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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

AUG 2008, No. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Section I

Shrink Rap:  Does Your Organization Need a Jolt of CPR -- Creativity, Passion & Risk-Taking?

Readers:  Intl Administrative Assistants request for Natural SPEED Rap 

Testimonials:  Mission High School, National Science Foundation, Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC)

Offerings:  Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit:  Email stressdoc@aol.com or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.

Section II

Main Essay:  Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method (Attached)


1) Shrink Rap:  Does Your Organization Need a Jolt of CPR -- Creativity, Passion & Risk-Taking?  A recent workshop with brigade officers of the 1st Cavalry, Ft. Hood, TX reveals a new team building/creative problem solving model with broad organizational application.

2) Main Essay:  Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method.  The ICFAI (The Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India University, Tripura) requested permission to include my "Four Faces of anger" model in their upcoming book, Managing Anger.  The original model was designed in the '90s, but the illustrative method is of recent vintage.  Discover (or rediscover) the "Four Faces of Anger" and the art and science of "Transforming Conflict:  Replacing Blaming “You”s with Tactfully Assertive “I”s."  [In edited format, the method section of the article originally appeared in Know:  The Magazine for Paralegals, June-July 2008.  Due to length, the article is an attachment.]

Shrink Rap:


Does Your Team, Department or Organization Need a Jolt of CPR?

Facilitating Imagination, Open Communication and

Mission Success through Creativity, Passion and Risk-Taking

Sitting around the dinner table recently, after my morning workshop and after the officers’ afternoon closed-door strategic planning session, the Commander of the 15th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry, Ft. Hood, TX, observed that the interactive am program turned what he had anticipated being a contentious negotiation into a very positive, honest give and take and creative problem-solving session.  All parties had openly participated, no small feat in a group diversely constituted by race, gender, time in grade and commissioned officer vs. non-commissioned officer status.  As soon as Commander Phelps paused I fairly shouted, “Put that it in writing!”  (And he did; testimonial follows shortly.) 

Why was I so immediate and adamant?  Over the years, my various speaking and workshop programs almost always garner high praise for being energetic and engaging, inspiring and fun, for both providing some take home skills and creating a sense of team camaraderie.  For example, here’s a recent note from an individual who attended my “Blending Motivation, Creativity and High Performance workshop at the June 2008 Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) Annual National Leadership Training Conference: 

June 30, 2008

Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for the information and I thoroughly enjoyed the "Motivation and Creativity Workshop" portion of the FAPAC conference.  I especially liked that it was very interactive and informative and I left feeling as though I had truly learned something.  After sitting in various workshops where the presenter just spoke endlessly, I would leave feeling as though it was a waste of my time.  But again I thank you and shall put your name in our speakers’ resource pool at Defense Supply Center Richmond. 

Grace and Peace,

Laurie G. Darrisaw
Equal Employment Counselor
Defense Supply Center Richmond

(804) 279-5316

Nonetheless, I frequently encounter “motivational” “pop psychology” or “soft skills” skeptics who challenge me:  “Do I have tangible evidence, i.e., hard data, that my programs really make an impact on the organization?”  (For the moment I won’t fall back on how two of my one-day stress and conflict management programs helped a “hazardous work environment” division of a large federal government agency stop hemorrhaging thousands and thousands of dollars in grievance procedures.  One Head Project Manager believed the figure would have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if not for my intervention.  Of course, some minimize this success as being a unique situation, not reproducible, etc., etc.)  However, this time, the Commander hit me over the head with the obvious.  There was an immediate and very tangible connection between what had transpired in the morning and the productive aftermath.  I had not envisioned a role of jump-starting the real meat and potatoes meeting.  My focus was on helping people genuinely grapple with transition, transforming stress and conflict into energy for supportive sharing and collaborative and creative problem solving.  And, in the process, to strive to help everyone feel more part of a coordinated, “we’re all in this together” team.

 Well, as you know, my two-hour “Stress, Change and Team-Building” program for forty officers and spouses of the15th Support Brigade, 1st Cavalry, Ft. Hood, TX was a homerun, and not just in the metaphoric sense.  Let me quote Commander Phelps directly:

From: Phelps, Lawrence COL MIL USA FORSCOM <lawrence.phelps@us.army.mil>
To: StressDoc@aol.com
Sent: Mon, 28 Jul 2008
Subject: Thanks Mark!

