Episode 71 | The (False) Power of Anger

In this episode, I explore the emotion of anger and discuss why holding onto anger in veterinary medicine feels very powerful and accepted.



  • Lower Brain / Higher Brain generation of anger
  • Negative / Positive emotion
  • Anger as a coping mechanism


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00:00:00 The truth about anger, how it's become a coping mechanism in our society, and what we can do about it, that's what we're talking about in Episode 71. I'm Dr. Cari Wise, and this is the Joyful DVM podcast. Hi friends. Welcome to episode 71. Today. I want to spend some time talking about anger. I've been thinking about this a lot since we had our monthly masterclass inside of the Joy VET Alliance membership,

00:00:40 our masterclass topic was on living with intention in 2022. And if you're a JVA member, you can catch that replay inside of the resource portal right now, if you're not, you definitely might want to consider joining us there because a lot of great things happen. But all that aside during our masterclass this month, one of our members asked me if anger was a lower brain emotion.

00:01:05 So let me unpack that a little bit and get to what was actually being asked. So anger is an emotion and emotions are created by our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and beliefs. So they're created in our minds. And then we experience the emotion as a vibration in our bodies. Those thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and conclusions, or the sentences are created either by the lower part of our brain.

00:01:30 That part of our brain, that's really all about keeping us safe. It's a very primitive aspect of our brain. Very instinctual and reactive or thoughts are created by the higher brain. So the prefrontal cortex, where we really get to decide what we think about you can plan in advance. We can think with more intention. And so the question was whether or not anger was a lower reign or a higher brain emotion,

00:01:54 was it coming from the thoughts from the lower brain was really what the question was getting at. I can understand why this question came up because when we think about the lower brain, the most common emotion that we talk about in relation to the lower brain is fear. This is because it is the job of the lower brain to keep you safe. And so it alerts with fear to just about everything that's uncomfortable,

00:02:18 uncertain or new in this day and age in the modern world, we aren't typically in life-threatening danger as our species would have been hundreds and hundreds of years ago. So we don't need that level of protection. We don't need to be scanning all the time, watching for the predator to come and eat us. Unfortunately, that primitive lower part of our brain just does this anyway.

00:02:39 So what we have to do as humans, then it starts to recognize when we have that fear experience. So we experienced that emotion of fear. We want to recognize and ask ourselves, is it real? Am I actually in danger? When we wait to live our lives until we don't feel afraid, we actually don't tend to live much at all though.

00:02:59 The lower brain is completely fine with this. It would have us just withdrawing from our lives, playing it safe, making sure that we're keeping everybody happy because if it can stay in that kind of form, even if they're not, it's not comfortable. Even if we are existing in a state of unhappiness, at least we're alive and for the lower brain,

00:03:17 that's good enough for the rest of us though, for the higher brain for us as humans, it's not good enough. We don't want to be unhappy. We want to do bigger things with our lives. We want to explore different opportunities. And every time we step towards something that we've never done before, something we've never experienced before that lower part of our brain alerts it.

00:03:38 Thanks. You're getting ready to walk into life-threatening danger because you're walking into uncertainty and from a very animal instinctual kind of way, uncertainty could mean death. You don't know what's out there. You might get eaten. You shouldn't go. So if we know this is kind of happening underneath the surface, we can start to then decide for ourselves whether or not the fear that we are experiencing is real.

00:04:00 It feels real. Let's just be honest. It feels very real, but are we actually in danger most of the time, the answer is no. And we can usually determine that pretty darn quickly. As soon as we identify that, it's no. Then we ask ourselves, do we want to do the thing that we kind of started off to do,

00:04:18 even though we're going to feel afraid? The truth is everything that we want to create for our lives is on the other side of discomfort. And we have to plow right through the middle of it to get there. There's no way for us to build bigger lives, to go on new adventures, to create something different for ourselves without feeling fear. It's just part of the process.

00:04:38 It's very instinctual, but it doesn't actually mean anything. We can feel simultaneously afraid while also feeling determined or motivated. The way that we do that is with that intentional thinking. We don't just accept the thoughts. Opinions will you send conclusions that that lower brain offers us, which are the automatic habit. Thoughts are going to be the first ones that pop up.

