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The Biology of Anger

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Why are some of us so quick to bursts of anger, road rage, or having negative thoughts about others while others seem to stay cool, calm, and collected despite the circumstances? The answer may lie in our biology. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen continue their examination of the dragons from the past from the Dr. Amen’s new book ‘Your Brain is Always Listening’. This focus of this episode is on what triggers our ‘Angry Dragon’, how it manifests in our brain, and what we can do to tame them.

For more info on Dr. Daniel Amen’s new book, “Your Brain is Always Listening”, visit https://yourbrainisalwayslistening.com/

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainMD.com.

Welcome back. We are still talking about the dragons and we just finished with the responsible dragon. We are moving on to the angry dragon, one of the few I don’t seem to have, except when I feel threatened, then my angry dragon comes out. So we would love to know what you’ve learned. If you write it down, take a screenshot, or just take a picture with your phone, post it, tag us, we would love that. And if you go to brainwarriorswaypodcast.com, leave us a review and if we read it, it enters you into a drawing for a free book. Either my book, my new book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child or your book, your new book, Your Brain Is Always Listening.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Your Brain Is Always Listening.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes. So exciting.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So, the angry dragon is very scary. Ever since I’ve been a psychiatrist, I’ve been wrestling with this dragon. Now, not personally, I’m a middle child. Later on, we’re going to talk about the sibling and birth order dragons, but I’ve been dealing with it in patients. This is often the dragon that gets people into my office.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Something just occurred to me. So I’ve been talking to people with their dragons and a lot of people who have the responsible dragon, don’t have the angry dragon. But people who have the special, spoiled and entitled dragon, have the angry dragon.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Have the angry dragon.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Because we have this tendency to take responsibility and be like, and it’s not that you don’t get irritated, that’s not what it means. It’s just that you have a tendency to be like, “Well, it’s my responsibility to fix it,” versus being angry that other people aren’t doing it for you.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Yeah. So this is part of externalizing behaviors, as opposed to anxiety and responsible which are internalized behaviors.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So what’s the origin story for the angry dragon? So let’s just say right up front, it could be because your brain is damaged. Because your brain is not working, right?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Especially-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Subtyped ADD, anxiety, depression, obesity, addictions. I’ve also subtyped violence and there’s impulsive violence, you don’t have a strong enough prefrontal cortex. You just lash out when you get at the thought, right? Jerry Seinfeld said, “The brain is a sneaky organ.” We all have weird, crazy, stupid, sexual, violent thoughts that nobody should ever hear and that you should never act. Your prefrontal cortex protects you from that.

There’s also cingulate at violence. If your cingulate works too hard, you’re worried, rigid, and inflexible, things don’t go your way, boom, you can explode. That’s often road rage. It’s when somebody accidentally cuts me off on the freeway, or even purposely cuts me off on the freeway, I think to myself, you jerk. And then I leave it alone because, I don’t know, he could have a gun in his car. But for people who are the cingulate, the rigid people, they act, somebody cuts them off and they go, you jerk, you jerk, you jerk, you jerk. And they engage in bad behavior in order to get the thought out of their head. And there’s also temporal lobe violence. If you hurt one or both of your temporal lobes had trauma, or I mean, my most famous case, my nephew had a cyst the size of a golf ball, occupying the space of his left temporal lobe, he’d attack people for no particular reason. So let’s just be clear, there is a biology to anger and violence.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Can you just shamed… well I don’t know about shamed, but you concerned a whole bunch of people listening, because there’s a whole bunch of us who get really annoyed when we drive, but we don’t necessarily, engage in behavior

Daniel Amen, MD:

But you don’t chase people.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No, but you get really irritated.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Although you do swear sometimes.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I get so mad at people.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So the psychological origin for the angry dragon is you’ve been hurt in the past where you’ve been shamed or disappointed or, more commonly, others modeled angry behavior for you. And you watched your mom’s temper or your dad’s temper or your sibling’s temper. And they taught you it was okay. What triggers the angry dragon? When you’re reminded of hurts, shame or past disappointments, when you don’t get your way, if your frontal lobes are busy. Sometimes anger is triggered to get others to leave you alone. Think of teenagers or-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well mean people who’ve been traumatized. I mean, sometimes anger is a way to keep a barrier. Sometimes people… I read this really interesting thing about people who refuse to forgive and hold on to anger, that its because they feel powerless. They’re afraid. They don’t know how to draw boundaries. And they’re afraid that if they let go of the anger, they’re opening themselves back up to the… Because they don’t know how to draw boundaries, that if they let it go, they’re opening themselves back up to being hurt. And that those two are two separate things, but most people haven’t worked on boundaries. They don’t feel confident. So it’s a lack of confidence.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And sometimes in relationships, if people are overwhelmed by words that they’ll lash out to get the other person-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

To stop.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… to stop it because they just, they can’t engage at the same level.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

It’s too much. It’s’s just overwhelming.

