We live in a world where people tend to disown their anger by abdicating responsibility for it over to others. Just think about it. We blame, judge, accuse and hate others as a way to justify our anger because we are so uncomfortable in simply having it as our own personal experience. Too bad; because expressing anger in this faulty manner not only feeds into all kinds of conflict (including wars), it also robs us of an emotional experience that can passionately drive forward healthy transformation and growth.
Here’s a tip to help you use anger for its greatest good: remember that anger is always about the one who feels it. Examples:
- A speed demon cuts you off on the freeway. That behavior is about him/her. Your anger at their driving is about you.
- Your child fails math because he/she did not turn in homework. That behavior is about him/her. Your anger at their academic performance is about you.
- Your spouse has an extra-marital affair. That choice was theirs. Your anger about them stepping out of the marriage is about you.
In these particular cases we have been hard-wired to say remarks like:
- “That idiot made me so mad when he cut me off.”
- “Krista, you really aggravate the heck out of me when you don’t do well in school.”
- “I can’t believe you could betray me like that by taking up with your secretary!”
These types of communications are counter-productive because the receiver will tend to immediately feel attacked and defensive. Vulnerable and unsafe, the receiver’s ability to listen to your message is greatly diminished. When we communicate our anger without taking responsibility for it, the priority for the listener becomes self-protection rather than truly hearing what you have to say.
If we follow the premise that anger is about the one who feels it, we could make more constructive communication about feeling mad. Here are some more effective ways to express our anger regarding the above instances:
- “I feel so frustrated when someone doesn’t practice kindness and safety on the road. It endangers the lives of others.”
- “I lose patience completely with you Krista, when you so not do well in school. I think academic achievement is key for your future.”
- “I felt so betrayed and sad when I found out you were involved with someone else. What in heaven’s name happened between us to help you make that kind of choice?”
When we communicate our feeling experience of anger in the first person, the receiver will tend to react less defensively; can hear you better and can respond, rather than react, to your communication. Responsible expression of your anger now becomes a gateway to productive dialogue that can clarify values, set mutual goals, develop useful strategies and ultimately promote the spirit of collaboration.
It’s your anger, so have it! But have it with responsibility, accountability and for the purpose of promoting peace and the greater good.