Anger is the boomerang emotion. It wants to eliminate something that threatens us. That capacity for violence must be controlled, though, or our anger damages us.
Too much uncontrolled anger can cause harm to others, or to our own reputation.
Suppressing our anger is humiliating and makes us feel sick.
We have already learned how anger can harm us. Anger comes from a primitive area of the brain, and triggers cascades of stress hormones. Chronic anger can kill us.
We have also learned how to gain control of our anger. We have developed ways of relaxing when anger is active. Once we are calm, we can remind ourselves that our goal is not control of a situation or another person. The goal is always self-control.
This is the time to use our anger effectively. It is time to release our anger, but in a controlled way. When we flip this switch, we want energy to flow, but not to burn down the house.
This is important for at least three reasons:
· We have to represent who we are to the world;
· Others need to understand our position, even if they do not agree; and
· We need to be able to ask for the things that we want
When we are angry, and express this rationally, we show that we disagree. But we are setting the terms of how this disagreement will be negotiated. Not to fold, and not to violate anyone else’s rights. We have a right to be heard, and make our feelings known.
By doing this, we reduce, rather than aggravate, our conflicts with others. This, in turn, reduces stress and dissatisfaction in life.
2) Ask yourself: What are my rights in this situation? . If you are angry, you probably feel that some personal line has been crossed. But before saying anything, be sure that you have a right to feel this way. You have a right to your own feelings, the right to say “no” to a request, the right to be the ONLY judge of your own behavior, and the right to make your own mistakes.
3) Decide what you want: Don’t say anything until you know what you will ask for. Speaking before you know this will only produce statements about your anger. You want your anger to serve a purpose, to help you get what you want. Plan the words you will use to say this.
4) Stand up for yourself: In a relaxed, controlled way, stand up straight. Draw your shoulders back, relaxing your arms and hands. Relax your face. Make direct eye contact. Prepare your vocal cords to speak firmly and audibly. Do not shout. Do not whisper.
In this second phase, you will actually express your anger. You are prepared physicallyand mentally. You have a right to say this, and you are clear on what you want. Now you will help the other person to understand the issue from your point of view. Then you will ask for what you want in a problem-solving way.
Speak from the “I.” You are representing yourself, not attacking the other person. If you have trouble speaking up for yourself, this is reassuring. You are not saying anything offensive. You are representing your own needs, wants, and feelings. This is not about the other person.
If you are aggressive, “speaking from the I” establishes your own rights. It does not violate anyone else’s. This will help make you appear under control, even if you feel like you want to destroy everyone in your path.
1) Define the situation: State clearly and without judgement the background that led to this difficult moment. The classic is, “We have had our differences in the past,” but there are others. Another might be, “For some time now, I have hoped for a solution to this problem.” Make this about “I” or “we,” NEVER you.
2) State your feelings: You could kick off with “I feel angry,” but this is probably not the most useful feeling you can name. It would be better to get to the feeling beneath your anger. This will help the other person understand why you are angry. Underlying feelings that lead to anger can include: frustration, disrespect, disappointment, or exhaustion. There are others.
3) State the problem like a scientist: Identify the events that sparked your anger as coldly and objectively as possible. Here, you may identify the other person’s behavior as the trigger, but not the other person him
self. Say what he did, without saying why you think he did it. For example, “…when you left the dirty dishes in the sink,” NOT “…when you selfishly left the dirty dishes in the sink like a pig.”
4) Explain the consequences of the behavior: The consequence may be the impact on you, or may be external. The other person can understand that his or her action produced undesirable results.
5) Say what you want positively: This is your solution to the problem. Say what would be a better behavior, say what would be a better outcome, say what you think the goal should be. You know what you are asking for is reasonable.
6) Solve the problem: Do not let the other person argue with you. Only consider alternative solutions that will get you what you want. Do not consider alternative solutions that do not get you what you want.
7) Accept that you may not get what you want: But you have asked. It’s out there. You and the other person both know that you have not gotten what you want. Sooner or later, you must get at least some of what you want, or there will be consequences to your relationship. Never waste time threatening consequences, though.
A Helpful Model Sentence
As an example, we have “The XYZ formula for good communication,” (adapted from Hunter, Goodie, Oordt, & Dobmeyer, 2009). This is a model sentence that you can use to express yourself when you are angry.
Obviously, because it is a formula, it does not sound completely natural. It is helpful because it lets us say something that keeps us on track and sounds less emotional than we feel. With practice, we will produce statements that come directly from the heart.
The model phrase is: “I feel X when you Y in situation Z, and I want…” Let’s try some examples.
“I feel disrespected when you play loud music late at night when I am trying to sleep. I want you to use headphones after 11 PM.”
“I feel frustrated when you leave dirty dishes in the sink, because the house fills up with ants. I want you to wash dishes immediately after you use them.”
“I feel hurt when you talk over me when we are arguing, because I cannot make my point of view heard. I want you to listen quietly until I finish, and I will do the same.”
The examples follow the rules. The speaker expresses feelings using “I,” and describes the problem behavior objectively. She goes on to identify factual consequences. Finally, she expresses the desire for a problem-solving alternative.
When anger strikes, it can be difficult to maintain our balance. The most important thing is to remember who we are in the moment. We are not slaves to be disrespected and trampled. We are also not raging, screaming infants to demand that everything go as we demand. We are fully realized adults, in control of ourselves, our lives, and our emotions. We are problem solvers.
When used this way, anger can be not only a source of strength, but of wisdom.