Are You Being Angry or In a Rage?

Chuck Lorre produced a TV show called Dharma and Greg. I video taped (remember VCR’s?) the first episode. At the end of the show, I saw a blip on the screen and wondered what kind of subliminal message was just zapped into my brain. Freeze framing the blip, I saw Chuck’s first “Vanity Card.” The opening line hooked me forever: “Thank you for videotaping “Dharma & Greg” and freeze-framing on my vanity card.” You can read all his cards at www.chucklorre.com. Here is one of those cards.

CHUCK LORRE PRODUCTIONS, #77 Once again, I’m sitting in an impossibly bad mood. This one’s gone beyond the normal mental stew of fear, depression and resentment, and has morphed into a nasty physical sensation encompassing my entire body. The reason for the mood is almost besides the point. To the best of my knowledge, I have no power to change the conditions which brought it about. Which leaves me where? Well, as far as I can tell, it leaves me with nothing but these ugly feelings, a desire to be free of them, and the knowledge that I have never been able to lift myself out of my emotional state through the force of my will (the force of bourbon, sure — but the force of my will, never). The only thing I have even the vaguest control over is my attitude which preceded the precipitating, bad mood-causing event. That attitude could best be described as a fiercely held conviction that people are supposed to behave in a Chuck-approved manner. When they don’t, Chuck immediately becomes the organic repository for the aforementioned bad mood. Now one might deduce that my only escape from these foul states of mind is to discard my fiercely held conviction. But to do that, I’d have to lovingly accept a world that infrequently lives up to my expectations. In other words, I’d have to be somewhat God-like (assuming an all-forgiving God). Which means that in vanity card #78 I’ll have to start working on a plan ‘B’.

I hope I haven’t violated any copyright laws, but if that’s what it takes to one day meet Chuck, so be it. I’m only one degree of separation from him. We’ve both attended Fred Shoemaker’s Extraordinary Golf School. I want to thank Chuck for writing what I think is the emotional unified field theory explaining rage and anxiety. Chuck, you’re right. If I’m even slightly irritated or completely outraged, it’s because the world is not operating in an Eddie approved manner. It’s that simple. This idea helps me enormously. Much of the time, I can just step back from my fuming and see that others are entitled to their way of seeing the world. I figure the guy who cuts me off in traffic really has to pee.

Chuck’s theory also explains anxiety. It works like this. I believe a lot of different parts inhabit each of us. Some of them make up the ongoing committee meeting in our head. Those parts are the conscious ones who decide to show up so they can nag, argue and just plain annoy. Just like some companies and governments, there are a number of unconscious parts who really run things and the conscious parts are just trying to explain our strange behavior. Maybe more on that later. Read Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman.

One of the most conscious parts sits in constant judgment. Mostly it’s berating what you do or don’t do. As I write this, one of those parts is asking me, “Why haven’t you worked out already? You’ve got to get going so you can eat on time and don’t forget to go to the recycling center. Hurry up! You can write this later,” all in a condescending tone. I call him the production manager.

The PM commands other parts to act. They in turn react as if there are only two choices, comply or rebel. When they do their best to comply, it’s never enough. The PM is never satisfied. So after listening to the constant nagging, they act like they don’t care, but can’t completely ignore the production manager. So they feel anxious and worried about the next barrage of insults and a lengthening to do list. To some degree, those parts live under a constant threat. So most of the anxiety we experience is self-induced. The “terrorists” in our heads do more damage than any outside threat. It’s nerve racking for that nagging part to see so much undone. It’s equally irritating to be forced to listen to that urgent, harassing voice. Not only is escaping from this pattern difficult, most of us see it as normal and know no other way.

What’s so awful here is the insane beliefs that if enough gets done or if everyone complies, I, the PM, can finally relax. It’s never happened. Insanity is the belief that if you do something that doesn’t work over and over, it will finally work. What needs to happen to break this cycle is something completely different from comply or rebel.

So much of the work with myself and my clients is helping these parts “get along.” I do what I can to help the parts learn kindness and compassion for each other (our selves), by becoming more accepting, tolerant and curious about differing views. The parts are different simply because they see the world differently. The same approach to getting along works when applied to couples, families, organizations and nations.

Let’s get back to getting mad when the world doesn’t operate in someone’s approved manner. To understand anger, you must also understand rage. I see them as two very different emotions. I’ve built on the writing of Michael Lewis in a 1991 article I can no longer find, to formulate my ideas. I’ve found this concept to be one of the most important ones in my work as a psychotherapist. Here’s a quick overview for you. Feel free to contact me if you’d like further explanation.

