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.