00:04:58 We don't automatically accept those as true. Instead, we use those as an opportunity to consider an alternative perspective. That alternative perspective will then help generate the emotions that we need to move forward. Because remember, think, feel, act the sentences in our minds create the emotional feelings that we experience and those emotional feelings are what drive our actions and behaviors. We have to be able to tap into an emotion other than fear,

00:05:23 if we're going to make any progress forward, or at least if we're going to make any lasting progress forward. Sure we can white knuckle and force ourselves to do things. But when we force ourselves to take action and we haven't taken action from an aligned place with our emotion, the results that we typically get from those actions are short-lived any of you have ever been on a crash diet and really forced your way through it and lost a bunch of weight just to gain it all back.

00:05:45 As soon as you kind of eased up on yourself, you know what I'm talking about, that's a great example of white-knuckling, and we can do that in all different kinds of areas of our lives. The key here is to understand that fear is really not a problem unless we believe the thoughts that are creating it. And so when we think about fear as being something that's very lower brain oriented,

00:06:07 it makes perfect sense. And that's a conclusion that most of us draw now, when it comes to categorizing emotions, a lot of the time we talk about them in a way that's not very helpful. We talk about emotions as being either negative or positive. When really what we're saying is that some feel more comfortable or uncomfortable than others, but because of the way that our culture is,

00:06:27 we're always trying to fit things into a nice binary, this or that good or bad right or wrong. We've done the same thing with emotion. And so any of the uncomfortable emotions are getting identified as negative when they get identified as negative, they often get associated with the lower brain, but that's not what's happening. And so this comes right back to the question that I was asked during our masterclass is anger,

00:06:50 which we would classify as a negative or uncomfortable emotion. Does anger come from the lower brain? And the answer to that is no, it doesn't. It can come from either lower brain thinking or higher brain thinking. And what's really important about embracing the idea that this can come from higher brain thinking is to realize that feeling angry in and of itself,

00:07:13 isn't a problem feeling any emotion. Isn't a problem. As humans, we have the capacity to experience all of the emotions. And when we allow ourselves the opportunity to actually experience those emotions, instead of avoiding them or trying to resist them or cover them up with external activity, then we actually become more present in our lives. Even better. We actually become more confident because self-confidence is really just the willingness to experience any emotion when we're willing to feel afraid when we're willing to feel angry,

00:07:45 when we're willing to feel embarrassed, that shows us how confident we are in ourselves because we recognize that feeling fear or feeling angry or feeling embarrassed doesn't mean anything about who we actually are at our essence, who we are, is still infinitely, worthy, and valuable and lovable and acceptable. And we're just having a human experience that involves those emotions that I listed.

00:08:10 So no anger is not a lower brain emotion, but more importantly is to understand really what anger is and where it comes from. Anger is an emotion that we experience. Usually when we believe there's something that is as it should not be. So something should be different than it is. And depending on what is happening, the level of our anger can be amplified.

00:08:34 The truth is we want to feel angry. Sometimes it's really important for us to understand this when animals are abused. For example, we want to feel angry about that. We don't want to be happy about that. That doesn't make any sense at all, especially in our profession. So there certainly are times when anger is an absolutely appropriate emotion in the world that we live in right now with what's been going on all around us with the pandemic and the way that the world has reacted to all of the uncertainty.

00:09:04 We experience a lot of people who are displaying anger. If we think about where that anger comes from, it's just coming from those individual people, being in the middle of an experience where something isn't as they think it should be right now in the world. Most of us fall into that category. It's very easy right now to become angry about all kinds of things.

00:09:30 And as stress and anxiety can start to compound, we become quicker to anger. We start to then react from that anger. We're snippier with people than we usually are. We are short-tempered. We aren't as compassionate. We aren't as understanding. And then together as a collective, we bond over that. There's some comradery that gets built through our collective anger.

