Introspective Guides: How Anger Can Serve Us – Episode 82

Introspective Guides: How Anger Can Serve Us - Episode 82Most of us view anger and resistant emotions as something that we want to avoid. The idea of being with our anger and having a relationship with it is not something we have normally been taught. Robert presents an alternative for caring for ourselves while we are challenged in this way. These steps are a guide to setting up the ideal conditions for us to be fulfilled in our individual lives and to contribute to the world by living in a proactive constructive way, rather than be weakened by being reactive. The podcast begins by outlining this seven-step process. The first step always starts with being aware that we are angry or resistant in whatever way is most frequent in our lives. If we do not have a witness or an observer that tells us we are feeling impatient, annoyed, or irritated, most of us will go on autopilot, which dooms us to have more extensive conflict in our lives and not be able to get in a direction that can serve us. There is dignity in acknowledging our anger instead of running away from it. To avoid anger is to avoid your needs. Acting out anger is also to thwart your needs. Wanting to care for yourself in these moments is an evolutionary step and will allow us to perceive what needs we are wanting to support rather than fighting with what we were against. 

Through Roberts’s 40 years of counseling, using The Introspective Guides has been the simplest way for his clients to organize and understand how they can move forward when they are in an emotional state. Anger is the most volatile emotion that we have. Robert will use a case study to highlight how this all works. However, the most important person in this story is you.  Use your own situation where you have anger or other resistant emotions like frustration, impatience, agitation, or righteousness to begin to track these seven steps on your journey moving toward your needs, rather than resist what you don’t like.

Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides

Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. For an exact quote or comment, please contact us.


Announcer (00:00):

Awareness That Heals, Episode 82.

Robert Strock (00:03):

If we don’t have a witness, or an observer that says, “Ah, I’m impatient; Ah, I’m irritated, annoyed,” and we just go on automatic pilot, which is what most of us do, then we’re kind of doomed to have conflict in our lives and not be able to get to a direction that can serve our lives.

Announcer (00:25):

The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock, has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book “Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges,” to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw. Together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.

Robert Strock (01:06):

A very warm welcome again to Awareness That Heals, where we focus on bringing our heart and our wisdom to our life challenges. Now, when I say that, I realize that this is a very unusual thing when we have a life challenge. Most of us don’t even really think about “How can I support myself when I’m here?” We, we just want to get out of it. We wanna get free of it. So this is really presenting a different strategy of caring for ourselves while we are challenged and we start again and again with being aware of what is most difficult for us. And as I was sharing with respect, and these difficulties are universal for all of us, whether we recognize them or not. And we’re focusing on how we can really care for ourselves at these very crucial times. And this sets up the ideal conditions for us to be fulfilled in our individual lives and to contribute to the world by finding and living from our best and most integrated selves.

Today we’re gonna be focusing on The Introspective Guides again, as they are the simplest ways that I know of to start the path toward integrating what challenges us individually and collectively, and then move from there to focus on the essential thoughts, qualities, actions and needs that will support both us and those around us. We’re gonna look at how to use these guides and other tools to take great care of ourselves and those around us. And today we’re gonna focus on dealing with our anger and our resistant emotions. Before I start, I’d like to introduce Dave, my dearest friend for 50 years, and my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.

Dave (03:12):

Robert, thank you as always. It’s important and good to be here. The subjects we’re talking about are just daily events in my life to look at The Guides, and to to help them help me move through the various feelings that happen through the day that are challenging. So, as always, I look forward to it.

Robert Strock (03:36):

So anger and resistant emotions is almost like death and and denial that most of us view anger and resistant emotions as like COOs as something that we wanna avoid, we wanna get out of or we wanna dump one or the other. But the idea of being with our anger and having a relationship with our anger, having a conversation with our anger is what we’re gonna be getting into. And so outlining a seven step process is where I’d like to start. And it always starts with being aware that we are angry or we have a resistant emotion. And by resistant emotion, I mean emotions like intolerance, impatience, rage, anything that has a feeling of being against something, irritability, contraction. And when we’re there having an awareness, we don’t have an awareness that we’re there. We have no chance to move in a direction that’s gonna create benefit for our life.

Don’t miss that statement. If we don’t have a witness or an observer that says, “Ah, I’m impatient. Ah, I’m irritated, annoyed,” and we just go on automatic pilot, which is what most of us do, then we’re kind of doomed to have conflict in our lives and not be able to get to a direction that can serve our lives. So awareness is not a token first step. I frequently add to the awareness like a mini congratulations that you’re aware of your anger or resistant emotions. It’s not just a a fleeting thing, it’s gonna allow you to move forward. And you might think, Oh, I’m aware of my anger. But when I’m talking about awareness, I mean a stable awareness. I don’t mean just a fleeting thought, Oh, I know I’m angry but I’m still gonna dump it anyway or I’m gonna run away from it anyway.

