If you’ve been trying to get a handle on your anger, you’ve likely read tips for calming down like taking a deep breath and counting to ten.
My guest today argues while those tactics might serve as band-aid in the short term, truly getting control of your anger has to begin long before you have a blow up. His name is David Lieberman. He holds a Ph.D in psychology and is the author of several books, including his latest, Never Get Angry Again. We begin our discussion talking about what happens in our minds and body when we get angry, the ill effects anger can have on our health and relationships, and why common anger management advice isn’t very effective. David then digs into the deeper root causes of most anger issues and walks us through what you can do to address and solve them.
- Why do we get angry?
- Do men tend to have more anger issues than women?
- The 4 common ways anger manifests itself
- What passive aggressiveness is so damaging
- Can anger be useful?
- What happens in our brain when we get angry
- The physiological downsides of being angry
- Standard anger management advice, and why it doesn’t usually work
- The role ego plays in our anger
- Moving past negative experiences and traumas from childhood
- How do you get better at enforcing boundaries without being a jerk?
- Why you need to be okay with people not liking you
- How to inoculate yourself from angry emotions
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The 7 Habits: Think Win/Win
- Why Insults Sting and How to Handle Them
- How to Stop Being a Nice Guy
- Anger Mismanagement
- Quit Being a Pushover: How to Be Assertive
- 5 Ancient Stoic Practices for Modern Life
- Is Forgiveness Manly?
- The Virtuous Life: Tranquility
- How to Not Let Anger and Criticism Get the Best of You
- How to Firmly Say No Without Coming Off Like a Jerk
- Mastering Mindset to Improve Health, Happiness, and Longevity
- Reticular Activating System
- David’s website
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. If you’ve been trying to get a hanger on your anger you’ve likely read tips for calming down like take a deep breath, and counting to ten. They are usable, those tactics might serve as a bandaid in the short term, truly getting control of your anger has to begin long for you have a blowup. His name is David Lieberman, he holds a PhD in psychology and is the author of several books including his latest, Never Get Angry Again. We begin our conversation discussing talking about what happens in our minds and body when we get angry, the ill effects anger can have on our health and relationships, and why calm and anger management advice isn’t very effective. David then digs deeper in to the root causes of most anger issues and walks us through what you can do to address and solve them. After the shows over check out our show notes at AOM.is/anger.
All right David Lieberman welcome to the show.
David Lieberman: Thanks Brett, pleasure.
Brett McKay: So you got a new book out, Never Get Angry Again: The Foolproof Way to Stay Calm and in Control in Any Conversation Or Situation. Now over the years since I’ve been doing the Art of Manliness on the website and the podcast and I’ve gotten a lot of emails from guys saying they’ve had a problem with anger, it’s something they want to get a handle on. I think a lot of people want to get a handle on their anger, but before we get into that, in your practice and your experience working with people why do we get angry?
David Lieberman: A million dollar question. There are many layers to that, but at the root of it is that our desires, our goals, or expectations are not met, we feel threatened. Sometimes it’s a mask for other emotions, but even beyond that we find that anger comes because of a fear and that fear is always rooted in the fear that I’m not good enough, that I’m not lovable enough, I’m not worthy enough, which is why whenever we get angry it is always preceded by a fear that we are going to be taken advantage of, we’re going to be ridiculed, we’re not in charge. It comes from sort of feeling vulnerable and anger’s a response to that fear.
Brett McKay: So Yoda was right in the Star Wars movie he’s talking about fear leads to anger and anger leads to the dark side.
David Lieberman: Yes I suppose Yoda said it before I did.
Brett McKay: In your experience have you noticed that men have problems with anger more than women? And if so or if not why do you think that’s the case?
David Lieberman: Yeah, so what’s interesting is there’s conflicting research on that, and in doing research for the book I found that at first we thought yes men have more anger issues than women, and then other research indicated maybe not so because women tend to internalize their anger. So while men may express it overtly women may express it maybe more passively. Anyone that’s been married can testify to that. And then beyond that, that anger may also manifest in terms of feelings of guilt, insecurity and shame, so it’s turned inward, but the emotion itself I think is fairly evenly distributed amongst the sexes even though some preliminary research had shown that men are more prone to anger than women.
Brett McKay: So that raises an interesting question, anger can manifest itself differently, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that. As a consequence they miss out on whether they’re experiencing anger, whether someone else is experiencing anger, so I think when most people think of anger they think of stereotypical guy turning red, yelling, screaming, swearing, but beyond that how else can it manifest itself?