00:10:00 This can be pretty dangerous. Let me explain. Anger feels more powerful than almost any other emotion. It feels way more powerful than fear. It feels more powerful than uncertainty. It feels more powerful than insecurity and feeling vulnerable. Anger feels powerful. And through our anger, we tend to be able to drive ourselves to do different things. Maybe out of anger,

00:10:27 we end a relationship or quit a job. Maybe out of anger, we cut off a relationship with a client, or we decide we're no longer going to see people who show up late for appointments. There are changes that we make that are probably in our best interest to make anyway, but anger seems to catalyze those decisions. It's not that you're taking those actions from anger,

00:10:52 though. This is important to understand anger isn't causing you to end a relationship. Anger just helps to foster those other thoughts. Those thoughts of I deserve better than to be in this relationship. I don't want to be in this relationship, thoughts like that, which could create an emotion of either awareness or determination. And that's probably the type of emotion that could take the action from the anger though.

00:11:20 A lot of us feel like we have to kind of prime ourselves with anger before we make those decisions. Before we act on those decisions, maybe is a better way to put that. And it works. It's a lot easier to justify the decisions that we make. If the reasons that we make them make other people angry too, when we feel like we've been victimized,

00:11:43 which always makes us feel angry at some level, that it makes sense that we would want to get away from whatever the situation is. That was victimizing us. Anger is part of that process. However, as we continue to feel angry, if we don't actually allow ourselves to process that emotion of anger, it starts to bleed over into other areas of our lives, and anger,

00:12:08 because it does feel powerful can actually become a buffering mechanism of its own. We become angry as a way to cope with the things that we can't control and the things that we can't change. It certainly feels more powerful than feeling vulnerable. And then this point in the world where so much is uncertain, where the coronavirus continues to change. Many of us are believing we can't get ahead of it where our work schedules are varied because people are gone on an unpredictable basis where we're,

00:12:42 short-staffed where hours are long. The demand is high. We feel very vulnerable to the things that are happening in the world and feeling vulnerable is uncomfortable. Anger. Although also uncomfortable feels more powerful. And so being angry about the situations in the world feels more powerful to us than just accepting those situations and deciding for ourselves what we're going to do next. We don't really even know that's an option.

00:13:13 It seems very justified to be angry about what's happening around us. And we start to use it as a coping mechanism. Like I already said, it becomes the basis of comradery. We actually get together and commiserate about the things that are happening in the world. And if you'll notice in those conversations, pay attention to the body language of the people who are talking,

00:13:36 listen to the tone of their voice, do you suspect they're angry? They probably are. If they talk louder, if they become more tense, if they become more convicted. And what they're saying, there's probably anger underneath there. And that anger may or may not be justified probably is. But what's most important to remember is that the anger itself doesn't do anything to move you individually forward.

00:14:04 So although there are situations where we want to feel angry when children are abused, when people are abused, when animals are abused, or just a few examples. When somebody is killed in a car accident, we want to be angry about that. Of course, we do. It's a very appropriate emotion. We want it to be different than it is, but what's also true is that we can't change what happened.

00:14:27 It's okay to feel angry, but just be careful how long you stay there, especially when it involves other people and how you think that they should be different than they are, whether that be your clients or your coworkers or your governments, anything like that, that we're really feeling should be different than it is. And we are feeling very angry about that.

00:14:48 Us hanging onto that anger doesn't do anything at all to the people that we're angry with. They can't feel your anger. And if we truly want to make changes in our lives, changes in those relationships, changes in our organizations and our institutions and our government then anger. Isn't the emotion that we make those changes from. Instead, we have to take a step back and look at what we actually want to be different.

00:15:16 Let's not focus on it should be different. Let's focus on it should be different in a specific way. Once we identify this specific way, we want something to be different. Now we have the opportunity to try to figure out how to make it so we can start tapping into emotions like determination and motivation and inspiration to help us craft ideas and have conversations that can actually foster change.

00:15:43 Simply reacting from anger, yelling, berating, blaming, complaining. That's not going to change anything. And the only person who suffers when we behave that way is us. When anger becomes our primary coping mechanism and we feel angry all the time, the impact on our individual physiology is real and detrimental. It's not a sustainable way to live. It raises our blood pressure.

00:16:13 It usually interrupts our sleep cycle. It can mess a lot with overall our weight gaining or losing. It causes us to interact with other people in a way that is not true to who we are. It becomes a compound effect. If you've been living in a very angry state, just take a deep breath and realize that, yes, you're probably angry about things that need to be,

00:16:37 you need to be angry about, but it doesn't help you to hang onto the anger, the anger isn't going to help you at all. It's not going to help you actually change any of the things that you're angry about. It's only going to hurt you. And it's going to have you behaving in a way that you're not going to be proud of down the road.

