When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Lynn McLaughlin and Karen Iverson Riggers
Consultants, co-owners, and members of Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast Wisconsin
Anger never knocks on the emotional door without company. According to numerous studies, including one from the Harvard Business Review, expressions of anger have risen dramatically across the culture, and, whether disagreements about politics, the pandemic, other social issues, or even work and personal relationships, anger seems to be the most prevalent emotion expressed. Lynn McLaughlin and Karen Iverson Riggers, consultants, co-owners, and members of Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast Wisconsin, talk about the rise in anger responses in our society and what lies underneath. They can be reached at https://www.ebbandflowcooperative.com. Help is available for mental health concerns. Nationally, you can start your search at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help.
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Guitar Music]
[00:00:11] Mike: Welcome everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan. A few weeks, ago we had the opportunity to chat with Lynn McLaughlin and Karen Iverson Riggers from Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast Wisconsin. We had such a great conversation that we've asked them back.
I'll start the introduction there. So welcome back Lynn, Karen.
[00:00:35] Karen: Thank you. So glad to be back with you in this new year.
[00:00:40] Mike: Yeah, I was just gonna say, happy New Year, right? 2023 sounds. Futuristic, doesn't it? You know, for those of us that are over the age of twenty, 2023, you know, just, I didn't think that we'd ever get here.
Well, you know, the last time we chatted, we talked about how the expression of all human emotions, and for those of you [00:01:00] listening to this for the first time, go back, the guests are in the -, and the expression of all human emotion is essential for optimal mental health.
As luck would have it, almost a day after we recorded that, I'm reading an article published nationally by Natalie, and I'll get her name wrong, so Natalie, forgive me, Albert of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, about the rise in anger in our culture. So here's a softball or maybe a hardball, broad question. Talk about anger.
[00:01:31] Karen: Ooh, this is, this is a good one to unpack because I think there's so much that surrounds anger. I think all of us have baggage with anger, whether that is baggage around the discomfort of anger because of having patterns maybe in our individual or family or collective cultures around anger that causes us to have a great deal of discomfort with anger. I think often [00:02:00] anger is an emotion that is carrying a lot underneath it.
[00:02:03] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[00:02:05] Karen: So it could be fear, it could be sadness, it could be all sorts of things. And I also just wanna name and lift up, like anger often gets a bad rap, I think especially for women, especially for women of certain cultures, right? Often gets a bad rap. And to say that often anger is pointing to some kind of injustice, it's giving us important information about ourselves and the world around us.
So there's, whew, that was just a little bit right there. Lynn, what do you have to add? What did I miss?
[00:02:40] Lynn: You nailed it actually. And I had a conversation last week with a person, that we were talking about anger and as we talked it through, unpacked what was underneath. And I think oftentimes rage when we are talking about in [00:03:00] community rage is an easier expression than looking at those more vulnerable emotions that are underneath.
In the example with my friend, he was feeling hurt. He was feeling frustrated, he was feeling definitely injusticed, like he had been treated badly and the only place he was able to go was rage. So he had to walk away and like, unpack all of that. But I think that happens very often. We're projecting all of these other emotions through our rage that would be my interpretation of it.
[00:03:36] Mike: Yeah. So anger never walks through the door alone, right? I've been curious forever why we see the expression of anger quicker than we do some of those underneath. Like, why didn't we, Lynn, why wouldn't he feel just as comfortable expressing the hurt?
[00:03:54] Lynn: As he is a man in early recovery, and that vulnerability is [00:04:00] just too scary. And I think there's, you know, when you talk about social conditioning and sadness or hurt being described as weakness, there is a need to show strength. And some of the strongest people I know have been the most vulnerable.
You know, they've been the most able to express what's underneath. But I think anger and rage has become the, not even acceptable, but kind of an all-capture of all those emotions underneath. And I also think that a lot of times when there is that blanket emotion, like with rage it's really the stuff underneath needs to be seen and heard, you know, in a way that is validating. So if a person were to say, you know what, I'm not really angry, I'm really, really hurt that they're not met with dismissal or invalidation or minimizing, you know, that they're actually [00:05:00] taken for where they really are underneath the anger.
