Perception as Deception

Posted on: June 12, 2007

Perception as Deception: How our Perceptions can Lead to Anger.

Emotions are the filters through which humans perceive and experience the world. Information coming in through our senses may not always be perceived correctly and this can lead to distorted emotional responses and consequently expressions of anger.

Let me illustrate with a road rage example. On a few occasions I have been driving and invariably found myself behind someone who is driving very slowly. Depending on the activities of the day I may become angry at the other driver. Along with tailgating I look for the first opportunity to overtake. While overtaking I would look over at the other driver and sometimes I am surprised to see a little old lady who apparently is just trying to get where she needs to go. Somehow my anger always subsides at the sight of the lady. I no longer feel justified in being angry. The slew of negative emotions I had that fuel my anger just seems to disappear and I continue to drive to my destination maybe with a hint of guilt for the way I presented myself and how I treated the other driver.

These situations lead me to question whether our perceptions can be deceptive. I have in other articles described anger as a secondary emotion that is always driven by some set of other emotions. Therefore if one perceives a situation incorrectly our responses can lead to anger outburst that may not be appropriate. How one perceives situations is educated by our experiences, beliefs and the information available. In the illustration I presented with the elderly driver my perception somehow did not include the possibly that the driver may have had some limitation that caused them to move slower. However with new information my perceptions changed and my propensity to angry dissipated.

What does this have to do with anger management? Emotional intelligence is a key factor here. It is important to note that being emotionally intelligent is not only about awareness of our own emotions but being able to dialogue with ourselves in a way that we sometimes question our perception of a situation. It is okay to ask yourself the following questions. Am I perceiving this situation accurately? Do I need more information before I make a judgment? How are my beliefs influencing how I perceive this situation? Initially it will seem very awkward to have such self talk but over time it will become automatic. This level of emotional intelligence can help us cue in to the emotions that drive our anger and overtime reduce the prosperity to lash out in anger because of how we perceive a situation.

Our emotions are signals. It is the responsibility of every individual to master these emotions. We need to have more internal conversation to ensure that our perceptions do not lead us to make the impulsive decision to react in anger. Perceptions can be very deceptive so I encourage us all that before we react in anger to check what drives this anger- you maybe surprises to find like me and the illustration with the elderly driver that your perceptions maybe far from reality.

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


2 Responses to "Perception as Deception"

Hello Carlos:

I’ve been lurking for some time, but this elegantly expressed article has got me off the fence. You have some great resources here.

I am thrilled that you got off that fence and said hello. Thanks for the kind words

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