Taps, floods, and anger
One of the analogies that I invented years ago and use extensively to explain unwelcome or ‘negative’ emotions is The Bathroom Tap.
Let’s say that you share your house with a friend, friends, or family. After your day’s work you arrive home, open the front door and discover water running down the stairs and into the hallway. The hallway is already flooded with a few inches/centimetres of water.
What do you do?
Do you rush into the kitchen, find a bucket and a mop and start furiously mopping up the hallway? That’s pretty unlikely. Because the water is still running down the stairs – because somebody has left a bathroom tap running upstairs!
So your first sensible step is to turn off the tap. Unless you do that you will be mopping up for ever!
Anger: the mop or the tap?
Unuseful emotions such as anger don’t just occur without reason. We don’t inhale them. We don’t pick them up as a virus. We don’t have broken brains. Nor broken nerves.
They occur because of how our brain is working. In this analogy ‘how our brain is working’ is the bathroom tap.
And the angry emotions and the behaviour that emanates as a result of this brain-activity is the symptom. That’s the water that is flooding the hallway.
I recently was asked by a parent what to do about their nine-year-old child’s anger. Naturally, like any loving parent, they wanted a method to make the child ‘not angry’.
Good intention, yes. But wrong strategy. The child’s anger is occurring because of what’s going on in their mind. Unless the parent can get to know what the child is thinking that is resulting in the angry emotions then they will always be looking for mops and buckets. They need to gradually draw the child out and get to know what the world is like from their view point.
No ‘negative’ emotions
Incidentally, anger isn’t always negative or unuseful – in fact no unpleasant emotion will inevitably be negative.
The key is to find out what the emotion doing for you/them. What role is it playing in the person’s life? Then by taking action on this you will remove the need for the emotion.
By the way, there is a series of articles dealing with anger in our Mind-Body Health website : http://www.pe2000.com/anger.html