Anger is, in my view, actually a hopeful, helpful emotion that expresses the healthy use of power. Anger is constructive. Rage is a reaction to feeling hopeless, helpless and powerless. Rage is destructive. Rage can be expressed as loudly as flying aircraft into buildings or as subtly as rolling one’s eyes. At any degree, rage creates distance and destroys relationships. Rage says, “I feel hopeless that anything will change and I’ll go on feeling bad, miserable, being mistreated, etc. I feel helpless to change anything. I don’t believe I have the power, ability, knowledge or resources to change anything. My only option is to destroy what I believe is causing me to feel this way. When it’s destroyed, I’ll feel better.”

Anger is hopeful in that it says, “I want things to be different. I believe they can be, I believe I have the ability to implement the changes and I feel hopeful the changes will occur.” Expressing anger can be loud or soft, but it’s never destructive. Even if one is angry and yells loudly, “I don’t like what you’re doing,” there isn’t a tone of shame or destruction.

Anger is not displaced, rage is. Anger focuses on the actual case, rage is generalized. So for instance if someone is angry, the conversation stays on one incident or behavior. Someone who is angry might say, “It’s so irritating when you leave your clothes on the floor.” Raging would be, “You’re such a slob. You never clean anything and I have to do everything around here.” Raging often invokes all or nothing language such as never and always.

Anger results in an improvement in relationships, a gain in personal power and increased intimacy. I believe sharing anger in a healthy way produces as much intimacy as any emotion can. If someone is angry with you and the two of you share it well, you’ll have the experience that the other will not leave because he or she is mad at you. That is very healing for any fears of abandonment. If you’re not so afraid of anger ending a relationship, you feel more freedom to be yourself.

Another way to frame this is that most codependent behavior is fueled by the fear of someone being angry and leaving. It’s common for someone to not speak their truth saying to themselves, “But I don’t want to hurt their feelings.” I think that really means, “I don’t want to say something that may hurt someone’s feelings, make them mad and cause them to not like me and then leave.”

Rage damages relationships by decreasing the sense of personal power and increasing shame after the rage subsides and the feeling of powerlessness returns. Rage happens in a cycle. When someone attempts to make changes that don’t happen, they feel powerless, helpless and hopeless. That triggers rage which destroys relationships that brings on shame. The feeling of shame triggers the desire to make things different and the cycle repeats, creating more distance and isolation. An easy way to tell the difference between anger and rage comes from colleague Dee Wagner. She says if you can follow anything you do, think or say with, “You stupid idiot you,” then it’s rage.

Given all this, I believe feeling and expressing anger is extremely beneficial, if not absolutely necessary to physical and emotional health. Learning to be angry is actually an antidote for rage. So “anger management” seems to be the wrong phrase. “Anger expression would be a better class to take. If your desire for change brings on anger and the anger results in change for the better, then you develop a sense of your own power to influence. That creates intimacy and hope for an emotionally healthier future.

I believe it’s helpful to make the distinction between anger and rage. Without it, it’s too easily assumed that one should not be “angry.” When that assumption is made, it’s too easy to suppress true anger and “try to be nice.” The ensuing feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness and helplessness then create resentment that leads to reacting with rage. I’ve spent some twenty plus years studying and using this concept and would be happy to share more about how it can help you in your life. I think if we could all express our anger instead of our rage, we’d live in a more peaceful world.

So Chuck, if you come across this, give me a call.

The Danger of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a romantic holiday. Quite often, it’s the day couples break up. A large percentage of break-ups happen on holidays, birthdays, any number of special days for a couple. Here’s why I think that happens.

To begin with, most couples struggle with being completely honest with themselves and each other about what bothers them. Haven’t we all said to ourselves things like, “It’s not that big of a deal. Nobody’s perfect. I don’t want to say anything and hurt their feelings. I’ll wait until (the special occasion) is over with before I talk about this. I’d hate to ruin the day – or night – or holiday.” You get the idea.

So in other words, we think we can avoid trouble by not talking about what’s irritating us. In general, anytime we try to avoid trouble emotionally, we cause more trouble. The things we don’t talk about build anger, resentment and apathy and we don’t want to share that either. Now there are the irritations plus the the feelings caused by not sharing those irritations.