David Lieberman: That’s true right, and not only is that important for us to understand how anger can manifest for ourselves, but also in our relationships because we can’t operate under the assumption that just because somebody didn’t scream at us that our behavior was acceptable. So there’s generally a four sort of responses to anger, and they mirror what’s called a Fight, Flight or Freeze response, it used to be called the Fight or Flight, but now it’s Flight, Fight and Freeze, and it’s either assertive aggressive where we come out sort of fighting attempting to control the situation as you mentioned. Then you’ve got the passive aggressive, which parallels the flight where anger leaks out in more subtle ways because a person is unable to confront directly they sort of seek to control stealthily, and they’re not able to stand up for themselves or don’t feel like they’re able to, but they’re going to even the score, they’re going to exact justice one way or the other.
Another way anger can manifest is in sort of a surrender of suppression, and that is when a person’s unable to consciously acknowledge their anger, so they either tell themselves that they’re not worthy of asserting themselves, meaning you know what, who am I to go ahead and say this person is wrong? Or, they suppress their emotions and tell themselves they’re not really angry to begin with, and the issue there obviously that’s the suppression is it ends up resulting in a host of physiological causes such as anything from anxiety, to depression, to feeling a lot of back pain, and it manifests in a host of sort of physical symptoms.
And then finally is the immobilization, and that’s when a person is very angry, they feel powerless, but they’re not able to even acknowledge the pain or the fear so they really just shut down. It’s sort of like if you’ve got your toaster plugged in and there’s a firestorm, or a thunderstorm you’d unplug it to avoid it getting overloaded. So, this person can’t deal with the pain of anger at all, and they just shut down, shut out the world, just to avoid feeling that pain.
Brett McKay: So let’s talk about that passive aggressive because I think a lot of people have probably experienced that or maybe people do it and they’re not realizing it, so you’re not expressing, you’re not asserting your anger, right? You’re not saying, “Hey, this is upsetting me.” Instead, you’re still angry, but you might do something like if you have a job, and your boss asks you to do something you turn it in late, or you do sort of a sloppy job maybe on purpose or unconsciously.
David Lieberman: Yeah, that’s right, and I would say that passive aggressive is probably the most devastating to relationship because even though all anger should be dealt with responsibly in a healthy way if you’re assertive aggressive, and you’ve got that sort of seaming, yelling, at least you know where you stand, and the other person does as well. Passive aggressive it damages the relationship because we’re looking to exact justice, we’re looking to even the score. And as you say it could be conscious, it could be subconscious, and we’ll go ahead and forget to do something, we’ll turn something in late, we’ll inconvenience our spouse or our co-worker, and it causes friction in the relationship because they’re going to then get upset with us. But once again we’re not able to confront that, we’re not able to stand up, so it’s sort of ingrains further into more passive aggressive behavior and it can very, very damaging in our relationships.
Brett McKay: And what often happens is once the passive aggressive person gets called out on it they continue the manipulation as you said, they say, “Well, no, it’s not me, this is you it’s your problem.” And it’s like, well, no.
David Lieberman: That’s right. You’re not going to find a person engaging in passive aggressive behavior to suddenly acknowledge their responsibility and say, “Yeah, you know what,” because the decision to not confront generally doesn’t happen at the conscious level. So they feel wronged but if they were able to confront that wrong at the moment they would have, so there’s no reason to think that they’re now able to go ahead and confront their passive aggressive behavior once they’re called out on it.
Brett McKay: You experience anger, but you deny it, that sort of freeze thing, we’ve had a lot of people on talking about the nice guy syndrome where a lot of guys they’ll experience anger, but they’re like, “No, I’m a nice guy. I’m not angry.” And they just pushing it down, pushing it down, and as you said, lead to anxiety, depression, but also it can eventually lead to like a big giant blowup that could do a lot more damage.
David Lieberman: That’s quite true. That’s quite true because anger does need a release valve of sorts, and when we suppress it … and look, you know if you want the world to see you as a nice guy or most likely, the person who grew up in a house where they weren’t allowed to express themselves, or when they did it was shut down. So this is how they learned to deal with their anger, and they would tell themselves that, “Oh, it just rolls right off me. It doesn’t ruffle my feathers. It doesn’t matter.” Now if that were true than this guy would be fantastic, his ego wouldn’t be involved, and he’d be at a very high level, but if in fact he’s selling himself a pack of lies because he doesn’t want to acknowledge the anger, because he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with it, he will suppress it, and as you say, it will either just tear him apart from the inside or it will lead to an overt explosion, which can be quite devastating and damaging not only to himself but to his relationship.
Brett McKay: It sounds like what we’ve been talking is that anger can be useful because it’s sort of a signal to you that something’s going wrong and that you need to do something to fix it. Now the question is, how do you go about fixing that? Would you say anger is not a completely terrible emotion, it’s useful if it’s used in the right way?
