January 29, 2017, Roger Federer lifted his 18th Grand Slam Trophy at the conclusion of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. He is a great champion because he exemplifies what great champions do – time and again they overcome adversity to rise to higher levels of performance.
Federer has overcome a lot of adversity. One significant example is his performance at the 2008 Roland Garros final against Rafa Nadal. Federer won only 4 games over three sets. In terms of the survival skills of flight, flight or freeze, he was frozen in terror during the match. He could not play. When he hit the ball, it would go all over the place because he was so tight. At the end of the match, Nadal had a puzzled look on his face as he stretched his winning arms up in the air and walked toward the net to shake Federer’s hand. At the final ceremonies, during his speech, Federer apologized for his level of play and promised to perform better next time.
I don’t know what emotions Federer felt during and after that match. I can only guess he felt frustrated, bewildered, shocked, ashamed, bitter, disappointed, out of control and more.
He experienced another devastating loss at the 2009 Australian Open when he lost to Nadal again. This time he was going for a record-breaking 14th Slam title to equal Pete Sampras. He was expected to win because Nadal was tired from playing a long gruelling 5 set match in the semi-final. Again, Federer played badly. His emotions were evident during the final ceremonies as tears streamed down his face and he struggled to speak. Nadal, his friend and tennis arch-enemy, put his arm around Federer’s neck, expressing caring, warmth and friendship. I’m guessing it felt bittersweet for Federer.
Most people tend to avoid bad experiences. No one wants to experience painful difficult feelings if they can help it. It is common for people to try to avoid any situations where they might feel awful feelings, especially the sensations of the feelings. They become invested in avoiding. They try to control the outcome. By doing so they behave differently than they would behave if they didn’t try to control the outcome. They do behaviours, which limit their abilities. The byproduct – their performance level drops and they are more likely to fail. For many people, the fear of feeling the difficult painful sensations of failing become more important than the exhilarating sensations of winning and success.
How has Federer overcome these (and many other) difficulties? He is not afraid of feeling difficult feelings. (That does not mean that he likes it.) Somehow he processes the emotions so that if they happen, he knows he can get through them and survive – well. It takes courage and strength to process emotions.
As well, he has enough successes in his career and in his life that make the risks worth it. He knows the best way to win, and win big, is to play at his best. That means not controlling the outcome. The answer mostly lies in his attitude –
Quote from Roger Federer at the pre-match interview at the 2017 Australian Open: “There’s only one match left. I found it’s so great already. Just like – Let it [the ball] fly off your racquet and see what happens.
He let go of the outcome.
Scenario: Jack was furious at his boss for undermining his authority yet again. He wanted to quit! He felt powerless. He met with a business colleague and told him about what had happened. The business colleague had offered him a job before and told him the offer was still open. Jack was interested. That would serve his boss right if he quit. Still furious, Jack said he’d like to think about it and get back to him.
Jack went home. He rolled up a newspaper and put duct tape around it. After making four more paper bats, he went down into his basement. He found a pole and wailed on the pole until all five paper bats were in shreds. He was exhausted. His anger was gone. As he rested, he realized that he did not want to leave his current job. He realized that besides liking the job, he valued the people he worked with and would miss them. He decided he would find a way to address his issues with his boss.
When people are angry, they want to attack or defend—anger has a purpose— to make something happen or stop something from happening.
There are many ways to constructively and productively express anger.
Allow your body to do what it needs to do.
Types of attacking motions:
Slapping, hitting, pounding, chopping, stomping, swatting, poking, throwing, smashing, slamming, grabbing, kneading, kicking, shoving, squeezing, pushing, pinching, pulling, screaming, ripping, tearing, cutting (with knives, scissors).
Many sports provide us with outlets for anger by making attacking motions, including hockey, soccer, tennis, racquetball, badminton, football, volleyball, basketball, boxing, wrestling, archery, darts, and more.
Martial Arts provide excellent ways to do attacking motions.
Many of these sports involve running or skating, yet those activities are not attacking motions; they are fleeing motions.
Attacking motions you can do at home:
Household chores: Scrub the floor. While making bread, knead the dough.
Gardening: pull weeds, dig, prune trees and shrubs, etc.
Workshop: pound nails into wood, sawing, hammering, pulling nails out of wood, grinding, chiselling, etc.
Express your anger and clear your mind.
By making attacking motions, anger is dissipated and does not build up. Afterwards, people may still be angry yet no longer want to attack. They think more clearly. They can better access the underlying vulnerable feelings generating the anger and are better able to deal effectively with whomever or whatever is making them angry.
