Anger Management

We can get at anger a number of different ways.
It is important to understand that anger serves a healthy function. In Marshall Rosenberg’s book, The Surprising Purpose of Anger he wrote that the purpose of anger is to alert you that your boundaries have been violated and give you the energy to take action to protect yourself.
Explore your history. How did you learn to express anger? Then reflect in thought in feelings. Consider your values around anger. If spirituality is important to you, incorporate that in your reflections. Do you feel led to make a change? How would you like to be different? How would you like to express anger differently from what you learned in the past?
There are many ways to work on making a change and managing anger in your life. Typically in therapy, you and I would design a plan that would include some or all of the following approaches. One is cognitive: Control anger by using your brain. Find ways to manage your anger using coping skills. One coping skill is called the Rage Gauge. You remain mindful of your feelings and pay special attention to feelings of anger. You rate how your feeling on a scale of 0 to 10 or 0 to 100. Using this measure of anger, you develop warning systems and action plans to deal with increasing levels of anger. The warning system I like is a flag system: green, yellow, red flags to help choose actions. Some things to do to manage anger as you feel it increasing include such relaxation exercises as Breathe from Your Belly, or One Minute Vacation, imagine yourself somewhere relaxing.
Another approach is to understand your thinking habits and understand the way your body works when angry / under stress.  The Sympathetic System of nerves prepares your body to defend against danger.  The Parasympathetic System of nerves brings the body back into a calm state. To address the Somatic aspects of anger reactions, you begin with mindfulness. What body sensations do you notice when you’re angry? Our bodies have not evolved since caveman/woman times and our bodies are hardwired to respond to danger. The body reacts to anger and stress the same ways. Thus, to address the fact that despite our living a modern life in buildings with no life-threatening dangers, we are still equipped to return to our caveman ways. Evolution has not caught up. For that reason, it is helpful to practice managing your anger in session. The phrase, practice makes perfect is accurate. It applies to sports and all forms of training. Thus, when you practice anger management coping skills in session, you are more readily able to implement them in real life situations.
To augment the cognitive and somatic approaches, we also address your beliefs and values. How do you want to behave toward your loved ones? This is called Relational: What is my relationship with this person?  How do I want it to go when I one of us gets angry?  (Again history comes into play.
In addition to our fight or flight systems, that prime us to become angry, the way we grew up  shapes how we get angry and respond to anger. What is your trauma history? What are the triggers for anger? By desensitizing and reprocessing past events with an EMDR therapist, you can un-do the negative effects of your past. Ultimately, it is possible to stop reacting to triggers.

Style differences in couples and NLP

Style differences in couples can lead to misunderstandings. Body language, eye contact, or lack thereof, how fast or slowly you talk, the words you use, thinking styles, and how you act can affect your relationships with people.  

I learned to observe style differences in NLP training. However, the top web sites that show up on a google search are not at all helpful. So allow me to summarize some of the useful elements of neurolinguistic programming.

Rapport (French word, pronounced rap por): Good rapport is connection that feels good. You can often tell when people are in rapport because their body language is similar. For example, their legs look the same. They’re both crossed or not. Their bodies are in similar positions. For example, both might be leaning forward towards each other. Their voices are equally loud, they move the same, and they use the same level of vocabulary. If one swears a lot, so does the other. You get the idea. 

If you’re not in rapport, what can you do?


  • Observe:  You can consciously make the effort to observe the other person’s style.  How far apart from you do they stand?  How big is their personal space?  Do they talk with their hands?  What is their body position?  What is their energy level?  What are they talking about?  How do they process?  How do they make decisions?  How do they deal with conflict?  What motivates and inspires them?


  1. Match:  You can consciously make the effort to match them.  If they’re loud, and you’re not, raise your voice a little.  If they’re being intense, ratchet up your intensity a little.  People feel mocked if you copy them exactly.  So the idea is to think and act and move and talk a little more like them.  Modify how you are to match them a little.


In one NLP training the facilitator told a long story about bouncers at night clubs. Some of them are masters at rapport. The long and short of the story was that good bouncers match the body language of the rowdy customer just right and get them to de-escalate, calm down. They prevent fights; they don’t just stop them.

In one NLP training the facilitator told a long story about bouncers at night clubs. Some of them are masters at rapport. The long and short of the story was that good bouncers match the body language of the rowdy customer just right and get them to de-escalate, calm down. They prevent fights; they don’t just stop them.  

If you’re me you’ll talk about it. (Laugh with me here, because I enjoy laughing and I laugh at myself a lot.) I’m into psychology and body language and people and how they get along, or not. If the other person is leaning forward, I lean forward to match them. When it fits in the flow of things, I have meta-conversation about styles. For example, I might say, “Our styles are really different. I noticed that you like to think things through. When things get intense, you want some space to process. It seems like you need to feel your feelings and think things through on your own. You go to your room, and you calm down before you’re ready to talk with me again.”  

