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Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joe Shrand on Outsmarting Anger

Read an excerpt from the second printing of Outsmarting Anger: 7 Strategies for Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion by Dr. Joe Shrand, Chief Medical Officer at Riverside Community Care. In this excerpt, Dr. Joe explains how one of our most powerful human emotions – anger –can affect us and those around us, and how it can be turned into more productive behavior.

We all want the same thing: simply to be valued by somebody else.  This universal human need has ancient roots. Millions of years ago we were not the fastest animal, not the strongest, not the biggest. We were prey.

And then we formed these small social groups, and our survival potential increased dramatically. But to stay protected by the group you have to contribute; you have to have value. This survival mode explains why I get angry, anxious, or sad when I feel less valued. Right or wrong, just the perception of being devalued activates anger, the “fight” branch of “fight or flight,” an often irrational and impulsive emotion that originates in an ancient part of our brain called the limbic system.  The limbic part of my brain worries I may get kicked out of my protective group and be lunch. If I disagree with your opinion you may think I see you as less valuable, leaving you feeling vulnerable.

The other day I was talking with a person who has different opinions from me on what is happening in our country and world.  At first he was angry because I did not share his views. But when I explained that just because I didn’t share his perspective did not mean I felt he had less value, he immediately calmed.

We all want the same thing: to simply feel valued. That shared perspective can be the foundation of discussion and exploration. The part of our brain responsible for rational thought, for making a plan, executing that plan, and anticipating what will happen next lives right behind our forehead and is called the pre-frontal cortex or PFC. How many times have you done something impulsively, limbically, and slapped your forehead as if trying to jump-start your pre-frontal cortex?

Keep it frontal! Don’t go limbic. There is nothing wrong with anger; it’s what you do with it that matters!


Dr. Joseph Shrand is Chief Medical Officer of Riverside Community Care. He has been a Lecturer of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an adjunct Faculty of Boston Children’s Hospital. He is Board-certified in adult psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and is a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. Outsmarting Anger: 7 Strategies for Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion, is currently available as a paperback on Amazon:

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