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[If interested, email me for my popular article/model on "The Four Faces of Anger."  You'll find a good portion of the article below]

The Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method

Transforming Anger, Rage & Conflict
Into Inspiring Attitude & Behavior


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Mark Gorkin
Stress Doc Enterprises
9629 Elrod Road
Kensingtpon, MD  20895


Reader Testimonial:

My anger
From: regdb@

My reason for writing to you is this:  I think you are right about constructive vs. destructive anger or, purposeful vs. spontaneous anger.  I have extrapolated from your examples a better way for me to handle my own anger, that is, to be constructive and purposeful.  I will add what I learned from you to what I know of myself and let you know what the deal is later on.  You may expect a letter from me in two or three weeks.  In the mean time, if you have any insight, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your time, doc.  Best wishes,

Reginald D

Just a quick note to let you know that I got the book and find that it contains wise and constructive advice.

I have thought about the strategic position that I must take to avoid becoming upset.  I find that the part about thinking through the response reaction versus just “reacting” is crucial. This is very important to me because since the chemistry is really not right, my personal feelings towards this individual have been influencing how I feel.  Who can work with that type of stress and turmoil?  However, there is light because awareness of this and the need to look at things calmly and objectively is taking place within me.  This will help with the response and less emotional defensive reaction that I have been giving. Thank you.  God bless you,

Maria R

Introduction and Format

What comes to mind when you read the word ANGER?  This is the opening of The Four Faces of Anger, a book that will likely challenge many preconceptions you may have of this highly charged emotional and expressive state.  The books major purposes include:

a) debunking the notion that anger is only negative or one-dimensional – all “bad or mad” or a “sad” sign of weakness or immaturity,

b) transforming your overt unproductive aggression, sense of victimization or your covert smoldering (resulting in passive-aggressive or depressive tendencies) into vital energy and interaction and

c) disarming rage and hostility in others with both affirming and amusing “how to” techniques and strategies.

And the Stress Doc continuously draws upon and shares his own professional and personal experiences and evolution – from being bottled up and bullied in childhood to being a mid-90s stress and violence prevention consultant for the US Postal Service.

“Four Faces” is divided into four sections comprised of articles, essays, Q & As and, even, rap lyrics:

I.  Anger:  Theoretical Overview and Technical Application

This section illustrates and outlines the “Four Faces” matrix and provides working concepts and case vignettes revealing how self-defeating aggression and even rage can be transformed into productive anger.  A primal scream encounter between the author and his father illuminates the healing possibilities of “letting go.”  In addition, there are styles and profiles of “Self-Defeating Anger” and “Violence-Prone Personalities.”  Finally, a variety of assertive “I” message and creative communication skills and strategies come to life, including a 5-step, IDEAL method of constructive engagement and tools for disarming the harsh critic or belligerent bully.

II.  Disarming Aggression Vignettes

Section Two is mostly comprised of short essays on confronting, outmaneuvering and/or negotiating with antagonists in a variety of interpersonal settings.  Scenarios range from taking a critic’s best shot to playfully biting the hand that feeds you to guilt busting with a mother and a mother triumphantly leaving a manipulative, tantrum-throwing child speechless.  Throughout these encounters you’ll laugh if not marvel at the Doc’s wit and “fast food for thought.”  And finally, you’ll enjoy and reflect upon the outrageous wisdom and therapeutic success of two “Wise Old Rabbi” parables.

III.  Anger Q & As

Now the Stress Doc responds to five cyber queries – from confronting rude, controlling and passive-aggressive individuals to fortifying a wounded SELF and grieving the loss of a cold critical parent.  You’ll relate personally and professionally to these questions.  The answers provide in-depth psychological understanding and tangible problem-solving steps.

IV.  Rockets and Shrink Raps ™

An essay on “emails vs. e-missiles” and two of the Doc’s insightfully outrageous lyrics:  “The Self-Righteous Rap” and “The Song of Safe Stress.”

V.  Appendix

Managing a Critical Agressor
The Art of Saying "No"

Stress Doc Testimonials

The Stress Doc’s writings are insightful, sensitive and supportive served with humor and personal care.  His Shrink Rap (essays are) delightful and playful while at the same time perceptive and thought-provoking.  He shares his own experiences, giving the reader a feeling of familiarity and comfort while dealing with uncomfortable issues.  His articles for The Bright Side (www.brightside.org) garner rave reviews and heartfelt thanks from readers across the globe.  If Marks words were films, I’d give them an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
Shie Rozow, Founder, Psych Minded, Inc.