What a great program you engineered at our Command Offsite!  It could not have been better if we had orchestrated it!  Your session on managing change and stress was the perfect lead-in to the work we had to accomplish throughout the conference.  It set the conditions for the free, uninhibited work (regardless of rank) that we needed.  Our “drawing” exercise was absolutely enlightening.  I cannot tell you how valuable it was to me as the “CEO” to see these products and see how the differing sections and commands worked together.  The spouses loved the briefing and the interaction just as much as the uniformed members did. 

Here’s the BLUF: Your session was the critical building block on which we built the rest of the conference. 

My sincere thanks.  Job well done.

COL Phelps

COL Larry Phelps
Commander, 15th SB
Work: 254-287-8250
Cell: 254-702-1318
Every Day...Better!

 Let me reaffirm and expand upon Commander Phelp’s note, especially these two key sentences: 

Your session on managing change and stress was the perfect lead-in to the work we had to accomplish throughout the conference.  It set the conditions for the free, uninhibited work (regardless of rank*) that we needed. 

(*Other diversity factors were race, gender, age, time in grade, various operational departments and specialties in addition to commissioned and non-commissioned status.) 

Key Problem Solving Success Indicators 

Now let’s delineate some key outcomes of the afternoon session, based on talks with Col. Phelps and several of the officers: 

Ø  open and genuine communication among a diverse participant group

Ø  reduction of solo- or silo-driven thinking and defensive territoriality

Ø  successful win/win problem solving and genuine consensus experience

Ø  negotiation without previous contentiousness, self-defeating power struggles and lingering resentments and

Ø  stronger sense of team building and strategic planning for the greater good and goal

      (and I can’t think of a process being more strategic than planning for redeployment in 



Key Problem Solving Success Drivers 

From my perspective, several factors produced the dynamic, inspiring, jump-starting morning session: 

1. Illustrating Change and Conflict.  Opening up with a thought-provoking presentation on change and conflict, and then identifying personal signs of transitional stress

2. Problem Solving Reenactment.  Problem-solving creatively a “real life/war zone” change-conflict scenario

3. Dynamics of Loss and Change, Conflict and Creativity.  Providing conceptual understanding of the dynamics of loss and change and the applied connection among change, conflict and creative problem solving

4. Dynamics of Power Struggles.  Engaging in a high energy, purposeful yet playful power struggle exercise that allows for some “outrageous” expression and interplay.  (Remember, the middle word in “outrageous is “rage.”  Helping people channel their rage constructively is a key to working through power struggles, regaining positive control and letting go of negative control, breaking out of the box and even building trust.) 

5. Acclaimed Team Discussion/Team Drawing Exercise.  Involving diverse groups in a high energy/high imagination team discussion and team drawing exercise that focuses on sources of stress/conflict and barriers to being CPR – “Creative, Passionate and Risk-Taking.  Open sharing of and reciprocal playing with ideas and images result in synergistic “products” that help one and all:

a) not feel so alone, b) see “the bigger picture” and c) allow people to draw out instead of act out their aggression and frustration, d) feel a vital part of a supportive, productive and creative problem-solving team.  In addition, e) time limits compelled groups to forsake perfection and risk jumping into the problem-solving pool and e) research indicates that when diverse team engage in open communication and genuine collaboration more imaginative problem solving results.  And when participants see that f) top management can accept the reality of shared frustration and are open to hearing some “negative input” there is an increase of organizational trust.  

In other words, there is both diagnostic and strategic potential in this team building exercise.  Again, to quote Col. Phelps:  

“Our “drawing” exercise was absolutely enlightening.  I cannot tell you how valuable it was to me as the “CEO” to see these products and see how the differing sections and commands worked together.” 

Recap and Program Implications 

Based on the San Antonio retreat, I'm exploring an intriguing collaborative concept for a half day to full day retreat applicable for almost any organization.  It's a two step-process: 

1) start with a dynamic and interactive, inspiring and FUN two-three hour Stress Doc workshop in the morning followed directly by 

2) an in-house (department, division, management team, etc.) team problem-solving led by an in-house leader (with or without facilitation or participant observation assistance from the Stress Doc) in the afternoon or late morning.  (Of course, additional follow-up workshop sessions -- days, weeks or months down the road -- can be designed.) 

