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People Can Die from Anger but Needn’t; Learn How

Let's get to the heart of the problem. Anger can kill you. If you allow it.

Phillippe Coutinho is in fix at the moment. He is an asset of Barcelona FC, the top Spanish club but is 

playing for Bayern Munich, the top German club.  The problem with this arrangement is that he seldom

 starts. The bigger problem is, according to reports, Barca wants him to find a new club and Bayern is

 not buying. On loan from Barcelona, the Brazilian was once adored as the midfield wizard 

 at Liverpool FC.

Since his $210 million move to the Spanish club in 2018, it has been downhill for the once much-loved player. His fall from grace has stumped football fans. It’s not like he has lost his skills. Whenever he played, he continued to display the fluid skills that made him famous at Anfield, the home ground of Liverpool FC.

The Problem with Coutinho is not Coutinho

Experts have pinpointed the problem. Lionel Messi. The long time lynchpin player at Barcelona. The king of the arena. The jewel of the crown. Arguably, the most respected player in the world. The magician who can conjure a goal from nothing. So it seems.

And it seems that Coutinho’s problem is that his style is too much like that of Messi’s. They are the central creators. The team play through them. And you cannot have two of them in the team.  So, Coutinho is a procurement mistake.

Bayern has the option to buy at cut price. Rumor has it that the Spanish giant is willing to shed 50% from their cost price. The German giant is not taking up the option. A prominent former forward for Bayern Munich thinks that Coutinho lacks the aggression to succeed in the German League.

Phillippe Coutinho is peering into the English Premier League again. According to news outlet reports, he is willing to take a pay cut. Journos are trying to match him with Liverpool again. It seems like a fairy tale reunion would happen except that word is out; coach Jurgen Klopp, the current king of the Kop is looking to buy Coutinho’s compatriot from Bayern. If the Thiago Alcantara deal happens, it looks like Liverpool will have enough forwards, moving forward. Looking at the results from the last few games of the season, and the departure of a central defender, Dejan Lovren, another blockbuster defender might be the priority.

Arsenal might be his new playing ground. Nothing is confirmed yet. Following the sports pages, it seems that no one in the EPL is putting up a firm hand for his service. For a person of his skill and stature, it is understandable if Coutinho feels slighted.

But slighted is not what he should feel. Phillippe Coutinho should be angry. Anger worked for him once. When the Brazil World Cup squad coach, Felipe Scolari dropped him in 2015, Coutinho revealed the anger from being omitted to a reporter.  “I am going to use this anger and push myself to my limits,” declared the Brazilian.

From that vow, Phillippe Coutinho worked his way into Brazil’s World Cup squad and was pivotal to Liverpool climbing to 4th in the EPL table, before he left for Barcelona, from 8th in the 2015/16 season. He delivered many of the match winning goals.

The Unlikely Friend

This was a classic case when someone turned the much maligned emotion of anger into a motivational force. But it’s hard to think of anger other than a negative force. Even as you contemplate on the word long enough, you can sense a slight rising unease that matches the portrait with raised eyebrows and gnarled expression. It’s automatic alignment to what you been exposed to about anger.

Anger is commonly accepted as the generator of stress that leads to bad behaviors, poor decision making, recklessness and a host of ailments. While the corona virus calls for social distancing, it is widely believed that anger drives social exclusion. It is supposed to prelude rage and violence.

Expert opinions differ from conventional wisdom. Psychologist Howard Kassinove noted in a research paper that only 10% of anger episodes lead to aggression. He added that aggression can occur independent of anger. Taking a positive spin, it is most reassuring that 90% of anger episodes do not lead to violence.

In the book, “The Upside of Your Darkside” Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diedner wrote of the research that overwhelmingly indicates; feeling angry increases optimism, creativity and effective performance. This conclusion is derived from the finding that, when induced to feel angry, people took bigger risks, and are more inclined to test the boundaries of possibility. They believed that the risks will pay off and that they had better control of the outcome. Any fear is smothered by the force of anger. Jennifer Lerner, a psychologist found the proof two months after the 911 attack. She found that people who were angry, were more optimistic about the (low) risk of another attack. They expressed a sense of certainty and control.

Besides certainty and control, angry people can be positively energized. Studies show that it is common for athletes to psyche themselves up by getting “mad” at different things. Phillippe Coutinho’s anger for not getting selected drove him to better performances for his club and country.

The motivational function of anger is confirmed by scientists using neuroimaging to study the brain. They found that anger heightens the activity of the left prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain associated with positive behaviors. It is the executive branch of our brain that drives us towards our desired goals and rewards, it has more dopamine receptors. Dopamine is the driver of motivation, arousal, reinforcement and the exhilarating feeling of reward. Conversely, the right prefrontal cortex that is associated with negative emotions of fear, anxiety, depression and behaviors related to avoidance or withdrawal.