So the pressure builds. More rationalizations occur to put off talking and finally a part of us can’t stand it anymore. And to add to the problem, we don’t want to talk about all the mess for very long so we bring it up at the worst possible time and usually in the worst possible way. Think Bill Clinton here. 🙂

This putting off difficult conversations and not giving them much time happens a good bit. Saying something about a tense situation just as your partner is leaving for work, or about to go to sleep, or just before they are fully awake is like a hit and run, except the person who gets hurt knows where you live.

The one seasonal spike in my business is in January. Folks have finally had enough after the holiday season. They can’t be nice one more day and want to make changes.

So the takeaway here is do all you can to say what needs to be said when you first notice yourself not liking something about your partner or the relationship. Don’t let the “little things” turn into big things. Actually, in a relationship, anything that continues to bother you is a big thing. 

And don’t forget to say the nice things too like I love you and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Pre-nuptuials

This from the Huffington Post and my comments.

Prenuptial Agreements Are on the Rise, And More Women Are Requesting Them

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/22/prenups-_n_4145551.html?utm_hp_ref=divorce&ir=Divorce

As a couples counselor, the issue of pre-nuptial agreements is common. The discussion is usually about whether or not to have one. I have a different slant on the idea of pre-nups. Marrying is adding a legal contract to a relationship. The question isn’t does a couple want a pre-nup. The question is who do you want to write it? Couples really don’t have a choice.

When you marry, you agree to a pre-nup written by the state. If it’s a good idea to read any legal contract before you sign, it’s a good idea to read the one the state offers regarding your marriage and possible divorce. I suggest creating a pre-nup to examine underlying belief systems the couple has about what their marriage will be and to make conscious decisions about divorce based on the personalities of the people involved and not state laws.

If a couple is already married, I often suggest a post-nuptial agreement since circumstances have changed. Again, it’s a good way to more deeply explore the couple’s values, work through differences and if done well, leave each partner feeling more secure.

In my experience, couples who have satisfying relationships have worked out arrangements that differ form the storybook idea of a marriage. Discussing a pre or post-nup is a great way to further create the kind of relationship that feels safe and loving to both parties.

Quoteable Eddie

 

I love quotes. I hope I’ll be remembered for one of the following. (as best as I can tell, I made these up)

 Nothing is more profound than realizing the obvious.

The better you get, the harder it is to get better.

Fate is simply seizing an opportunity. Wisdom is knowing which opportunity to seize.

Self awareness is not always easy, especially when we don’t like what we’re looking at. But to not look inward, is to see what we don’t like everywhere else.

Success will come from a succession of failures.

To say “unconditional love” is to be redundant.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. It’s remembering differently.

The universe doesn’t believe what you say you want. It only believes what you do to get what you want.

Whatever you emotionally dis-member, you must re-member.

Ambition should come from the joy of today instead of running from the sorrow of yesterday.

The primary goal of therapy is not emotional expression. The primary goal is to create a safe relationship for the expression of emotion. The expression is a by product of meeting that goal.

Stress is the result of trying too hard.

It may not take more effort to get what you want. It might take the proper amount of effort (which could be less) at the right time.

Time doesn’t pass quickly, we do.

Silence is an invitation to the unconscious.

Happiness is over rated as a goal in life. A more noble quest is the full expression of all your feelings.

Time doesn’t heal wounds, grieving does.

Attempting to avoid pain is painful.

Relationships are conditional. Love is not.

Romanticism is a quest, love a destination.

What Is Love?

Logo-newWhat Is Love?

Today’s word is love. A lot of conflict happens because people have different definitions to this simple word. Most of the time, I think those definitions are wrong. So what is love? After all the poetry, music, books and movies on the subject, you’d think we’d have this one down by now. Here’s some ideas of what I think love is.

Love is like my garden. When I look at it, spend time out there, I have a number of feelings and behaviors. I admire it, I praise it, I share peaceful moments with it. Those satisfying feelings are not love. Love is not a feeling. So if it’s not a feeling, what is it?

To know what love is, let’s first turn to what it’s not. In my consulting room, one of the most common definitions of love is admiration. When people fall in love, they form a mutual admiration club. That’s not love. Neither is the lust they feel. Falling in love should be called falling in lust. You only lust for people you want to have sex with, so it’s about sex, not love. Falling in love happens to us. True love is a choice.

