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Why we get mad — and why it’s healthy | Ryan Martin

Alright, so I want you to imagine that you
get a text from a friend, and it reads … “You will NOT believe what just happened.
I’m SO MAD right now!” So you do the dutiful thing as a friend,
and you ask for details. And they tell you a story
about what happened to them at the gym or at work
or on their date last night. And you listen and you try
to understand why they’re so mad. Maybe even secretly judge
whether or not they should be so mad. (Laughter) And maybe you even offer some suggestions. Now, in that moment, you are doing
essentially what I get to do every day, because I’m an anger researcher, and as an anger researcher, I spend
a good part of my professional life — who am I kidding, also my personal life — studying why people get mad. I study the types of thoughts
they have when they get mad, and I even study what they do
when they get mad, whether it’s getting into fights
or breaking things, or even yelling at people
in all caps on the internet. (Laughter) And as you can imagine, when people hear I’m an anger researcher, they want to talk to me about their anger, they want to share with me
their anger stories. And it’s not because
they need a therapist, though that does sometimes happen, it’s really because anger is universal. It’s something we all feel
and it’s something they can relate to. We’ve been feeling it
since the first few months of life, when we didn’t get what we wanted
in our cries of protests, things like, “What do you mean
you won’t pick up the rattle, Dad, I want it!” (Laughter) We feel it throughout our teenage years,
as my mom can certainly attest to with me. Sorry, Mom. We feel it to the very end. In fact, anger has been with us
at some of the worst moments of our lives. It’s a natural and expected
part of our grief. But it’s also been with us
in some of the best moments of our lives, with those special occasions
like weddings and vacations often marred by these everyday
frustrations — bad weather, travel delays — that feel horrible in the moment, but then are ultimately forgotten
when things go OK. I have a lot of conversations
with people about their anger and it’s through those conversations
that I’ve learned that many people, and I bet many people
in this room right now, you see anger as a problem. You see the way
it interferes in your life, the way it damages relationships,
maybe even the ways it’s scary. And while I get all of that,
I see anger a little differently, and today, I want to tell you
something really important about your anger, and it’s this: anger is a powerful and healthy
force in your life. It’s good that you feel it. You need to feel it. But to understand all that,
we actually have to back up and talk about why we get mad
in the first place. A lot of this goes back to the work
of an anger researcher named Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher,
who wrote about this back in 1996 in a book chapter on how to deal
with problematic anger. Now, for most of us,
and I bet most of you, it feels as simple as this: I get mad when I’m provoked. You hear it in the language people use. They say things like, “It makes me so mad
when people drive this slow,” or, “I got mad because she left
the milk out again.” Or my favorite, “I don’t have an anger problem —
people just need to stop messing with me.” (Laughter) Now, in the spirit of better understanding
those types of provocations, I ask a lot of people, including
my friends and colleagues and even family, “What are the things
that really get to you? What makes you mad?” By the way, now is a good time
to point out one of the advantages of being an anger researcher is that I’ve spent more than a decade
generating a comprehensive list of all the things
that really irritate my colleagues. Just in case I need it. (Laughter) But their answers are fascinating, because they say things like, “when my sports team loses,” “people who chew too loudly.” That is surprisingly common, by the way. “People who walk too slowly,”
that one’s mine. And of course, “roundabouts.” Roundabouts — (Laughter) I can tell you honestly,
there is no rage like roundabout rage. (Laughter) Sometimes their answers
aren’t minor at all. Sometimes they talk
about racism and sexism and bullying and environmental destruction —
big, global problems we all face. But sometimes, their answers are very specific,
maybe even oddly specific. “That wet line you get across your shirt when you accidentally lean
against the counter of a public bathroom.” (Laughter) Super gross, right? (Laughter) Or “Flash drives: there’s only
two ways to plug them in, so why does it always
take me three tries?” (Laughter) Now whether it’s minor or major,
whether it’s general or specific, we can look at these examples and we can tease out some common themes. We get angry in situations
that are unpleasant, that feel unfair,
where our goals are blocked, that could have been avoided,
and that leave us feeling powerless. This is a recipe for anger. But you can also tell that anger is probably not the only thing
we’re feeling in these situations. Anger doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We can feel angry at the same time
that we’re scared or sad, or feeling a host of other emotions. But here’s the thing: these provocations —
they aren’t making us mad. At least not on their own, and we know that, because if they were, we’d all get angry
over the same things, and we don’t. The reasons I get angry are different
than the reasons you get angry, so there’s got to be
something else going on. What is that something else? Well, we know what we’re doing and feeling
at the moment of that provocation matters. We call this the pre-anger state —
are you hungry, are you tired, are you anxious about something else,
are you running late for something? When you’re feeling those things, those provocations feel that much worse. But what matters most
is not the provocation, it’s not the pre-anger state, it’s this: it’s how we interpret that provocation, it’s how we make sense of it in our lives. When something happens to us, we first decide, is this good or bad? Is it fair or unfair,
is it blameworthy, is it punishable? That’s primary appraisal,
it’s when you evaluate the event itself. We decide what it means
in the context of our lives and once we’ve done that,
we decide how bad it is. That’s secondary appraisal. We say, “Is this the worst thing
that’s ever happened, or can I cope with this? Now, to illustrate that, I want you
