What if we could just make our pain disappear? This may seem only a fantasy, when we are struggling with painful depression or feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. Yet we are all born with the ability to calm ourselves. Some of us develop these emotional regulation skills better than others. The good news is that we can learn skills as we grow into adolescence and adulthood to sooth our painful feelings.
Our affects are biological. These affects include joy, startle, fear, anger, sadness, shame, and disgust. These affects are part of the hard-wiring of our brains. Affects are universal. Our nervous system sends signals all over the body which change our heart rate, muscles, and perspiration. These affects are part of human life for all of us on the planet earth.
Our affect becomes a feeling when we are aware of the affect. When I notice my ear feeling hot, I am experiencing shame as a feeling. As affects are repeatedly experienced through our lives, they get associated with memories, thoughts, and images. Nathanson writes, “affect is biology, emotion is biography.” The story we tell our friends, families and ourselves about the feelings that we experience is our emotion.
The first memory that I have is of being in the garage of my family’s new house on Wagman Drive in San Jose, California, USA. It was 1966, and I was 3 years old. I feel joy when I think of this memory. The affect of joy is linked to my memory in the garage and thoughts of my early life with my parents and older brother and sister. This is an example of an explicit memory.
We also have implicit memories. I may have implicit memories about my adoption, although I was adopted when I was only a day old. These adoption memories are connected to sadness and fear. When something happens that reminds me of my adoption, I may feel sad or afraid. These are the ways that neural networks are formed in the brain and throughout the body. Yet it is possible to change these responses with Affect Management Skills Training (AMST).
We can learn to down-regulate distressing emotions and affect by using the Disposal Skill. The Disposal Resource is done by imagining standing at the kitchen sink and throwing the upsetting emotion down the drain. This implies a reduction in the intensity of the painful emotion, such as anger or shame. “The disposal resource may be represented by a sink disposal unit, a garbage disposal, a black hole, and a bottomless pit,” writes John Omaha.
As children, we begin to learn to calm ourselves. The better our mother, father, or other caregivers, regulate their affect, the better we acquire the ability to self-soothe. If we learn a healthy sense of shame as a child, we are able to see our limits and set healthy limits for ourselves. If our father is alcoholic, we may develop difficulty stopping self-destructive behavior, like drinking or overeating. Unhealthy shame leads us to feel worthless and is the most painful emotion we can experience.
The good news is that our mind can change our brain. We can form new neural pathways in our brains. AMST enables us to form new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving by learning skills to calm our emotions and affect as well as balance our brain. Please watch this video and learn to down-regulate painful emotions:
Note: It is helpful to use the Butterfly Hug when using the Disposal Skill. You can watch the video below on the Butterfly Hug for instructions on how to use it:
Do you worry too much? When our minds will not stop with its their endless negative thoughts, it can be really upsetting. Affect Management Skills Training (AMST) is a type of therapy that has a remedy for worry. When we have upsetting memories that will not stop, there is a skill to empower yourself to change it. “The mind can change the brain,” says Dr. Daniel Siegel.
During the container skill, we imagine a container that will hold every disturbing thing. The goal of the Container Skill is to wall off the memories of harmful experiences and the unpleasant overwhelming emotions connected to them.
AMST uses imagery as well as techniques to activate both the right and left sides of the brain. This enables one to be in a whole brain state which enables one to see reality from a clearer vantage point. When we see things more as they are we think, feel and act differently.
The Butterfly Hug is one of many techniques used to activate both the left and right sides of the brain. The activation of both the left and right hemispheres of the brain is called, Bilateral Brain Stimulation. In her book, “Getting Past Your Past,” Dr. Shapiro recommends crossing “your arms in front of you with your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right. Then, you tap your hands alternately on each shoulder slowly four to six times.”
Dr. John Omaha, creator of “Affect Centered Therapy,” says that he demonstrates the Butterfly Hug to clients without emphasizing any particular speed and pressure of the tapping. He said he figures that each client will find the best rate and strength of touch that works for them.
Francine Shapiro suggests another technique to activate both sides of the brain: “alternate tapping your thighs (with the tips of your right index finger, then left index finger) at the same slow speed for the same for length of time (as she suggests above for the Butterfly Hug).”
AMST not only used Bilateral Brain Stimulation, but also uses symbols to influence the subconscious mind. The language of the subconscious is dreams. Advertisers and film producers know how to use the power of symbols. Commercials on television and on the internet motivate people to buy products. We can learn to use images to motivate ourselves. If we wish to use religious or spiritual images, AMST has the means to do so.
