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Dr. Hanscom's Blog No Action in a Reaction

Discussion in 'Mindbody Blogs (was Practitioner's Corner)' started by Back In Control Blog, Feb 10, 2019.

  1. Back In Control Blog

    Back In Control Blog Well known member

    The essence of solving chronic pain and also creating a life that you enjoy is learning how to regulate your body’s chemistry. When you are full of stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, endorphins and histamines you are on high alert and you’ll feel agitated and anxious. When this state of being is sustained, people experience many physical symptoms since each organ system has its own unique response. When you’re angry, these chemicals skyrocket, and you’ll eventually become ill if this state of being is sustained.


    The most common way of dealing with anxiety and anger is to suppress it. It has been documented that when you try not to think about something, you’ll think about it more – a lot more. There is a trampoline effect. (1) Although you might be successful in consciously suppressing thoughts for a while, your body will be be full of stress hormones. The consequences of suppressing thoughts are high, but stuffing emotions is even more of a problem – especially anger. Many people don’t like feeling angry, so they don’t allow it. One method I used was attaching to an identity of “being cool under pressure”. It worked and I was able to become a complex spine surgeon with the mindset of, “bring it on.” Then this approach failed and in one hour, I went from being bulletproof to having panic attacks. I didn’t see it coming.

    I now understand how skilled I was in suppressing and disguising anxiety and anger. But the same energy that took me up the hill took me down the other side. Anxiety and anger are necessary for survival and you can’t get rid of these emotions. The key to dealing with them is to learn to experience them and train yourself not to react with such strong responses. As your body’s levels of survival chemicals lessen, your anger and anxiety will pass and you can move on. Initially, this is a challenging skill to learn, but it will change your life and your pain. Here is a poem that was sent to me that illustrates the concept.



    Anger is not wrong.
    Anger is not unspiritual.
    Anger is not against life.

    Anger is like fire.
    You respect the fire, you tend it, allow it to burn.
    No need to smother the fire or put it out now.
    No need to push the fire onto someone else.
    The fire is safe, when you let it burn.

    Anger is energy, neither good nor bad.
    Breathe into it.
    Let its fiery sensations move in the body; in the head, neck, chest and belly.
    Feel the power there.

    See how anger calls you to remember your dignity, your worth, find your voice, speak your truth, protect those who cannot protect themselves.
    To smother the fire would be to smother the fire’s intelligence.

    Anger brings gifts that sorrow cannot.

    Find a middle way. Not repressing anger’s fire, nor throwing it.
    But feeling it.
    Bowing to it.
    Knowing its beauty.

    Until it burns out.

    Jeff Foster

    Anger is destructive

    I still don’t like the way I am or how I feel when I’m upset. I now realize that anger is only destructive, since it’s the body’s response to regain control. It is damaging to all relationships, especially within your own family. It’s ironic and tragic that our closest relationships represent our deepest and strongest triggers. Instead of home being a place of safety and peace, it’s often chaotic and unsafe.

    When I’m angry, I want to lash out and I still have a tendency to suppress it. Then a situation may occur that is quite mild, and my reaction is WAY out of proportion to it. A mantra came into my head a few months ago that’s been helpful, “No action in a reaction.” I realize that there is nothing I can say or do when I am upset that’s helpful, and I just zip it. I fail more often that I’d like to admit, but I’m gradually improving.

    How do I look?

    Another strategy that has helped is to picture how I appear to others when I’m frustrated. I’m sure it isn’t great although I can’t see it. My wife and I have a saying, “Anger isn’t attractive.” It’s true and this is a humbling exercise.

    Remember, that in addition to training your body to be less full of stress chemicals, you can learn to stimulate “play chemicals” such as oxytocin (the love drug), serotonin (anti-depressant), dopamine (reward system) and GABA hormones (similar to Valium). It’s a learned skill that isn’t possible while you are doing battle with those around you. But picture your body full of these hormones. How do you feel when you are laughing? What’s it like when you are on the couch relaxing with your family or friends? Have you done that lately?