The Big Deals About Anger

Besides working on you internally, anger has a commercial, and status value. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener recount of a research that was designed to evaluate the influence of anger over negotiation. It was found that being overtly angry, a buyer for phones was able to get a 20% off in the third round of the negotiation. Holding off till the 6th round broadened the discount to a hefty 33%. This is supported by the finding that anger gets you heard, your views are taken more seriously and you are felt as powerful. Political and business leaders are accorded more respect when they display anger than guilt or sadness.

From personal profit, anger packs a punch strong enough to effect massive cultural and social changes. It is an influential tool for social correction.  Anger drives people to right what is felt wrong. The Black Lives Matter and the Me-too movement, like other historic causes such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), championing for justice and equality, are spurred by anger. Activism is mostly spawned from anger. Martin Luther King called for anger to be a transforming force. No emotion is stronger than anger when mobilizing people for a cause. When people march for a cause, fear of reprisal again is smothered by the overpowering force of anger, giving way to a rising sense of altruism.

Even without a mass civil commotion, anger stirs up leadership to protect yourself and loved ones when threatened or wronged. Expression of anger defines healthy boundaries to deter encroachment into your rights.

Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs of the Harvard Medical School and author of “The Ancestral Mind,” summed up succinctly, “Anger is entirely an appropriate and adaptive response when one is being hurt, threatened, treated unjustly, demeaned or blocked from realizing an important goal. 

Throughout human history, anger has inspired  humans to right injustices, to mobilize others, to change inappropriate behavior and to keep (us) motivated to stick with difficult tasks until they were accomplished.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Anger Management through PEACE

We have just scrutinized the good faces of anger. Lest you are seduced by the positive treats and go about searching for causes to get angry, breathe in some reality. Anger is just an emotion. Like all emotions, anger is internal information. It tells you how you should feel relative to what’s happening around you. Anger is neither good nor bad. How you harness the power of this emotion is what makes it good or bad.

It is a doubled edged emotion. While its positive power can propel you to big time satisfaction, anger can bring you big time trouble, if you are not mindful of its ugly potential. Although it does not cause hair to fall out of your head, it can take the life out of your heart. Literally.

Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence,” has lots of heartbreaking detail about the destructive nature of unbridled anger. Just thinking about the cause of your anger can reduce the pumping efficiency of your heart by 5%-7%. Most of us are familiar with the notion that smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol will do us in earlier than schedule. New information suggest that anger is a stronger predictor of early death than those three culprits. According to Goleman, Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University found that physicians who were tested at their medical school and were found to have the highest hostility scores, were seven times as likely to die by the age 50 than those with low hostility scores.

Peter Kaufman of the US national Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains that each episode of anger adds stress to your heart, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. A Yale University School of Medicine study, as quoted in “Emotional Intelligence” found that those who were easily aroused to anger were three times more likely to die of a heart attack than those who were evenly tempered. It was a comprehensive finding, tracking more than 900 men who had survived heart attacks, for 10 years.

Of course, as seen in the Yale study, the impact is higher for those who have had heart attacks. For about 8 years, Stanford University Medical School followed more than 1000 men and women who have had their first heart attack to determine the toll of anger. It was found that those who were aggressive and hostile at the outset, suffered the highest rate of second attacks.

A clear link of anger to heart attacks was the Harvard Medical School study. In an assessment of 1,500 men and women who suffered heart attacks, being angry hours before the attack is said to double the risk in people who already had heart disease. The heightened risk lasted two hours after anger was aroused.

Sieving through the details, it seems that anger is life threatening when the visceral force is allowed to build up like a tsunami and, especially after the first heart attack.

Anger can develop into a rolling emotion like fierce waves; subsequent episodes ride the tails of previous episodes, intensifying physical arousal, forcing an eruption of rage. This is bad stage. The angry person is embroiled with thoughts of getting even, meting equal pain and destruction, not thinking of the net result.

It gets really dangerous as noted by Dolf Zillman of the University of Alabama, “when this high level of excitation fosters an illusion of power and invulnerability that may inspire and facilitate aggression as the enraged person, failing cognitive guidance, falls back on the most primitive form of responses.”