[00:05:03] Mike: Yeah, I love the blanket analogy because it makes so much sense. And so, Karen, you know, there's a study that was published by the Harvard Business Review that talked about service workers. Now, anybody who's been to a store, knows how this goes, and about the dramatic rise for service workers and customers expressing anger towards them.
And we've all seen the YouTube and TikTok videos. Heck, we even have names for these people that express the anger. Right? Sorry, sorry!
[00:05:32] Karen: One of those is my name.
[00:05:34] Mike: Yeah, I know.
[00:05:34] Karen: That's my name, right? Yeah. That's me. So, yeah, I've been a Karen before. I'll just name it. I've been a Karen.
[00:05:41] Mike: And where that started is beyond me. But I oftentimes when I hear it, I'm like, oh, thank God it's not "Mike". But what is it that people don't understand? I mean, because some of those videos are out of control. They're out of control. And what don't people understand about either identifying feelings underneath or controlling their own [00:06:00] anger?
[00:06:01] Karen: Well, here's the thing that comes with that, right? I think lots of times what happens is we may or may not even have awareness of what's going on. If we don't have awareness. It's really difficult to then, and I don't know that thoughtful is the right word, because we try to separate thinking and feeling because a lot of times we're trained to think our way out of feelings when we really just need to feel the feeling, right? So there's, I would say a lack of awareness, and I think some of that, there's a confluence of things that's happened with that. One, is I really link this to technology. Technology is really reactive. Things happen really fast, not at a normal human pace of life, if that makes sense. There's not a pause. There's not a pause when you're scrolling through social media. There's not a pause and so I think our brains are being conditioned a [00:07:00] little bit to move away from that pause. So I think that's one piece of it.
Another big part of it is that I think many times there's a misdirection with that anger. The anger may not be really like somebody messed up my order at a restaurant. The anger is this confluence of all of these things I'm carrying with me that I have, I don't have awareness of, and that I haven't sat with to really feel it.
And so many times what we see happening with those, I'll just call them like rage outbursts, for lack of a better word, is there's not a pause. There's not a pause and awareness of what's going on with me. And then there's this highly like reactive kick, which is a natural, you could put it into like fight or flight, right? It's this natural brain reaction. [00:08:00] Sometimes we call those defenses. And so defenses are really the brilliant and creative strategies that we've figured out how to navigate the world around us and protect ourselves so we can survive.
But where it goes awry is when we don't have awareness of those defenses. So I go right from like 0 to 60 reactive state, throwing my rage out, right? When it might be something that there's validity to the feeling. I will always say, no matter what the feeling is, it's valid.
It is valid, it's just thinking about what we do with it.
[00:08:38] Mike: Well, and Lynn, that's like protecting ourselves from ourselves. That's what Karen's saying, right? We're protecting ourselves from feeling those underlying feelings. And like, so I think, Karen, what I'm getting from that, is that's like the dad who comes home and throws the tricycle in the driveway across the lawn. That's not about the kid leaving the trike. That's about his own crummy day.
[00:08:58] Lynn: Right. And I think there's [00:09:00] also, as Karen was talking about, the level of connection we have with ourselves is the level of connection we can provide for others. And if there is that lack of awareness about what's going on internally with me, the assumption or the projection of the connection with another person can't happen.
I've been reading a lot about the dehumanizing of people and to become unhuman or dehumanized is to not have emotion. So if I don't have emotion, I'm gonna assume you don't have emotion and I don't have to treat you like a human, because I don't treat myself like one. And that's, I mean, that's ultimately I think what it comes down to. And I think there's an opportunity to switch that with the willingness to look within. And that's flipping scary sometimes.
[00:09:59] Mike: [00:10:00] You know? That's fascinating. I love that because in a relationship like, Karen, when I do workplace trainings and I have people write down their feelings. I think we talked about this many last time, and they always come up with anger.
But in the workplace, they're really experiencing disrespect oftentimes, or being, as you said, Lynn devalued as a person. But it comes out as anger. And the problem is, then you get an anger response back and it's so unproductive to relationship.