Love isn’t that warm, mushy feeling you have with loved ones. It’s not any feeling at all. The feelings we have with those we love are the results of love. Some results of love aren’t good feelings at all. It’s not unusual for love to produce unwanted feelings. Now I’m not talking about jealousy or hatred. Those don’t come from love. I’m talking about unwanted feelings like grief because we loved so well.

Love isn’t what “love songs” tell us it is. “I can’t live without you” is not love. If you can’t live without something, you’re a parasite. So when you “fall in love,” and have all those sexual feelings and are afraid you’ll die if the other leaves, you become a sexual parasite. It’s fun, but it’s not love.

Love is action. Finally getting back to my garden, love is the planning, buying, planting, watering and weeding. It’s work. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I don’t, but it’s still love. Love is a choice. I choose to work in the garden. Out of my choice, comes all the feelings that are the results of my love. Love is really a verb.

I’m sure you know what a verb is so let’s get back to love. The work of loving someone is listening and being there for them. It’s choosing to do what is necessary for the other. It involves sacrifice, but not the kind that creates an obligation or turns you into someone you’re not. With true love, you’d never hear, “After all I’ve done for you, you treat me like this.” Love is a gift. When you give a gift, there are no expectations for a return on your investment.

Here’s a twist on the conventional wisdom that love is unconditional. I don’t think it’s unconditional at all. Since love is a choice, there must be qualifications. I can’t love everybody. I don’t even know everybody and if love is action, I don’t have the time to love 6 billion people. I think we choose whom we love and it’s best if it’s an ongoing decision making process. People change, conditions change and our choices about love change.

Since love is a choice, there are varying degrees of love. Add that to the idea of love being an ongoing process of choosing, then love can be fleeting. It only exists in the moment. Given that love is a verb, there has to be action. To believe you love someone doesn’t mean anything unless there is action directed at the betterment of the other and love only exists in the moment of action. The rest is the results of love, the feelings one has afterwards.

Our involvement with others can consist of admiration, playfulness, sharing of experiences, but it’s not love unless there is a choice and the conditions of a choice to love are met. In other words, people have to behave in our approved manner in order to be loved by us.

Let’s follow a Typical Romantic Relationship. Two people fall in love. Lots of lust, parasitic feelings and an overwhelming desire to declare ownership over the beloved. Under the influence of lust, which is a form of accepted insanity, a life changing decision is made to commit to love the other forever. So in other words, each declare they will always choose to love the other, regardless of any changes that happen.

To begin with, you’d need supernatural powers to love someone after you’re dead, so forever is stretching it a bit. But, insanity will do that to a thought process. You can’t own someone unless they’re a slave, but our culture teaches us we have ownership over others. It’s in the very nature of our language. “My significant other.” The word my is used as a prefix to define most of our relationships. My friend, my brother, my attorney. We don’t own these people, but we speak as if we do. I don’t think this is a good idea to speak as if we own folks, but our cultural infrastructure, “the water we swim in,” doesn’t leave us much choice.

So our two love birds commit to love each other no matter what. Then all sorts of obstacles appear. There’s work, play, friends, family, other loves, other choices that compete with our beloved. Obligation appears. The choice to love “no matter what,” a choice that was made in the past, isn’t reexamined against new criteria and new choices. A choice to love isn’t as easy to make now, and an obligation to love forms. In many instances, I believe that obligation over takes a desire to love and the acts of love diminish. The action of love only happens in the moment of choosing and the choice is conditional and has to be made freely, not under the feeling of an obligation.

So our couple does their best to live up to the commitment without taking the time to decide if they really want to. Now I know what you’re thinking. To buy my idea here, you think that people will then just love for the moment and then end the relationship when the ability to choose to love the other is too difficult. You’d rather there be a commitment that lasts forever. I don’t think that’s necessary. I actually think that kind of forever commitment often works against having a lasting, loving relationship. I think love only happens as the choice is made in an ongoing fashion. To attempt to live up to a commitment made weeks, months or years ago, when people and circumstances were different is to create obligation and I rarely see anyone happy to be obligated or feel chosen out of obligation. The feeling of obligation diminishes desire. So what to do?

My intention is not to be pessimistic about love. I’m quite the romantic. My desire is to change the infrastructure to incorporate a love built on realistic terms. The love I’m describing is much more satisfying than being in a relationship because of a feeling of obligation. I want to know my partner and actively choose her in the moment. Only then will I feel truly loved and that I’m truly loving. I’ll also need to let go of my expectations that I’ll be loved in the next moment which adds to the sense of obligation. A conditional love based on choice is a love that can grow and change as people and conditions change. An unconditional love based on duty and the desire to be rid of fear, is destined to wither and die.

