Change your language and reduce your anger- Part 2

Posted on: May 30, 2007

Copyright Pending

In the last article entitled Change Your Language and Reduce Your Anger I introduced the idea of how a poor emotional vocabulary was linked to anger management. I suggested that anger is a secondary emotion driven by many primary emotions. This concept is not new; however, what I have been developing, that is fascinating, is how building an emotional vocabulary can be linked to reducing our tendency to be explosive.

In reality what I am encouraging is self awareness. I am also encouraging that we have a new internal conversation that allows us to be in tune with our needs, expectations and desires. To do this effectively we need a stronger emotional vocabulary. Often we have unmet needs and expectations which are unfulfilled. These represent sensitive areas in our thinking and feeling that, if threatened, we will either retreat or fight back–emotionally or even physically. This is an automatic response to the pain and anxieties associated with a need to defend the things we think are dear.

Language as power
The tendency to fight back is very evident in animals. I often tell my clients to consider a cat that is backed in a corner. The cat will instinctively “feels” vulnerable and fights back. The cat cannot converse or negotiate- it can only display overt aggression. You see, neither the cat nor any other animal has the benefit of something that humans may take for granted-language. We have the capacity to put into words our feelings to let others know what is really bothering us or what has the potential to anger us. This ability to use language has been perfected over many millions of years but sadly many take little advantage of this opportunity to access and share their emotional concerns choosing rather to engage in physical and verbal aggression.

Emotional Vocabulary
This brings me back to the emotional vocabulary. In my mind this revolution in thinking holds the key to assisting us in quickly being aware of how we feel and taking action to avert an unnecessary outburst. While there may be more than 2000 feeling words in our vocabulary the average person would be lucky to know 50. This is troubling because we need that emotional vocabulary to gauge how we feel and how those feelings can potentially lead to anger outbursts. Let me illustrate by providing a scenario and then describing a list of feelings that could have led to the aggression.

Tom’s story
Take a chain of events occurring in the life of a man we will call Tom. Tom is a successful banker having trouble in his life. On the day in question, Tom berated one of his employees calling him offensive names which led to Tom’s suspension from work. The background story is that Tom is going through a divorce and had received a letter form his wife’s attorney detailing an extensive alimony payment the morning before the incident with the employee. On the way to work Tom was driving aggressively, he refused to greet others when he entered his office building and just before the incident, Tom found out the employee he berated had fowled up a contract bid.

Tom displayed anger and aggression towards this employee but if we dig deeper one may realize that he had many other emotions which include feeling abandoned by his wife, on edge, betrayed, regretful, hopeless, vulnerable, broken, burnt out, cheated–the list can go on. The point is that Tom was driven by his emotion but was not aware of it. Instead, he displayed rage. Inappropriate anger is an extremely ineffective way of dealing with these complex emotions because in reality Tom needed to resolve issues related to himself and his wife. The employee who unsuspectingly came into the line of fire was hit by a “stray bullet.” Anger is often a stray bullet which is fired not at the source but at another often unsuspecting target.

What next
What could have Tom done? Tom essentially will need anger management but with a difference. I follow the Anderson and Anderson model which teaches anger management, emotional intelligence, communication skills and stress management. Although all four of these components are important, emotional intelligence holds important keys to long term anger management. I teach what I describe as the ADA system which is awareness-dialogue-action. With the ADA system Tom could learn a language to increase his self-awareness, engage in a dialogue with himself and others about his emotions and take action to resolve his internal and external struggles without an anger blowout. The key is emotional vocabulary. This is where Tom develops the language to define how he feels. Without this vocabulary, Tom will experience an emotional noise which will again lead to confusion and possible anger outbursts. In the next article I will detail more about ADA , introduce new emotional vocabulary words, and discuss what I mean by emotional noise



Carlos Todd, LPC, NCC, CAMF

President of the American Association of Anger Management Providers


Carlos Todd is the owner of Todd’s Anger Management Solutions in Charlotte, NC


4 Responses to "Change your language and reduce your anger- Part 2"

Nice blog! I enjoyed the articles that you have posted. I am trying to look at more blogs on Anger Mangement and give others in the industry my support.

Best Regards,

Karina Narduzzi

This is an excellent way of expanding the concept of effective communication. This is quite similar to affirmations and self-talk designed to incorporate emotional intelligence as a conscious strategy for communicating in a positive manner.

George Anderson, BCD, CAMF

Thanks for stopping by

We are having training on anger management soon. This is good info to know. Thanks for sharing!

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