00:16:55 Instead, what's much more powerful is for us to allow ourselves that time to be angry, but to limit how long we stay there, be angry, it's appropriate, but don't let that anger drive your life, allow yourself to experience it. We don't need to avoid it. We don't need to buffer it away, but we also don't need that to drive the bus,

00:17:16 just experience the anger and then intentionally decide that you're going to let go of the anger so that you can move toward the solution. Anger itself won't change anything. And we have to have a more level head and a more stable, emotional state before we get actually take actions that will move us forward and create progress to resolve whatever it is that we're angry about.

00:17:36 If we stay in anger and live from that perspective, it's very difficult to make different choices. It's very difficult to make any kind of real progress. Think about it. You probably don't enjoy interacting with those who are angry. I know I don't. Unfortunately, a lot of the world is angry right now. And I say, unfortunately, because of course we collectively have a lot of things that we can agree would make us angry,

00:18:02 but as long as we stay there, just being mad about it, nothing changes and it becomes harder and harder and harder to communicate. I think this is part of what we've seen that happened over 2021 is that 2020 with the pandemic starting and the stress levels going up and anxiety going up and uncertainty going up and things changing at a rapid pace and never really knowing what was going to happen next as that stacked on for everybody,

00:18:25 the anger came in and because the anger felt way more powerful than being afraid of what was happening in the world. A lot of us held onto that anger and we have continued then to interact with others from that place, hurting ourselves all along the way. It takes courage to let go of the anger, letting go of the anger doesn't mean that you condone whatever you're angry about.

00:18:45 I think this is a very important point to remember. It doesn't mean that you can don't anything at all. It quite honestly just means that you're not willing to let those circumstances take over your life. That you're not willing to let the thing that you're angry about be your primary focus. The things that we're angry about, we often think need to be changed,

00:19:07 but we can't change them until we start to shift our focus towards solution. Keeping our focus on what we are frustrated with. Doesn't create change at all. And together we tend to come into groups and commiserate together and join a bit of a camaraderie around our common issues. The things that we are frustrated and angry about, but unless we shift our collective focus toward solutions,

00:19:34 we won't ever make it different than it is. This is really important for you to keep in mind because living in anger all the time is not useful. You're only going to be hurting yourself in the long run. If you don't learn how to let that go, it's okay to feel angry, but it's not useful to hang on to that anger like a badge of honor,

00:19:56 it does feel more powerful and it has become a coping mechanism for many of us, but it's not useful longterm in helping you move toward where you want to go in the life that you want to build. So coming back to that original question that I asked, "Is anger, a lower brain emotion?" The answer is absolutely no. If anything, it's a higher brain emotion.

00:20:16 It's an emotion that comes from higher brain thinking because we're thinking about how we think something should be different than it is now. Of course, the lower brain offers us those thoughts as well, but it usually shows up in this kind of emotion of fear. Instead, you shouldn't go out there or you're going to be eaten by a lion that's lower brain thinking higher brain thinking is taking a look at a situation and seeing that there's something unjust in what's happening and feeling angry because of that gap between how we think it should be in the way that it is,

00:20:48 the truth is that what's happening in the world and those circumstances, they are all just neutral until we have thoughts about them. And it's okay for us to have thoughts that create the emotion of anger. But if we ever want to be able to create any true effect of change, we have to tap into an emotion other than anger, because anger is never going to drive the actions that we need to take to foster a real change in anything in our lives.

00:21:15 Anger will keep us stuck. Anger will keep us living. Small anger will have us believe that we are victims and we have no choices. And that is never true. We always have choices, but when anger is driving everything that we do day in and day out, it's really hard to see our choices and our options through that anger, the filter of anger is very dark and it really does continue to compound on itself if it's not addressed.

00:21:47 And when I say addressed, I really mean processed, allowed to be what it is. One of the things that make anger actually amplify is simply our resistance of all, all of it. So when we can quickly recognize that we're angry and then from there quickly out, ask ourselves, why am I angry? We'll be able to quickly identify I'm angry because I think X should be different than it is.