David Lieberman: You know I’d say yes and no, and I know it sounds like I’m covering my bases here but there’s an expression that anger lies in the bosom of fools, meaning that if you have anger on the table to pull out of your tool belt at any point when you feel you’re justified the problem is when you’re in the situation you’re going to assume that it’s justified. No one ever walked away from a conversation and said, “You know what, I wish I would have gotten angrier, I would have been able to handle myself so much better.” When you’re angry you’re not seeing through a clear objective lens, you’re seeing through a distorted emotions and while it does increase your acuity, and it brings a lot of your attention, and emotional, and mental resources and focuses it, at the same time you’re not able to process your world with a proper perspective, so you are going to be inclined to act irresponsibly, recklessly, and go over board.
So quite frankly I tell people, take it off the table completely. Could you have used that anger and capitalized on it? In one out of 100 cases sure, but I’d rather be wrong one out of 100 than to use it 99 out of 100 knowing that I too quickly went for that angry response. Because if you think about it, if you said to yourself, “I am not going to get angry no matter what happens the entire day,” you’re going to have an entirely different day then if you said, “Okay fine, if I get angry it’ll be justified.” But in there lies a problem, when you are in that moment your perspective is narrowed, your ego’s engaged, and you’re going to assume it’s justified when through the objective lens of clarity, and a little more perspective you would have realized that it was not called for.
Brett McKay: You devout a section of the book about what happens to our brain whenever we get angry, as you said it can focus and narrow our attention but that has some downsides because as you said you’re not really seeing the bigger picture where you can see other options, other solutions, you’re just narrowed in on that one thing.
David Lieberman: Ask yourself the question, who would you rather go to battle with, somebody who is just flying in a blind rage or somebody who is cool, calculated, very cognitively aware? And clearly you’d rather go into battle against the guy who’s just not thinking clearly. And you can say, “Oh he’s got a lot of …” And when a person does become angry the nervous system releases whether it’s adrenaline or adrenaline cortisol. What’s interesting actually about cortisol, which is also responsible for weight gain called the stress hormone, cortisol actually interferes with the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning. It literally makes us dumb. It interferes with our ability to process information clearly. So we have a physiological basis for the fact that anger clouds our judgements, and while certainly yes, there are some limited advantages I would much rather go into a situation with the objective lens of clarity then have my perspective clouded by emotions.
Brett McKay: Great example, you can see that in real time with cortisol and anger making you dumb like social media, people get angry so they do something right away and they usually type something that they regret a day later.
David Lieberman: Gosh yeah, sometimes two seconds later. I think What’s App now is something that you could pull back. You know how many times do people send off a text and then they send a correction two seconds later when all it would have taken them were these same two seconds to do a spell check and to realize that it auto corrected something ridiculous, but we have that just visceral response where we want to answer back and yeah, it invariably will produce conversations and interactions that are just not productive.
Brett McKay: So besides the psychological downsides of anger it makes you dumber, you make poorer decisions, there’s physiological, so you mentioned cortisol if you’re constantly exposed to cortisol it causes weight gain, which is not good for heath, but any other physiological downsides of being angry all the time?
David Lieberman: Sure, in the short term you’ve got anxiety, high blood pressure, headache, these are symptoms that manifest instantaneously and certainly the long term damage on your emotional health, and your relationships is incalculable.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about what we can do about this, and you argue that the typical anger management advice doesn’t work in the long run, so before we get to why you think that doesn’t work, what is typical anger management advice that you see out there?
David Lieberman: You have your basic take deep breathes, visualize your happy place, and there’s some cognitive behavioral sort of reframing. One of the reasons why I wrote the book was yes, there are some gaps in terms of I think traditional advice but even from our own perspective, when was the last time you were really upset you took a deep breath, you visualized your happy place or something else, and then you instantaneously calm down? It may work for the smaller stuff, but when you’re entering a situation, and you’re already enraged it’s very, very hard to sort of talk yourself down from that.
Brett McKay: Okay, so what is the solution then? If those things, if they can work sometimes but not all the time, I guess the goal is to not even have to go to that. You get to the point where you don’t even need to use those things, so what are we looking at here?
David Lieberman: That’s right one of the reasons why the book has gotten so much attention is because it shows you how to avoid getting to that fork in the road where you find yourself fighting against your own nature. Meaning that if you enter the situation with a wide enough perspective, and you realized ahead of time that this is something that’s inconsequential, you’re going to forget about it 10 minutes, 10 days, 10 years, you’re not even going to remember it happened. So, you’re in a situation at the moment when you’ve got that clarity of perspective after the fact you’re not going to be bothered, so what if you were able to bring that same perspective that you would have after the fact into the moment? You would never find yourself bothered certainly by the little stuff, and even the bigger stuff you’re able to instantly frame in the proper perspective, and that’s really what time gives us, time gives us perspective. So, by entering these situations without your ego involved you don’t have to fight against your own nature, you don’t have to remain calm, you don’t have to force yourself to do anything, you’re naturally unbothered because of the gift of perspective gives you the ability to recognize that it simply doesn’t matter. And most things we get upset about simply don’t matter.