The initial high energy and highly participatory session will definitely jump-start people's creative and cooperative juices while reducing solo or silo-driven defensiveness.  As captured by the following testimonial, the morning group interaction -- the safe and fun emotive-expressive sharing and problem solving – really freed people of different rank to productively risk and creatively brainstorm in the afternoon. 

Would appreciate greatly your thoughts on the above collaborative workshop/facilitation process.  Please email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-875-2567 with any questions or comments.  To good adventures and collaborations. 

Sample Program Blurb and Outline/Objectives


Does Your Team, Department or Organization Need a Jolt of CPR?

Facilitating Imagination, Open Communication and

Mission Success through Creativity, Passion and Risk-Taking

 Today's 24/7, "always on" world often cycles between "do more with less" downsizing and ever faster upgrading...and the pressure keeps mounting.  How do you counter a tendency to hold on to the familiar; how do you help people productively and creatively grapple with the future?  How do you foster resilience over resistance while disarming self-defeating power struggles?  Ready for an individual and organizational mindset that encourages productive risk-taking and imaginatively envisions diverse and united perspectives and possibilities?  Do you need a framework and foundation for jump-starting future problem solving and strategic planning?  Tough questions, still, have no fear the Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, the "Stress Doc" ™ is here.  An acclaimed speaker and OD/Team Building consultant, the Doc delivers a unique blend of dynamic and inspiring presentation along with thought-provoking and passionate, purposeful and playful group interaction to help you bring "Fire, Focus and FUN" to today's leadership challenges.  During these turbulent times, let the Stress Doc help you break down barriers and build bridges toward a more motivated, coordinated, creative and higher performing workplace.


A.  Creatively Managing Transitional Tension

1.  Understand the "danger and opportunity" of change and conflict

2.  Explore creative systems intervention through group brainstorm

3.  Discover the "Six 'F's for Managing Loss and Change"

B. Defusing Power Struggles and Building Trust

1.  Discover self-affirmation and tactful negotiation in the face of challenge and conflict

2.  Replace "blaming" messages with cooperative and face-saving communication skills

3.  Build trust through the power of asking courageous questions

C.  Developing Resilience and Hardiness

1.  Learn to constructively confront a critical aggressor through the "Fumbled the Data" Exercise

2.  Affirm our common humanity through "Embarrassing Moment" Exercise

3.  Discover four keys to "Creative Risk-Taking:  Confronting Your Intimate FOE"

 D.  Group Visioning and Creativity

1.  Identifying Barriers to More Creative Risk-Taking Environments Exercise

2.  Discover a Four "P" Passion Power Tool Set for maximizing energy and impact

3.  Recognize stress barriers and generate CPR -- being Creative, Passionate & Risk-Taking

Seek the Higher Power of Stress Doc Humor:  May the Force & the Farce Be with You!

Don't miss your appointment with the Stress Doc!



From: wkaren@region.waterloo.on.ca
To: StressDoc@aol.com
Sent: Mon, 11 Aug 2008 9:02 am
Subject: Re: Newsletter


I like the Natural Speed Rap poem you sent.

Our local IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals) Chapter - Grand River (Canada), publishes an e-newsletter for Chapter members.  I know your articles are copyrighted.

This is a request for your permission to reprint your article, of course, with the paragraph noting the source.

[Of course, permission was granted.  But for those of you who missed it...] 

24/7 SPEED Rap:  Survival Strategies

By Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc"

What is the answer to modern duress?
Should you try Prozac?
Is it time to confess
To ebay shopping -- which may be a warning
When you're clicking madly at three in the morning?

But relax, have no fear...
The Stress Doc is here to lay worries to rest
Now listen and learn to Practice Safe Stress!

As you sprint to the wire with blood pressure higher
Timeless mind-body tips to heed
For slowing down, getting feet on the ground
And building Natural SPEED.

"S" is for "Sleep"
Now don't be cheap
Seven hours, at least
To be a beauty with mental acuity
Not that snooze-button bashing beast.

"P" stands for "Priority"
You can't do it all everyday.
Urgent means now but important can wait.
Do you know how...to "N & N"?:
Just say "No and Negotiate!"

"E" is for the "Empathy"
Found in a caring shoulder.
But all give without take is a big mistake
For now you shoulder a boulder.

The second "E" is for "Exercise"
Start pumping iron or those thighs.
You may not need SSRIs.
Try thirty minutes of non-stop spin
For your mood uplifting endorphin.