Mark Gorkin has been a contributor to the Workforce.com site for years, and his insight has been very valuable for our audience of about a quarter-million executives worldwide. Gorkin has a real-world, hands-on perspective about what causes stress, and what can be done to deal with it. He clearly is one of the Michael Jordans of dealing with stress, depression and burnout, and millions of people can benefit from his advice.
Todd Raphael, who runs the award-winning Workforce.com site

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, is a keynote and international/Celebrity Cruise Lines speaker, training consultant and syndicated writer on stress, anger management, reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR.  America Online’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™, Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression.  The Doc has also been a stress and violence prevention consultant for the US Postal Service.  Interviewed by BBC radio and Biography Magazine, he has appeared in a Workplace Violence segment on CBS-TV News.  Mark has pioneered a USA Today Online “HotSite” – www.stressdoc.com – cited as a workplace resource on a National Public Radio feature about “Bad Bosses.”  For more info, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.


The Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method
Transforming Anger, Rage & Conflict
Into Inspiring Attitude & Behavior

Table of Contents

I.          Anger:  Theoretical Overview and Technical Application

1)         The Four Faces of Anger:  A Model for Transformation   [P. 9]
conceptual foundation for debunking one-sided nature of anger and for transforming rage and hostility; glean the “Four Angry “I”s

2)         The “Volatile-Victim” Employee and the Belligerent-Impaired Manager   [P. 17]
            How to Transform Rage Into an Assertive Plan
case vignette illustrates “Four Faces” Model as a diagnostic and intervention too; an employee confronts his past and overcomes present rage

3)         The Transformational Potential of Rage   [P. 24]
positives of rage:  gets attention, crisis signal and potential for creative breakout

4)         Seven Styles of Self-Defeating Anger   [P. 26]
illustrations of dysfunctional anger to destructive expression that hit close to home

5)         A Profile of the Violence-Prone Personality   [P. 30]
key characteristics include power and control and rigid righteousness

6)            Alarming “You”s and Disarming “I”s:  Part I   [P. 37]
               Power Struggles vs. Powerful Strategies
assertive “I” messages vs. blaming “You”s along with role-play and other disarming strategies

7)            Transforming Aggression Into Higher Power “I”s:  Part II   [P. 40]
               An IDEAL Method of Engagement
higher power assistance and IDEAL method helps the Doc turn around a provocative supervisor

8)            Disarming a Critical Aggressor   [P. 45]
               Awareness, Assertion and Affirmation Techniques and Strategies
a harshly critical role-play exercise illuminates defensive reaction vs. effective      response

9)              Quiet Flows the Courage   [P. 60]
an example of standing up to hostile authority:  killing them softly

10)            Embracing Criticism:  Quick Tips   [P. 61]
from consequences of being thin-skinned to handling destructive, vague and valid     criticism

11)            Listening, Learning and Leading   [P. 62]
                Technical Skill and Motivational Art
four keys of active listening and foundational concepts for relation-based     communication

12)            Defining Conflict and the “Murray Story”   [P. 65]
a classic ego-power struggle involving boss-employee, generation gap and hard heads

13)            Communication Strategies at the Communal Battlefront   [P. 67]
                 Surviving Laundry Wars
defusing an aggressor before the spin cycle gets out of control

14)            Creative Couple/Family Counseling   [P. 70]
                Discovering the Paradoxical Pass in the Impasse
paradoxical and playful strategies help motivate a “special ed” kid while rebuilding     a father-son and husband-wife bond

15)            Disarming Aggression and Organizational Power Struggles   [P. 73]
                From the Heart of Team Focus to the Art of “Tongue Foo-ey”
from verbal martial arts to diplomatic aggression with a “Nursus Tyrannosaurus”

II.              Disarming Aggression Vignettes

1)         Challenging Aggression   [P. 77]
dealing with know-it-alls through quotes and comebacks

2)         Gaining Control   [P. 78]
creatively and outrageously disarming a tantrum throwing three-year-old

3)         Guilt Buster   [P. 79]
don’t bust a gut; use the mother of all busters

