Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Cleaning up emotional pollution

The Leading Cause of Emotions: Emotions

What are you in the habit of feeling?

By the time we're adults we have developed many conditioned inhibitions of emotional display which are largely motoric and automatic. These can lead you to feel misunderstood and to misunderstand others, especially if you or your therapist focuses on your feelings apart from their social context. But sometimes conditioned inhibition occurs with the emotion itself and not merely its display. In that case, other emotions, rather than motor reflexes, serve the inhibitory function.

The primary inhibitory emotions are fear and shame. Once these become conditioned to occur with other emotions, enjoyment can cause shame of unworthiness, love can smack of fear, interest can scare us, sadness can depress us.

Now here's where it gets really confusing for those who focus on feelings or the presumed "origins" of habits. In addition to feeling awful, fear and shame signal vulnerability and make us exaggerate perceptions of threat. The amphetamine and analgesic effects of the many forms of anger temporarily relieve vulnerability and increase confidence of overcoming threat. Fear and shame disempower; anger temporarily empowers. Hence the inhibitory function of fear and shame increase the likelihood that they will stimulate anger in an extended conditioned sequence. Of course, anger itself is the most socially controlled emotion, so it is likely to develop its own inhibitions. Conditioning streams (or algorithms) occur in milliseconds and increase with repetition over time. By adulthood, your conditioned stream can look like:

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

     Initial emotion + inhibition (shame, fear) + anger + inhibition (fear, shame) + anger, + inhibition (fear, shame) + anger, etc.

If you or your therapist focuses on any one of the above - or if you pay attention to a self-help book that emphasizes one of the above - you will exaggerate its significance in your conditioned stream and not get the whole picture of your experience. You will feel like a victim, misunderstood by those around you, and your therapy will take a long, long time of hard work, during which you will notice little progress and the people you live with may well notice deterioration.

It is much more expedient - and scientifically valid - to recognize that you experience all the emotions in your conditioned stream by habit. Seek to change the habituated sequence of emotions the way you would change any other unfavorable habit, first by renunciation of blame and second by will, determination, persistence, and avoidance of environmental cues that trigger the habit, such as people who indulge in or defend emotional pollution and dysregulation. Most important to changing a habit is repetition of a new sequence, e., g., extending the conditioned stream above to include curiosity, interest or compassion.

 

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. Recent books: How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It, and Love Without Hurt.

more...

Subscribe to Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.