This is Your Brain, this is Your Brain on Anger Management
How the Emotional Brain is Involved in Anger Management
Nothing like a good gut churning title like that to inspire you to read about anger management. Not to worry, we are going to look at how the brain works on a very basic level. The foundation of a good anger management class should be based on helping you understand whats going on inside your noggin. This main purpose of this article is to help you understand that anger is a normal response and that its pretty much impossible to completely rid it from your life. The real trick is how you use it.
The first thing to know is that anger is a protective response to a perceived threat or harm. Thats why anger and road rage often go hand in hand – someone cuts you off and you feel threatened.
The part of our brain that controls our emotions is located in an area of the brain called the sub-cortical region. You are unaware of most of the functions of your emotional brain. Scientists who have studied the emotional brain tell us that its main concern is self-preservation. Ever on the alert, the emotional brain constantly asks the primal question: “Is it safe?” Successful anger management depends on learning to recognize the warning signs of things feeling unsafe or stressful.
This is sometimes easier said than done as the emotional brain has only a sketchy awareness of the external world. The emotional brain seems to rely more on very broad categories of information. Ever have a gut feeling about something, but couldn’t quite put your finger on why you felt that way? Thats your emotional brain at work.
There are three very important things to keep in mind about the emotional brain and how it relates to anger management:
1) It has a memory whose job it is to record all important threatening things that have happened to you. Your emotional brain makes judgments of the good or badness of situations and people based on its memories. This is why one situation may be an anger trigger to one person’s anger going out of control whereas the same trigger might let someone else use anger management skills.
2) It stores information into very broad categories. Your emotional brain works on very broad categories e.g., man/woman. Certain words or situations are viewed as either safe or not safe. Your emotional brain works on such a basic level that it is oftentimes unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy. Ever wonder why you get so emotionally involved in movies when you logically know that you are watching pictures on a wall of people pretending to be someone else? Its because your emotional brain can’t really tell the difference between those pictures and reality.. Its up to your thinking brain to sort out the details and to temper the reactions of the emotional brain (more on how that works is coming soon in another free article about anger management).
3) It gets incoming sensory information before the thinking brain does. This means that before your thinking brain is even aware of something happening your emotional brain has run an analysis and decided whether a situation is threatening or not. Why would your brain be designed this way? Think about it, if you are out walking in the woods one day and a bear jumps out at you, you don’t want to calmly mull over your options, you just want to GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE!! You can see how without knowing how to use certain tricks to calm the emotional brain anger management can be a challenge because of this hair trigger reaction.
When threatened in some way your emotional brain has four responses to choose from:
In summary, your brain is built for anger as a way to protect you, but it often perceives the situation.
How the Emotional Brain Works in Everyday Life
Let’s look at an example from everyday life. Suppose you are at home watching tv when there is a knock on the door. Opening the door, you find its your neighbor Sally who has dropped by to say hi and to visit a bit. Instead of greeting her with open arms you find yourself resenting the interruption. In fact, even though she has never done you any wrong, something about her has always made you feel on edge. What is that? As it turns out, she bears a resemblance to your second grade teacher who picked on you when you did not know the answer to a question and would then embarrass you in front of the class for not having the correct response. You do not make this connection consciously, all you are aware of is feeling on edge and ready to snap at your neighbor anytime she is present. However, your emotional brain, incapable of telling the difference between your teacher and your neighbor, recognizes the similarities and has you on a level of high alert. You are usually able to manage your anger in situations like this because the thinking part of your brain is able to help the emotional brain calm down. But through this example you can see the impact of the brain and anger management on relationships.
The emotional brain’s reactions are not limited to physical similarities. It can react similarly to loved ones based upon a tone of voice, a certain body posture, even certain situations.
The last thing you to know about your thinking and emotional brains is that your emotional brain can only take so much stimulation before the dam bursts and takes over. This is a condition known as flooding. Sometimes a trigger is so strong that we become instantly flooded. More often than not, flooding builds up over time. You wake up and stub your toe. Traffic is bad, you arrive late at work and the boss gives you a hard time for it. You are dealing with customers who are upset all day, but can’t react. The pressure has been building all day. When you get home you find your son has blocked the driveway with his car and you lose it.
The take home point here is that while some triggers are instantaneous, most have been building for a long time and can be interrupted long before they reach the breaking point.
This is why an important part of my is focused on becoming aware of how triggered your emotional brain is and how to calm it before it hits the red zone. Once you get good at recognizing the warning signs of impending anger you can use a few very simple techniques that will take you literally from near rage to a very calm place in a matter of minutes. Click here to go to to your free anger management introductory class.