4)         Disarming Humor   [P. 80]
            The Fallacy of Sincerity
saving face and getting the narcissist to laugh at himself

5)          Bridge the Divide, Laugh and Conquer   [P. 81]
taking your antagonist’s best shot and overcoming diversity barriers

6)           Playfully Disarming a Provocative Exchange   [P. 82]
              The Art of “Tongue-Foo-ey”
don’t go postal; playfully bite the hand that feeds you

7)           Finding the Pass in the Impasse   [P. 82]
when being on the hot seat has your brain cookin’

8)            Disrupting Escalating Group Tension When Consensus Is Critical   [P. 83]
an embattled jury and a hair-raising trial with the Stress Doc

9)            Defusing Tension in a Wartime Environment   [P. 85]
out of the box absurdity rescues folks from in-house wartime stress

10)          The Mastery of Jealousy:  Old Rabbi Tale   [P. 86]
creative use of paradox helps a “problem child” feel special

11)          Birds of a Feather:  Old Rabbi Tale   [P. 87]
holiday costuming leads to courage with peers and healthier mother-son relating

III.       Anger Q & As

1)            Challenging Rudeness with Tactful Assertiveness   [P. 88]
assertive questioning to awaken a rude individual

2)            Managing the Quietly Surly and Passive-Aggressive Employee   [P. 90]
five strategies:  from peer confrontation to critical intervention

3)            Understanding and Dealing with a Control Freak” Boss/Owner in   [P. 94]
               Times of Rapid Change
identifies challenges for small business owners and tips for not freaking out when     an employee

4)            Fortifying a Wounded SELF with Hostile Relatives   [P. 100]
confronting Sensitivity, Envy, Loyalty and Fairness (SELF)

5)            Grieving the Historic Loss of Nurturing and the Impending Death   [P. 105]
               of a Cold, Hurtful Mother strategic grief tips, including acceptance both of anger and of mother’s weaknesses and strengths

IV.            Rockets and Shrink Raps ™

1)         The Stress Doc's Tips on Internet Etiquette:   [P. 109]
            How to Avoid Being an E-Messaging Stress Carrier
techniques for preventing your emails from becoming e-missiles

2)         The Self-Righteous Rap   [P. 112]

3)         The Song of Safe Stress   [P. 114]


Managing a Critical Aggressor

The Art of Saying "No"

A Multifaceted Model

It's time to flesh out and attempt to capture (more likely coax) this wide-ranging, ever changing creature.  Let's examine the apparent contradictions within "anger" and try to make sense of its protean nature and multifunction.  To do this, let me sketch my "Four Faces of Anger" Model.  To break out of a unidimensional box, try thinking about the interpersonal expression of anger along these two dimensions:

    Is your anger expression "purposeful" or "spontaneous"?
    Is your anger expression "constructive" or "destructive"?

Let me briefly and loosely define my terms:

"Purposeful" - when anger expression is intentional, with a significant degree of consideration or calculation; there is also a significant degree of self-control

"Spontaneous" - when anger expression is immediate with little premeditation or planning; there is little-moderate self-control

"Constructive" - when anger expression affirms and acknowledges one's integrity and boundary without objectively intending to threaten or violate another's integrity or appropriate boundary

"Destructive" - when anger expression defensively projects and rigidly fortifies one's vulnerable identity and boundary by intending to threaten or violate another's integrity and appropriate boundary (whether the intention is conscious or not)

Returning to our model, the 2x2 matrix yields four possibilities:

    1) Purposeful and Constructive Anger Expression
    2) Purposeful and Destructive Anger Expression
    3) Spontaneous and Constructive Anger Expression
    4) Spontaneous and Destructive Anger Expression

Four Faces of Anger Matrix

                                  Constructive     Destructive
                                I                      I                     I
       Purposeful                 Box 1              Box 2     
                                I                      I                     I

                                I ---------------------------------------                       

                                I                      I                     I
      Spontaneous             Box 3              Box 4                              
                                I                       I                    I

The Four Faces of Anger Game

To understand the multifaceted nature of anger expression, let's play "The Four Faces of Anger Game."

A.  Let's start with Box 1.
  What word comes to mind when you read Purposeful and Constructive Anger Expression?  If a word or phrase doesn't immediately come to mind, does an image or, even, an example of what you might say when expressing this kind of anger?