Daniel Amen, MD:

…of language.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I have a hyper verbal child. It’s overwhelming when she starts that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So how does the angry dragon cause you to react? Rage, irritability, you’re rude, you bully, you belittle, you’re annoying, fighting, punishing, stonewalling, contempt. And if you want to get divorced, stonewall.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah, anger is not always about lashing out.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you want to get divorced… I mean, there’s really actually great research. If you engage in shaming other people, contemptful behavior, or you stonewall, like you just won’t talk about it, that’s actually one of the predictors of divorce.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

You know, we’ve had a couple of fights in our marriage. And the one thing I’m really happy about is the way that we fight. We made a decision when we got married, we weren’t going to sleep in separate rooms. And I think that that’s a really scary thing when you start doing that and disconnecting and punishing the other person by going away and like, it can just lead to problems. Now, if you’re there’s violence, then yes. But I think it’s a bad habit. And I like that habit that we don’t do that. I’d rather argue with you than one of us go away. I’d rather resolve it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So how often do we argue?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Not often, but the few fights we’ve had, we’ve resolved that way, which is better.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So how do you tame this dragon? You see it as a problem that you need to solve. You get really clear on your goals. I want a kind caring, loving, supportive, passionate relationship with you. I always want that. Will the angry dragon get me that? Absolutely not. It’ll be like the Game of Thrones fight with you. So, no. Be aware of the danger signs. Do you start breathing too fast? Some people actually see red.

Speaker 3:

I feel red.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you feel hot, that can matter. If your muscles start to feel tense. If you start to get confused or overwhelmed, just begin to notice what happens. Protect your blood sugar. People are more likely to lash out when blood sugar goes low. We’ve talked before about the study of 107 couples where they measured their blood sugar before bedtime. And then they gave them voodoo dolls. And they said, we want you to express your feelings about your partner with the pins and the dolls. And the people who had the lowest blood sugar had more than twice the number of pins in the dolls.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, that reminds me. So my pharmacy messed up and didn’t send my progesterone. So hormones matter too. So they didn’t send my progesterone. And I called them. I’m like, why did you guys mess my… They’re like, Oh, I don’t know, we’ll get it straightened out. Well, it took them like a week to get this straightened out with my prescription. And I called them back, and I’m like, you are going to be reading about me or watching me on the six o’clock news. I found myself just being prickling. You need to pay attention to things like your food and your hormones. But I knew it was me. And I just found myself, everything people were saying was just bugging me, it’s bugging me. Oh, I just had to go away.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Protect your sleep. You get poor sleep, you’re more likely to be irritable the next day. Breathing. When you start to get angry, just get control over your breathing. 10 breaths. Three or four seconds in six to eight seconds out. Just do that 10 times. And then while you’re breathing, consciously, ask yourself, what’s the goal in this situation. Is the goal for me to be scary? It’s the goal for me to push people away? So that you act in ways that make you proud. Take a time out when you feel like you’re going to explode, you need to get away from the situation. And I have a bathroom technique. It’s like, you’re really upset, go, I have to go to the bathroom. Nobody argues with you. If you go-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The problem is, now I know your secret. I’m still not going to follow you in the bathroom. But, right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And if you know I have to go to the bathroom either I really have to go or I’m just protecting you.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. You don’t… I’ve never seen you. I’m more likely to snap than you are, so…

Daniel Amen, MD:

And then lastly, know when to seek help. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. This is the dragon that needs to be scammed.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes, but like we said before, there’s always a dark side and a light side, right? To these dragons. There’s a time that anger is appropriate. There’s a time that as long as you’re using it appropriately. So you don’t want to just think to yourself every time I get angry, it’s wrong. No. There are times that anger is appropriate. So if someone’s threatening you or hurting you-

Daniel Amen, MD:

You need that dragon.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

…you need that dragon. You need that dragon to breathe hot red fire.

Daniel Amen, MD:

From the book, anger can push you toward your goals, help you overcome obstacles, release steam, express feelings and right wrongs. As far as you don’t create more wrongs, anger can be turn toward being assertive, creative energy, providing a sense. When someone tells you, you can’t do something…

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I’m going to do it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So when I tell you, you can’t do something, you just know I want you to do it.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. We almost had an argument recently because he said he started to say, you can’t, and then he stopped himself. I literally felt myself going… And then you stop and you go, we probably shouldn’t do this at all. But immediately I was like… Because you know better.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So what are the movies angry people like? Angry dragons, The Shining, Jaws, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well, I do like Silence of the Lambs. I don’t like any of the other ones.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And affirmations or meditations. I express my anger in ways so that others can hear. I accept responsibility if my anger is hurt someone. I direct my anger appropriately. I do not use anger to scare or frighten other people. I express my anger in words. Never physical actions, unless someone I love is threatened.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. Someone’s going to hurt your kid, you’re going to lose it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

When we come back, we’re going to talk about Tana’s dragon.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh geez.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The judgemental dragon who often says if I was judge, jury and executioner-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No, I am judge, jury and… Not if. There’s no if in that sentence.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The book is Your Brain is Always Listening. If you go to yourbrainisalwayslistening.com it’ll tell you how to pre-order the book, how to download for free gifts, a playbook to know your dragons quickly. So you get that right away. Also Magnificent Mind with Medical Hypnosis, a program I did that has six hypnosis audios for you. You get access to a free event where I answer your questions for two hours on March 17th and the coupon for free [inaudible [00:14:11]. Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s way podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe, so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode. And while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating as that helps others find the podcast.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re interested in coming to amen clinics, use the code “podcast 10” to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.