How to express anger effectively: Nonviolent communication

Everyone has reasons to get angry once in a while. But if you lose your temper or become mean and hostile, you are not going to improve your long-term relationships. When you lose your temper and attack another person, that person is likely to feel horrible and defensive rather than receptive and compassionate toward you.

So how can you express anger effectively, and what can you learn about yourself from your anger?

What emotion is hiding beneath the anger?

Often the fear of abandonment or of losing love and connection is what is fueling the anger. Sometimes it is a feeling of being insignificant or unappreciated that underlies the anger.

Frequent triggers to anger include not be listened to, anxiety, or feeling powerless.

Uncontrolled anger backfires and often causes the very thing you fear. For instance, you may fear abandonment. Yet when you become angry and possessive, you push the other person away.

Self-reflection

1. Recognize your feelings before you explode in anger. When you feel a mere irritation, it’s easier to do or say something calmly than when anger has built up.

2. Know what you need to do for yourself rather than expect another person to do something for you. Don’t expect others to read your mind or to satisfy your desires and needs.

Sometimes you do need to express your anger to another person. Here is how we change powerless hostility to personal power to inspire transformation:

Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication:

The most important component of this four-step process is that the intent shown through tone of voice is to treat the other person with respect while respecting our own needs. Without a calm tone and demeanor, it will be difficult to be effective even with the right words.

If you’re too angry, let the other person know you’ll discuss this later when you’re calm.

1. State the facts. Express the facts neutrally and factually without exaggeration and without saying “You never” or “You always”.

2. Express your feelings. “I feel angry/ sad/ defensive/ lonely.” Saying you feel angry is very different than expressing hostility and anger through yelling. Make sure your feelings aren’t in fact judgments. “I feel that you’re a jerk” is not a feeling.

3. Express your need or desire. “I need support/ to be able to trust someone/ to have more fun.” Be careful that your needs are not specifically about the other person. “I need you to clean your room” is not as effective as “I need order and cleanliness.” Remember that you have to satisfy many of your needs yourself.

4. Make a specific positive request, not a demand. Don’t be too abstract, e.g., “I want you to love me forever.” Avoid negative requests, e.g., “I want you to stop being selfish.” An example of a specific positive doable request would be “Let’s go out to dinner Friday night,” or “Would you help me do the dishes after dinner.”

Rather than complaining or nagging, you’re giving the other person the opportunity to do something thoughtful for you.

5. Observe patterns. This is an added step to consider it your requests keep getting ignored. You don’t want to try to control other people. Yet if you see that a person is repeatedly ignoring your reasonable requests, desires, and expectations, then you want to change your expectations and perhaps limit your relationship with that person. By changing your expectations, you’re less likely to be disappointed and once in a while you’ll be surprised to find the other person treating you with more respect.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Dealing with Angry People.”

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