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Dbryan
Dbryan's picture
Controlling anger/adrenaline

Can anyone recommend good reading or videos on this subject? Many applications exist regarding self defence but I feel that there is not enough focus regarding control of emotion. I recently discovered Geoff Thompson in regards to the fence and verbal deescalation techniques but what would anyone recommend for people who "see red" when they become angry? Thank you all. 

colby
colby's picture

Well if you see red than that's not good, that's therapy level stuff if I understand you right. Atleast if your talking about people who just rage put where they have no control over themselves and their actions.

Otherwise if your talking about the standard anger/adrenaline that most people have, I would say meditation techniques are probably the best way to learn how to control them and deal with them.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Dbryan,

Adrenaline and anger are totally different things. Adrenaline (and all other related hormones) can and should appear when we are in potentially dangerous and stressful situations. The effects of adrenaline can be very valuable, providing we are able to make use of the somatic anxiety (bodily effects) without it negatively impacting cognitive anxiety (our thoughts) such that we lose control.

Our bodies releasing adrenaline in combat and sparring is both natural and useful … even though it is a little unpleasant. Geoff used to say, “it’s a friend that feels like an enemy”. It works on a “bell curve” though i.e. no adrenaline is bad for performance; performance peaks with a moderate amount; and too much causes us to panic or freeze up.

 We can make a distinction between “somatic anxiety” (the fear in the body which works on the bell curve just discussed) and “cognitive anxiety” (the fear in the mind). How they interact is key.

Scenario 1: You perceive a threat (cognitive) and this results in a release of adrenaline (somatic). You observe the sensations of “fear”, but recognise them as normal, natural and helpful. Adrenaline levels remain at a level that ensures peak performance.

 Scenario 2: You perceive a threat (cognitive) and this results in a release of adrenaline (somatic). You feel the sensations of “fear” and see them as a sign something is wrong (increased cognitive anxiety). This results in yet more adrenaline being released (somatic), which in turn is seen as supporting the idea something is very wrong (yet more cognitive anxiety: “I’m feeling terrified … I knew this was serious!”) … and around and around this cycle goes. The adrenaline reaches very high levels and the mind is overwhelmed. This can happen very quickly.

 The “trick” is to therefore intervene and stop the cycle from spinning. For me, the practise of “mindfulness” is useful here because we get better at observing thoughts and feelings without identifying those those thoughts and feelings. We can therefore FEEL scared without BEING scared.

Live practise is also a must that will help develop the skill of effectively using adrenaline. Gradually increasing the level of the drill over time is vital so people grow in skill, confidence and mindset. Lots to the topic and way more than can be covered in a forum thread.

I’d like to draw a distinction between anger and aggression here. Aggression is very helpful in combat. It is laser focused and helps achieve the goal. Aggression is a tool / mindset we can use. We can switch it on and off. Conversely, anger is something that controls us and is likely to lead to wild and inappropriate action. As the samurai saying goes, “The angry man will defeat himself in life as well as in battle”.

Adrenaline mixed with aggression can be a very powerful mix combatively. Run away adrenaline is a problem. Mistaking anger and aggression is another big problem.

Colby hit the nail on the head with regards to the anger:

colby wrote:
that's therapy level stuff if I understand you right. At least if you’re talking about people who just rage put where they have no control over themselves and their actions.

I’d agree. If you feel controlled by anger in given circumstances, that’s probably something a good councillor or therapist will be able to help with.

Colby wrote:
I would say meditation techniques are probably the best way to learn how to control them and deal with them.

“Meditation” can be a loaded term as it can point to a wide range of practises (many connected to religion or given worldviews). Many claims are made for these methods; often without any basis. “Mindfulness” has been scientifically studied and is devoid of any “philosophical” baggage. It also does not claim to be a universal cure-all. Here is the basics from the UK’s National Health Service:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

With regards to anger and “seeing red”, I’d seek out the guidance of a qualified councillor or therapist first though. Mindfulness is not appropriate for everyone. Like any health issue, it’s better to get the advice of the trained experts than seek to fix it ourselves.  

All the best,

Iain

Dbryan
Dbryan's picture

Thanks for the feedback. This was just a general question based past experience not only working with other martial artists but also previous coaching experiences in other sports. I have seen younger athletes with exceptional abilities become angry and completely lose all focus, skills and rationale. I will choose my wording more carefully in future questions :) 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Dbryan,

Thank you for the clarification.

Dbryan wrote:
This was just a general question based past experience not only working with other martial artists but also previous coaching experiences in other sports. I have seen younger athletes with exceptional abilities become angry and completely lose all focus, skills and rationale.

Anger is definitely something that will destroy performance. It’s also not an inevitable biological or psychological response to stressors or adrenaline. It would suggest something deeper such as low self-esteem, poor impulse control, past trauma, etc is in play.

While dealing with adrenaline is something that needs to be addressed in training; the whys and wherefores as to why that may lead to angry outbursts in some individuals is undoubtedly something that most martial arts instructors will not have the skills, training or ability to address. I’d also worry about the damage they could do to fellow students or innocent members of the public if they “lost it”.

Probably best not to teach such individuals or have them be part of the group if they are prone to fits of rage. Addressing the root causes of that is definitely a job for professionals.

All the best,

Iain

colby
colby's picture

Meditation can be a loaded term I agree but however you want to term it or define it the biggest thing are the techniques and finding the right one for you. And in this case, most traditional karate dojos have some kind of quick meditation/mindfulness practice before or after training so that might be a thing to work more on and then go out from there. Specifically focusing on the controlling of emotions.