Brett McKay: So basically as we talked earlier the root of anger is fear and fear comes from when we have an ego based view of life where we’re just thinking about us, and what’s in it for us, so what are some of the stories that our ego tells us. It goes on internally that contributes to us getting angry about big things but even like little things, like a guy cutting you off in traffic, or your kid ignoring you, we get angry because there’s a story that we’re telling ourselves, that event means something.
David Lieberman: That’s right, and that story regardless of the narrative always comes down to the same message and that is that they don’t care enough about me, they don’t love me enough, they don’t respect me enough. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re driving along and someone cuts you off on the road. Now many of us have a tendency to see what this person looks like ’cause who is going to typically bother us more a nice little old lady driving when you just see her hat in her hands on the steering wheel, or a young guy driving with a beer bottle in one hand, cigarette in the other, music blasting from the car, who’s going to generally bother us more the little old lady or the young guy?
Brett McKay: The young guy of course.
David Lieberman: Right of course, because we assume the nice little old lady probably didn’t see our car, but the young guy did it to me on purpose ’cause he doesn’t care enough, he doesn’t respect me, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And if you appreciate the insanity of this you’re driving along, then you almost get into an accident, then you speed up risking your life to see what the person looks like to see how angry you should be. It’s sure insanity, but that’s what the ego does, it connects the dots, it makes everything about me when the truth is it has nothing to do with me.
We treat other people based on how we feel about ourselves. You give love, you give respect, but when we have a inflated ego we assume it’s about us. And we’re not able to see the other person’s pain, we’re focused on our own pain. So when you take your ego out of the equation you can look at the other person with empathy, with compassion, with sympathy and you’re not absorbed in your own pain. And if you’re not absorbed in your own pain then you’re not going to get upset because you don’t take it personally, and that’s really what real anger management comes down to. Something happens, you take it personally, you get upset. Something happens you don’t take it personally you don’t get upset. That’s 25 years of therapy in a sentence. The degree to which we’re able to take ourselves out of the equation is a degree to which we’re going to manage our anger much more effectively because if our ego’s not involved there’s nothing to get angry about.
Brett McKay: I feel like the ego thing as you said we personalize things, and we even do the personalization for just like acts of God, like hurricanes, like why? Why me? Well the hurricane doesn’t have any emotions it doesn’t care, it just happened.
David Lieberman: Right. It doesn’t discriminate and that’s just it, and you can tell as you know I’ve done a lot of work with reading people and body language and emotional health in that the more personally people take things that have nothing to do with them the less emotionally healthy they are. So when they begin to say that it is a thunderstorm and it rained, God doesn’t love me because he doesn’t want me to have a picnic today, those are things that are indicative of somebody who’s really personalizing a bit too much. And even again at the highest level if somebody legitimately does something to you but you realize it really doesn’t have anything to do with you, yes it is to you, but once again, we treat other people based on how we feel about ourselves so their capacity’s limited. The fact that somebody can’t love me, the fact that somebody can’t give me respect, the fact that somebody can’t show me the attention or give me the accolades and praise that I feel I deserve, if my ego’s not involved I recognize it’s their limitation it’s not mine. But, if my ego is engaged I’m going to assume they’re doing this because there’s something wrong, there’s something lacking, there’s something broken, battered, defective about me and that’s what makes me so angry.
Brett McKay: So how do you get to that point where you personalize everything? Where you think it’s all about you and people do things to you, or things happen to you because you’re defective, you deserve it, you’re inadequate. How do you get to that point, because there’s some people who don’t really have that problem but other people who really have that problem, so what was the difference between those two people?
David Lieberman: Right, so first you will not find a person that has anger issues that did not have some sort of childhood trauma, tragedy, abuse, and it’s so sad, but the scars and the imprint on our emotional health that childhood leaves is very, very difficult to undo, unless the person is able to revisit it and I’d like to share with you a fantastic technique to accomplish that. But before that, to answer your question is that we’ve got this thing called shame.
Now there’s legitimate shame, and some people tell you, oh shame is toxic and it’s not true. There’s legitimate shame that when you act beneath your level, when you do something that is just not you and afterwards you feel a little bit maybe disturbed or disgusted and you think back and you think, that was unconscionable, I can’t believe I did that, that’s legitimate shame, and shame is the voice of conscience that says, “Hey, you know what you did something that was beneath you,” and it’s a self correcting mechanism to wake us up, to take responsibility, and to move forward. But, if we’re not willing to do that and we sort of double down and the ego then justifies, minimizes, blames, whatever it can to avoid feeling that pain, at the core we’re still left with that stain of shame that says, I’m not lovable. Now that’s legitimate shame and there’s ways to deal with that.
