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A neurobiological approach to anger management


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A neurobiological approach to anger management

  1. 1. A Neurobiological Approach to Anger Management in High Conflict Situations Presented by Brenda McCreight Ph.D.
  2. 2. Some basics beliefs about emotions: • Emotions are a set of biologically determined processes • Emotions begin on an unconscious or pre-conscious level • Emotions are experienced in the brain and in various body parts • Brenda McCreight PhD Workshops 2014
  3. 3. Brain parts involved in anger… • The cerebral cortex does planning, evaluation, reasoning, self-monitoring and strategizing. • The hippocampus is where memory is encoded so that we can remember, we can learn and we can anticipate the next step and beyond. • The amygdala is the emergency, or survival part of the brain. • Brenda McCreight workshops 2014
  4. 4. Amygdala… • It is responsible for our “fight or flight” or “freeze” reactions, our natural survival instincts. • The amygdala doesn’t have a sense of past or future. All memories are encoded in the present. • The amygdala receives input from the senses and the whole of the environment. Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  5. 5. The amygdala can be triggered into action without much regard for the consequences because this area of the brain is not involved in judging, thinking, planning or evaluating.
  6. 6. • When the amygdala is triggered, a flood of hormones are released that cause physical and emotional alarm. • Most of the blood and the hormones are directed to the limbs and the heart to allow for running or fighting • There is reduced blood flow and reduced oxygen to the thinking and reasoning parts of the brain. • The initial hit of hormones can last 20 minutes and can be re-triggered. • Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  7. 7. • The amygdala is fast to habituate – it gets used to responding to certain triggers and expands its response to include anything that is related or similar to the initial trigger. • Remember, it doesn’t have a sense of past – so when a trigger is released by a name, a place, an event, a relationship – the trauma or emotional pain that is associated with the trigger is experienced as happening now. Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  8. 8. When you witness anger… • Check out your own reaction. Are you• • • • • • • Tense? Afraid? Triggered? Angry? Frustrated? Becoming alpha? Getting hooked on their mirror neurons? • Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  9. 9. Mirror neurons • Mirror neurons are located throughout the brain • They are believed to play a key role in attachment between newborns and parents • They respond to verbal and non-verbal communication by mirroring the same feelings • You feel angry and then my mirror neurons experience anger Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  10. 10. Anger appeasement with neurotypicals… • Breathe – slightly slower and slightly deeper • Drop your shoulders • Sit up straight • Try to be seated • Use eye contact • Lower your voice • Use fewer words, only the first 3 to 5 words will be heard by the angry person
  11. 11. • Use a neutral voice tone (get feedback on this) • Acknowledge the feelings in the room with empathy • Remember – your goal is to calm the amygdala and not allow it to re-trigger – imagine that your words are the soothers for the amygdala • Unhook from the mirror neurons of others and assert your mirror neurons of calm • Walk the line between being assertive regarding the need for temper control but don’t appear to be*bossy* • Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  12. 12. And now, a side step to borderline personalities…
  13. 13. Characteristics in relation to conflict… • Rapidly shifting moods or attitudes • Perceive themselves as the victim regardless of the actual events • Can be very charming if the *other* person is getting angry • Anger is more intense than warranted by the situation • Can’t accept anything that is different from what they want or believe • Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  14. 14. • Perceive threats from any and all forms of opposition. • It’s all about abandonment and survival – they can’t let go. • The amygdala is on high alert at all times. • They believe they are the centre of the universe.
  15. 15. How to manage BPD in conflict meetings…. • Maintain a calm, even-tempered manner to manage mirror neurons. • Try to show the person you are all on the same team – don’t be their buddy but don’t appear to be rejecting or dismissing. • Be respectful, avoid anything that can be interpreted as an insult. • Set behaviour and language limits in a way that makes it clear the rules are for all present and that they are to move the process forward, not to silence the BPD client. • Remember that a person with any form of Narcissistic personality disorder truly believes s/he is the centre of the universe – this is not a changeable factor.
  16. 16. • You can only placate the person who is angry and has BPD: s/he can’t use reason. • Walk the line between placating the angry BPD person and not alienating everyone else. • Quickly recognize the on-site triggers and the signs that the person is going to escalate. • Have a plan for re-direction, digressing, and calming to prevent escalation. Brenda McCreight PhD workshops 2014
  17. 17. Sociopaths and psychopaths In the early 1800s, doctors noticed that some patients or criminals appeared to lack a sense of ethics or acknowledge the rights of other people. The term “psychopath” was first applied to these people around 1900. The term was changed to “sociopath” in the 1930s. Currently researchers have returned to using the term “psychopath” to refer to a more serious disorder that may be linked to genetic traits and creating more dangerous individuals, and using “sociopath” to refer to less overtly dangerous people who are often believed to be products of their environment or childhood.
  18. 18. Generally, the terms sociopath and psychopath are now categorized as: Antisocial personality disorder Symptoms may include: • Very charming and witty, you may like this person • Complete disregard for society's laws unless it suits the individual, then very rigid about the law • Violates the physical or emotional rights of others, but may do this covertly and through manipulation rather than outright force • Lack of stability in job and home life, or high stress job, or serial marriages, or marital infidelity • Lack of remorse, although may appear remorseful if it is useful at the time • Recklessness, impulsivity which can be hidden in high risk athletics, marital infidelity, high risk careers, embezzlement • A childhood diagnosis (or symptoms consistent with) oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder, particularly with psychopaths
  19. 19. How to respond…
  20. 20. Remember the amygdala…. • Keep yourself calm • Watch your own breathing • Do your job – nothing more - don’t get emotionally invested in the outcome of the event • You likely can’t win, so try to the best you can get • Safety may be an issue, don’t see these clients alone • Don’t be lulled by their charm • Tailor everything you say to reach the amygdala, not the pre-frontal cortex
  21. 21. Thank you for sharing this time with me… • You can check out my other services and products at these sites: • • (search under Brenda McCreight) • (search under Brenda McCreight) • (search under Brenda McCreight) • Email • I provide counselling, consulting & parent coaching worldwide via Skype, telephone, and email – please contact me by email if you would like to book an appointment.