Anger and Arguments – Are you defending the topic or your self?


Quick summary: as part of increasing your self-awareness I suggest that you take a look at the topics that really get you ‘heated’ with the goal of coming to an understanding of how you personally identify with that topic. In this self-exploration you might just find that your emotion has very little to do with the topic and is perhaps more related to: an unresolved occurrence from you past, or an attempt to create a stable sense of who you really are (your identity), or both. 

Note: therapists see therapists – In becoming a therapist it is very important that you become aware and come to a place of acceptance surrounding your identity and your past – this ensures that you can be present for your clients no matters what topics are brought up; the experience also gives the therapist irreplaceable insight into the process of therapy itself. 

This is the exercise:

1.) Name or list some topics that elicit a strong emotional reaction in you. Pick topics that do not directly pertain to you (ex. global warming, education, war, taxes etc… and not people cutting me off, being spit on, having my stuff stolen).

2.) Look for the underlying themes in the topics that you chose. Example, the themes behind ‘global warming’ could be selfishness, control, lying, deception, safety fear, injustice etc.

3.) Ask yourself – what does that theme have do with my past…in what way have I experienced that theme in my own life? Example, if the theme is ‘control’… when were you affected by control or a lack of control or someone being over controlling in your own life?

4.) Ask yourself – what does that theme have to do with who I am or what does it have to do with my identity (either the identity that you hold for yourself or the identity that society has placed on you)? Example, if the theme is selfishness do you think that you are selfish or has someone tried to label you as being selfish?

5.) What are the methods that you use to suppress your true feelings about that theme? Ex. you only talk about the theme in relation to other people and not in relation to yourself… you use rationalization to avoid your emotional reaction etc.

6.) Acknowledge this awareness and offer yourself the space to answer the final question. What do you need in order to come to a place of acceptance surrounding that theme?

  • Let yourself experience the emotional significance that that theme has on you.
  • If you ‘hold in’ the emotions you might put that emotion (project) onto other people or subjects.


Let me offer a personal example – I can have a tendency to get a bit over-involved with my political opinions; historically I would engage people using a significant base of information, a dedication to ‘rational’ debate, and emotional restraint.

Let me clarify, it is not that I am without opinions… I am simply trying to increase my awareness about what my beliefs have to do with me… to increase my understanding of my emotional reactions to subjects.

What were the political opinions that I was debating? … There were always underlying themes to all of the topics that I engaged.


I am not proposing that I was in no way defending the views which I engaged… rather, I am suggesting that I was defending my past and my sense of self as well.


The themes for my political interactions were as follows:


            – I wanted the alternative view to have a voice.

            – I wanted fair, predicable, and equal treatment of all beings.

            – I wanted people to understand the struggles of the more marginalized.


My methods of interaction were as follows:

            -I practiced emotional restraint (I talked in a ‘matter of fact’ way which suggested that I was not emotionally biased – ironic)

            -I was using ration and deductive reasoning (essentially the use of the scientific methodology to arrive at ‘objectivity’.)

            -I ignored the connection between the topics I was arguing for and my personal life.


What was I really defending? – My own self –exploration (done with the help of a therapist 4 years ago)

            Alternative views – I had difficulties in my sophomore and junior year of high school; I believed that my identity was viewed as unacceptable at the school which I attended.

  • I therefore was using politics as a way of defending the right for my teenage identity to exist by projecting my feelings on alternative political opinions.


            Fair, predictable, and equal treatment – this topic is really deep and has to do with many subjects including.

  • My perception as a teenager that I received unjust punishment for behaviors that I viewed as less socially disruptive than other peoples behaviors who did not face consequences (I was alternative and reckless, but I was never violent, oppressive, self righteous or abusive)
  • My reaction to attachment issues related to my adoption… and a reaction to the inherent double bind of an unwanted pregnancy.
  • My reaction to the chaos that influences the world and my fear of the unpredictable… such as death (almost every one has this).


Defending the marginalized – At the time when I was a bit overly political I worked for the community helping people with developmental disabilities to learn social and vocational skills (I did this for six years).

  • I would use politics as a way of defending my vocational meaning and worth. – “if social assistance was right then I was right.”


“By increasing my self-awareness around certain themes which are important to me I am better able to ‘care’ about those themes without reacting ‘unconsciously’ to them.” – Will





William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

9 thoughts on “Anger and Arguments – Are you defending the topic or your self?

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