Because anger is no longer building up, it is easy to handle or manage. Now, when an upsetting event happens, there is a response rather than a reaction. Small events generate small responses, and more serious events generate larger responses. That is, the response fits the event.
Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
I think Einstein thought humans would obliterate each other with nuclear weapons. He probably did not realize that the threat could be a deadly virus. While the virus is dangerous, what is important is how people handle the pandemic. The weapons we have are vaccines, physical distancing, handwashing and sanitizing, shutting down most businesses, including airlines, and not permitting public gatherings of any size.
If the virus is not held in check, World WAR lV might be fought with sticks and stones.
Embedded in the word “pandemic” is the word panic.
There is a valid fear: the virus is deadly.
There is an irrational fear: overreaction to the virus—the fear of the fear.
Another “weapon” is alienating us from each other.
Pandemics are a disaster, but most disasters bring us together, and we support/comfort each other. However, this worldwide pandemic is a global disaster, so how does it differ from most disasters? This pandemic is isolating.
To be continued . . .
With care and concern,
Dr. Bea Mackay
Anger Is Energy
Anger expressed positively can convince a lover or child that he or she is loved. It can help you get a job done when you’re tired. It can be motivating. Tiger Woods, one of the top golfers, says, “I sometimes lose my temper on purpose to fire myself up.”
Anger expressed negatively can devastate a child of any age, but especially when they are very young. Anger can destroy relationships and ruin things of value. People can hurt others when they get angry, but they often hurt themselves.
There are times when it is appropriate and productive to get angry. But often, getting angry can be dangerous, even embarrassing. It is helpful to know the difference and have the impulse control to carry out the choice. Most important is how a person acts when angry.
Scenario: Sam pulled into her garage after a long hectic day at work. As she got out of her car, she heard glass breaking. She went around the corner of her home and saw the shattered living room window. Her son and his friends stood on the street, frozen. One of the boys had hit the baseball through the window. Sam was enraged! Last time, it was the neighbour’s bedroom window. She’d told them many times to practice in the schoolyard nearby. She wanted to scream at them and slap them silly!
Sam knew that she was too angry to deal with the boys right then and told them so. She sent her son to his room and sent his friends home. She changed into her jeans and a T-shirt, went into the backyard, and chopped some wood. As she chopped, her rage dissipated. She was still angry but not enraged. Then she got her son to help her put some plywood over the broken window. Later that evening, she and her husband sat down with their son to deal with the problem.
Sam did not blow-up, nor did she block her anger. She allowed her muscles to do what they needed to do—attack. But she did not attack her son or his friends; she attacked the wood. She destroyed and created something simultaneously.
When people get angry, their bodies pump adrenaline into the bloodstream, preparing their muscles for fight or flight. Their muscles are primed to act, and as they do, the adrenaline is processed. However, if the anger is blocked, then the muscles do not do what they naturally do. The adrenaline stays in the muscles, often causing side effects, such as shakiness until it is eventually processed. Blocked or unexpressed anger builds up over time. The brain and the body need to deal with it in some way. Some people blow-up because they can no longer tolerate the tension. Others suppress and repress their anger, which can lead to physical and emotional illnesses. Depression is often the symptom of repressed anger. Neither is healthy, and both can cause a lot of harm.
It is not easy to find wood to chop, but there are many other ways to express anger constructively and productively, like throwing a rug over a railing and whacking it with a broom.
On January 6, 2020, the Iranian general was assassinated. Does anyone remember this?
I am on a global internet LISTSERV with my colleagues (psychologists, psychiatrists, professors, students, trainers, counsellors, and coaches). When this happened, the level of fear in the world ramped up. I was concerned about how worried my LISTSERV colleagues were about themselves and their clients.
Of course, once COVID-19 became a serious threat to life, hardly anyone remembers the assassination of the Iranian general. The fear around COVID-19 started as a slow burn and then became a raging blaze once people let sink in how we are all at risk. Countries scrambled to deal with the threat, but they had never had to deal with anything like this before. Everyone was on new ground.
I mentioned to a publisher I know, that if ever there was a time to market a book on processing emotions, it was now. I said to him, “I’m not sure how to go about it. It needs to be a shorter book.” His response was, “Send me a couple of chapters for the shorter version.”
This was how my second manuscript, The Power of Connection: How to process emotion in turbulent times, came into being.
When will The Power of Connection be available?