    Learn to be with your anger, anxiety and pain. As you quit fighting, paradoxically you’ll be able to move on and stimulate a pleasant chemical environment in your body, regardless of your circumstances. Then you can create the life that you want.

    1. Wegener DM, et al. “Paradoxical effects of thought suppression.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1987); 53: 5-13.
    Related posts:

    1. No Action in a Reaction
    2. Anxiety Basics
    3. Action Not Apologies
  2. Rosebud

    Rosebud Peer Supporter

    I know the gifts that sorrow brings. I know them all too intimately. The gratitude for a love long gone, the memories of days that will never return, the sweet, sweet sorrow that can only exist where true happiness used to be. But what are the gifts of anger?

    I don't know. I'm having a really hard time feeling anger. Where is it in my body? I don't know, because those very few times I've been really angry, I mostly had angry thoughts, if that makes sense. Yes, I clench my fists, I hit some pillows, but what's going on in my body? I've never paid attention to that. I do know that other people's anger scares me, and my own anger scares me too, even though it happens very rarely. The idea that anger can be positive is totally unfamiliar to me.

    So, what are the gifts of anger?
  3. Duggit

    Duggit Well known member

    Hi Rosebud,

    I has been almost two weeks since you asked what the gifts of anger are. No one has responded, so I’ll take a shot at answering. My answer will rely heavily on what Dr. Gabor Maté says about anger in chapter 19 of his book When the Body Says No.

    Maté notes the dilemma that both the repression of anger and the unregulated acting out of it are unhealthy. He explains repression is dangerous to one’s health in various ways such as elevating blood pressure, decreasing oxygen supply to the heart, changing lipid levels, and so on. I am sure Dr. John Sarno would add TMS to that list, and practitioners of ISTDP like Dr. Allan Abbass would add depression. Maté does not elaborate much on the dangers of unregulated acting out, but I think he would include similar effects on blood pressure, oxygen levels, and so on. At any rate, he makes it clear that unregulated acting out, such as yelling, cursing and hitting, can be dangerous to the health of one’s personal relationships.

    So what is Maté’s solution to the dilemma? He distinguishes repression and acting out from the healthy experience of anger. Regarding the latter, he says: “First, and foremost, it is a physiological process to be experienced. Second, it has cognitive value—it provides essential information.” He elaborates insightfully on the cognitive value, but first I want to turn to something Dr. Abbass says about the physiological process.

    The behavioral impulse of anger is aggressive action. Abbass describes the physiological process as beginning in the feet or lower abdomen and “mov[ing] upward often with a heat or energy sensation, like a volcano.” My late dad used to say when angry, “it makes my blood boil.” That puzzled me until I read Abbasss because I never get any heat sensation when I'm angry. But if I take time to notice it, there is definitely a sensation of being energized. Abbass explains that the volcano of heat or energy “typically moves up toward the neck and toward the sides of the head and down the arms to the hands” accompanied by muscle tension, and when it reaches the hands, “there is typically an accompanying impulse to use the hands to grab or do some form of violence.” Hit some pillows as displacement for hitting the actual subject of the anger, maybe?

    Now, back to the cognitive part of the healthy experience of anger. Maté says: “Since anger does not exist in a vacuum, if I feel anger it must be in response to some perception on my part. It may be a response to loss or the threat of it in a personal relationship, or it may signal a real or threatened invasion of my boundaries. I am greatly empowered without harming anyone if I permit myself to experience the anger and to contemplate what may have triggered it.” In short, the gifts of experiencing anger are that it can provide you (cognitively) with essential information about your personal relationships and empower you regarding them.

    Maté provides sage advice about the empowerment part: “Depending on the circumstances, I may choose to manifest the anger in some way or to let go of it. The key is that I have not suppressed the experience of it. I may choose to display my anger as necessary in words or deeds, but I do not need to act it out in a driven fashion as uncontrolled rage. Healthy anger leaves the individual, not the unbridled emotion, in charge.” This is the final gift of experiencing anger: It leaves the individual in charge, enabling him or her to avoid the downsides of repression or acting out of the aggressive impulse and instead choose either to manifest the anger (thoughtfully and diplomatically) or to let go of it.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2019
    plum and HattieNC like this.

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