And, finally, "D" is for a healthy "Diet"
Alas, many would rather die than try it.
To manage foods you crave
Grieve, "let go" and then be brave
Sending diet fads to an early grave.

So eat those fruits and veggies
Try fish oils and soy protein.
For too much fats and sugar
Excess alocohol and caffeine
Is a rollercoaster formula
For an artery-clogged machine.

It's time to end this Shrink Rap
With final tips for you --
"A firm 'No' a day keeps the ulcers away, and the hostilities too."
So to lessen daily woes, "Do know your limits, don't limit your 'No's!"

Ponder this Stress Doc wit and wisdom
Try to live it day after day:
Burnout is not a sign of failure
You simply gave yourself away.

Remember, sometimes less is more
And more is really less.
Balance work and play, faith and love
And, of course...Practice Safe Stress!

Testimonials (of recent programs):

Mission High School, Mission, TX
[Half-day "Stress, Communications and Team Building" program for 200 Educators/Counselors]

Aug 21, 2008

Mr. Gorkin:

On behalf of Mission High School, I would like to thank you for the morning in-service you presented.  Our teachers were informed and had a great time. The knowledge and expertise you offered in handling stress and stressful situations to our faculty will be useful throughout the school year.


Ada Castillo
Dean of Instruction
Mission High School, Mission, TX


Three-day Team Building Retreat with Earth Sciences Division/National Science Foundation

(To Build Communication and Coordination Bridges Between and Among 30 Scientific and Administrative Staff) 

Subject:  Mark Gorkin Rehoboth Retreat Agenda 

Dear Mark:

Thanks Again.  Many of us feel the EAR Divisional Retreat resulted in some useful consensus items for action that should help office operations, facilitate teamwork and reduce unnecessary stress.

Many thanks!

Russ Kelz
Retreat Coordinator


Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC)
Annual National Leadership Training Conference

["Blending Motivation, Creativity and High Performance" Program for 80 participants]

June 30, 2008


I am completing my trip report for the conference. In it I speak about your session and my request to speak with the Dean and Commandant and present an information paper. I will ask that we include you as a presenter in our next in-house training with the possibility of adding you to the core course for all military Equal Opportunity Advisors.

I will keep you posted on my progress. I will be out of the office next week to conduct training in ID.


Don Lancaster
Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute
Patrick Air Force Base, FL  32925


Main Essay:

The Four Faces of Anger: Model and Method

By Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, the Stress Doc ™

What's the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word ANGER? Frustration? Yelling? Loss of Control? Violence? Maybe fear, silence or avoidance? All reasonable responses...Or are they? A bit one-sided, for my taste, that is, the "anger glass" appears "half empty." How about a "half full" perspective: confrontation, energy, power and tenacity? Or honesty and being real?

The Four Angry "I"s

In addition to subjective experience, our language has a unidimensional tilt when defining anger. According to the The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: The Unabridged Edition, anger is "a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by real or supposed wrong." However, a clinical description is broader than a lay one. Anger is a state of heightened activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system (for example, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, flushed face, chest pains, sweaty palms, etc.) that is fueled by our cognitive – conscious and unknowing – interpretations. You experience those "Four Angry 'I's," that is, you have a palpable sense of:

1.     Injustice. A rule of conduct, a cherished belief or instrumental goal is being threatened or abused; you see yourself (also others with whom you are psychologically dependent or connected) as a victim of an injustice, unfairness or disloyalty.

2.     Injury. You feel disrespected, discarded or ignored; there's a sense of insult and humiliation along with injury – often psychological, at times also physical.

3.     Invasion. You perceive your freedom, autonomy, boundary and personal space as constricted, disrupted or violated; your identity and bodily and/or psychological integrity are being threatened or attacked.

4.     Intention. There is an energy and determination to do something about the above injustices, injuries and invasions; you are ready – reflexively and/or purposefully – to challenge the status quo.

So anger is a potential range of feelings, from irritation and determination to outrage and fury. Its breadth, depth, intensity and interactive potential is often forged by how one looks at the world through his or her "Four Angry 'I's." As I once wrote:

Anger! That double-edged power source. It's the high octane emotion for blazing performance and for igniting a legitimate grievance. Yet, when it's bottled up we smolder away; when we erupt it may engulf us. And, when we are the target of a volatile flamethrower, there will be scars. (Gorkin, 1986)

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 multi-function. 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 with Box1-Box2-Box3-Box4 labels.

