We’ve all had it, that moment when we begin to see red. We can feel our blood pressure increase and the blood in our veins turn into adrenaline. Someone has just made us very angry and we’re about to express our anger in a very destructive way.
Thankfully, we can prevent the destruction and learn to express anger in a constructive way. I’ve been reading quite a bit on non-violent communication lately and I begin to understand how it can help us live happier and more honest relationships. One thing non-violent communication can also help us with is expressing anger.
The next time you’re angry and about to explode…
1. Don’t say anything
I believe the worst thing we can do when we’re angry is to react impulsively. When we’re angry, we’re not thinking clearly and we risk saying things we will regret later.
We also increase our chance of communicating in a “violent” manner. By violent, I mean saying things that will menace the emotional integrity of the other person and hurt their core beliefs. When things get too personal, we recoil in defensive mode and prepare to strike back. This leads to an avalanche of destructive communication from both us and the other party involved.
The best way to prevent this and avoid falling into this trap is just to say nothing. Instead, take a deep breath and accept that you’re angry.
2. Accept your anger
Suppressing your anger is very bad.
When we bury our anger deep within us, we are not defusing a bomb: we are burying a mine that can blow off at any time for very little reason. We risk blowing up someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Instead, accept your anger. Accept the visions of violence that pass through your mind. Don’t provoke these visions, but if they’re there, accept them. Think about how liberating it would be to throw that computer screen out of the window or how satisfying it would feel on the moment to punch that clown in the nose. Just allowing these visions to exist within us and letting them come to life in our head actually helps us let go of some steam and clear our head a little bit.
When we’re angry, it’s a signal that our most important needs have been infringed upon. Once your head has cleared a little bit, it’s time to start identifying those needs to understand better why you’re angry.
3. Identify your needs
Just like the flashing lights and sirens on emergency vehicles, anger is a powerful emotion that warns us of an emergency. It informs us that someone or something has violated our most important needs and it’s telling us to react. In order to react in a mature and non-violent manner though, you need to stop and identify those needs.
Are you angry because someone has shown a lack of respect to you or to someone you hold dear? If respect is your uttermost important value in life, you probably need the other person to have respect for you, your friends or your family. Your anger is telling you that your need for respect has not been, well, respected.
Take the time to identify which of your needs has been violated. You are preparing yourself to communicate your needs to the other person.
4. Identify your emotions
As we figure out which of our needs has not been respected, news emotions surface within us. These new emotions are the results of other needs that we have that are not satisfied.
Take note of these new emotions and needs, as they will also help you understand the source of our anger. They will help you communicate your anger to the person who made you angry in the first place.
When we feel ready, we can communicate our emotions and our needs to the other person. This whole non-violent communication process will be the subject of a future article, but here’s a quick breakdown of how to express anger in a non-violent manner.
1. Observe the behavior
Start by explaining to the other person the behavior that made you angry. Describe what he or she did in an objective manner. Leave your emotions aside for now and make sure you’re not using words that will attack that person.
“When I see you walk with your dirty boots on the floor I have just cleaned …”
2. Express your emotions
Express the feelings that have surfaced when you observed this behavior. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you are angry. This will make them understand that what they did had a negative impact on you.
“… I am very angry because …”
3. Express your needs
Explain the needs that you have as an individual. This will make the other person understand why they made you angry in the first place and will prepare them to hear your request.
“… I need respect for the time I put into cleaning the house today. …”
4. Make a request
Make a request to the other person. What do you think he or she can do to help you fulfil your needs? Show that you are open by asking them what they think about what you just said.
“… Would you be willing to leave your boots on the doormat next time?”
This whole process of expressing anger doesn’t happen in a split second. It’s perfectly fine to just say, “I need some time to think about what you just said. I’ll get back to you later.” The important thing is that you do not say anything aggravating impulsively and that you take the time to communicate your needs to the other person in a clear and civilized manner.
If you can’t stop yourself and you do explode in front of the other person, don’t worry about it. Take some time to reflect on your needs and emotions and prepare your response. When you feel ready, take a moment to apologize about your outburst and explain why he or she made you angry.