By rehearsing these skills of emotional regulation when our upsetting emotions are at a lower level, we develop mastery. Just like a musical instrument or a sport, the more we practice the skills, the better we perform. Please watch this video and learn how to use the container skill from AMST.
“Anger is an emotion of enormous power. Surveys show that more people find it the hardest of all emotions to master,” writes Dr. Roger Walsh.
I see the impact of anger every day not only at work as a marriage and family counselor, but also driving on the roads, shopping in stores, and waiting in line at Starbucks for tea. On a warm July day, I sit in my white 1993 Lincoln Towne Car at a stop light with the driver’s window down. I woman stops next to me and begins to lecture me in a rageful voice. I have no idea about what she is talking. On rainy, cold December evening, walking around a grocery store, I see all the exhausted and sad faces. Some of us turn our anger in toward our self with criticism and self-punishment.
When we feel fear we sense danger nearby. When we feel anger someone is invading our space. Someone may break into our house. They may also interrupt us in the middle of our sentence. We feel they are intruding in our psychological territory. Most of the anger we experience personally or see in others is resentment. Everyone’s experience of anger is unique to them. Often, we feel hot in the face and tension in the muscles of our arms and hands.
Yet we also can see the hatred of discrimination because of race, grievances against unjust bureaucrats, grudges against ex-husbands, as well as murder and war. “When the cat gets angry, its tail swells up to almost twice its normal size, and the cat tries to look imposing. The biological purpose of expansion is to intimidate one’s apparent enemy,” writes David Hawkins. We often can spot anger when someone is inflated, meaning they are behaving as if they were a god. When we are struggling with our appropriate human limitations, anger is a problem for us. We try to force or manipulate people, things, or events.
There are also physical reasons that people experience unhealthy anger and rage. Seventy percent of people who assault others or damage property have problems with their physical brain, specifically the left temporal lobe. When we experience anger frequently, it affects the health of our body. When we live an angry lifestyle, the chemicals that anger releases into the body can lead to heart disease or cancer.
Yet not all anger is bad. Anger has its place in our lives. It is healthy to feel angry when we experience oppression as someone interferes with our ability to choose and express our thoughts. Anger can motivate us to leave a relationship where we are slapped or punched. Anger may also lead us to quit a job where we are asked to so things we believe are wrong, because it violates our cherishes values.
What do I do when I am angry? I cannot sleep because I am so angry. I cannot listen to my children, because I feel so angry. I react at my friends and family who love me, because I feel so angry. What will help me?
The place that I think it is best to begin is with myself. Before I complain to the person with who I am angry, I need to look inside at the source of my anger. There is the 2% rule. He may be 98% wrong, but what is my part. How am I responsible for my anger? The deeper I examine my responsibility, the more I may realize that I play a significant role. For example, I look at my boss who it demanding and critical. He always asks the impossible of me.
It is often beneficial to examine my own role in my anger, before I confront another about a grievance. When the anger is out of proportion with the event that triggers the anger, I have work to do. I examine my projections around anger. (Look for my blog and video on projection for a more detail explanation of what it is.)
I would generally prefer to be civil. Being in a whole brain state seems to enable me to be civil and emotionally congruent. Learning to get into a whole brain state is another key aspect of managing my anger and self-regulating my emotions generally. (Look for my blog and video on “EMDR Self-Help – The Butterfly Hug” for more information on how to achieve a Whole Brain State.) What a difference if the world were full of calm people. Image this! Please consider watching this video on anger and calming yourself down.
If you have some trouble controlling your anger, you are normal. Anger has enormous power that over shadows our clear thinking and our desire to do good. Academic studies identify it as the hardest of emotions to master. Most adults do not master anger until after age 50 – if ever. Anger can lead to heart disease and cancer.
We typically get angry when someone blocks us from our goals, lies to us, or unjustly hurts someone. Fear is an emotional signal that danger is near. Anger is a signal someone is crossing into our territory – physically or psychologically. Yet there is an upside to anger, because anger gets us moving. Anger and depression are incompatible states.
Play is the natural way we let go of our unpleasant emotions and heal. Children naturally play through a conflict they experience. Play is the natural way we let go of tension and heal. During authentic play, we are spontaneous, unselfconscious, and non-competitive as well as lose track of time. Playing is part of what it means to be human. Schiller says, (woman or) “man is completely human only when (she or) he is at play.”
Using simple movements, natural to us as children that we have been taught to suppress as grown-ups, Laura Lund. offers us ways to cope with anger. Laura Lund is certified as a Somatic Counselor and Educator with Zapchen Somatics. In this video, Laura Lund demonstrates technique to change our emotional state with childlike body movements and sounds – raspberries, horse lips, and stomping.