But again I'm just speaking about average enotional issues stemming from a healthy brain, not serious rage issues that should be seen by a trained professional.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

The anger issue has a converse relationship with age. That is, in terms of self-defense it's most important for young men from teens to mid 20's, the incidence of fighting (from what I remember) decreases after this point. So it's true that it should be covered in self defense, but it's not terribly relevant to every demographic. I believe Ellis Amdur (a psychologist and martial artist) has a few books that go into personal de-escalation techniques.

The technique I can recommend from my own small bit of experience working in the mental health/counseling world is "box breathing"...this is something to help the kind of "somatic anxiety" Iain mentions. It's not that hard to down-regulate your nervous system when you are upset, with some practice.

https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing

and an article:

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/biology-of-calm-how-downregulation-promotes-well-being-1027164

If we can learn to do this almost automatically when upset, it can really help. Beyond that though, we're dealing with pyschology, not just physiology, and the answers there come from more than self-defense classes. The more aware we are of our own pyschological sore sports and triggers, the easier it is avoid triggering them or to deal with them.

If I had to develop a formal course that involved this sort of thing (I haven't at all, but have worked with people around this sort of issue) I would include mainly breathing techniques and cognitive defusion techniques.

https://www.mindfulnessmuse.com/acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/cognitive-defusion-in-a-nutshell

This again goes past what I think most people would think of as "self defense", it's more a life skills/therapy thing. It's also been my observation that at least some people -do- teach breathing techniques in self defense seminars, and of course they are a part of traditional martial arts for the same reason.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Zach,

Great post and thanks for the links to the resources!

Zach Zinn wrote:
The anger issue has a converse relationship with age. That is, in terms of self-defense it's most important for young men from teens to mid 20's, the incidence of fighting (from what I remember) decreases after this point. So it's true that it should be covered in self defense, but it's not terribly relevant to every demographic.

I think most of us who have left our 20s behind will recognise we were more “easily thrown out of balance” during that time period. However, I think it’s also fair to say that we older gentlemen are not immune from it now though. While it may be more relevant to youngsters, I think the ability to de-escalate ourselves (a pre-requisite for the effective de-escalation of a situation) is still something that needs to be factored in for all age groups.

I would agree that the weight afforded the issue will vary with age. Older folk generally care less about their perceived standing in the eyes of strangers. Additionally, younger men are more prone to incorrectly equate de-escalation with “backing down” or “bottling it”. That’s an issue that self-protection training for that demographic needs to specifically and clearly address.

As we know, the first rule of de-escalation is that we need to de-escalate ourselves. We can’t allow ourselves to be controlled by someone else pushing our emotional buttons. We need self-control. I’ve been in situations – as I’m sure many others here will also have experienced – where people have gone to verbal extremes to try to provoke me. They wanted me to react emotionally so they could get into a fight and remove any claim of self-defence (i.e. drag me outside of the law too in order to reduce legal risk to themselves). Criminals and other assorted problem people can be really clever like that. We need to be even clever and retain control.

Zach Zinn wrote:
The more aware we are of our own pyschological sore sports and triggers, the easier it is avoid triggering them or to deal with them.

Absolutely. One of the longer term and most in-depth self-protection courses I did had everyone do a personal risk assessment that had to include such issues. As someone who find deliberate bad manners intolerable, I had to realise that I’m not the “politeness police” and I have to let such things go. Not all risks to our wellbeing are external. As Geoff Thompson used to say, “self-protection begins with protection against the self”.

Zach Zinn wrote:
This again goes past what I think most people would think of as "self defense" ....

I’d agree, but would suggest that encouraging some self-reflection on our emotional reactions is an important part of both personal security and de-escalation. We are not therapists and hence don’t have the skills to address individual issues, but getting the individual to reflect on the potential consequences of the things that “trigger” them would seem to be an important thing to include.  As you say, it’s not something the “here’s how to get out of a headlock” brigade consider to be part of self-protection. Yet another example of why martial arts instructors often suck at teaching self-protection.

All the best,

Iain

Dbryan
Dbryan's picture

Thank you for the informative sources Zach.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
I’d agree, but would suggest that encouraging some self-reflection on our emotional reactions is an important part of both personal security and de-escalation. We are not therapists and hence don’t have the skills to address individual issues, but getting the individual to reflect on the potential consequences of the things that “trigger” them would seem to be an important thing to include.  As you say, it’s not something the “here’s how to get out of a headlock” brigade consider to be part of self-protection. Yet another example of why martial arts instructors often suck at teaching self-protection.

Thanks Iain, you're right -  it should be more common than it is to teach this material. The breathing stuff can also help with "freezing" and with the emotional fallout of violence, both before and after. I suppose if I ever do a full length self defense seminar ( I have only done short hour-long "classes" a few times at someone else's seminars) I will actually include some of this material. Sadly, the times I've done in the past, I've been guilty of only doing physical stuff.

Now that we've had this conversation, it makes me realize that this stuff is actually quite important, and I was tending to sell it short for fear of "going outside our lane" as martial artists/self defense types. Indeed though, it is more central than that, and I think it's a  good place to go against the grain a bit. In addition, having used these sorts of things professionally, I have some confidence in their ability to help people with anger/de escalation, and that is something. I've always felt that a dedicated self defense seminar should be at least 60% stuff on de escalation, psychology of violence etc.

Dbryan wrote:
Thank you for the informative sources Zach.

No problem, glad were interesting and/or helpful.

You can always search youtube for things like box breathing and different relaxation techniques as well. They all tend to follow the same basic principles, with different packaging.