Gregg Jacobs warns of excessive anger. He says anger is maladaptive if it occurs too frequently and lasts for too long. Left to fester, anger will become hostility. When anger becomes chronic the whole picture changes. According to him, “hostile people expect others to mistreat them, mistrust others in advance, seeing everyone as enemy. They will live with a permanently short ‘fuse’ and an over reactive amygdala causes blood pressure and heart rate to rise, blood fat and cholesterol to increase, blood platelets to become ‘stickier’ to that they block the artery walls, blood vessels to constrict, and oxygen flow to the heart to decrease. When these conditions persist, they can lead to serious illness, even death.”

The amygdala is that part of your brain that raises the alarm and triggers a flight, freeze or fight response.

Give PEACE a Chance

As mentioned earlier, anger is neither good nor bad. Anger like other emotions is information. It is a stirring within, caused by a sense of being wronged and, or being threatened. It is an automatic judgement. Mindfulness is key in successful management of the emotion. Reacting sans reflection will further escalate the situation, leading to detrimental results for all involved.

Content Credit: Patrick Goodness

Instead of playing to the usual crowd of feeling hurt, threatened, being treated unjustly, being demeaned or being stifled, look for the underlying messages. What needs to be changed? What needs clarification? Take personalities out. Focus on the issues of contention. As a wise bhikkhu or Buddhist monk offered, “Don’t ask who’s wrong, ask, what’s wrong.” It is a simple change of subject in the question but it changes the direction from hell to heaven.

Coutinho was excluded from Brazil’s World Cup squad by Scolari not because he is Coutinho. He was omitted, evidently, because of technical reasons. The midfield maestro was a fixture in the national squad in the latter part of their campaign, as he displayed superb form for Liverpool.

Researchers found that focusing on the “who” when angry, gets you into squabbles more than 60% of the time. More than just avoiding conflicts, it is wisdom to pursue mastery of your emotions. Anger, like nuclear power, is an energy that can be harnessed for greater good or mutual destruction. Learning to handle an impending or current episode is the first step to gain from this growing internal emotional energy.

How do you manage a potential or current anger episode? In my tenure as an operations leader, I have found that people learn a program or a process faster, and remember better, if you can package it within an acronym, such as REMOVE for pest management and REACH for roof maintenance.  To soothe and then master anger, I suggest you find PEACE:

Prepare - heading into a confrontation it is best to be ready for the worst moments. Explore your options, like a chess player, for every move. Prioritize and select the best moves to diffuse the situation for mutual advantage. Visualize response from the other party. The idea is not to cut off information with brutal rebuttal but to influence necessary change of view with appropriate tone, leaning on the strength of the other position.

Defining the objective of engagement is a key step in the preparation and it should be towards a healthy outcome. Again, focus on what is wrong, and not who is wrong. Minding the language eases the way to mending the relationship.

Ease off – it is always wise to step back from the ring of fire. Goleman suggests cooling off physiologically by waiting out the adrenal surge in a setting where there are not likely to be further triggers for the rage. Distraction is a highly powerful mood-altering strategy. Take long walks, be in nature.

Your breath connects strongly with your nervous system. A study by Pierre Philippot shows that your emotions change with your breathing. Participants felt calm when they took deep, slow breaths. They turned anxious or angry when they took rapid breaths. Engage in muscle relaxation activities and exercise. Turn on your favorite television program. Go to a movie. Read your favorite book or story.

        According to Goleman, shopping and eating alone do not have much impact. In “Practicing Happiness” Ruth Baer warns that ruminating about anger strengthens the angry feeling. According to her, rumination is a slow burn. As we learn, anger builds on anger. Switch your focus to your breaths instead of thoughts about the anger.

Alleviate, not suppress or ventilate – Dr. Ernest Harburg and his research team at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, found that people who hid the anger found themselves more likely to get bronchitis and heart attacks, and were more likely to die earlier than peers who let their anger be known when other people were annoying. This study is not based on short term observation. The subjects of this study were tracked for decades.

Dr. James Baird, the author of “Happiness Genes” said it well, “…numerous studies show that keeping a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. You are the only one who suffers.”

Suppressing the anger and keeping a grudge makes it more difficult for your body to fight illnesses. Worse off, this contained feeling of anger can lead to depression and anxiety; sometimes an indifference to violence.  A consequence of these conditions is addiction to drugs and alcohol.

If you are one of those who find it hard to forgive and would like to explore on the art and science of forgiveness, you can visit the International Forgiveness website.

At the other end of the spectrum, psychologist Diane Tice of Case  Reserve University found that ventilating anger is one of the worst ways to cool down. Outbursts of rage typically pump up the emotional brain’s arousal, leaving people angrier, not less.
        People in her research told Tice that the times they vent their rage on the person who provoked it, the net effect was to prolong the foul mood rather than end it.