Unfortunately we acquire as I said before toxic shame and that comes courtesy of childhood, because children by definition are completely egocentric, and that’s okay, that’s their job. We know adults like this as well but at least children have an excuse for it. So for example, let’s say you’ve got a seven year old boy whose father comes back and screams and yells at him. That child is never going to say, “Well you know what, dad just had a hard day at work, let him go ahead and have a cocktail, let him calm down and he’ll be okay.” No, the child’s going to assume that there’s something wrong with him because he’s egocentric he takes everything personally. How people treat him is a direct reflection of his self worth, that’s his equation. So as he transitions to adulthood he walks around with that same stain of shame that says, how I’m treated by other people is a reflection of my self worth. And when you’re able to undo that you realize that your self worth does not hinge on somebody’s acceptance of you. Not only is it very freeing emotionally but you will find that you’re going to be living anger free.
Brett McKay: And how do you do that? You mentioned there’s something we can do to short of unpack that.
David Lieberman: Right. So, there’s a whole protocol, and I’ve worked with really hard … the whole reason why I got into this was because as you may know I do a lot of work with law enforcement and techniques of interview and interrogation and I found that you had otherwise decent people who just in a moment of anger or rage completely upended their life. And I said, “There has to be a way to help people before they get into this situation.” And that’s the genesis of how I began with the book. First is the appreciation, the acknowledgement that just because somebody can’t love me doesn’t make me unlovable, and that goes even to the core of childhood. And the way I explained it to people is like this, you ever watch a movie or read a book, and the ending is just amazing, and it was like a big twist, like the Sixth Sense comes to mind. You sort of replay back the entire movie in your life and you recast everything through this new awareness. Or you read a book and the ending is maybe twist of an ending, you sort of replay everything back.
So, while we can’t go back in time we can give new meaning to the experiences from our childhood, and when we look at it in a different light, and we’re able to recognize that just because my mother wasn’t able to give me the love and respect that I needed and deserved, or just because my father yelled at me or abused me doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with me. When a person really owns that then they’re free.
Brett McKay: I like that, and one thing that’s helped me too in anger is like, our brains are hypersensitive to negative, we’re looking constantly vigilant for any negative things that happen to us.
David Lieberman: Yeah.
Brett McKay: So when the guy cuts you off, you think, well that jerk disrespects me and everyone disrespects me, then you have to stop like, no, not everyone disrespects me. My kids like me, my wife likes me, my friends like me. Focusing on all the things that you got going good in your life really puts things in perspective for you.
David Lieberman: It sure does. And we’ve got this term, in psychology we label everything, it’s called negativity bias, which speaks to that exact point, our confirmation bias also, and that is that if you believe something to be true you’re going to not only look for that but you’re going to manifest, you’re going to create, you’re going to live a life that tells that narrative and that fulfills that story of yours. So your entire sort of existence and as awful and as sad as this is, so many people do this, we live a life of masks and games, and we really go into hiding to avoid facing the pain of our reality. We have a story to be told and if our story is, I’m no good, I’m not lovable then we’re going to bring that to fruition no matter what it takes. And so not only will we look for it but we’re going to go ahead and manifest it, and these are the people that will read into things, they’ll connect dots that don’t exist and it’s almost like a form of paranoia where they’ll begin to make connections only to tell the story that they’ve been telling themselves for so long, and a person like this would rather be right than be happy.
Brett McKay: Yeah I’ve seen that happen in my own life and in other people’s lives as well. You’re so used to the story, it’s the devil you know, you just keep going with that because it’s so familiar and comfortable.
David Lieberman: Yeah that’s it, and once again it’s so sad because people live lives that are barely scratching the surface of their potential, but it is comfortable and they’re asconse themselves in their pain, and they tell themselves a story because this is all they know, and their ego sort of tells them and feeds them the message that this is the truth. And when you’re able to sort of cast it aside and connect with other people, and appreciate your worth, you’ll find that this vale of anger just lifts off you because you’re no longer looking to confirm some distorted truth that you’re not worthy. And in fact that if somebody can’t treat you properly you can see, you can focus in that they’re the ones that are in pain and you don’t have to be in pain.
Brett McKay: And yeah, so this is accepting the reality that you have and accepting the pain, but it doesn’t mean you have to approve of it, right? I think a lot of people confuse accepting as approval, that’s not actually the case you just need to accept, okay this happened to me, this was bad, but it is part of the reality but it’s not the whole reality.