[00:10:29] Karen: Right. And that's the piece. That's it, right? The feeling I'm really feeling, is that I don't feel valued and I don't feel respected. And I feel dehumanized, or these are all of these feelings that are swimming underneath, and then here's how it comes out and here's what you see. And so I think the other part of this dialogue that's so important is when we're in the face of anger from someone else, how can we be curious?[00:11:00]
How can we be curious, how can we validate the anger and how can we be curious about what's underneath? So this is a really challenging place to be because a lot of us have discomfort with anger expressing it ourselves or having someone else express it in our face. And so how can we then also pause, step back, right? Validate our own emotions that are coming up and our own feelings that are coming up in the face of that, and be curious about what's underneath. And so I think especially for folks that are supervising other teams or humans, other humans, right? To think about how that could happen in the workplace where it's safe to be vulnerable with emotion. Because that's, that's the thing, right? It's a lot easier to show anger. It's a lot more difficult to say, I don't feel valued here.
[00:11:53] Mike: Well, and I was thinking actually as you said that I was like, okay, I can do, I can do the part too. So I can give myself [00:12:00] distance and get inward, but to be curious, like if you're my sisters and we're at the holidays and you do something, you're angry at me for something, probably because I'm the little brother and I only brought Wonder Bread once again to the holidays, and you're angry and you're expressing anger towards me. I cannot hear myself being curious about that, but I can see myself taking time out away from your anger.
[00:12:27] Karen: Yeah. And that's a practice. That curiosity is a practice.
[00:12:31] Mike: Well, how would it look?
[00:12:33] Karen: So it might look something like, you know, me saying something like, wow, what I am hearing is that you sound really angry. Would you be willing to talk with me more about how you're feeling? Opening the door with some open questions. And then the other part of that too, in this mutual connection, is then I also get to share how I'm feeling.
And I've had this happen before [00:13:00] where someone was like yelling at me and I said something like, I can't hear you right now because when you're yelling like I just, I shut down. So can we take a break? Could we come back so we can talk about this? I want to hear what you're thinking and feeling.
[00:13:16] Mike: Well, okay. So Lynn, how do you get somebody to look under their own blanket?
[00:13:25] Karen: It's such a good analogy. So good.
[00:13:27] Mike: Like, how do you, like what Karen just said, you're really angry, well, I'm not gonna assign a feeling for them, like, seems like you're hurt, but if I know that there's something else underneath it, how do you get them to look underneath it, whether it's a work relationship or personal relationship.
[00:13:44] Lynn: For me it is always modeling. I do a lot of modeling where I can share a situation where I was angry, but when I sat with it, what I realized is I was really hurt. So I do sharing. I [00:14:00] also allow space for the anger because sometimes the anger will diffuse and they'll feel safe in the relationship to be able to share that next level of emotion underneath.
And the reality is there is no magic wand. We can't make people want to look deeper. But I am a firm believer in creating safe spaces where you can show up without judgment, without going, well, why are you angry about that? You know, instead of just going, wow, tell me what's creating the anger.
[00:14:33] Mike: I like the modeling because if I'm like, you know, I don't know about you, but I'm scared right now, or I don't know about you but, right? It shows that you can at least name other feelings, right? I used to, when I would do family therapy, it was so interesting the minute somebody would start to cry, there was always somebody in the room who would bounce it back into the angry platform because they were really comfortable with anger and so uncomfortable with [00:15:00] expressions of hurt and pain. Sound familiar, Karen?
[00:15:03] Karen: Yeah. And you know, I would, I would put this in the same lens as folks who have experienced trauma or crisis.
I often describe it as you put on this pair of glasses in the way that you see the world. And so our consciousness of that, in your consciousness and recognizing that folks have a greater deal of comfort with anger, than with all of these other core emotions, and that discomfort might be with joy. That discomfort could be with happiness. That discomfort could be with a whole range of emotion. When we put on that pair of glasses in the way in which we see the world, sometimes it's hard to see any other possibility. So when Lynn was talking about modeling that vulnerability, , it might not be the first time, and it might not be the second time, and it might be the 72nd time that [00:16:00] I model that vulnerability and show that it's safe to really talk about what's underneath, that the other person is like, oh, it really is safe because breaking those patterns of when folks have experienced trauma, crisis, or when we have conditioning around emotion, you know, that's a real well-worn pathway. It's real difficult to step off of that. So being conscious, I think being conscious on the other side too, of wow, I don't know all the things that this person is carrying with them, that's come into this interaction with me.
[00:16:34] Mike: Hmm. And you both said the word vulnerable several times. Right? So Lynn I have the right to set a boundary and not go there too, right?