to imagine you are driving somewhere. And before I go any further,
I should tell you, if I were an evil genius and I wanted to create a situation
that was going to make you mad, that situation would look
a lot like driving. (Laughter) It’s true. You are, by definition,
on your way somewhere, so everything that happens — traffic,
other drivers, road construction — it feels like it’s blocking your goals. There are all these written
and unwritten rules of the road, and those rules are routinely violated
right in front of you, usually without consequence. And who’s violating those rules? Anonymous others,
people you will never see again, making them a very easy target
for your wrath. (Laughter) So you’re driving somewhere,
thus teed up to be angry, and the person in front of you
is driving well below the speed limit. And it’s frustrating because you can’t really see
why they’re driving so slow. That’s primary appraisal. You’ve looked at this and you’ve said
it’s bad and it’s blameworthy. But maybe you also decide
it’s not that big a deal. You’re not in a hurry, doesn’t matter. That’s secondary appraisal —
you don’t get angry. But now imagine you’re on your way
to a job interview. What that person is doing,
it hasn’t changed, right? So primary appraisal doesn’t change;
still bad, still blameworthy. But your ability
to cope with it sure does. Because all of a sudden, you’re going to be late
to that job interview. All of a sudden, you are not going to get your dream job, the one that was going to give you
piles and piles of money. (Laughter) Somebody else is going to get
your dream job and you’re going to be broke. You’re going to be destitute. Might as well stop now, turn around,
move in with your parents. (Laughter) Why? “Because of this person in front of me. This is not a person, this is a monster.” (Laughter) And this monster is here
just to ruin your life. (Laughter) Now that thought process, it’s called catastrophizing,
the one where we make the worst of things. And it’s one of the primary
types of thoughts that we know is associated with chronic anger. But there’s a couple of others. Misattributing causation. Angry people tend to put blame
where it doesn’t belong. Not just on people, but actually inanimate objects as well. And if you think that sound ridiculous, think about the last time
you lost your car keys and you said, “Where did those car keys go?” Because you know
they ran off on their own. (Laughter) They tend to overgeneralize,
they use words like “always,” “never,” “every,”
“this always happens to me,” “I never get what I want” or “I hit every stoplight
on the way here today.” Demandingness: they put their own needs
ahead of the needs of others: “I don’t care why this person
is driving so slow, they need to speed up or move over
so I can get to this job interview.” And finally, inflammatory labeling. They call people fools, idiots, monsters, or a whole bunch of things
I’ve been told I’m not allowed to say during this TED Talk. (Laughter) So for a long time, psychologists have referred to these
as cognitive distortions or even irrational beliefs. And yeah, sometimes they are irrational. Maybe even most of the time. But sometimes, these thoughts
are totally rational. There is unfairness in the world. There are cruel, selfish people, and it’s not only OK to be angry
when we’re treated poorly, it’s right to be angry
when we’re treated poorly. If there’s one thing I want you
to remember from my talk today, it’s this: your anger exists in you as an emotion because it offered your ancestors,
both human and nonhuman, with an evolutionary advantage. Just as your fear alerts you to danger, your anger alerts you to injustice. It’s one of the ways your brain
communicates to you that you have had enough. What’s more, it energizes you
to confront that injustice. Think for a second
about the last time you got mad. Your heart rate increased. Your breathing increased,
you started to sweat. That’s your sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known
as your fight-or-flight system, kicking in to offer you
the energy you need to respond. And that’s just the stuff you noticed. At the same time, your digestive system
slowed down so you could conserve energy. That’s why your mouth went dry. And your blood vessels dilated
to get blood to your extremities. That’s why your face went red. It’s all part of this complex pattern
of physiological experiences that exist today because they helped your ancestors deal with cruel and unforgiving
forces of nature. And the problem is that the thing
your ancestors did to deal with their anger, to physically fight, they are no longer reasonable
or appropriate. You can’t and you shouldn’t swing a club
every time you’re provoked. (Laughter) But here’s the good news. You are capable of something your nonhuman ancestors
weren’t capable of. And that is the capacity
to regulate your emotions. Even when you want to lash out, you can stop yourself
and you can channel that anger into something more productive. So often when we talk about anger, we talk about how to keep
from getting angry. We tell people to calm down or relax. We even tell people to let it go. And all of that assumes that anger is bad
and that it’s wrong to feel it. But instead, I like to think
of anger as a motivator. The same way your thirst
motivates you to get a drink of water, the same way your hunger
motivates you to get a bite to eat, your anger can motivate you
to respond to injustice. Because we don’t have to think too hard
to find things we should be mad about. When we go back to the beginning, yeah, some of those things, they’re silly
and not worth getting angry over. But racism, sexism, bullying,
environmental destruction, those things are real,
those things are terrible, and the only way to fix them
is to get mad first and then channel that anger
into fighting back. And you don’t have to fight back
with aggression or hostility or violence. There are infinite ways
that you can express your anger. You can protest,
you can write letters to the editor, you can donate to
and volunteer for causes, you can create art,
you can create literature, you can create poetry and music, you can create a community
that cares for one another and does not allow
those atrocities to happen. So the next time
you feel yourself getting angry, instead of trying to turn it off, I hope you’ll listen
to what that anger is telling you. And then I hope you’ll channel it
into something positive and productive. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Why we get mad — and why it’s healthy | Ryan Martin