In the ‘As If Principle,” Richard Wiseman who holds Britain’s only professorship in Public Understanding of Psychology, quotes psychologist, Brad Bushman, whose experiments found that you can squash anger by acting like a calm person or pray on it. Like Emma Seppala at “Happiness Track,” Wiseman recommends deep breathing. He has a page on the calming exercise in his book.

Those guys at “The Upside of Your Darkside” found that having a pleasant day did not influence the quality of the following day. But, having a crappy day did spill over on how people felt the next day. Waking up poorly and committing acts of indiscipline on the road.

More damaging is the effect on others. It is found that negative moods have power over others. A research found that a depressed room mate is more likely to affect others negatively than the happier room mate is more likely to turn depressed room mates around. Change room mates to family members and you get the severity of the situation.

It was quoted in “Emotional Intelligence,” that a Tibetan teacher, when asked on how best to handle anger, said, “Don’t suppress it. But don’t act on it.”

My interpretation of this advice is that it is best not to act on the anger in its raw form. Take the anger with you and alleviate it with due contemplation.
Challenge the attitude. James Baird quotes Pope John Paul II, “See everything. Overlook a great deal. Improve a little.” It’s easier to overlook a great deal if you approach life with humility.

Be willing to apologize, not for feeling angry but for the lack of understanding. Use the “discomfort caveat” as recommended by Kashdan and Biswas-Diener. Open your conversation by expressing your discomfort with the situation which will probably affect your coherence. Ask the other party to take this state into consideration as you continue to express your position on the matter.  Instead of going the protagonist, antagonist route, try thinking as partners sharing a common problem.

Learn to watch the sensation of anger rise in you. Make it a cue to step away and step back when you sense a rising anger. Look at what’s the issue. Take time to think. Don’t be rushed by the emotion. Willfully exercise control. The after effect from lashing out “thought blind” could leave a long-term emotional scar on both parties. Like crossing the road in your car, don’t be rushed by the car behind. Make sure you are in the clear before you step on the pedal.

Ease up. If the anger arises from a common issue that you know others face too, take a step up for greater good. Help others with your experience and best method overcoming the issue. Share it with a post on social media. Lean on an existing organization to reach out to those who need help. Turn your anger into a transforming force. Let it take the form and shape as it needs be. Let anger lure the activist in you. If it is needed.

(Please note that the PEACE acronym is not describing a continuous process. Please use the part that best fits the situation.)

Anger. It is just information from within conveying a sense of being wronged. How you use this information determines your gain or loss from the experience.

Allowing anger to become the automatic response presents serious consequences to your health, especially those who have heart ailment. Scarier, it is found that anger leaves unpleasant residues for the next generation. Psychologist martin Seligman found that children from warring parents were more likely to suffer from depression and struggle later in life.

 Anger’s physical impact is real. It leads to flawed decision making. The term “hot headed” truly describes a person with angry thoughts. Researchers presented some participants with words related to anger. They were asked to guess the temperature of 30 unfamiliar cities. The research result shows that the participants who were primed with “angry words” were more likely to guess that a place was hot.

Difficult as it will be, when you feel a sense of anger, it should be a signal to be mindful. Examine the rolling thoughts. Blur the focus who, look at the issue objectively. Look at what’s wrong, not who’s wrong. Anger is best wielded with an attitude of respect for the perspective of the person who is supposed to have wronged you.

Be open about your feelings. Don’t try to suppress your feelings nor act with aggression. Describe the situation as a shared issue. Invite collaboration. Look at how you can use your feeling of injustice for good. Use a relevant part of PEACE to address the anger. Look for a cue to ease up, look for inspiration to do better.

Like Coutinho who won every award Liverpool FC offered after expressing his anger on missing out on being selected for Brazil’s world cup team; player of the year, players’ player of the year, goal of the year and performance of the year. He was a monopoly.

Coutinho is back with a vengeance again. This time, he and Bayern Munich team mates did the unthinkable and the undoable. They thrashed Messi’s Barcelona 8-2 in the 2019/2020 Champion’s League semi-finals. This effectively puts a big question mark on the Messi dynasty at Barcelona. The biggest cut was that Coutinho, on loan from Barcelona, viewed as a misfit, scored two and set up one of the eight goals. I bet, Phillippe Coutinho did not feel slighted, pushed out as excess baggage from Barcelona, he was angry. The angry Coutinho eased up. He should be okay right now.

August 2021 update: Messi has left to PSG at the French league. It’s hard to see him boss Mbappe or Neymar there. I wished Liverpool signed Coutinho but they did not. He was supposed to join Arsenal but it did not materialize. Good for him. He alone can’t save Arsenal. Coutinho will have his chance at Barcelona. Hopefully. Or, he might get angry again…

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