In a friendship when I’m getting to know someone, I might say, “You seem like you’re into family, and you enjoy adventure. I bet you would go to an amusement park with your kids at the drop of a hat.” 

There is a whole lot more to be said on this topic. But note that differences between the two people who make up a couple are important. At first opposites attract, but then, opposite become irritating. When things settle down in a relationship, people accept the ways that are different in their loved one. That doesn’t mean it stops annoying you. You just learn to live with it and laugh about it, in a kind way, together. 

One of my favorite couples therapists says that there is a circle of things we will always disagree about in a relationship. We just have to be aware of what’s in that circle and keep the conversation going about those differences. Believe me, disliking your in-laws does not necessarily go away, but together you can learn to live with it.

Stages of love relationships

Love relationships and the people in them go through stages. A couple may progress through the stages together or one person may be in a different stage from the other.
Symbiosis—spend time together noticing all the things you have in common, loving everything about the other person.
Differentiation—noticing differences and becoming annoyed with some of them. Arguing about issues. Growing awareness that you are unique individuals in a relationship together. In this stage you need to find ways to deal with differences and conflict.
Practicing—spend time focusing on oneself: work, activities, friends outside the relationship.
Rapprochement—the couple turns their focus back on each other and enjoys renewed closeness.
*This is a fairly technical book written for therapists. It is a relatively easy read. Bader, E. and Pearson, P.T., 1988. In Quest of the Mythical Mate: A developmental approach to diagnosis and treatment in couples therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel Inc.
Emilio Escudero has an excellent, useful summary of the stages at

Internal Family Systems (IFS)

People often make reference to “a part of me.” We say things like, “One part of me wants to go on vacation and another part of me wants to work hard, get recognition, and make a lot of money.” Richard Schwartz and others combined family therapy with this concept of parts and created a new mode of therapy called Internal Family Systems, IFS. IFS categorizes the parts into the Self, managers, exiles, and firefighters.
The Self is a centered, compassionate, curious, confident, and respectful part of us. Ideally, the Self is the leader. It helps the parts come into balance with compassion and kindness.
Managers direct day-to-day activities and long range planning. They get us to work. They perform at work and in life.
Exiles experience emotional pain. They get triggered. They react and flood us with unmanageable emotions. They are kept in exile (metaphorically, in the basement), to prevent them from taking over and doing harm.
Firefighters prevent the exiles from breaking out of exile from that metaphorical basement. Sometimes firefighters take over and engage in negative behaviors to prevent exiles from overwhelming us. Negative behaviors can include bingeing and suicidal ideation.
Managers, exiles, and firefighters can have dysfunctional patterns. For example, we might have a hypercritical manager whose purpose is to motivate us to work harder but who makes us feel badly. When it is triggered, an exile might have a pattern of taking over and exploding with anger. A firefighter might fear an exile’s explosion and pre-emptively take over to prevent the exile from scaring everybody. Consequently, the firefighter might take over and binge eat a quart of Ben & Jerry’s in order to feel some sweetness in life and stuff the emotions.
In IFS, we identify parts and explore their needs, motivations, and patterns. We discover how the parts interact with each other. We help the Self become a compassionate, strong leader. If a part is stuck in the past, we bring that part up to date. When parts have a better understanding of themselves and each other, when they are up to date about our present lives then they can develop better relationships with each other. The end result is a harmonious relationship between the parts and a Self that leads.
Schwartz, Richard 1995. Internal Family Systems Therapy,page 85. New York: Guilford Press.
Internal family systems is an area of interest for me.

Erik Erikson’s Model of Growth / Development

When I am working with a client or a parent, I sometimes talk with them about what a person needs to learn over their lifespan and whether life circumstances prevented a person from completing the developmental task appropriate to a certain age or stage. Trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, integrity: These are the qualities developmental psychologist Erik Erikson believed an ideal adult acquires throughout a lifetime.
Nerd that I am, I love psychology theory. Wikipedia summarizes Erik Erkson’s Theory of Human Development as follows:

Help for the Holidays–Resources for Stress Reduction

Thegood newsis that there areno big secretsout there about how to reduce your stress or what will bring you happiness.You probably already know the answers.
Knowing is different from doing. You Have to, have to, have to, i.e., Must, Do Something!You can claim greater happiness for free, but you have to Do It!
Essentially, if you put your energy into focusing on things that make you happy, you will become happier and you will reduce your stress. Mindfulness, aka paying attention–to your breathing, your thoughts, your reactions, and on a higher level, spiritual and universal truths –can bring you peace. For some it brings happiness as well. If you pay attention to other people and their needs, it boosts your happiness and cuts down on stress. Take a step back and get a wider perspective on life. It’s often easier to find something that makes you happy when you look at the big picture. Enjoying time with family and friends, having faith, doing spiritual and religious practices, feeling peaceful in nature, noticing how much good there is in your life… These are all tied to happiness. Perhaps it’s the altruistic part of your brain setting off a happiness effect.
If you want to calm down and enjoy somebeautiful photography, check out We highly recommend the mood boost you’ll get fromDewitt Jones’s movie
Shawn Anchor did an energetic, funny talk on Ted about the power of gratitude, writing in a journal, and positive thinking. See
HarvardMedical School’s health blog is worth looking at for tips to reduce stress in 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 minute “mini-relaxation exercises.” Check out or You might like to start at their home page and browse,
Harvard also has a great four pager at Harvard Health synthesizes six of the most effective ways to deal with stress. 1. How to deal with common stressors: “Frequently late, Often angry or irritated, Unsure of your ability to do something, Overextended, Not enough time for stress relief, Feeling unbearably tense, Frequently feel pessimistic, Upset by conflicts with others, Worn-out or burned-out, Feeling lonely;” 2. How to meditate on the go, 3. Mini-Relaxations like those listed in the paragraph above, 4. Journal what you are grateful for, 5. Deal with negative thoughts, 6. Put your worries in a metaphorical container.
We enjoyed The Purpose Fairy and The latter is touted as the most viral post on the internet (May 2012). Luminita D. Saviuc’s clever, visual site has a lot of popular wisdom.
MindTools‘ website posted a version of the Holmes Rahe Stress Scale that can help you measure your level of stress, Another way to measure stress is to subjectively pick a number from 0 to 100. In any case, it would be helpful to start tracking how stressed you are. Use today’s measurement as a baseline. Check out for great resources for dealing with stress.
From other posts, you will have gathered that we are big fans of Fred Luskin’s work. With regard to stress, we recommend the book,Stress Free for Goodby Fred Luskin (published in 2005 by HarperCollins). There is no website associated with his book.. However, his Forgiveness Project offers9 Steps To Forgiveness,
Even though it’s a bit drier, Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want (2008, Penguin Press) provides a very useful examination of happiness and how to be happy. Her blog appears at
We like Gretchen Rubin’s popular Happiness Project book. She spent a year researching and self-testing remedies for a happy life. Her website appears less informative, but if you’re interested in getting involved online, we recommend
Please, for your own sake, and world peace (smile), deal with that stress and claim some more happiness for yourself and all who surround you.

Four Holidays of the Apocalypse

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day are hell for some
people.  They’re all about gathering and love and gifts.  Who
knows how many people genuinely enjoy them.  They are stressful;
think of the family arguments, the stress of choosing the right present
and the challenges to a person’s budget. Think lonely hearts and
grieving exes. 

Give yourself permission to ignore the holiday, take a year off from holidays, pretend you’re from a culture that doesn’t celebrate those American holidays… Find new ways to spend the days. On Thanksgiving, go somewhere outdoors that’s usually too crowded.  You’ll have the place to yourself.  On Christmas, go to a Chinese restaurant.  On New Year’s go to bed at 10 and get up at 6. On Valentine’s Day, go to the zoo. Get a joke book out of the library or go online and read a joke-of-the-day. Get inventive.
Here are a few references I found that made the idea of the four holidays of the apocalypse even funnier.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible, called the Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ to Saint John the Evangelist at 6:1-8. The chapter tells of a “‘book’, or ‘scroll‘, in God‘s right hand that is sealed with seven seals“. The Lamb of God, or Lion of Judah, (Jesus Christ) opens the first four of the seven seals, which summons forth four beings that ride out on white, red, black, and pale horses. Although some interpretations differ, in most accounts, the four riders are seen as symbolizing Conquest,[1] War,[2] Famine,[3] and Death, respectively. The Christian apocalyptic vision is that the four horsemen are to set a divine
apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment.[1][4]
Retrieved from the internet December 23, 2012
The Four Horses of the Apocalypse are some of the mythical
unleashed in the Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare DLC
pack. They are War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.


I think the positive purposes of guilt are to help us learn from our mistakes and remember the lessons we learned; and respect social norms and expectations. We take or refrain from certain actions in order to avoid guilt. That is usually a good thing. Otherwise, I don’t think that feeling guilty does anyone any good. I hate guilt when it doesn’t serve our well being. Feeling guilty does not set a good example for others. It’s so natural for us to feel guilt, as girls, women, and Americans. Guilt is a strong part of many other cultures too.
I want to protect those I care for and help them so they don’t feel guilty when they are not. Here is what I would wish, for the people I care for, when sad things happen in their lives: I wish that they would be allowed to really experience feeling sad and bad but have relief from feeling that what is happening is their fault. The people who really care about us aren’t glad when we feel guilty.
Here are a few thoughts to balance guilt: “I did my best in a difficult situation.” “I made the best choice I could from a set of bad options.” “I couldn’t see the future. If I could have I might have done differently.” To anyone living through difficult times, I’m so sorry you are going through this.