivating messages,goal tracker etc
  • Keep a journal so you can keep track of your progress
  • Challenge negative thinking
  • Gratitude journal, or join on of the many online gratitude/positivity groups so you get positive reinforcing messages.
  • Negativity jar, you write the negative thoughts, behaviours or feelings down and get rid of them in a jar.
  • Positivity jar put all your change in and save for a big treat
  • write down something you are grateful/love/has happened and save them for a day you are struggling to keep on track
  • Be creative!

When Your Get Up and Go Walks Out The Door

I woke up one Monday morning and it dawned on me that my “get up and go” had actually done exactly that. It had got up and slipped off without me realising it had happened. I was shocked and wondered  “was there a moment or conversation which was the crucial point when my motivation just stopped?”. I know I’m not alone in this because it’s a topic which rears its lethargic head  regularly with clients or friends.

Have you ever found yourself waking up in the morning and after you have shuffled out of bed to get your coffee thinking “Oh no here we go again”?
Do you have a list of “things to do today” which was really a list of things to do last month?
Are you finding much of your time is spent “forcing yourself” to do things or trying to enjoy activities?
Often it creeps up on us and slowly but surely we find ourselves just getting by rather than living a life which has meaning and joy at its core. We all have times when we feel that our motivation has somehow drained out of us while we were asleep, or suddenly found ourselves living a life of quiet discontent. Have you ever found yourself waking up in the morning and after you have shuffled out of bed to get your coffee thinking “Oh no here we go again”? Do you have a list of “things to do today” which was really a list of things to do last month? Are you finding much of your time is spent “forcing yourself” to do things or trying to enjoy activities? Often it creeps up on us and slowly but surely we find ou selves just getting by rather than living a life which has meaning and joy at its core.

So how can we change this slow shuffle to the grave and start to re engage with our passion, motivation and joy again? To help create change its important to understand that our thoughts,feelings and behaviours are all interconnected . Habits are  created by our behaviour and thinking in the moment which is reinforced by our feelings,these feelings are often mistaken for fact and override our logical goals and needs.
While we have “control” over what we think how we behave we don’t have this same control over our feelings, often people mistake feelings for being “fact” when actually they are merely just signals to our brain and body to:

  • Interpret the world
  • Warn us of danger
  • Are hard wired to seek lifes “ings” (eating, sexing, drugging, shopping,facebooking, gambling, relationshiping etc)
  • Communicate and understand
  • Prepare us for action/inaction

 

So imagine one of your goals is going to the gym, while logically you know it’s good for you, is in line with your goals and will help you feel more energetic, you lack the feeling of “motivation” and create an unhelpful emotional equation.
 
GYM + NEGATIVE EMOTION +NEGATIVE THINKING = AVOIDANCE
We listen to the “feeling” as being fact and then our thoughts “I never follow through, I will always be unfit etc” and behaviours ( withdrawal, eating comfort food,engaging in pleasurable distractions) follow suit creating a habit which is powerful and very convincing. We then associate “going to the gym” with a negative feeling and negative feelings are powerful demotivators!.  Many people make the mistake of believing feelings are fact, need to be acted on and that they are permanent,often waiting till they feel like doing something before they start.When in reality if we think well,behave well our feelings will generally follow and create a different and more joyful habit.
Steps to Create Change

Break down goals into simple steps using SMART goal settings and keep this some where visible. Your goals should include the strong positive emotional states you are seeking and thoughts kept positive and empowering so you change those unhelpful habits into empowering and ones full of joy!

 

 Here are some useful suggestions to get moving and get out of the rut.

  • Post it notes ,liquid window chalk, quotes,images and reminders in your environment
  • Get a friend to buddy up so you keep each other on track
  • Download phone apps ,10 minute motivators,alarms with motivating messages,goal tracker etc
  • Keep a journal so you can keep track of your progress
  • Challenge negative thinking
  • Gratitude journal, or join on of the many online gratitude/positivity groups so you get positive reinforcing messages.
  • Negativity jar, you write the negative thoughts, behaviours or feelings down and get rid of them in a jar.
  • Positivity jar put all your change in and save for a big treat
  • write down something you are grateful/love/has happened and save them for a day you are struggling to keep on track
  • Be creative!