The manuscript has been accepted for publishing by Friesen Press. While it is a shorter version of Let Things Fall Together, Friesen Press suggested we edit content and personal stories to target COVID-19. Currently, my team, Tereza Racekova (editor), Lesley Wexler (graphic artist), Bree BV (virtual assistant), and myself are editing the manuscript and adding graphics.
We are aiming to launch in May 2021.
I can hardly wait to announce the date.
With care and concern,
Scenario: Mary sighed. She’d blown her top—again. After the last time, she’d promised herself that she would not do it anymore, but she’d just lost it again.
Mary had been cleaning the home for a couple of hours. Ralph had come home from soccer and was in the shower. She walked into the bedroom to get something and found a pile of his sweaty clothes on the floor. This was an ongoing struggle between them. Mary had asked him many times to put his dirty clothes in the clothes hamper. Annoyed, Mary swept up the clothes, put them away, and went back to cleaning the home. Half an hour later, she walked into the bathroom and saw his wet towel lying on the bathroom floor. She lost it and went into a rage. She grabbed the towel and stomped off to find him. He was sitting on the patio, relaxing. Seeing him relaxed infuriated her even more. She threw the towel in his face and yelled obscenities at him. Finally, she stomped off. Ralph sat there in shock, wondering what had just happened.
Often there is a cycle of anger and peace. A person blows-up, and then there is a period of peace. But life is life. Things happen, and often, they are not significant. A small annoying event will happen, and it will get dismissed. There is tension. Another irritating event follows, and it gets pushed under the rug. Tension increases. Another frustrating event and anger is pushed aside. More tension. Another event and the anger is swallowed. Tension builds. After several more frustrating events, another small event happens, and a person blows up in rage. Usually, there is confusion because the nature of the event did not warrant the intensity of the anger. Others will ask, “How could you get so mad about that?” However, the tension is released. Now there is peace again—at least for a while. The building process starts again. It’s like a stack of coins; each coin is like a frustrating event. The stack gets high, then one more coin is put on the stack, and the whole stack falls over.
For Mary, it was not just the wet towel on the bathroom floor; it was the many wet towels on the bathroom floor, the dirty socks around the house, the jacket hung over the back of the kitchen chair, the newspapers scattered near the couch, the shoes cluttered by the door, dirty dishes on the coffee table, etc.
Underneath the anger, Mary felt out of control and unappreciated. She tried everything to get Ralph to help around the house. She felt resentful that Ralph was playing while she was working. It seemed to her that she did the major share of keeping the home in order. Finally, she snapped and went into a rant.
Blow-ups happen because of ongoing difficulties that are not resolved. There is a buildup of tension that is not released. At some point, the buildup gets so intense that it cannot be contained.
How to Make a Change
Make a change by interrupting the cycle. Bring up unresolved issues during the phase when tension is building. In this scenario, Mary realized that if she did not address this with Ralph, she would blow-up at him again. She asked him to set a time when they could talk. Together they picked a time they were both available. Mary felt less frustrated, knowing that the problem was going to be addressed. When the time came, they sat down together and explored the issue. They did not come up with solutions before they figured out what the real problem was between them. This helped them feel connected to each other. Once they were connected emotionally, they came up with solutions to experiment with. Each felt better about the other.
Ralph, too, could have initiated the discussion with Mary. After she calmed down, he could have asked her for a time to talk.
Each Partner Has a Part in the Cycle
No one person is at fault. Whatever is going on between two people is co-created by them both, and each needs to take responsibility for his/her part in the negative cycle.
When issues have been discussed unsuccessfully before, couples need to change how they address them. The exercise “Sooner Rather Than Later” is a useful tool that gives couples a protocol to follow when addressing and resolving issues.
This time last year, I took time off from seeing clients and went on a writing retreat. I wanted to fully immerse myself in my writing and felt I couldn’t do it staying in Vancouver.
After stopping off in St. Catharines, Ontario, where I joined with my brother and sister-in-law in celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary, I went to Montreal to work with my editor, Tereza. We spent five weeks together from February 8th to March 13th, 2020. For me, it was an enjoyable and productive time. I enjoyed getting to know Tereza in person. We found we were in sync with my content and how to share it with my readers. She is a fantastic editor. She takes my writing and makes it flow.
At this time, the pandemic was in its infancy and just ramping up. My ticket back to Vancouver was Saturday, March 14th. On my last evening, Tereza took me out for dinner at one of Montreal’s great restaurants. The next day, I left and remember the huge airport and how “dead” it was. I got home safely and reconnected with my family before restrictions were solidly put in place. Tereza told me that the day I left, Montreal shut down. None of the restaurants were open, and businesses were closed.