[00:16:44] Lynn: Absolutely, absolutely.
[00:16:46] Mike: Feels unsafe? And especially, I'm thinking workplaces now again.
[00:16:51] Lynn: Oh, we could have a conversation about workplaces.
[00:16:54] Mike: Well, that's what we're doing.
[00:16:55] Lynn: I don't know who, well, I kind of do know who, created the "Check your emotions at the [00:17:00] door. Come in. No expression. Get work done. Leave. Grab it on your way out" and being vulnerable in the workplace can be really scary. That's one of the reasons we talk often about creating spaces within the workplace that can be vulnerable.
You know, whether it's certain people designated, we teach emotional CPR and teaching people how to sit with someone who's expressing deep emotion. And you know, I think about people, you know, if I lost a loved one and I had to go to work three days later and something happened that triggered my grief, what do I do with that?
You know, in the past it was go to the bathroom and cry. Or if my boss sees me go home and take care of that, instead of you know what, if I could just talk to someone about my mom and what I was just thinking, I could go back and engage and be [00:18:00] productive in the workplace because I've been validated.
But it's a very, very interesting concept and talk about it all the time. And I dream of it a lot, a place like that.
[00:18:13] Mike: Yeah. I think sometimes Karen, people think these expressions diminish them and make them look weak rather than the opposite, which is what we talked about last time, which is optimal health.
And as we're recording this, last night was the horrible incident on television of the football player who had a cardiac incident on the field. And you saw all of these men expressing really difficult feelings and no one diminished them afterwards. In fact, they made the decision to not play the game we're finding out today. So, to express your feelings is a strength, not a weakness.
[00:18:50] Karen: Yes. Yes. Lynn sent a quote to me. We send quotes back and forth, you know, things that we find that are kind of like validating our work. And it said something like [00:19:00] being able to sit with discomfort is true resilience.
And watching that, right? Watching others express emotion and watching it be validated is really powerful. And I really believe in how important this is for us as humans. To pause, to pause long enough to be able to listen to ourselves. Because in the pace of this world that we are in, whether that is workplace pace, or whether that is internet pace, it's really difficult sometimes to hear your own voice.
And so watching folks, really what they did last night was pause. That's what they did. They were like, that's it. We're stopping. We are stopping life as it is, and we are pausing to honor the emotions and honor the life that is, you know, that we wanna surround right now.
[00:19:59] Mike: And [00:20:00] 82 people did the same thing in the state.
[00:20:02] Karen: Yes. Yeah.
[00:20:07] Mike: Awesome.
[00:20:08] Karen: It's really incredible. Really incredible. And so I think about how could we translate that right into our life and what Lynn was sharing that example of the amount of loss that folks have experienced over the past couple years, that I really don't think has been honored, right? I don't think that there has been the kind of community grief that could go along with the collective trauma that we've experienced.
I mean, talk about a template to do that. What if we just said like, that's it, we're shutting it down for a day. Like that's it. We are taking a moment of collective grief
[00:20:53] Mike: And, Lynn, close us out here when we do that, we love it. We've done that before. We [00:21:00] did it in the days after 9-11 for those of us who are old enough to remember that. Right? We did it with Columbia when the space shuttle blew up. We did it last night, everybody I know took that, as Karen says, that collective pause. When we do that, we're healthier as a culture.
[00:21:19] Lynn: Absolutely. And I think it's, you know, it's the really big things, but we need to be able to do that with the smaller things too.
I think we need to be able to pause every day to reflect on what's happening to us in our life and around us. We talk often about connection and prevention. When we are able to connect with people that see us and hear us exactly as we are, that's when healing occurs. And, and doing that community-wide again, huge dream. We're working on it, to create it.
[00:21:53] Mike: That's a great way to end this, we're working on it. Okay. This is your fault, by the way, because you just opened the door to it, me inviting you back [00:22:00] again and talking about workplace connections, and I know when I say that if we're gonna have a conversation about workplace emotions and what's healthy? Yes. Yeah. Tune in. We'll do that down the line.
Well, I've thanked you before, I'll thank you again. This has been delightful, you both are, are terrific guests. Great conversation. For those of you who listening, well, you're listening because you enjoy it. So please listen in the next time, and until then, we invite you to stay safe and look under the blanket.
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.