Monday, August 3, 2020


Anger is not just a problem to get rid of, but a message to you about who you are and what is important to you. Oftentimes, however, this important fact gets ignored because we live in a society in which anger is often considered inappropriate and uncivil.

For the most part we have learned to associate anger with destruction and aggression. We have likely felt its negative impact on our relationships or been ashamed about how our anger made us act. Maybe we have experienced the destructive impact of other people’s anger outbursts on us, or we have seen it turn violent and cause ruptures between people we love.

However, anger is not the same as aggression or loss of control. Aggression and loss of control can be the outcome of anger, but they more so indicate ways of expressing anger or reacting to anger than the feeling of anger itself.

Anger can really be said to cover a spectrum of emotions from frustration and slight annoyance on the one end to explosive rage on the other and can be said to involve a whole range of shades in-between. Sometimes in fact, it is only when we ignore the first signs of anger, or fail to catch our anger and express it when it is still just an indicator of annoyance, that we end up bottling it up to the point where we finally explode.

Anger Can Be a Necessary and Useful Emotion:

At its core anger alerts us to threats and tells us when one of our fundamental needs has gone unmet or has been squashed. In doing so anger makes it clear to us who we are. It tells us for example if our space has been invaded, if our freedom has been squashed, if our pride has been injured, if the way we see the world has been invalidated, or if our feelings have been ignored. It alerts us to the fact that we have been wronged in some way, or that we have felt slighted, mistreated, or diminished. By doing so it gives us an opportunity to correct a wrong or to put a relationship back on the right track. It tells us what we need in order to feel healthy and good about ourselves and happy about the environment in which we live our life.

The actions and initiatives that come out of this can in the final analysis help restore or repair a situation that if left unattended would distort or destroy a relationship, lead to resentment, avoidance, or distance, or result in outright harm to our well-being.

I know of no close interpersonal relationship, for example, that will not at some point involve moments of annoyance, frustration, and anger, and it is a sign of a mature relationship that each person can express when their needs are not being met or let each other know when something does not feel good. Anger is what allows us to know when this is occurring. It alerts us to the fact that something needs to be addressed so the relationship can adapt and remain good.

When to Express and Not Express Your Anger:

Not long ago I saw a thought-provoking Facebook post that asked: How do you express anger? And provided 1 out of 6 options. Do you walk away? Become silent? Shout? Cry? Beat? Or Smile?

I thought this post was evocative because it shows that just because you do not get loud, aggressive, or lose your temper, doesn’t mean that you are not experiencing or expressing your anger.

Anger that is not talked about is going to get expressed somehow, even if it is not being expressed outwardly. Research, for example, shows that suppressed or unexpressed anger can lead to long-term health problems and can even be one of main causes of depression.

In fact, anger that remains unexpressed, and therefore boundaries or needs that are not asserted, can only happen at the expense of one’s self.

If I cannot muster the self-defence to assert that another person’s negative accusations of me are unfair or unreasonable, I have no choice but to collapse into shame, guilt, or self-doubt. By abandoning my anger, or being too afraid to express it, I am therefore in fact abandoning or hurting myself.

On the other hand, my needs, expectations, and wants can in fact be exaggerated, and the anger I feel the result of a having too big of an ego and making too little room for others. In such instances, I do need to check my anger, and examine if my anger has more to do with me than with the other person.

Perhaps I tend to feel a deep shame about myself if my viewpoints are challenged, but instead of acknowledging and owning this, I angrily want the world to accommodate me and soothe my hurt ego. If the world always adapts to me, validates me, and tells me how great I am, I never have to confront my own insecurity but can maintain a sense of strength and power that prevents me from having to look at myself. Sometimes these kinds of deep vulnerabilities are what can lead to some of the worst anger outbursts, abuses of power, and attempts to control others. It reminds us that just because we are offended, does not make us right, and that others are not obligated to take care of our feelings. 