Not that kind of awareness. An awareness that is setting you up to deal with it and to be with it. It has dignity to be aware of our anger. And then the second step is having that intention or wish to care for ourselves or to move into a direction toward healing, which means I’m angry. And you know what, if I just act this out or run away from it, it’s not gonna work out well for me. If I’m avoiding the conflict, I’m gonna be avoiding my needs. If I’m acting out my conflict, I’m gonna be thwarting my needs. So I want to care for myself. This is an evolutionary step. This is kind of Einsteinian in the sense that it’s going to a different level of intention inside ourselves, where we wanna care for ourselves, rather than just anger—do whatever we’ve been conditioned to have it do.

So we have anger, a step one. Intention to care or intention to heal, a step two. Step three is what I’m calling containment, and that means that we allow ourselves to feel it fully inside ourselves or away from the situation. But we don’t act it out overtly in the scene because we can see in our lives that that almost never works out; 99% of the time it just creates a conflict. And in that containment phase we’re looking for where might I also have some vulnerable feelings that are almost invariably underneath the anger like fear or sadness or helplessness. And we also in the containment phase, look for what it is in kind of a fleeting way. Wonder what I needed that made me so angry in the first place. We sort of have that as a a quick fleeting thought, but the most important piece that’s misunderstood with containment is that we are encouraging ourselves to feel that anger so fully cuz anger is good energy when we don’t act it out and we don’t suppress it. It’s vitality.

It’s good to be able to feel anger inside ourselves and not run away from it or not act it out. And then the fourth step or level is being able to capitalize on what we were fleetingly looking at and seeing what vulnerable feelings we might also have in each situation. Like the fear, like the sadness, like the helplessness, like the hurt. Because that allows us to soften our tone and makes it easier for us to discover the next step, which is identifying what it is we really needed in the first place that made us angry. When I’m angry at you because you weren’t respectful toward me or you were condescending, I’m angry because I wanted you to treat me with respect. I wanted you to treat me with caring. And it allows us to look at what we were for rather than what we were against.

That’s identifying the need. Now, as I say that, I wanna go back to how important it is that you have The Introspective Guides in front of you. So you can see the list of challenging emotions of which anger and all the resistant emotions are part of. And it also allows you to see the list of needs, which is this fifth step. So you clearly understand what is meant by needs. Through the years of counseling, this has been the simplest way for my clients to organize an understanding of how they can move forward when they’re in an emotional state. Anger being one of the most difficult to deal with in resistant emotions and to discover what it is that’s needed so you can move toward and move in a direction that will serve peace or wellbeing for you. And that leads us to the sixth step, which is kind of an alternative between two six steps, or we could call it a sixth and a seventh.

And one alternative when the situation itself allows for it is it allows us to communicate our needs to the person that we have been angry at and do our best to bring a tone of voice that is going to be modeling the tone of voice that we wanted in the first place or something similar. So it would be a tone of voice like sincerity, kindness, real strength that isn’t angry strength, but it’s firm and being able to discern that. And the alternative to communication is we see we’re with somebody that no matter how well we say what we say, there’s no chance they’re gonna listen to us. So it requires a perception of who are we angry at and is there any chance that you can reach them. And if you can reach them, I always encourage at least three sincere attempts from your best most balanced tone of voice to ask them for what you need, and to allow yourself to acknowledge that preferably that it hurts you, or it scared you, or it left you in this more vulnerable feeling. And you could acknowledge that you were also angry, but you’re doing it in a way that has a tone of voice that again, isn’t acting out the anger.

Anger is the most volatile emotion that we have. And I’m going to use both a personal example and an example of a case study to highlight how this works. But most importantly, I’m asking you to use your situation where you’re angry and to track these seven steps, which I will repeat again as we go through this, this podcast. So the case study existed with a couple that I had been seeing for a number of years and they were happily married, much more affectionate than the average couple. And something happened that I didn’t see coming. They also had kids. But again, I wanna remind you, use your own example even though I’m going to be talking about this. So what happened was there was a discovery that the man was having an affair and that was discovered by the wife. So needless to say, there was a fury, there was an outrage, there was a violation.