  1. Are you trying to tell me Rotten/Lydon got it (almost) right? 🙂
    Btw, I totally agree with this view of anger, and I also think that restraining anger could lead to very serious behavioural issues. And the same applies socially, not just personally.

  2. Dreadful, this was more about him than the subject….this attention seeker might have made me mad if I had less handle on my emotions. Best wishes. FreeJulianAssangeFreePalestineFreeUsAll.

  3. This is all very factual and superficial., as amusing as it is. Good presentation, but you are never upset because of the reason you think you are. It is all ego that feels threatened or diminished. So the key is st that level, not at the surface level of circumstances like this researcher deals with. Anger is not bad or good, but mostly makes you suffer for nothing. If you get out of the grip of your ego, you will no longer dance to it's music. That will really improve your life.

  4. 9:58 Lovely line. I've read a similar theory in the book Emotional Intelligence. We adapt our world to ourselves faster than we can keep up with it emotionally because we evolve slower than we adapt our environment, according to that line.
    I found that utterly interesting because it makes so much sense to me.
    I like this speech. You came with good arguments and you called me off-guard with that key-commend. 🙂

  5. He's so cute, I love really nervous and at the same time really qualified people. It brings me so much joy 😀

  6. It's also important to remember that YOUR anger can be just as justified as someone else's provocation.

  7. I am a fanatical collector of quotes. Mohandas Gandhi has perhaps my favorite quotable phrase. He said that properly channel anger is the most powerful forces of good in the world. And that anger is like electricity, It can light a whole village, or Electric You.

  8. This talk was AMAZING, anger let us ACT when we see discrimination or injustice only if that anger is transform into something positive and productive. Wow! Thanks for this video

  9. Usually the emotion we experience right before anger is fear. If we spend a little time to explore what we are afraid of we can better understand where the anger is coming from.

  10. Новое видео Нарколаборатории с русскими субтитрами на моем канале. Лайк, если курил хоть раз траву

  11. Anger researcher?? Anger is an emotion and defense mechanism. It covers, masks underlying not processed Grief. The more grief the bigger the 'rage'.

  12. I was today years old when I found out there such an occupation as becoming an 'anger researcher.' You learn something new everyday.

  13. I have an AWESOME angry story, and ends in euphoria, because i never had to deal with the man in the badge agaib because of traffic. Email me, ill write you the story with a photo of proof of my stress relief- not damaging other people's property

  14. He basically did a backdoor end run into game theory, or perhaps a direct run into the emotional driving force behind game theory.

  15. Anger is a reaction. Like when your hand moves quickly touching a hot pot. Thinking in that moment isn't an option. Train all you want, practice all you want, unless you numb down your brain with drugs, you cannot stop the reaction when a situation is hot enough, your brain will react. If you are not reacting, then your system is strong enough, maybe a thick skin lol. Unless you can recognize the trigger way ahead, like knowing kitchen may have hot things, you probably going to let your guard down and get burned! Haha and burn others around 🙂 Peace

  16. I suffer from intense anger but I also have an huge need to hyper analyze every time I get strong emotions. I noticed my anger stems from the times I feel powerless and impotent to a situation. This realization doesn't help my anger much but I have a better understanding about a close family member who has worse anger than me and it's put us on bad terms. I feel powerless because he's so powerless now I'm angry again. Such is life.