The trick in expressing anger is thus neither to ignore it and become a doormat, or to use it to establish the dominance of your own needs. First you must examine the angry reaction you feel to understand what lies at its source.

Continued in Part 2

Written By:

Psychodynamic therapist, Dr. Rune Moelbak

About him: He is Rune Moelbak, Ph.D. a psychologist and couples therapist in Houston, Texas.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Cracking the Code of Love

These are highlights from an interview between Shane Parrish (Farnham Street) and Dr. Sue Johnson.

The full interview is available here:

Dr. Sue Johnson is a researcher, clinical psychologist, and the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy. In this interview, they discuss how to create, protect, and nourish fulfilling sexual and emotional relationships.

In this discussion, they walk through the life cycle of human relationships, from early infatuation to dating, marriage, and beyond while taking short detours to explore many of the hazards that are common in each stage.

Sue talks about finding, sparking and rekindling connection with our partner, why emotional responsiveness is critical to a healthy relationship, and she shares the recipe to a great sex life that all the popular online and magazine articles are missing.

Here are a few highlights from their conversation:

Many of us have no idea. We don’t know what we’re looking for. We just don’t want to be lonely anymore and we want somebody to have fun with and we want someone to have sex with. We’re caught up in the society thing of girls are supposed to look like this and guys are supposed to look like that.

What I’ve always tried to tell my children is, you can be attracted to lots of people in a very superficial way and you’re going to experiment with relationships, you are, because you have to get to know this dance, and you’re going to make mistakes. But what you really need to do is listen to yourself and listen to when you feel safe and when dancing with someone is easy and makes you feel good, and when you can be vulnerable for a moment and that person tunes in and cares about your vulnerability. That’s the person to go with.

Of course, things go wrong and they fight, they hurt each other and that’s a relationship. If you dance with somebody, they’re going to step on your feet. They’re going to go left when you expect them to go right. It’s just the way it is. The point is, in a good relationship, you can recognize what’s happened and you can tune in and you can repair it. It’s emotional responsiveness. That’s the basis of a secure bond.

Emotional isolation is traumatizing for human beings. You’re not wired for it. It’s a danger cue for your nervous system.

Attachment tends to be hierarchical. We can love more than one person, but in terms of who you turn to when you really need, in terms of where you take your vulnerability, it’s usually hierarchical. We have our special one and most people want to be the special one for somebody else, and most people want a special one. That’s the person that you turn to.

Distressed relationships are always the same all over the world at every age. Where are you? Where are you? Do you care about me? Do I matter to you? Will you respond to me? Will you be there when I’m vulnerable? Am I safe with you? Where are you? Where are you? And when the answer is, “I’m here,” you can deal with almost anything.

Emotional responsiveness is an abstract word that captures a lot. It’s the ability or the willingness that someone has to tune into emotionally and to allow themselves to tune into your non-verbals or your words, and to allow themselves to feel what you’re feeling and who respond to that in a way that you feel that you matter.

You’re more vulnerable to the person you love than anyone in the world; That’s part of being in love. On the other hand, if it’s a good relationship, you’re safer with this person than anywhere else in the world. That’s the paradox of love.

Relationships are live things. They’re live moving organisms, and they’re like every other live thing. If you starve them of attention, and ignore them, and leave them on a shelf for years, then you turn around and try to pick them off the shelf, well, I’m sorry, but they’ve shriveled and died.

The best thing you can give your children is parents who know how to support each other and stand together and help each other. Not only that, but you give your children something more valuable by doing that. You give your children a vision of what a good relationship looks like.

Dr. Sue Johnson (Dr.Sue Johnson), a clinical psychologist and the developer of EFT or Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. The EFT model is considered to be one of the most effective evidence-based therapy methods available and is currently taught to over 3000 health care professionals every year. Countless couples’ relationships have been repaired and strengthened because of Sue’s work.

Sue is also the author of several books, including Love Sense and her breakout bestseller, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, which is hands down the best relationship book I’ve ever read.