I was happy to get home and happy to be healthy. Because of restrictions, I was not seeing clients and could not even have my family over for dinner. There was nothing to do but write. Tereza and I had not completed the manuscript, so we continued to work by videoconferencing for the next few weeks. I benefited from this unscheduled writing retreat, this time at home.
Fortunately, I live within a five-minute walk from the beach, so I would take walks on my breaks. I was able to see my family and friends outside. Vancouver is a beautiful place to be “trapped” during any season, but it is especially so in the summer. The city is also bike-friendly; there are hundreds of kilometres of well-cared-for bike paths and trails throughout the city and surrounding communities.
With care and concern,
Every couple needs to develop a good working relationship that enables them to resolve differences and solve problems. Some couples do this well while others do not. When problems are addressed rather than ignored, resentment and tension do not build up. When couples have the tools to address problems, they are more likely to use them. This results in less conflict and more good times together.
Avoiding conflict is a common mistake. One way couples do this is to dismiss issues that crop up as too small to deal with. However, small issues that are dismissed tend to build up over time. Often, a big fight breaks out due to the backlog of small issues. In the long run, it is much healthier to deal with small issues as they come up.
The following exercise provides a guide for couples to quickly, easily, and effectively address issues Sooner Rather Than Later.
When these instructions are followed as given, the exercise will help you and your partner:
It is recommended that couples use a time-limited format to listen to each other’s issues, stay on track during a discussion, avoid bringing up past hurts and failures, avoid deflecting from the issue in focus, and use the creative resources of the relationship to solve the issue.
You will need about 30 minutes.
STEP ONE: PICK AN ISSUE. SET A TIME.
One person chooses an issue to be resolved. Choose only one issue and leave other issues that may come up to another time.
The person who has chosen the issue invites their partner to engage in the Sooner Rather Than Later exercise.
Together, set a time when both of you are free to devote 30 minutes to your relationship.
Make that time a priority in your relationship. Do not cancel it unless it is necessary to do so. If you have to cancel, make a new date that you will be able to keep. (If couples treated their spouse/partner as their best client, best student, best customer, best patient, best contractor, best supplier, best employee, etc., relationships would be much better.) In a healthy relationship, couples make their spouse/partner a priority in their lives.
Do not expect or demand your partner to address an issue right away. Your partner may or may not be ready. If necessary, give yourself some time to think about it.
Deal with issues when they are small and when the resentment in the relationship is minimal.
They are much easier to resolve Sooner Rather Than Later.
STEP TWO: PLAN FOR AFTER.
Plan something fun/pleasant to do after the 30 minutes is up. (No sex.)
STEP THREE: OPEN UP. LOOSEN UP.
Open your mind to the process.
Keep in mind the following:
STEP FOUR: EXPRESS YOURSELVES
5 minutes each.
Each person takes 5 minutes to express his/her concerns about the issue without being interrupted by the other. Allow for periods of silence during the 5 minutes of talking. (Often, after a period of silence, the concern deepens to another level.) Do not take longer than 5 minutes. Some people tend to repeat themselves and lose the effect of what they are trying to get across.
STEP FIVE: REFLECTIVE LISTEN TO EACH OTHER.
2.5 minutes each.
Each person expresses what he/she thinks the other person’s concerns are, that is, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours relevant to the issue. Allow for clarification.
Say – “You think . . . (about the issue) . . .”
and/or “You feel . . . (about the issue) . . .”
and/or “You do . . . (describe behaviors) . . . because . . .”
NOTE: “You feel that . . .” is not a feeling; it is a thought.
STEP SIX: BRAINSTORM – Write ideas down.
Brainstorm together, allowing each person in the couple to suggest as many solutions as he/she can think of. Do not evaluate or judge any suggestion during this process, as fear of criticism will shut down the creative process. Be aware of your non-verbal communications, as partners and spouses are very sensitive to non-verbal messages.
Allow each other to suggest silly, impossible and exaggerated solutions. Have fun with this. It stimulates the creative process. A silly solution may generate a plausible solution.
Add in what you know about how other couples handle this issue without thinking that any one way is the right way. You are exploring all possible ideas. The right way for the two of you is whatever way works for both of you. How you decide to resolve this issue may differ from any other couple, and that’s okay.
STEP SEVEN: AGREE ON A SOLUTION TO TRY.