00:22:09 So this X thing should be Y instead that's going to fit in pretty much to every time you feel angry, you're gonna be able to tap into something that you think should be different than it actually is. The fact of the moment that you're in though, is that it is what it is. And I don't say that to be cliche at all. It's just the circumstances,

00:22:29 the factual framework, it's, what's neutral and true today. It is what it is. And if we want it to be different, we have to tap into something other than being angry in order to change it in order to do that, we have to be able to see our choices exist instead of sliding into victimization, which is just going to keep looping those thoughts about how unjust,

00:22:50 whatever the situation is. We do have choices. Anger is not a negative emotion. Happiness isn't a positive emotion. Eemotions really aren't either negative or positive. They're just more comfortable or uncomfortable. And unfortunately, we've become very comfortable with the way that anger feels. It's familiar. It's readily available to most of us quite directly, you know, at the drop of a thought,

00:23:16 because that's where it comes from, but it doesn't serve us in the long run. And that's the take-home message here. Much like fear where we often believe we have to solve for fear before we can move forward, that we can only take action when we're not feeling afraid, which is total nonsense. Everything big that we do in our lives, we're going to feel afraid simultaneously.

00:23:37 We just learn how to generate a different thought process to create a simultaneously different emotion. And we take action from that. So think back to when you first started your professional education, you were probably scared going into your first day, but along with feeling fear, you were also feeling probably excitement or motivation or anticipation or determination, something along those lines that had you get in your car and go to your school and get out of your car and go into class.

00:24:06 Even though you felt afraid there was some other emotion that was driving. Those actions that moved you forward. Anger is very similar. We can recognize the anger and not have to solve what we believe is causing it before we can tap into a different emotion to move us forward. This is really important with anger, because most of the time his anger is created because of that gap between what is happening and what we think should be happening.

00:24:29 And those things aren't typically something we can change in an instant. We can use the anger as an indicator that there's something that we think needs to change. And that's, I think the most powerful way to use anger quickly recognize when you're angry and then ask yourself why, as soon as you ask yourself, why you can then ask yourself a follow-up question,

00:24:50 is this something that I can change? If it's not something that you can change, then it's absolutely a complete waste of your emotional energy to stay angry about it. There's nothing positive for you. That's going to come out of anger and you're not going to facilitate change for anybody else from anger. Either your anger isn't felt by anybody, but you now,

00:25:09 if there is something that you can change, you want to shift that focus into what's my next step. How can I change this? That kind of thinking is not going to generate more anger for you. That kind of thinking is going to generate emotions like determination or motivation or inspiration from those emotions. You can actually facilitate change. You can have a conversation.

00:25:32 You can make a recommendation. You can make a decision. Anger is going to Rob you from your ability to do all of that. And it already is. So the best gift you can give to yourself when you feel like anger is taking over your life or taking over any given situation is to just take a deep breath, to allow yourself that mercy and love and compassion.

00:25:53 To know that, yeah, right now there's something that I believe that should be different than it is, but it also is what it is. And me hanging onto my anger about it. Isn't going to change it. And it's only going to make my experience of it worse. You're the only one who can create your emotional experience. You're the only one who can change it.

00:26:12 And so I believe as we together really start to embrace the idea that anger is an indicator, but not ever, if the driver of solutions, we can then take more emotional ownership of our own experiences. From there, we take control intentionally of what we're thinking about so that we can then generate emotions to interact with the world in a way that we are proud of that actually moves everybody forward.

00:26:42 Compassion and understanding are always going to make more powerful impact than anger. The choices that you make from those states of compassion and understanding, and even determination are going to be more impactful than any behaviors you're going to display when you're feeling angry. And the reason that I share any of this with you is just to show you how powerful that you are. That anger is an absolutely normal human emotion,

00:27:13 but many of us tap into it as a coping mechanism to override stress and vulnerability. If we can instead start using it just as an indicator that we need to be more curious about what we're really feeling to use it as an indicator that we were probably covering up something that we might actually have some choice in that puts us back in the driver's seat of our own lives.

00:27:35 And when we can start to intentionally interact with the situations we come up against, we then gain control over what happens next for us, from there, anything as possible. All right, my friends, that's going to wrap it up for this week. I'll see you next time.