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. 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.