A few more words about ownership. To own is to have dominion over. Dominion is territorial. It connotes power and authority over. When you own, you have a sense of control over, a say so about the other’s actions and beliefs. Not too many people want to be owned, but most want to own. There are countless “normal” beliefs and actions in romantic relationships that stem from the sense of ownership.

I hear it on the golf course all the time. “I can’t play next week, my wife wants me to…” That’s always said with the tone of a hopelessness and resentment, as in “I’ll never be able to be the person I want to be.”  Those resentments, no matter how small, the feelings that we can’t be who we are or do what we want, build up over time and cause friction in romantic relationships.

I know what some of you are thinking. “We’ll if I let the other do whatever they want, (pick one or more) I’ll never see them – We’ll never have any time together – Nothing will get done around the house, he’ll never come home from work, she’ll spend all the money on clothes.” This is a list that could go on forever and one of the threads that would run through each choice is an all or nothing belief punctuated by the words like never, always, none. When you find an all or nothing belief connected to a fear, there is usually an unhealed, emotional wound.

From that wound, or maybe from all those wounds, comes the destructive desire to own and all that ownership means. The underlying belief is that the other should never hurt me. And in order to keep them from hurting me, I have to control what they do and how they do it. This is also known as codependency.

So what happens to our couple? They’ll enter a power struggle, that may last their entire lives. They may tire of that struggle and live “lives of quiet desperation” as roommates. Or they can face the issues that stem from ownership, lust and unrealized dreams – in my way of thinking, go to therapy.

So next time you tell someone you’ll love them forever, know it’s wishful thinking and enjoy the moment. Wishing you the best in your relationships!

I’m a blogger!

I’m very excited about starting a blog. I have a lot to say, though right now, I can’t think of much. Such is my struggle with writing. I have countless moments while talking or thinking about something and realize it’d be a great idea for a blog post. When it comes time to write, there are so many things that need to be done, like taking the pile of Bed Bath & Beyond coupons to the store. Did you know they’ll let you redeem your coupons months after you bought something? The coupon has an expiration date, but they really don’t expire. With knowledge like this, can’t you see why I’d have to put off writing this for at least another day?

I’ve been thinking it was time to write something for weeks – well really since I was about 12. The best part of wanting to write something is my home/office gets really clean and organized. This time, I put away all the stuff piled in the living room chair. There was a magazine I’d planted there when I returned from a trip last July. It sat there reminding me of something I wanted to write. Still haven’t written it. There are reminders of tasks to be done everywhere. Little piles that call out to me. Aging emails, discolored scraps of paper, and the leaves in my garden, all ask for my time and attention.

The compulsive part of me really believes I can get it all done. That nagging voice is sure my day of rest will come when the to-do list is complete. “Just one more thing,” the voice tells me. “Okay.” Ten more things later and I’m worn out. I call this part of me the production manager. His life’s work is efficiency and production. He believes my life will only be measured by what I accomplished. His tombstone would read, “He did a lot.”

When slots on the to-do list are emptied, the production manager refills them with responsibilities I didn’t even know about or had forgotten. Eventually I get to the important projects, like writing. In this realm, there are two kinds of important desires, the ones I do and the ones that haunt me. It’s easy to see clients, play golf, make love. It’s more of a struggle with the unanswered passions. It takes great effort most of the time to write, play music and find ways to express the parts of me who live under the weight of that to-do list.

The planet keeps moving, days pass, I get older, and opportunities slip away. Important desires lay in waiting. Projects left undone. Phone calls never made. Trips not taken. Books unread. Movies not watched. Hugs that didn’t happen. Impatient parts of me miss being fully alive while I live my day-to-day life. I’ll die with things not finished. If only I could get this pile of paper on my desk taken care of.

So what to do? The best I can, I guess. I won’t ever be a pro athlete. I’m not going to make a living as an actor. Singer/songwriter? No. That’s gone too. My trip to the urologist made sure I won’t be a dad. The dreams that never happened are as daunting to grieve as the dreams that came true and are gone. I’ve come to learn, that without goodbyes, or good grieving, I won’t have fresh hellos. Saying goodbye helps me move on and be more of who I already am and all I can become. I am an excellent therapist, a good companion, a man of growing wisdom. Maybe one day, a writer.

The Water We Swim In – The Pursuit of Life, Love and a Peaceful Existence

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