  17. We see anger as a problem. It's really a powerful and healthy force in your life. Use anger as a motivator. Listen to what anger is trying to tell you, and channel that into something productive & positive. #TEDTalk

  18. Someone said: "There is no such thing as a bad word. Words like that are necessary when we get angry."
    The internet, apparently, is ALWAYS angry. lol

  19. I heard "anchor" for a good 1 minute, and thought "yes, finally another person who likes anchors!". When it occurred to me he was saying "anger", I got so mad! And now I have to channel that into action? 😡 HERE YO GO THEN, AN ALL CAPS COMMENT!

  20. I don't agree with hardly anything in this talk …. anger is a terrible out of control emotion and does an incredible amount of harm … the worst is when its inculcated in a young person

  21. “Anger alerts you to injustice”. hmm, so are you saying we are not intelligent enough to see injustice without anger? I surely question that. Of course one can see injustice without anger. In fact, even if one gets angry, the recognition of the injustice is before the anger, why else would you get angry?
    And why should I prefer the energy from anger? I would much rather get the energy from wanting to do good.

  22. Most people are angry because they've been polished by corporate media's ism-schism. Their fears are not justified but the medias push false narratives to incite outrage. Most of the angry people i see are bitching about things they don't know anything about.

  23. Wow, this talk was an eye-opener. I hated how unproductive I get when I'm angry and he just taught me how I can channel it to something productive.

  24. the fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom….you're saying that you are god….you have knowledge but No understanding

  25. Yes indeed people are always throwing their anger around & abusing others with it & no it’s not ok. They should be getting their anger out cathartically in a way that harms no one yet even when I give clients exercises to do so they never follow through because deep down people are afraid of anger. And most disturbing is how no ever throws love around the same way as they do their anger.

  26. When I get angry I act like a psychopath though. Once I got mad at my sister and poured water on her 😕

  27. I have another teory, ppl lack respect, nobody has the right to bother or stand in the way of other ppl, by that harming and affecting others.
    One more thing, anger is not good. Think about how many ppl died because of anger!?
    Killed by someone angry or a heart attack because they got angry. Peace

  28. "If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you."

  29. Anger is the one emotion that we can summon at will, justified or not.
    If it is justified it's helpful. If you're getting assaulted by some teenage antifa AHoles go ahead and GET MAD.
    If it's some irrational obsession, its poisonous, dangerous, and self defeating.
    As a great example– politics. If you're getting mad it's ok.
    If you're going to spend years obsessing over a temporary office holder, you are irrational or have OCD. You aren't even mad, you're crazy!
    A worthwhile quote– " the less you know the better off you'll be"

  30. Anger can also exhibit the same effects of doing cocaine, which is why people like to be angry and look for reasons to be angry.

  31. I didn't recognize him at first but Dr. Martin was one of my psych professors in undergrad, and I can attest that his lectures are exactly like this. Right down to his hatred for roundabouts.

  32. Yes, but writing a letter to an editor is not nearly as satisfying as using a club. Anger is a luxury for those with power. For the impotent, it is often self-defeating except as a substitute for a worse mental state — depression.

  33. 👏👏😘👍👍 – it was many times I've read in comments on TED – " was the best speech on TED I've ever heard…" – now, it is my turn 😳 – It was The Best speech I've heard among all speeches I've listened on TED for the last 2-3 years of my experience to choose the speeches, available here – on YouTube… – THANK YOU!, – 😘👏👏👍👍🌟✌🙏💗

  34. 'Roundabouts' makes mad, because you have no doubt, that it was done ON PURPOSE, so you feel yourself a total idiot, passing round for the 'n'-time…😡😤

  35. No wonder my dad is so healthy I always hear him angry at my mom in their room. And my mom is always sad so she always has these bruises and broken bones because she’s sad instead of mad. But my dad never has these things

  36. Okay buy why do I get mad when people ask me if I'm mad? Even if I was literally nowhere close to feeling mad

  37. catastrophising … yet sometimes the catastrophe IS real and what happens when someone doesn't think that through and motivate us to avoid it? [thinks back to Hitler moving into Poland … "nahhhhh – it's all fine … nothing to worry about"
    and …
    "overgeneralising: … didn't he just say that "THEY tend to overgeneralise" … does anybody else love the irony of that?

  38. This guy has made condescending, the rather obvious his religion.
    "Hey, wait, I got a new complaint, Forever in debt to your priceless advice,"

  39. A man came to the Prophet Muhammad and he said, “Advise me.” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Do not be angry.” The man repeated his request and the Prophet said, “Do not be angry.”

    Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5765

  40. The Prophet Muhammad said : When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down.
    Abu Dawud Book 036, Hadith Number 4764

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