David Lieberman: That’s right, that’s a great point, and the acceptance versus approval hangs up in a relationship as well. And also with our own self esteem, meaning that I can accept me and love me 100%, and I accept the love my kids 100%, and I always tell them there’s nothing I can do that would make me not accept them. It doesn’t mean I approve everything they do, and it doesn’t mean they approve everything I do, and there are behaviors that I engage in that I work on, and I have regrets, and I try and make it right and move forward, but when we conflate the two, when we say that I can’t accept a person or accept me unless I approve and have this sort of perfectionist mentality then we are throwing the baby out with the bath water and we’re living up to some sort of unrealistic expectation that everything has to be just so in order to have acceptance, and it’s not the case. I can’t accept me 100% unconditionally, I can accept my wife, and I can accept my kids, and now we roll up our sleeves.
Because the thing is this Brett, let’s say you plug into your GPS that you wanted to go from where you are to Toronto, Canada, the first thing the GPS has to locate is where you are. So, the beginning of growth, the beginning of moving forward begins with acknowledging and accepting who you are, where you are, how you are right now, but you’re never going to go from point A to point B unless you accept you’re at point A. So I’m never going to work on myself. I’m never going to be able to get rid of my anger. I’m never going to improve my relationships if I refuse to accept the reality that exists.
Brett McKay: And I’m sure that figuring out what the reality that exists that might involve other people too, maybe talking to a therapist, talking to your friends and family so that you can get a better idea. If it’s just you your ego might tell you a story that’s probably not true.
David Lieberman: Yeah, and you know what that’s so true. Our ego will tell us a lot of stories and none of them true, because the last thing the ego wants to do is accept responsibility. The one thing even the wisest of men can achieve on their own is objectivity, which is why it does make sense to talk it over with a friend, a trusted confident, someone that knows you, trusts you, respects you, likes you that can give you a objective sort of reality check. Because when our ego’s involved you’re right, we’re a piece of our own puzzle, we lack that perspective to see objectively, and we’re going to come up with a distorted conclusion, so yes acceptance can very easily be gained more readily by speaking it over with somebody who can look the situation and give us that objectivity that we don’t always gain on our own.
Brett McKay: So one thing I noticed in my own life is when I get angry it comes from when I feel someone’s violating some personal boundary. Like you know the perfect example is getting cut off, like that personal boundary is, man I had the right away. I was sort of acknowledged but this guy disregarded it and went in, but it also happened at other places. The boss calls you on the weekend and violates that, and you get angry, but you don’t do anything about it. So, how do you get better at enforcing boundaries but without going overboard like coming off as a jerk about it?
David Lieberman: Sure, that’s a great question ’cause it goes to the core of a lot of people’s anger issues and that’s sort of like this … Take a person that gets put in that proverbial know when where someone asks you something that you don’t want to do, so if you don’t do it they’re mad at you, and if you do, do it you’re mad at you. And we sort of get boxed in particularly if you’ve got this sort of people pleasing perpetual doormat mentality, which is a strong manifestation of anger, particularly passive aggressive because the person doesn’t feel like they can assert their boundaries. Invariably we find that boundary issues become distorted from childhood and that’s because if my boundaries were traipsed over, if someone didn’t respect my boundaries in one way or the other I don’t have a clear sense of me, and if I don’t have a clear sense of me I don’t have a clear sense of we. Now that may manifest into the person who becomes very arrogant, very pushy, and drip and encroach into other people’s boundaries, or it may manifest into the person whose sort of that people pleasing mentality that allows other people to come into their boundaries.
So first, when I give workshops I let people know that and often the people that come for anger management unless it’s court ordered are the ones who feel like other people are taking advantage of them. And I say like this, you can’t say yes if you can’t say no. Meaning that if you don’t feel like you can stand up to the person and say no then you’re not really saying yes, because if you choose to do an act of kindness for somebody that means you are making a choice. But if you feel like you’re getting guilt ed into something, you’re not secure enough to stand up, you don’t think you can enforce your boundary, and you tell yourself, “Oh I’m just being the nice guy I’m going to go ahead and do it, why make a big deal about it?” You’re really not giving and it’s a difference between giving a donation and being robed. In one case $100 going out of your pocket you feel very good, very empowering. The other case you’re being robed, it’s unempowering. Now in both cases $100 went out of your pocket but one was a choice to give and the other wasn’t.
