“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
– Winston Churchill, politician
“Her concern for her “babies” was paramount.”
Vivan was a slightly plump 35 year old who loved animals, especially cats. Vivan had worked at an animal shelter for several years and loved the role she had as ‘care custodian’. She had been married to Victor, a local architect, for 10 years.
Vivian pointed out, while they had no children, they did have two cats (Snowball and Velvet) and two dogs (Bert and Ernie), which gave them ‘special spirits’ to love, and whose care, kept them quite busy.
She told me what had got her to book a consult were two things which were connected. The first was Victor’s suggestion she needed to address her anger outbursts with a professional. The second was Victor also thought her angering was stressing out their four ‘babies.’
This was the clincher for Vivan. Her concern for her “babies” was paramount. She called me right away.
“…can I offer you, the Seven Anger Essentials everyone needs to know?”
I asked her to describe one of her anger outbursts in detail…how it happened, when, where, and who witnessed it?
Vivan described a recent incident in her kitchen which Victor observed while having his morning coffee. It was early in the morning and she was so upset at one of her cats, Velvet, that she threw her pet’s food dish at her because she would not eat the new food Vivan had recently gotten for her.
She added at the end of her soliloquy,
“Ken, I was so upset at myself, I felt so guilty…I was disoriented all day and hardly slept that night.”
I said to her,
“Vivan, can I offer you, the Seven Anger Essentials everyone needs to know?”
“If you think it will help…sure!” she replied, caution in her tone.
“Well, if nothing else, it may help you decide if I can assist you…because these are the foundation for how I would approach our work together. Still game?” I asked.
She paused briefly before replying, “Sure, go ahead, Ken.”
“Are you saying my anger is about my values and my past…?”
“First, it is important to remember, all feelings are OK. It is how we choose to express them that can be problematic. And the second essential is, managing our emotions is a vital life skill everyone needs to acquire as soon as possible.”
“Those two seem pretty straight forward.”
“Third, we create our good and bad feelings based on our highest values which have come from our past experiences. When our values are being supported, we create good feelings. But, when our values are being challenged, we create bad feelings.”
“Are you saying my anger is about my values and my past, Ken?”
“That would be my best guess. We will find out if you are willing to do the work involved.” I offered.
“… what we are doing and thinking create our feelings, so that if we change one or both…”
“The fourth essential is, expressing anger at people and events outside us can be a safer target for our feelings than directing it inside us where all our choices were made.”
“Are you suggesting I’m angry at myself and Velvet is just a cover for it?”
“Again, if you do the work, we can find out, Vivan.”
“What are the rest, Ken?”
“Number five, is that what we are doing and thinking create our feelings, so that if we change one or both, it impacts how we feel and also the physiology of our body.”
“You mean I can control my feelings with what I think and do?”
“You sure can! It is what athletes are practicing and coaches are trying to foster in all sports.”
“That sounds useful to me…actually to anyone!” she responded, a lift in her voice and eyes.
“…we can’t run from ourselves anymore than we can run from the wind.”
“The six essential is, like your values and the feelings they generate, anger is a learning tool for your survival and evolution. So, your feelings are important opportunities to grow.”
“You are telling me my anger outbursts are an opportunity…are you serious, Ken?”
“Vivan, I’m very serious. And lastly, seven is you have a choice of whether to learn from this opportunity or try to avoid it. Many people run from their anger while trying to ignore it.
“I haven’t been able to so far. Why can’t I just let it go and move on?”
Because, we can’t run from ourselves anymore than we can run from the wind. The wind is all around us as is our memories.”
“Do you mean I can’t escape my anger, I can only learn to understand its source and figure out how to deal with it…how to learn from it?” she said questioningly.
“That’s right! Do you want to do that, Vivan?”
“…so you will attract, and be attracted to, one or more of four kinds of events…”
“What happens if I continue to try to avoid it, Ken?”
“Vivan, let’s stand back and take a bird’s eye view. Research now suggests the universal laws of our natural systems are in excess of 30 billion years old.”
“That sounds like before The Big Bang I read about.”
“It is, Vivan. And, these laws have prevailed and keep this universe operating efficiently. They apply to all things including our species and so are intended to optimize our survival. So too with our anger.”
“But, that doesn’t tell me what happens if I avoid dealing with my anger outbursts…what will happen instead?” she said.
“Natural laws strive to enhance your survival, so you will attract, and be attracted to, one or more of four kinds of events: additional new sources for your anger; distracting lower priorities; events that humble you or even tragedies.”
“…I really cannot avoid my anger, I can only delay facing it …”
“What are they supposed to do, Ken?”
“Their job is to create more pain in your life which motivates you to learn what you need for your survival!” I replied.
“So, I really cannot avoid my anger, I can only delay facing it…is that what you mean?”
“Yes, Vivan! What would you like to do?”
“I think I need to deal with it now, otherwise I could jeopardize a lot of important relationships with people and pets. How do we begin,Ken?”
“We will start by identifying your highest values and then uncover the value of your anger. Are you ready to begin now?”
“Yes I am!”
“OK! Let’s begin!”
“…she wanted ‘a human baby’ now.”
Vivan did the work and uncovered the source of her anger. Apparently when she married Victor she was not interested in children of her own and Victor was of the same perspective. But her brother had a baby last year and now she was an attentive aunt.
And, she wanted children of her own and hadn’t shared this with Victor. She was afraid to do so, fearing he would not be receptive. The stress from her frustration with herself and worry about how Victor might respond, were being demonstrated in her anger outbursts.
It was safer for her future relationship with Victor to express her confusion at Velvet. At one point she expressed it this way…she wanted ‘a human baby’ now. This realization enabled her to work out what she was going to do to reconcile her value in having a baby with her initial disinterest in doing so. She and Victor worked it out… together.
“Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”
– Ann Landers, journalist