In a way it was even worse because they actually had a relatively very high functioning dear and intimate good sex life relationship. So it shows the dangers there in all situations that we need to be prepared. So I started with her saying, you need to stay aware of your anger, but not just act it out or not just run away, but bring a part of your wisdom that knows it wants to move in a direction toward healing. Even though right now you’re unquestionably blind and have no idea which direction it would be. And so let yourself go to that second stage of wanting to care. And that required a back and forth between the two of us because she wasn’t sure she wanted to care, she wasn’t sure, she didn’t, she didn’t just wanna break up the relationship and say fuck you. But as she saw the relationship with the kids, that there was still a high stake in taking care of them too,

so that needed to be contemplated in the containment phase: How do I take care of myself? How do I take care of my kids? And to a less extent, how do I take care of my husband? Which to a large extent, she didn’t feel hardly at all. And then we did a lot of private sessions guiding her to her more vulnerable feelings, which were devastation, abandonment, wounded, hurt, frightened that the relationship was over all of those feelings. And spending time with that over a number of sessions. And she was then guided to her needs, which it was very evident that she needed to take into consideration her kids. That was the most obvious thing to her, that no matter what I do, I’ve gotta decide, am I going to acknowledge it with my kids? Or would that be devastating their relationship with their father? Do I need to take care of myself and tell the kids what would be of the highest and best benefit?

And that took a series of, of two or three months to really go through this on a weekly basis and sometimes more than a weekly basis. I warned her over and over again as she was in this process, that when she got ready to express her needs, that there was a tremendous danger of anger slipping in. When she communicated her needs, it didn’t mean that she couldn’t acknowledge that she was angry and very angry, infuriated, enraged. All of that was fine. And I gave her enormous, not only permission but encouragement to be infuriated but not to act it out. And reiterated the danger of this coming through when she made her best effort. And it really was saying to her, invariably, it’s gonna slip in at least a little bit, but we wanna minimize it as much as possible. Now as you’re listening to this, I’d like you to go back to yourself and look at what is your pattern with anger.

Do you have a tendency to withdraw as a longstanding pattern and to avoid? And would you be the one that would avoid the affair completely? And if so, you wanna go through this process and see are you taking care of your needs? Maybe you need to go back in and reevaluate this and go to the containment phase and evaluate this for yourself. Or are you someone that would just immediately dump and perhaps you have already and maybe you need to do some healing and express your needs more sensitively. But the important thing is that you take it personally and not get caught up in what I’m saying about either this case study or myself. It was also clear in this phase that she was gonna have to have conversations with her kids. And what was she gonna do? Was she gonna keep it private? Was she gonna make it public?

Was it gonna be devastating to the kids if she really made it public with them? What was really gonna be her highest and best self? And what was gonna be the timing relative to the timing of sharing with the kids? Was she gonna wait and resolve it with her husband? And the answer was clearly yes. She needed to go through a process with her husband and see how far that would get before she was going to share anything with her gifts, which required a lot of collaboration between the two of us because a part of her wanted to just express her anger and leak it out with the kids. I had to remind her again and again and again that feeling the vitality of the anger was a good thing. It was gonna make it much more likely that she wouldn’t have to act it out.

And to you in all of your situations, it’s vital that you find a place to go to a car, the beach, even if it’s inside yourself alone, away from the situation. Feeling the anger as totally as possible is very paradoxical. The more you feel your anger, the less you have to act it out and the less you have to suppress it. And it’s important to guide you here that you have a clear vision of what your needs are. That anger isn’t a substitution for your needs, which is so often the case. I need to express my anger. That’s a common reaction. But anger is not a need even though it’s perverted into a need. That’s what’s happened with world wars or wars. Anger is perverted into a need to act it out in the world, but it’s not a need. Again, go back to The Introspective Guides and see clearly that it’s a challenging emotion that is merged with needs in our own mind and our own emotional bodies. I wanna repeat again, the seven step process. The awareness of the anger, finding that intention to care or heal, which is the difference between starting a war in a country, starting a war with your husband or wife, and being able to gradually move toward containment your vulnerability and discovering what the original needs were, which is not something that’s commonly done.

Dave (19:21):

Question for you specifically about this set of circumstances. It seems like there is a stage there that whichever side the spouse was that was on the side of being violated, the husband had an affair. How did you work with that side? What do you want to do with that? What does your value system dictate or what Yes, anger. Is there all kinds of feelings? Are there trust? How is trust rebuilt? Is this something I’m, am I in? Am I out? How does that fit into the scenario?

Robert Strock (19:58):

It’s a critical question cuz without asking that question and without me addressing that question, there would be no ability to separate out our feelings and our needs, which is the normal emotional place that most of us operate from, which is why The Introspective Guides are so important to make a very distinct separation. And the only way to do that is by asking her and empathizing with her. You wanna just act out your anger, you wanna just be angry at him, you wanna tell him what a fucking asshole he is, you wanna tell ’em that you want to divorce him. And that feels like you need; but you realize you have kids. So I’m asking you to enter into what I call inquiry. I’m asking you to ask yourself a question from your wisdom and your heart, what is gonna best serve me and my kids as the dominant interest?