My choice is "Assertion."  Are you surprised?  So many people associate anger with yelling and being out of control, that they don't associate assertion and anger...it's too rational.  But expressing anger can happen with a firm, basically controlled tone of voice and volume, direct eye contact, a confident posture that's neither aggressively forward nor robotically restrained. 

To illustrate the four faces, we'll follow the interaction between a mother and her eighteen-year-old daughter, after the daughter, having used the family car, came home late and did not call.  Notice how the anger expression changes as we focus on each interactive "face."

The mother addressing her eighteen-year-old daughter, the following morning:  "I'm angry.  I let you have the car Friday night with the understanding you'd be home by 1:00am.  (Author's note:  There's been inflation in permissiveness since the time of Cinderella.)  Or, if you were going to be late, we agreed you'd call beforehand.  When I didn't hear from you, I was very worried.  What happened?  I want to talk with you about the car borrowing policy, and the consequences if this happens again."

With assertive confrontations, the communicator takes responsibility for her emotions and clarifies her expectations and limits.  While sometimes requiring premeditation, "I" messages are not necessarily intellectualized or overly rational.  In fact, while typing these two examples, too bad you couldn't see the motion of my fingers as they firmly rapped, more than touched, the keyboard.  "I" messages are infused with nonverbal cues and energy.

B.  For Box 2,
what comes to mind when you read Purposeful and Destructive Anger Expression?  Again, try for a word, image or expressive statement.

My preference is "Hostility."  Now hostility can take many guises, from condescending comments and being highly judgmental, to "scarcasm" and put down humor, to planning to get even when you feel slighted or injured.  And passive-aggressive lateness or forgetfulness certainly falls under this category.

In our "taking the car and getting home late vignette," how do you feel about a mother reacting to her daughter in this manner?:  "I can't believe how irresponsible you were last night.  You didn't call.  You made me sick with worry.  You expect me to trust you with the car?  We'll see when you get the car again," said with a sneer and a haughty tone.  That's quite a difference from the assertive response.  Plenty of those blaming and judgmental, globally hostile, potentially guilt-inducing "acc-you-sations."  Know any such "blameaholics?"

C.  For Box 3,
what word comes to mind when reading Spontaneous and Constructive Anger Expression?  Many people find this combination a most challenging association.  That's not so surprising when anger is often linked with being belligerent or dangerously out of control.

Let me reveal my choice by providing some recent historical context.  I suspect you can remember watching or listening to the highly charged Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings?  Do you recall having any strong feelings?  Did any cherished principles seem under attack?  Perhaps it stirred some "passionate" beliefs?  That's my association:  "Passion."

Now "passion" is a very intriguing word.  In fact, let's digress for a moment.  What's the first thought when you read "passion"?:  "Intense emotion." "Desire."  "Love." Hey, let's go for the "S"-word.  (In my current hometown, Washington, DC, we know what the "S"-word for passion is..."Senator."  And you thought I was going to say "sex."  How could you?)  Actually, the "s"-word for passion in most dictionaries is neither sex nor Senator, nor even "silk," as ventured by one imaginative workshop participant.  The long-awaited, if not long-suffering, "s"-word for passion is... just that - "Suffering."  As in the "passion play":  the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, the sufferings of a martyr.  (Imagine, all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman.  Just kidding, mom. ;-)

Let's go back to the mother-daughter late night (actually early morning) interaction, this time from a passionate perspective.  Now, however, the mother, not being able to sleep, meets the daughter at the door, and spontaneously confronts her:  "What the heck happened?  I was expecting a call.  I'm angry.  I'm up because I was terribly worried and couldn't sleep."  After the daughter attempts a brief explanation (and the mother is assured of her safety) the mother, aware of her own difficulty listening, as well as her increasingly loud voice and shaky tone, continues:  "I can tell I'm too upset to talk about this now.  I'm glad you're home.  I'm going to bed, and we'll discuss this incident, including rules for using the car, later in the morning."

Pure emotion and pain spark Passion.  However, there's a spontaneous response, not a reaction.  This person still has a sense of self-integrity and the other's boundary.  Passion with proportion is possible.  A key point is that confrontations don't have to be wrapped up in one setting.  Choosing a temporary retreat for regrouping and refocusing can prove most constructive.  This approach is critical, especially if you have:  a) reservations about turning the confrontation into a "win-lose" or a "right-wrong" battle, b) hope not to damage the relationship, and c) want both parties to learn and/or gain from the interaction.