So, the beginning of setting boundaries first is to take a step back and ask yourself where is my boundary? In other words, what is accepted, what will I find proper, and am I legitimately choosing to give or am I simply just rolling over and allowing the person to take advantage of me? And people that have an issue asserting boundaries would do well to practice in a small way, and it can be very, very uncomfortable because I don’t want to assert my boundaries, because this person may reject me, they may tell me, “You know what, I don’t like you.” And that’s just going to reinforce my fear that I’m not lovable, and it’s going to be bring out all my feelings of shame that I’m not worthy. So I’m going to go ahead and give in because I don’t want to feel the pain of somebody thinking that I’m not worthy, and that’s why we allow people into our space. And when you appreciate that at least intellectually then you can begin to own it emotionally. And once again, fewer things are more empowering and infuses with the greater sense of self esteem than drawing a responsible boundary line and asserting ourselves in a situation where we feel somebody is taking advantage of us.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned start off in a small way, what would be a small way to start off with that if you’re someone who has trouble enforcing boundaries?
David Lieberman: Right. Generally try with somebody who is more safe that you feel that is not going to run away, they’re not going to give you a hard time, not going to reject you. And it could be with a good friend of yours, a co-worker, your spouse, whomever it is and just say, “You know what, I …” and even let the person know, “I’m working on trying to assert myself,” and you can tell the person, “You know what, there’s nothing wrong with what you’re asking. I appreciate it, but I am going to go ahead and I’m going to decline your request,” and you’ve gotta get more comfortable, and it is a matter of comfort, being okay with the fact that somebody may not like you.
Because if you set out to have everyone like you, everyone like you, everyone appreciate you, everyone think you’re great it’s the surest path to be a miserable human being, because unfortunately you have people out there who are not well. Forget about those who actually suffer with a pathology such as psychopathy, psychosis, or sociopathy, sociopaths, or narcissist, forget about those people that are going to run rough shot over you, other well meaning, well intentioned people are going to be doing what makes sense. And just because it makes sense to them or for them doesn’t mean it makes sense to you. And you can’t act irresponsibly and give into somebody ’cause they’re going to become upset with you, because again if you continue to do that you’re going to be upset with you, and they don’t need a reason to become mad at you, and if you’re upset with you then you are going to magnify and increase your own feelings of guilt, and shame, and inferiority ’cause all it does is reinforce the fact that you don’t deserve to stand up for yourself.
And so, when you practice in these small ways and you realize the world will still spin and you’re okay just because you asserted yourself, you feel fantastic, and how you assert yourself by the way should always be with proper empathy and compassion, and as you say not be a jerk about it. But I don’t have to defend my right to assert my legitimate boundaries, and I don’t have to give a person 1,000 reasons and 1,000 excuses, sometimes no is a complete sentence.
Brett McKay: Yeah and another thing to think about too is that as you mentioned earlier it can define the relationship sort of fine tuned the definition of the relationship, so the person who’s asking you for something that you don’t want to do you say no, well now they know something new, they have new information. Now there might be some conflict but now you guys can accept the conflict, you can move forward and actually be proactive about it. Now it might mean you just do your separate ways or you look for another solution.
David Lieberman: That’s right, and a person that tries to avoid asserting themselves to maintain the illusion of peace will find that they’re not going to either have boundaries or peace. Every healthy relationship requires boundaries. And if you think that you’re going to just make things okay by allowing someone to traps into your space when they’re not welcomed you’re going to find that it keeps on coming up, and up, and up again. And by drawing that line you’re right you redefine the relationship, and you’ve got proper responsible boundary lines, and this person knows what’s no longer accepted. And when they know what’s no longer accepted then they can make a choice. They’re allowed to say, “You know what, this relationship isn’t worth it.” In which case then you know that they’re only interested in the relationship because of what they can gain from it. Or they’re going to respect your boundaries, in which case it benefits both of you, but make no mistake I tell people who are very, very sensitive, those perpetual people pleasers, the ones that have a hard time saying no. I said, “If you can’t say no for yourself say no for the other person, because you do no favors by making easy for them bullier, manipulator, the bulldozer to run into you. You don’t do them any favors by making it easy for them to take advantage of you, so it is selfless, meaning you’re doing them the favor by asserting yourself.”
Brett McKay: So I mean it sounds like the goal again, really at this point is the goal is we’re not trying to manage anger at the point it happens. We might have to use some tactics for that every now and then, you talk about some of those in the book, but the goal is to basically inoculate ourselves so we no longer have those angry emotions, and that involves reframing, changing the story that our ego tells ourselves about ourselves, but besides that, that’s going to take a lot of work, it might take months, years for that to happen, but what are some other things you can do to inoculate yourself from anger so you see reality for what it really is and not just sort of this narrow focused negativity bias that you typically have when you come from a place of anger?
