How does anger work?
In my work with emotions, I identify what’s happening when people feel specific emotions. For instance, when we say we’re angry, what is occurring? What are the situations that call forth an anger response and how does the anger address what’s happening? How does anger support or impede us, and what is anger’s purpose?
Over the decades, I’ve asked that question of all of the emotions and developed my grand unified theory of the 17 major emotions: Dynamic Emotional Integration® — or DEI for short. DEI looks at emotions not in regard to how they feel in your body (that’s unique to each person) or how they look (facial expressions of emotion are not reliable signals), but in regard to what emotions do.
What work do your emotions do, and what you can accomplish with their help? And how can you engage with them directly once you understand how they work?
I also look at multiple levels of activation in each emotion, and I developed an Emotional Vocabulary List (you can download yours for free here) to help you identify each of your emotions at many different levels of intensity.
The purpose of anger, for instance, is to help you identify what’s important to you and help you set clear and effective boundaries around the things you value (and around yourself). Whether your anger arises at the soft level of peevishness or frustration, or at the intense level of bitterness or hostility, your anger is about boundaries.
When I wrote The Language of Emotions, I developed questions for each of the emotions so that you can address them directly and work with them intentionally. These questions help you access the specific genius inside your emotions so that you can befriend them and become emotionally skilled.
My original anger questions supported its work of creating and maintaining boundaries. They were: What must be protected? and What must be restored? But readers often told me that it might have taken them a year or more to realize that there was a second question beyond the protection question — or to understand what restoration had to do with anger.
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. For many people, anger is tied up with violence in some way — either violence toward others when anger is expressed carelessly — or violence toward themselves when anger is repressed and they refuse to speak up or set boundaries for themselves.
The protection question seemed to engage that violence, which is why people couldn’t understand (or even see) the restoration question. It didn’t compute for them. So I’ve changed the anger questions to better engage with anger’s genius.
Identifying what you value
I had to rethink my questions for anger and find a new approach that would lean more skillfully into what anger actually does. I also wanted to combine protection and restoration in the same sentence so that they wouldn’t seem to be such separate concepts. So here are the new questions for anger:
What do I value?
What must be protected and restored?
I developed these questions after many conversations with our DEI community of licensed Trainers and Consultants, and what we’re finding is that connecting to what we value settles us and helps us focus on what’s important. Then, the protection and restoration question makes more sense.
If you don’t know what you value, you and your anger may try to protect things that aren’t worth protecting. And you may try to protect and restore old behaviors that don’t have any meaning or value anymore. If you don’t know what you value, your anger may careen around like a pinball, and you may lose your way.
We’re currently changing the anger questions on this site and in the many online courses at Empathy Academy. When The Language of Emotions book and cards are reprinted, we’ll also update the questions there, but I wanted you to know ASAP.
Discover what you value, and your work of protection and restoration may become more valid, more honorable, and more effective.
These are the gifts of anger