And to stay in that state of inquiry for a long while, as long as it takes for you not to misconstrue your anger as your deepest need to protect yourself and your kids in a healthy way. So, introducing her to inquiry and listening to the inquiry and then following the wisdom that comes from the inquiry rather than, And the wisdom leads you to your needs by the way. And rather than deceiving yourself that your gut feelings are your needs, you’re seeing that your gut feelings are your anger and your resistant emotions in this situation. And you have every bit of danger to act this up.

Dave (21:44):

And it seems like at that stage it’s pretty damn hard to be neutral. It’s pretty damn hard to know what’s wisdom here. What’s, you know, is, is my best self telling me that how can I possibly live out the rest of my life and have uh, the influence of somebody that has been so dishonest with me and violated me so deeply. From my point of view at least, again, I don’t presume to know the whole story. But at the same time saying, Okay, so I stay in, Do I stay in because of the kids? Is that gonna serve them? Is that gonna serve me? There’s so, so many layers to get to the wisdom, to get to what is right without value judgment.

Robert Strock (22:26):

The reality is, I say with deep respect, as wise as that is, it’s even an understatement. And it’s important that all of you understand that this is like a lobotomy. This is like heart surgery. This is so fucking difficult. This is something that I have had many couples or individuals of the couple that when they discovered an affair, not, not that I’ve had that many, but when they discovered an affair, they were angry at me. They were furious with me saying, How dare you imply that I have anything to do but just dump this to my kids and dumped this to my husband and say fuck you. And my response to that is, I am not your wisdom, I am not your leader, you are your leader. But it’s gonna be hard work to get to your leader because the anger is so dominating. I have the utmost respect for your anger and I also have the utmost respect for your wisdom.

So yes, you’re gonna have to do the hardest work of your life to be able to find what your deepest needs are. And I do not have a preset judgment. Judgment. I do not have your wisdom cuz your wisdom is only reachable by you. You have to do the hard work of doing this inquiry. So what you’re saying is brilliantly applicable. Understanding this is a great danger for anybody that thinks that this is a snap pat, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 and then I’m done. At best case, especially in a situation of severe anger like this, it’s months. If somebody’s gonna really take it seriously and be dedicated to their own wisdom and not just to their own gut level emotions, it’s going to take months of private deep work. And unfortunately we see so many examples like the affair itself, where gut level feelings lead us astray and confuse us as being our needs.

Our needs for sex, our needs to express our anger. No, it’s our impulses to have sex. It’s our impulses to have anger. And the question is, do you care enough to have integrity and not my integrity? What is your integrity? This is another question you need to ask. It may be, and in this case we’ll see that ultimately it was finding a way to care for the kids first and foremost and to declare the need to be divorced after a lot of deep conversation. Now, would I have taken in the same direction? In this particular case I would have, but there have been cases and situations where the partner was much more of a contributor to the violation. They had a lot of confession to do as well. They had been abusive, they had been an alcoholic, they, they had been a contributor to the alienation of the relationship.

And that becomes a lot less clear. So each situation is different. And I am never the source of another person’s wisdom. I may be a suggester, but I will always say, if your wisdom says one thing and mine says another, either follow yours or if I’m really insistent, fire me. It’s so critical that we all do the deep work. And on a more minor level, when you’re tracking I patient or intolerance, most of us feel like they deserved it. And again, I will almost invariably say my wisdom leads me to much better to express what you’re needing than it is to do it through intolerance and impatience, aggravation, contracting, withdrawing better to deal with it. And they may say, at first, I don’t agree with you. I just feel like they deserve to. That’s it. That doesn’t mean I’m not gonna continue to dialogue with them and sometimes intensely, but I will always say, if you continue to disagree with me, follow what you believe is true.

So I believe that my wisdom says I need to continue to say what I believe will be the best for the individual I’m serving. But the ultimate authority always rests with the individual. So I say to you as you’re looking at your situation with anger, you are the authority. I am not telling you you have to have integrity. I’m not even telling you you have to take care of your kids. I am going to be suggesting that your integrity is better than your impulse in this situation. I’m gonna even do it somewhat forcefully. But I’m going to even more forcefully say, If you ultimately disagree with me, follow yourself. So ultimately what The Introspective Guides do is they help you move from your anger and your resistant emotions to discover what your needs are that serve you and others and to represent yourself in the world no matter what your situation is, with what you deemed to be your best self. So hopefully that’s clear and I don’t expect anyone, especially if it’s the first time you’re hearing it, to be able to follow those seven steps. So,  we’ll be repeating that in the next episode as well. Thank you for your attention to this crucial issue that has personal implications and also it has implications for our world as well.

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