An angry brain is one that has programmed you to do some or all of these things:

  • Consciously and subconsciously get angry at moment’s notice
  • Become very excited and agitated when you do get angry
  • have trouble thinking or planning because your anger is so strong
  • Act impulsively on your anger and frequently regret what you did afterward
  • Have difficulty listening to others because you are so angry
  • Hold on to your anger until you become overloaded with resentment
  • Fly into dangerous rages that leave you feeling out of control of your own body
  • Develop a worldview in which most or all people are perceived as enemies


Emotions come in many forms: Mad, sad, glad, scared. Guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, proud. Surprised, disgusted, lonely, hurt. To understand all these emotions we need to understand what emotions are. What is so important about them? How are emotions generally processed in the brain and body?

Emotions are brain generated physical and mental states that both motivate people to take action and energize their ensuing behavior. Emotions may or may not be conscious. In other words, you can have an emotion without being aware of it. Indeed, people often come under the sway of their emotions without fully realizing that they are being impacted in this way.

Emotions are generally divided into two types, depending upon the age at which they first emerge in the brain. First are the primary emotions: anger, fear, joy, sadness, surprise, and disgust. Primary emotions are absolutely necessary for survival, and they are hardwired in your brain. They are present and fully available at birth, as any parent of an enraged infant will attest. Each of these emotions triggers an automatic and immediate reaction or action intention.

A bit slower to develop are the social emotions: shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride. They probably aren’t full available until a child reaches about eighteen months of age. The purpose of social emotions is social survival: to ensure that you will be acceptable to the community in which you life. Again, each of these emotions is connected with a typical reaction.

6 Stages of Emotional Processing

Stage 1 – Activation

Activation occurs when something happens that initiates an emotional event. The immediate activator might be an external event, such as someone shouting at you, your pet running into the street, a driver giving you the finger, someone telling you that you just did something poorly, or hitting the jackpot at a casino. It might also be something internal, such as thinking about the death of a friend, your hopes for the future, or a mistake you made on craft project. Internal activators can be about something from your past or future, but not the present.

Stage 2 – Modulation

Modulation is how strongly you respond to the activators. Remember that intensification is one of the major functions of emotion. Your emotions allow you to prioritize incoming information regarding exactly how critical a situation is. The range of responses can vary from “That’s sort of interesting” to “Oh my god, this is huge!” This stage will be important later on when we learn to modulate our own responses under control.

Stage 3 – Preparation

Preparation stage is actually automatic and beneath awareness or conscious choice. Your brain has already ordered your endocrine, or hormonal, system and central nervous system to get moving, particularly if your brain has sensed any sort of danger. However, some people that have extreme control over their emotions may have the capacity to actually stop at this stage and think. One of the goals of managing our anger is to stop and think at this stage before our brain sends the action signal.

Stage 4 – Action

Emotion sets you up for motion. It informs your action. Sometimes those messages are deceiving. For example, you go on a shopping spree because you feel inadequate. You buys a bunch of expensive things that make you feel momentarily good. But then you feel guilty after. The action was caused by your emotion but it gave you a different emotion after you acted. The emotions before and after the action are different. This is also an area you will need to learn to develop over time. Children act based on their emotion. As we grow and grow up we should learn to act after much thinking not based on our emotion.

Stage 5 – Feedback

Emotions don’t stop abruptly once you’ve taken action. They still have an important job to do: they must give feedback so you’ll know whether your action was useful and appropriate. This feedback process allows us to recognize and repair our actions when we’ve committed a serious error. We receive feedbacks from others as well that observe our actions. Their feedback can be subtle or straightforward. It’s based on your actions and you will adjust accordingly. Your feedback will let you know whether you acted properly in response to your emotion.

Stage 6 – Deactivation

Emotions are usually time-limited processes. This is particularly true for anger, which tends to occur in abrupt and discrete episodes. Sadness, in contrast, usually develops more like a wave on the ocean and typically lasts longer than anger. In general, emotions are deactivated when the stimulus that triggered the emotion has been handled or has gone away. Emotional deactivation is necessary for emotional energy efficiency. Your brain can only handle so much of your emotion especially when it is charged with such strong emotion as anger. Your brain will naturally bring you down to emotionally neutral state at some point to give it a rest. This is part of your mechanism that protects you from over charged emotion. Even good emotions. It helps you rest.

The six stages of an emotional cycle apply to all emotions. At each stage, your brain can help you feel and do things just right, or it can cause you to react excessively or insufficiently. Now that you have a good understanding of how basic emotional episode evolves, we can discuss more of the anger emotion next week.

So how do these stages help us with understanding and regulating our anger? If emotions happens in these stages then you can control one or more of these stages and break the cycle of angry emotion and allow your brain to switch to cognitive side of the brain that can process these emotions in a healthy way. Angry people have little control over that particular emotion but if we understand this cycle we can win this battle. The more you understand your emotion the more you will process better and have control over your anger.

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