The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s 2017 lecture.
Start time: 00:10
One of the things you see when you are talking to people and they are trying to solve problems is that they are afraid to face the problem, so then their anxiety is working against them. You can think about it as antagonistic to rationality. But then I could say, well why don’t you think for a while about what your life would be like if you did not face this problem? Because if you have a problem and you really think through what the consequences are going to be in three to five years of not facing it, then you are going to get more afraid of not facing it than facing it. And that is great because then your anxiety, instead of standing in front of you — instead of you having a dragon that is guarding the path in front of you — you have one chasing you down the path from behind. That is a lot more useful. That is just a minimal example of the utility of getting your emotions and your thoughts aligned the same way.
The same thing happens with aggression. One of the most common reasons that people come and seek psychotherapy, really, is because they are too agreeable. But what that means is, they are not assertive enough; they have not integrated their capacity for aggression and so other people can push them around. And they are very conflict-avoidant. So the consequences of that across time is that you do not stand up for yourself well enough, you get taken advantage of, and that spirals badly downward. So partly, what you do when you are doing assertiveness training with people is, you find out what they are angry about. They are usually angry if they are not assertive enough because other people are taking advantage of them, or, you could say, because they are not putting their own necessities forward with enough force. It is hard to distinguish between those two things.
But you get them to talk about what they are angry about. That often makes them cry, often many times, and then you get them to envision what they would want to have instead, which they are often afraid to do because people are afraid to think about what they want because that makes it clear when they are not getting it. And that is painful. Or maybe they are afraid of hoping, so they will not specify a clear aim. But you get them to think about what they might want instead. You get them to think about the costs of not pursuing that, and then you help them develop strategies for integrating their aggression with their thinking so that they can come up with a plan to approach the world in a more confident way.
So, for example, someone might come to me and say, I am being bullied badly at work. So then I will say, well what are your options? Do you have to put up with it? We will figure that out because maybe you do — maybe you do not have options. But here is how to find out: Get your damn CV together so it is pristine. It is ready to go. Get over your fear of a new interview (because people are generally afraid of that). Get over your fear of applying for a new job. Start thinking about what it would mean to have a different job; start thinking about what it would mean to have a better job. Because maybe your fear is just making you stuck here, but I can tell you one thing: If someone is picking on you at work and you do not have options, you lose. So you get the person to start building a strategy. If you are going to tell this person to stop, you have to know how to make them stop.
The one thing you need for sure is an option, and if you do not have an option, then maybe we start thinking about the fact that you need some more training or something like that because you cannot negotiate if you do not have any power, especially if you are dealing with someone who is really out to get you or really disagreeable. If you do not have a leg to stand on, they will just push you over and maybe they will jump on you too because that is what they are like, and they enjoy it anyway — so it is no joke. You put your options behind you, and then you start to think about strategy. I tell people, look, if you are being harassed at work, you document it every time it happens, and you write it down. So you have like 20 stories about it, and it is fully documented. Then you confront the person at some point — but with at least three pieces of evidence — and you have some sense of what you tell them about what will happen if they do not stop. You have to figure out if they do not stop, what are you going to do about it? Leave? Not if you cannot leave. You have to be able to wield a big stick and speak softly.
That is how you take your aggression — which is an absolutely necessary part of your psyche — and manifest it into a sophisticated means of dealing with the world. You do not just suppress it: You say, well I should be able to put up with it or I wish I was not so angry. Forget that. All that will happen is your blood pressure will stay high, and you will die of a heart attack because anger, for example, is a very toxic emotion. It does cause heart damage over time. It is the only emotion that we really know that has been linked to things like cardiovascular risk. Anger is toxic because it is like you are driving a car; you are stepping on the gas and pushing on the brake at the same time because anger tells you to run away and to attack at the same time because you do not know what is going to happen. It really amps up the physiological demand on your body, including your heart and your musculature. So if you stay like that for 10 years, you are going to age 20 years. And that is a bad plan. So you take your underground emotions, and you integrate them into a sophisticated reality.
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Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.