Anger is one of the emotions which most people have an opinion on. Some may believe it is not OK to be angry. There be ones who are frightened of their own anger or frightened of other peoples anger. Some may believe they have every right to be angry, that its a sign of standing up for themselves. Maybe you have a different opinion on anger? For me I know when I have expressed my anger through shouting at the kids and other family members, huffed and made my friends out to be the ones in the wrong or even smacked my kids in the past. I have never felt better from expressing my anger in this way. Ok, fair enough maybe for a split second it felt good or I felt self righteous but generally I have felt guilt, shame and even more disconnected from myself and others.
In Non-Violent Communication (NVC), Marshall claims all anger is caused by life-alienating thinking. It is never the other persons behaviour but always our own disconnecting thoughts and judgements of the person or behaviour which cause our anger. The reason we become triggered like into these disconnecting thoughts is because we have some need not being met and this person or their behaviour is stimulating this. When we can connect to the unmet need we will generally find there are some precious, life-serving feelings which needs felt and expressed below the surface of the anger. When we can connect to these feelings, we can express them in a way which is more likely to get our needs met.
To show an example of this my youngest son left school this year, however over the past five years he has been notoriously difficult to get out of bed in the morning. This often triggered my anger and disconnected thoughts and judgements “he should be able to get up” “He should go to bed earlier” “he is so lazy” “he never listens to me” “he is going to get into trouble with school” “Hell, I am going to get into trouble with the school” (you get the picture, all of this going on inside my head, any bit of wonder I am annoyed) but what really was going on for me was fear. I was frightened that either him or I would get into trouble. My underlying needs here are order and integrity. (order as in I like things to be just so, and integrity as I never late myself).
The thing is even though he got up late he was only occasionally late for school. Expressing my fear to my son and my unmet needs caused less tension in our relationship and made me less reactive. I can see my integrity wasn’t really at risk and this also helped how I felt. Just because I like to be on time and I am frightened of authority telling me off doesn’t mean my son is. My son’s needs for sleep and freewill were greater than his needs for order.
Connecting in our needs in this way generally always allows are anger to give way to more precious needs. Expressing these feelings and needs rather than our blame and judgement builds connection within our relationships and allows us to feel better about ourselves rather than experiencing guilt and shame in the aftermath.
I invite you to think of a time when you were angry. What were the thoughts and judgements which triggered the anger? Translate these thoughts and judgements into unmet needs. What are the feelings present when you connect to these needs not being met. Express these feelings and unmet needs. Finish with making a request of what you would like.
Steps to expressing Anger
- Stop. Breathe.
- Identify our judgmental thoughts.
- Connect with our feelings/needs.
- Express our feelings and unmet needs.
- Make a clear request of what we would like from the listener. Could be a reflection of what was heard.
To see upcoming workshops where you can learn more about Non-Violent Communication (Compassionate Communication) Click here