D.  Finally, with Box 4,
what's your association to Spontaneous and Destructive Anger Expression?  This is perhaps the easiest, as it seems to conform with most people's concept of anger.

There are many good answers:  "Violence."  "Screaming." "Hitting."  My choice is "Rage."  What's your mental picture of a rage state.  Someone who is increasingly loud, displaying a string of profanities or threats, belligerent body posture, menacing gestures...blindly out of control.  And often feeling victimized, betrayed and self-righteous about their rage.  Of course, don't overlook the condition of "smoldering rage," with a low threshold for becoming unglued.

Another important clarification involves distinguishing being "outraged" from being "inraged."  (I've coined "inraged" to sharpen the contrast with "outraged" and to differentiate "inraged" from the more generic "enraged.")  When terrorists blow up a US government building or plant a bomb on an airplane, one is easily outraged by such unjust, injurious and invasive actions.  There is a seemingly clear, external (criminal) target to which all legal action and sanction should be and, hopefully, will be directed.

When we are outraged, our emotional reaction is understandable, if not fully rational; our anger expression, however, if not careful or conscious, can cross the "constructive" vs. "destructive" boundary line.  In fact, returning to our matrix model, you might visualize "outraged" as being near, if not on, the border of "passion" and "rage."

In contrast, "inraged," or the Box 4, matrix term "rage," is invariably a destructive state.  The inraged individual's exaggerated emotional reaction is fueled as much, if not more, by still unresolved hurts and humiliations than by actual, immediate stimulus-and-response provocation.  These never healed wounds can generate biased perceptions or highly exaggerated interpretations regarding the infliction of injustices, insults, injuries and invasions.  I refer to these folks as having (or depending on their volatility) being psychic "hot buttons."  They are just waiting, many times wanting, to be set off.  And the trigger for a hot reactor may be trivial, simply an accidental or unintentional glance, word or touch.

Let's revisit the mother-daughter encounter, for our final, fiery illustration.  The mother, furious at her daughter's late return, explodes:  "You inconsiderate witch.  I should slap you silly," while raising her hand, as well as her voice, in a menacing manner.  "I'm here, scared to death, not knowing what the hell's happened to you.  Whether you busted up the car, have been raped?  How the hell should I know.  Do you call?  No, you couldn't give a G-d damn.  I'll fix your ass later.  Get out of my sight."

Whether the first violation of her mother's expectations or (more likely) not, the mother's reaction is clearly personalized and exaggerated, threatening and abusive.  Her lashing anger especially stings when loaded with cutting profanity.  A tendency for imagining the worst -- "catastrophizing" -- acutely heightens mom's anxiety.  Not only can't the mother hear her daughter out, she can't tolerate the sight of her.  Actually, she can't stand her own emotions.  The mother may well need to project her own subconscious past associations to helplessness, panic and being out of control.  Sadly, she, herself, has likely been a target of a volatile parent, spouse or authority figure.

End Game

Four Faces of Anger Matrix

                                      Constructive             Destructive
                              I                               I                              I
                              I       Assertion           I       Hostility           I       
                              I                                I                              I
                              I                               I                                I
                              I       Passion            I        Rage                 I                  
                              I                               I                                I

Debunking the notion of anger and its expression as being a unidimensional concept is a fundamental goal of the anger association game.  By combining the "Purposeful"-"Spontaneous" and "Constructive"-"Destructive" dimensions we are able to generate distinct anger expression profiles:  Assertion, Hostility, Passion and Rage.  Hopefully, the four matrix faces and interactive scenarios provide common sense images and verbal handles for grasping and differentiating the broad and nuanced emotional-behavioral responses of anger.  Clearly, this is vital for challenging the one-sided, negative image of anger.  Perhaps most important, the "Four Faces of Anger" Model can be a tool for your own, as well as your clients' understanding and acceptance of the naturalness and power of aggression and anger expression.  And with enhanced awareness, hopefully, we all will experience and communicate anger in a more responsible and productive manner.


Gorkin, Mark, "Anger or Aggression:  Confronting the Passionate Edge," Legal Assistant Today, Winter 1986

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
is an internationally recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress, anger management, reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR!  He is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ with a USA Today Online "HotSite" - www.stressdoc.com.  For more info, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.