Box 1
Purposeful and
Constructive Anger

Box 2
Purposeful and
Destructive Anger

Box 3
Spontaneous and
Constructive Anger

Box 4
Spontaneous and
Destructive Anger

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. 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."

Passion is sparked by pure emotion and pain. 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 to 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? Perhaps it is someone who is increasingly loud, displaying a string of profanities or threats, belligerent body posture, menacing gestures...blindly out of control. And this individual often feels 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. A wounded victim is entitled to righteous revenge. 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 with Assertion-Hostility-Passion-Rage in proper boxes.










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 family and friends’, clients and colleagues’ 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.  In fact, let me specifically illustrate both the dangers of blaming messages and the opportunities when employing constructive listening and feedback skills.

Transforming Conflict:  Replacing Blaming “You”s with Tactfully Assertive “I”s 

During a Practice Safe Stress and Team Building workshop for legal assistants and support staff of a major law firm, a paralegal, with an edge in his voice, recalled a frustrating encounter with one of the firm’s partners.  Apparently, misinformation or a misunderstanding led to a project being mishandled and an important deadline being missed.  The paralegal, in response to perceived one-sided criticism, counterpunched:  “It’s not my fault…you didn’t give me the right instructions.” 

Now I can practically hear some in the reading audience saying, “You go guy!”  And while our heart may be momentarily appeased, I’m not sure the head has been most effectively engaged.

Actually, in conflict situations, the most effective communication invariably blends both head and heart.  For when the two aren’t working together, it’s easy to succumb to blaming “You” messages, for example, ”You didn’t give me the right instructions.” 

Even if the partner didn’t provide the necessary information, our paralegal’s blaming “you” blast basically is imitating the attorney’s initial adversarial thrust.  And too often, when only fighting fire with fire, both parties get burned.  (And as the partner usually has the bigger flamethrower, it’s rarely a fair fight.  It’s pretty predictable who winds up with the lasting scars.) 

Self-Defeating “You”s 

There are other problems when arguing with finger-pointing “You”s.  (And, for the moment, I’m not referring to the proverbial finger.)  Let me count the misguided ways:

1.  Defensive Habit.  A pattern of blaming messages means you are into “acc-you-sations.”  It’s fair to ask:  “Are you a becoming a “Blameaholic?”  Not only are you attempting to put others on the defensive.  But there’s another problematic dynamic.  While believing you are standing up for yourself, many will see such overreaction as evidence of being too thin-skinned; you aren’t able to stand the firm’s high demand, high standards (at least for some) or pressure climate. 

2.  Power Transfusion.  By solely blaming another for a problem or for compromised performance you are forsaking your “Authority, Autonomy and Accountability” – what I call the “Triple ‘A’ of Personal/Professional Responsibility.”  In actuality, you are accepting that the other party has all the power to define your competency, your identity and the problem-solving dynamics of a situation.  (Of course, when dealing with contemporary conflicts, unresolved, still painful psychological issues with parental or other significant authority figures heighten feeling hurt and your emotional defensiveness or reactivity.)  Some people become defensive by too quickly seeing the provocative interaction as an issue of respect.  I think the words of the universally admired first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, have much relevance:  “No one can take away your self-respect without your active participation.”  

3.  Power Struggle.  Unless you are dealing with a person who is submissive or passive or, conversely, a truly mature professional (who will respond, not lash out when verbally attacked), your blaming reaction likely fuels a mutual cycle of invective and incrimination.  Now the drive becomes who is right, who will back down, or who’s in control.  (I can’t help recall the words of French novelist, Andre Gide, from his book, The Immoralist:  “One must allow others to be right…it consoles them for not being anything else!”) 

And even if you momentarily get a non-assertive person to back down, don’t be surprised if that passivity eventually turns into a getting even “passive-aggressive” underhandedness:  “Oh I’m sorry, I guess it is the third time this week that I forgot to give you that report.” 