From all the solutions, choose one that you think would work. Look for a solution that each person will be 80% satisfied with. This is not an either/or situation. Look for a win-win solution. If one person is unhappy with the solution, it won’t work. If one person tries to press his/her solution on the other, it won’t work.
A new solution may emerge out of this process.
Say what you are willing to do, not what you’re not willing to do.
If a solution looks possible but isn’t quite right for your spouse, ask, “What would you need to have happened or changed to get this solution to work for you?” (Caution: do not try to force a solution on your spouse or try to manipulate your spouse into accepting a solution – it will likely backfire if you do.)
Do not refer to past times when things did not work. This format is for now and the future.
If you cannot agree on any solution, pick one that you agree to try.
STEP EIGHT: PLAN HOW YOU WILL PUT THE SOLUTION INTO ACTION.
Agree to do this solution. Plan how and when you will do it.
NOTE: Be prepared to work out bugs in the plan along the way. Set another time to give and get feedback about how well or not it is working.
STEP NINE: IF YOU ARE NOT IN AGREEMENT.
If you still cannot agree on a solution, decide on another time and set another date and go through the process again. Until then, get more information about possible solutions. For example, read books, ask other people how they handle this issue, etc. and bring this information to the next brainstorming session.
STEP TEN: GO AND HAVE FUN.
Let go of the issue for now. You know there is a time set to address it again so that it will not get ignored. It will percolate while you are involved in other activities. When you come back to it, you will both be fresh about it.
Repeat this process until you’ve reached a solution that works for both of you.
If you are unable to find 30 minutes to do this, consider that it means you are avoiding dealing with important issues in your relationship. If this is the case, your relationship may be in deeper trouble than you realize. Seeking professional help may be a necessary next step if you intend to stay in your relationship.
Avoiding issues creates more problems than it solves.
NOTE: These procedures are a guideline. Customize this format to your unique relationship.
© Dr. Bea Mackay 2007
Scenario: James watched as his son, a talented goalie, let in a goal that lost the game. Exasperated, he let out a cry of disgust. After the game, James berated his son for not trying hard enough. His discouraged son tried to convince his father that he had tried as hard as he could. Both felt bad.
There is another feeling under the anger—sensations of vulnerability—that act like an engine fueling the anger and driving the behaviour. Any vulnerable feeling can fuel anger. Some people get angry when they feel out of control, hurt, threatened, pressured or even hungry or tired. There are many sensations of vulnerability, including feelings of abandonment, belittlement, shame, embarrassment, disappointment, hopelessness, rejection, and more.
In James’s case, there was disappointment underneath his anger. When his son did well, he felt proud and important. When his son did not do well, he felt like a failure. He hated the sensations of failure, so he shifted into anger and got on his son’s case.
Vulnerable feelings can range from slight to extreme. No one likes to feel the sensations of vulnerability, so most people avoid or deflect from the sensations by talking about something else, focusing on a task, or worrying about aches or pains they have.
Or they may get angry.
Why get angry? When people shift into anger, they stop feeling the sensations of vulnerability. The sensations of vulnerability do not go away; they go into the background. Feeling angry is better than feeling the sensations of humiliation, rejection, or any other vulnerable feeling. When people feel angry, they feel sensations of power, not vulnerability. With anger, it may be possible to change what is going on for better or worse. Anger has a purpose.
When people get angry, they are looking for a specific outcome. James needed his son to do well so that he could feel good about himself. He got angry at his son, pressuring him into trying harder. Most children feel uncomfortable when their parents are angry, so they try to do whatever it is that will stop the anger, whether it is good for them or not. They become more focused on what their parents are feeling than on the activity, making it harder for them to do well.
What could James do to achieve his goals? First, James needs to be aware that he feels disappointed. He probably shifts into anger so quickly that he does not realize it. Secondly, he needs to realize that his disappointment is about himself, not his son.
Once James is aware, he can:
1) Do things in his own life to achieve a sense of accomplishment and importance.
2) Give his son positive feedback about what he is doing well so that his son stays focused on the sport. This way, his son is more likely to enjoy the activity and perform at his best.
What is the result? They both feel good. His son feels good about his performance, and James feels good about his parenting.
When parents figure out the engine (vulnerable feeling) driving their anger, they have more choices. They may continue to handle situations in the same way or find more effective ways—without getting angry—that are positive for everyone concerned.
Explore the feelings underlying your anger. What did you feel before you got angry? What is the purpose of your anger? Is there a better way to go about it than getting angry?