David Lieberman: Sure and I love that word inoculate and that’s a beautiful word, and that’s exactly what we do here is once you have the shot then you don’t have to worry about putting yourself in situation where people have got those negative germs, they’re not going to infect you. And there’s too many things you can do to answer your question in brief, one is when you find yourself in that moment where you’re feeling angry the biggest mistakes … I’m always surprised when people say this is a therapeutic advice they got, was to go ahead and just sort of shut it down and say no I’m not angry, it’s not a big deal, and all they do is move into the world of illusion and they lie to themselves. And that’s where the ego lives, in the world of lies. Rather acknowledge, am in pain. Right now somebody either cut me off from the road, or my wife didn’t do something I thought was important, or my co-worker didn’t do this, or my kids didn’t do this. Acknowledge the fact that this is a moment to be in pain.
But then here’s the key Brett, you have to ask yourself, which part of me is really in pain? Is it my soul or is it my ego? Is it the real me that’s in pain or is the part of me that craves respect, that craves honor, that craves appreciation, accolades and so on. And so, by having an honest conversation with yourself you’ll find that the anger simply dissipates. Again, assuming that you’re at this fork, the ideal is you say is to inoculate yourself beforehand, but it’s sort of like if you’re familiar with John Starno’s method about the back pain is by not avoiding it, not ignoring it, by fully owning the emotion it’s processed completely out of you.
Brett McKay: And what’s another method so there’s that aspect, what’s another thing?
David Lieberman: The other is there’s fascinating, there’s a part of the brain it’s called the reticula activating system, and it acts as an antenna of sorts. You ever have the experience of having a conversation with somebody at a party, and you realize there’s a much more interesting conversation happening about 10 feet away, and you sort of like mute the person in front of you and you like tune in and pick up the other conversation, and that’s what the reticula activating system does, it allows for us to hone in on what we deem as important, or what we deem as interesting in much the same way that if you’re thinking of getting a new suit, or a watch, or a car, you suddenly see all of those suits and watches and cars on the road. Not that they didn’t exist before, but the particular activating system is honed in on it, so when you move through your day looking for the good, looking for positive, having the perspective that things are good, and picking up on what your grateful for your antenna will sort of hone in on that and the entire rhythm, the cadence, the mood will be completely different then if you’re always looking for the negative, always looking for areas where you’re feeling disrespected or taking advantage of, or being manipulated.
If you hone in, look for the good, look for the positive in others you’ll begin to see it in other people, you’ll see it in yourself, and you’ll see it in your world.
Brett McKay: And then when those conflict happen they don’t bother you as much.
David Lieberman: That’s right, because also we talked about before negativity bias and confirmation bias, I am going to find the reality that I expect to find time and time and time again. So if I expect that my spouse is a good person who loves me, she’s got her own faults as I do, but I already go into the situation knowing that she is good, she is a lovable person who loves me, we have a positive relationship, whatever she does will be filtered through that. If I move through the day knowing the same thing about everyone else it’ll be filtered through that. And once again, whether we know the person, don’t know the person, they cut us off. Whether it is something that happens in a moment or something that we’ve been leading up to, if we don’t take it personally we can’t become upset. But the minute we assume that somebody else’s behavior is a reflection of my self worth I’m now fighting against my own nature, I’m fighting an uphill battle, and I’m going to have a hard time managing my anger. But if I’m able to instantly come into it with the proper perspective my ego’s not engaged and I’m simply not angry.
Brett McKay: Well David this has been a great conversation, where can people go to learn more about your work?
David Lieberman: They can go to I suppose my website, which is DrDavidLieberman.com and also on Amazon I’ve got a number of books, and I’ve got some workshops and some different programs, but I just encourage … It doesn’t have to be really quite frankly my book on anger but if you’ve got an anger issue it is something that you will be surprised at even no matter what the root is, even if it’s childhood, even if it’s rooted in something very, very significant you don’t have to walk around with the anger anymore. If you can free yourself from it you’ll just live a different quality of life. I encourage anyone with any anger issue to do what they can to try to eradicate it because their entire emotional framework will be different, and the relationships will be forever transformed.
Brett McKay: Well David Lieberman thanks for your time it’s been a pleasure.
David Lieberman: Brett you are amazing, you’ve got a fantastic show, I wish you lots of good luck with everything thank you.
Brett McKay: Thank you. My guest there is Dr. David Lieberman, he’s the author of the book, Never Get Angry Again, it’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can also find out more information about his work at his website DrDavidLieberman.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/anger where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well that wraps up another addition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website Art of Manliness.com where you can see our podcast archives. We have over 480 episodes there. You can also see thousands of articles written over the years about personal finance, stress management, relationships, you name it we’ve got it. If you haven’t done so already I appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already thank you, please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think can get something out of it. As always thank you for the continued support. Until next time this is Brett McKay reminding you not only to listen to the AOM podcast but put what you’ve heard into action.