Assertive “I” Messages 

So how do you replace blaming “You” messages with appropriately assertive “I” messages?  First, let me highlight the importance of making this shift through a “two word” example.  Say you are in a heated argument with a colleague, perhaps related to politics or whether the “e” in email often stands for “escaping” face-to-face communication.  You’ve been making several thoughtful arguments but the other party is dismissive or just gives you a blank, “whatever” stare.  Finally, in a state of frustration you blurt out, “You’re wrong” or, with greater poise, declare, “I disagree.”  Those two words make quite a difference.  The former basically tries to invalidate the other person, not just the argument.  By definition, “I disagree” acknowledges the other person’s position, even if there is disagreement. 

There are three dynamics infusing “I” messages with positive energy.  Empathically assertive “I”s:

a)     convey respect; it’s a more adult-to-adult as opposed to a one up vs. one down style of communicating and relating

b)    openly state a position or a feeling, e.g., what I like or don’t appreciate, what I’m concerned about, what I fear, what I expect, etc. and

c)     take responsibility for one’s actions or balance self-responsibility and situational factors or consequences 

With this conceptual and communicational foundation, how might our aforementioned paralegal handle that adversarial partner?  Consider these “Tactfully Assertive Steps for Disarming a Critical Aggressor”:

1.  Gut Check.  To forestall a defensive (or offensive) reaction the proverbial wisdom has been to “count to ten.”  For me that just delays the message.  When feeling attacked you need to resist blurting out and do some quick reading of head and heart.  What are your thoughts and, especially, what are you feeling?  And especially, if starting with a “You,” such as, “You didn’t give me…” hit pause and process before engaging the play button.  In other words, “Count to ten and check within!” 

2.  Take Some Responsibility, Show Some Empathy and Preserve Integrity.  Acknowledging responsibility doesn’t mean accepting all of the blame.  However, it does entail recognizing that a problem has arisen or an error has been made.  For example, one might say, “This was my understanding of the instructions.  Obviously, I wasn’t on your page.”  While in some circumstances it might be acceptable to note, “I guess we weren’t on the same page,” with a frustrated authority I’d take the first approach.  You don’t have to say, “I guess I screwed up,” but you may want to let the other party know you understand why he or she is upset, for example by overtly verbalizing some consequences of message sent not being message received.  While not a guarantee, sometimes by taking the self-responsibility initiative, it frees up the other person to acknowledge his part in the problem.  This is more likely to happen if you allow the other party to express some anger as you are acknowledging confusion or a mistake. 

However, if the other person is not just expressing anger, but is being abusive, then you may have to say with conviction, “I’m sorry for whatever part I have played in this problem, but I will not accept such an attack.”  If the party does not show some self-control, then inform your antagonist that you will call again in a defined period of time, when, hopefully, there can be a professional discussion.  (Sometimes you may need a third party as a conflict mediator.)  You also may have to report such an encounter to a firm authority, e,g, Paralegal Administrator, HR Director, etc.  If the problem persists and management won’t address the firm bully, alas, you should be upgrading your resume.  Of course it’s not fair…) 

3.  Ask a Humble Question.  To soothe troubled egos, sometimes a “You” message when part of a question is just what the doctor ordered.  If both parties are evincing a professional and respectful manner, you may want to simply ask, “How can I make this right?” or “What will help you feel we are back on track?”  Not only are you showing some contrition, but also are willing to serve.  Finally, asking someone’s opinion or asking for guidance says, “I don’t have all the answers” and “I value your experience, expertise, perspective, etc.”  And as Ernest Becker, 20th century sociologist and philosopher noted, the strongest human desire is the desire to feel important. 

Hopefully, an extended examination of this law firm encounter has created a better appreciation of the dangers in using reactive “you” messages and the productive potential when blending empathy and assertion as part of a responsive and responsible “I” message.  These tools and techniques will assist you in finding the pass in the communicational impasse.  In addition, such but such verbal and psychological fluency will enable you to choose a constructive anger “face” and help you…Practice Safe Stress!


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

Mark Gorkin  2008
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Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker, training/OD & team building consultant, psychotherapist and “Motivational Humorist.”  He is the author Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger:  Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict into Inspiring Attitude & Behavior.  A Kickoff Speaker for Estrin Legal Education Conferences, the Doc is AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™ and pioneer of a USA Today Online “HotSite” www.stressdoc.com – recognized as a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR).  Recent clients include the Cleveland Clinic, 4th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions, Ft. Hood, TX and the townships of Vienna and Herndon, VA.  For more info on the Doc’s speaking and training programs and products, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865. 

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