World Emotional Literacy League
World Emotional Literacy League

The Role of Anger and its Impact on Life -
Scientific Perspective


by Dr. Dean Van Leuven

December 16, 2010


We humans have two basic emotional responses.  The first is love.  It is experienced as a pleasurable feeling and thus is becomes our desire to seek love because of the sensation we feel.  The second is fear.  It is experienced as an unpleasant (painful) sensation.  Thus it is our natural desire to avoid pain.  The fear we feel initially is a withdrawing sensation of helplessness to maintain normal state of well being.  Fear is the signal to our mind that something is wrong that needs our attention.  Anger is the emotion of still being in a fearful state but feeling the need, or taking some action, to resolve the fear that we are experiencing.  For example:  Someone hits me and I choose to either run away or hit him back because I fear that I might be hit again.


The only negative emotion that has been identified by scientists that occurs naturally without regard to our life conditioning is the feeling of being frustrated when we are unable to achieve our goals.  For example: holding a child back when it is reaching for something such as its food.  Other fears such as being afraid of falling or being hurt in traffic arise from learning that such could be harmful in some way.  A child who has no knowledge of automobiles is not aware of their danger and is not afraid to step out into traffic.  We learn our life’s lessons from experience.


Originally our scientists believed that fight or flight was a basic response that arose from the event itself and was not under our control.  They have more recently learned that the physical responses in our body that we associate with both fear based responses and love based responses are identical.  Thus the conclusion is that our primary response to a significant or unknown event is simply an arousal (pay attention) response. 


We have learned through our social conditioning to respond in a preconditioned way. This results from our prior life experiences. Because our physical brain functions faster than our conscious brain we are often not aware that we are acting based on a preconceived judgment that already exists in our mind.


Understanding this process is helpful but not fully effective because the emotional (fear based, painful) emotions affect our ability to reason and find ideal situations for each problem presented to our mind that we have a need to act upon.  The reasoning function of our mind is stressed and its ability to function is restricted by the stress of the negative fear based emotion that we are experiencing.  All to often our emotions overpower our intellect.


Once we learn a solution to a problem we learn to use it automatically without thinking as we use it over and over again.  This is the process we use for such simple things as taking a drink of water and even for more complex things such as driving a car.  This works very well because our subconscious mind functions at a faster rate than our conscious mind. This allows us to respond quickly without even the need to access the reasoning function of our mind in order to carry out a task.


The problem is that we are limited to preconceived answers that are not always the most appropriate answer for the present situation and we will even continue to use preconceived answers that we already know to be ineffective and anger producing because we have developed a habitual response to use them. This arises because we establish beliefs in our mind about what the truth is; and what is not the truth.  Once we have a belief about how we should act in any particular situation we will choose a response based on that truth. Until we are able to recognize that a particular truth is not effective and decide to replace it with a new truth we will not change our response in that particular situation.


We all get angry for the very same reason.  That reason is that we hold a belief that when the particular event that just happened does happen, that we should get angry.   The anger is simply the strategy we have learned to use to deal with this type of event.  We get angry because we think we should in this situation.  We will continue to get angry when this event happens until we integrate a new belief that will not produce an angry response.  In order to no longer get angry we must change the belief we hold that produces the anger.


How the Mind Functions


Everything that happens in our life is determined by the decisions we make.  If we want to make effective decisions in our life; to think and act in ways that are the most beneficial to us, it is important that we understand how our mind functions.  If we no longer wish to experience anger in an a particular instance we must learn how to recognize that this anger is arising and how to make corrections so that it will no longer arise.  The more we understand about how our mind works the more capable we become in making the most effective decisions for our self.


We don't need to fully understand the technical aspects of how the mind works.  We do however need to know how the mind functions if we are going to make changes in what we think, feel and do. We need to understand what is happening inside our mind between perception and action.


With our five physical senses and through intuition we receive signals from the outside.  When that signal comes in it goes to the recognition center where we try to make sense out of it – to understand it enough to decide how to process it.  The first place the recognition center looks is in our memory files to see if there are any memories that tell us what this thing we perceive means to us.  It also looks to see if there are any instructions in there telling us what to do with it.  If the recognition center recognizes something that we already know how to do it sends a message to the automatic response center, which then sends a signal to the action center. The action center then puts out the instructions that we act on (what we say or do).  This response is so automatic that we are often not even aware that we are doing it (such as breathing).  It does not involve our reasoning, our emotions, or our belief system.  That part has already been taken care of in the past.  This takes up so little of our brain’s processing capacity that we are able to do other complicated reasoning or emotional functions at the same time we are carrying out our automatic responses. 


Automatic responses can be very simple, such as breathing or picking up a stick.  They can be much more complex, such as driving a car or flying an airplane – even to the extent of responding to an emergency such as engine failure - if we have been trained well enough.


An automatic response is fine until we want to change a response because it is no longer appropriate.   When we try to break an ingrained habit, it can be very difficult.


Many of our memories have negative or positive charges attached to them.  When this is the case the message is then sent to our emotional center to add feeling content.  This feeling content signals to us how important this message is and how much focus and energy we should put into our response.


Positive charges create love based responses and negative charges produce fear based responses. The stronger the charge the more involved our emotional center is in determining our response.


