“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.”
“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”
~ Benjamin Franklin ~
Remember venting or being at the receiving end of rage? Here are other questions worth asking and pondering their answers: Have you or the offended party later regretted acting in anger? Did the rage achieve something constructive, like making you or the other person a better human being? Did it make friends or strengthen cooperation and the bonds of love and transcendence? Did it build your or the other person’s self-esteem, your business’s reputation, or your standing as a leader? There is a possibility that, at times, anger might yield a positive outcome, but it, too, can go very wrong.
Using Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MP), we often note that feelings and emotions have meaning. Feelings specifically are sensory experiences we have using our five senses and intuition, and they carry information that helps us know how to react to these stimuli. On the other hand, emotions fuel behavior as the energy-in-motion that moves us to act. While feelings and emotions can be explained rationally, it does not mean they are always meaningfully rational, judicious, or just. Anger can take us to bad places if unchecked.
Unfortunately, human feelings and emotions, complex and diverse, have the power to drive or derail our actions and behaviors. Of these, anger – this article’s central topic - stands as a potent force. Yet, when unrestrained, it clouds our reasoning and, combined with the corrosive effects of lacking self-control and an absence of virtuous values, can lead us astray from our better judgment. Let's delve deeper into the complexities of anger and explore strategies grounded in virtuous values that can guide us toward win-win outcomes.
The Physiology of Anger
Anger triggers the release of stress hormones, primarily adrenaline, prepping our body for a "fight or flight" reaction. While this readies us for immediate action, it simultaneously narrows our perspective, compromising judgment and inhibiting logical thought. Coupled with the corrosive effects of lacking self-control, this physiological response makes calm, receptive approaches elusive.
“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” ~ Ambrose Bierce ~
How can we avoid or minimize the corrosive effect of anger on our physiology? Here are a few tips:
Start by focusing on your feelings
Do not act, just feel. Practice mindfulness to build your awareness of what is happening. Focusing on the feeling will help you avoid turning anger into an emotion that will fuel an action you might regret.
Feelings are one of the components of meaning. This sensory experience calls attention to something relevant. Being mindful of feelings can be an asset to a wholesome life.
What does your feeling mean?
Practice self-control techniques
Here are a few tips:
Deep breathing: Taking deep breaths in through your nose, holding it for a short time, and exhaling slowly through your mouth can help. Continue until you calm yourself.
Progressive muscle relaxation: Sitting comfortably in a quiet room, tense and relaxing each muscle group in your body for a few seconds at a time, starting with your toes and progressing to your head. Focus on the experience of the tension and the relaxing, telling yourself, “Relax” each time you release the tension.
Meditation: There are many types of meditation techniques. One of them has you practice the deep breathing explained above but focus on your breathing with your eyes closed. Repeat the cycle for five to ten minutes.
Exercise: A good workout releases endorphins, making you feel good. It does not have to be an extraneous workout – even walking for a while can help.
The key point? These and other methods will help you reach a “quiet ego” state – a non-defensive and non-offensive strength.
How will you quiet your loud ego when angered?
Examine your operating values
Unfortunately, we at the Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose have found that many people rarely take a serious and deliberate inventory of their values. Without evaluating the content and quality of operating values -- such as standards of morality, ethics, decorum, and good manners -- a person will operate as a rudderless ship tossed by gull and thrashing waves of discouragement and failure. Equally important is to understand the rules, laws, and standards that apply in our religious, social, civil, and legal context.
It is impossible to self-regulate without regulations.
It helps to understand that human beings are logoteleological or self-regulated by meanings. In MP, values are one of the six components (in psychology: construct) of meaning. Because humans are logoteleological, without a proven, reliably robust, and enlightened code of values guiding our behavior, we cannot effectively self-regulate. We would be well-served to follow an important MP axiom: It is impossible to self-regulate without regulations. And that includes values.
Modern life offers people a wealth of some forms of meaning, but it doesn’t offer clear guidance about fundamental values. This ‘values gap,’ as I shall call it, is the single biggest problem for the modern Western individual in making life meaningful.”
~ Roy F. Baumeister ~
The good news is that MP practitioners help people do meaning analysis – including testing the content and reliability of the operating value system – to strengthen judgment and meaningful choices. For years, we have been helping people fill this “value gap.”
The key point: Anger can create havoc and pain without a proven and reliable value code. You would be well-advised to evaluate its quality.
How reliable is your value system?
Meaning sets the agenda.
Examine your operating meaning of humans
People treat themselves and others based on the meaning granted. There is another MP axiom that applies: Meaning sets the agenda. Tell me what opinion you hold of yourself and others, and I can easily predict how you will behave. There is no escape from the power of this axiom. Remember, the aim and function of purpose (Telos: the end, goal, action) is to fulfill meanings (Logos: word, reason, motive, justification). This is why paying attention to the content and quality of our operating belief mental database is important. That content will determine how you respond and how you feel.
The aim and function of purpose is to fulfill meanings.
Belief is a second construct or component of meaning. Beliefs are the outcome of knowledge acquisition. And as the saying goes, if “Garbage In – Garbage Out.” On the other hand, if “Wholesome In – Wholesome Out.” We have a choice of which formula to follow when it comes to the opinions and worldviews we hold of ourselves and one another. That is why MP helps people reveal and understand the meaning of human life, the potential of being human, and what makes life meaningful.
The key point? The quality of your life and ability to thrive with others will ultimately depend on what you believe is true of yourself and others, the meaning of being human, and the meaning of life. When angry, notice how your choice of response reveals your true opinion of yourself and others.
What is your operating meaning of humans?
“In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
~ Viktor Frankl ~
Conclusion: Striving for Win-Win Outcomes
Anger, in its raw essence, is a complex feeling that has the potential to either empower or debilitate us. Rooted deeply within our physiological and psychological systems, it can impulsively direct our actions in moments of confrontation. However, within the framework of Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MP), we are reminded that while anger can genuinely reflect our feelings and emotions, it should not dictate the entirety of our response. The choices we make, rooted in our values and beliefs about humanity, can either elevate or diminish the quality of our interactions. By taking a conscious, deliberate approach to understanding and managing anger — whether through self-awareness, meditation, value analysis, or examining our inherent beliefs about humanity — we pave the way for reactions that foster mutual respect and collaboration. The essence of taming anger isn't to suppress it, but rather to channel it constructively, striving always for outcomes that respect the dignity of all parties involved. In this journey of self-regulation and purposeful choice, we find the path to genuine win-win outcomes, ensuring that our anger, when it arises, serves not as a destructive force but as a catalyst for understanding, growth, meaningful connection, and peace.
May we be led by values of care and love rather than anger.
The Paths We Choose
To learn more about the meaningful path, we encourage you to attend our next "The Paths We Choose Workshop" planned for Sunday, December 10th, 2023 in Westfield, MA. For more information on this and future sessions, click here: The Paths We Choose: A Workshop | authorluismarrero.