If we know what to do, then the message is sent to the automatic response center and we act.  If we have dealt with this message before, then we think we know how to act and we do it regardless of the consequences.  This is because we think we know the answer and have bypassed our thinking center, because we feel we need an answer now.  Our thinking center needs time to reason.  We don’t think we have time, so we don’t do it; or do it poorly under stress.


If we don’t have an answer in our memory file or automatic response system then our emotional center sends the information to our reasoning center to figure out a response.


The problem is that our emotional center thinks the message is urgent and it agitates the reasoning center so much that it doesn’t function well.  It is so impatient for an answer it doesn't feel it has time to solve the problem and find the best answer before action is taken.  As soon as our emotional center thinks it has enough information it sends directions to the action center so it can respond.  When we learn how to slow down the emotional response and let our reasoning function more deliberately, we start developing more effective responses. This is why some people use techniques like counting to ten before they answer.  Once we learn how to let our reasoning center work effectively our reasoning can be as effective in emergency situations as it is in solving math problems.


When we recognize a message that comes in that we don’t know the answer to and it doesn’t have an emotional charge attached to it, we send it to the reasoning center.  We then develop a rational answer and send it on to the action center so that we can respond. How effective the action we choose is depends both on how receptive we are to problem solving activity, and also on the belief system and the memory files it has to draw information from.


Our memory files contain all the information we have learned in life.  We draw on these memory files for facts to solve our problems.  We create the information that we store in a memory file by merging our interpretation of the event with what really happened.  This is how we create our own unique truth.


The other source our reasoning draws on is our belief system.  Our belief system is how we see the world.  It is our truths as we see them.  It is our judgment about what we think is true in the world.  All of our reasoning in order to determine the answer is framed in what we think the truth is.  Our belief system tells us not only what it thinks the truth is, but also how we should think and feel about it.


Once we know how our mind works we can take control of it.  When we take more effective control of our mind we can start producing more effective responses.


Most of us have learned a typical response that we automatically apply when we receive input into our mind.  The message comes in.  We open the memory file associated with it and what is in the file dictates the response. 


We can learn to modify how we respond.  When we identify the response that we would like to change, we can develop a new and more effective response.  It may not be as simple as it first appears because we may need to make several changes in order to make one correction.  We sometimes need to keep searching for the cause of the our difficulty in dealing with the problem effectively.


Then we must do the work to overcome the old response pattern that we have in place (break the old habit). For example: Although we may be able to develop a reason based response to a particular message, we may still become stressed by that message because the emotionally charged memory still exists and we have refused to act on it. This is referred to as stuffing our emotions and will require further corrective work to get our belief system and our old memory in harmony with each other.


We may, on the other hand, respond emotionally, but still be able to modify or control our response based on the input from our reasoning center.  This is what we do in anger management.


In order to change our response in a way that works well for us, we need to be able to look at the information that we have in our memory file and align it with a new belief (truth) that we have installed in our belief system that tells us we should feel a certain way in a particular situation.



Once we understand how our mind functions we can use that understanding to find the appropriate answer to any problem that is presented.  We will be better equipped to recognize the old ineffective beliefs and behavior patterns that we have adopted.  We will have a better understanding of the process of change.  We will also have an understanding that change is possible. 


Creating Our Reality and Our Truth


We respond in a particular emotional way whenever we access a specific memory file. 


The message we receive depends on the emotional charge existing in the accessed memory or memories.  This is how we create our reality.


After awhile we are no longer able to separate the facts we received from the emotional assumptions we made. 


Based on past perceptions, we merge our interpretation of the event with what really happened and this becomes our truth.  


What we hold as our truth then affects how we feel about the new messages we receive.



Changing the Way the Mind Works


We can change the way we process information in our mind.  We are able to develop a process that will produce more effective results for us.  By changing our belief system and modifying our old response patterns we can learn to look for the most effective response in any situation.


The primary key is to learn to change our arousal (pay attention) response pattern from the old judgmental (love or fear) response that we have been taught, to a new pay attention, positive assertive action pattern.  




Change Old Belief System to More Effective Response

Old Way                 

    New Way              
Information to Brain

Information to Brain





Creates Love or Fear Response       Pay Attention Response




Results in Judgmental Action         Results in Positive Assertive Action    



The old pattern is judgmental because it is based on first deciding good or bad before we go into our thinking/response.  It is the way most of us have been doing things for a long, long time.  It produces results based on our existing beliefs and memories.  There are two major problems with this system:


1.  It isn’t very flexible.  We always keep getting the same results whether they work very well or not. 


2.  When we are not satisfied with the results it is very difficult to make changes. 


The new pattern allows us to take control of our brain functions to the extent that when we find our behavior ineffective we are open to make changes that produce more effective results.  This behavior pattern is love based because we can learn to do what we want to do, and we want to do what we do. 


To develop this new behavior system we need to have a belief system that is open to change whenever:


1.   It produces ineffective behavior.

2.   It produces stress, because our belief system is not in harmony with itself. 


Since our basic emotional pattern to seek love and to avoid or eliminate pain we become more effective and fully functioning human beings if we adopt a new behavior pattern based on the concept of intensifying our positive emotions and reducing or eliminating our negative emotions. 

An example of how the Mind Functions in Both Systems


(See  Emotional Entelligence - Taking Control of Your Life textbook- Chapter 2)



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