How should we manage anger well?
Should we let it rip?
Or shut it down, show self-control?
Speak up or stay silent?
Both have advantages and disadvantages. Read here about how to decide whether to speak up or stay silent.
If we are prone to angry outbursts, we listen to the reasons why we should express our anger.
If we have been taught that managing anger well is to keep calm and carry on, we only see the disadvantages of exploding with anger. How do you respond to these quotes?
Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let little things upset you.
Always keep your anger bottled up. You might need a bottle of anger some day when friends come by and won’t leave.
Our personalities tend towards expressing anger or avoiding/suppressing it. There are lots of anger management strategies. This quiz gives you a few. Anger Management Quiz. Many anger management strategies work on avoiding or walking away, which may still leave you with the anger eating away inside you. Working with difficult emotions by letting them take control or avoiding them doesn’t work. It causes stress, pain and failure.
There is another way which works for everyone, based on neuroscience and research into what works. This works not just on your own anger. It also will help others take control. It does require effort. The results are worth it. First, let’s look at where anger arises.
The root cause of anger is pain due to the loss or the fear of losing something. It is an instinctive response that happens to everyone. Anger is not bad. It evolved as part of our survival mechanism in response to pain or fear. When you are angry, you are stronger, faster and more focused. When facing a sabre-tooth tiger or someone who wants to kill me, the most likely way to survive is to fight or run away. Anger helps us fight back more effectively if running away isn’t an option.
David Rock found that there are 5 “social needs” that stimulate the same physical and emotional responses as survival needs. The table below sets them out. That’s why we get angry when someone insults us or takes our parking space or ignores us. We aren’t angry because of the event. We are angry because of what we think the event means to our survival, our status, our security, our family, our control or our future. Or we think it is unfair. What is important to us, and the stories we tell depend on our culture, our family, our experiences and our nature.
There is no right or wrong, just what works for you in your environment. When these are combined with each other or physical needs, the resultant emotions can be overwhelming.
An exercise to further understand your anger/fear/pain
Download the worksheet here SCARF & Needs. Think of a time (or times) when you were either very frightened, very angry or very hurt. Try and work out why you reacted that way. Were there bad experiences in the past that started the same way? Were you particularly vulnerable (tired, hungry, stressed)? What stories were you telling yourself about what the event meant?
For example, someone forgets to thank you for a gift that you spent a lot of time, money and effort on creating. What makes you most upset–the unfairness of their appreciation compared to the amount of effort, the feeling that they don’t appreciate you, the lack of respect…
Transforming judgement into compassion
Understanding that there is need or fear behind the anger does two things. It makes us more compassionate and helps us understand how to properly manage the anger. If we see someone in pain or suffering we are drawn towards helping, if we see anger we move away.
The first step is to really understand and acknowledge the depth of emotion. This is true for yourself as well as others. Simply naming your emotion to yourself will give you more power over it. The psychologist, Dan Siegal says “name it to tame it. Naming our emotions tends to engage our logic and calm us down. Seeing the need and the loss behind anger, it makes us more compassionate (towards yourself or the person who is angry). Compassion also helps us calm down naturally.
If we know what the need is, we might be able to address the source of the anger more effectively. If we know someone interprets our lateness as a sign of not caring, we need first to reassure them of our concern for them, not explain the reasons that we were late or didn’t call.
But what if we can’t work out why we or the other person are so angry?
Well, if someone was badly hurt, what could you do to make things better without knowing what happened? Usually asking, listening and being compassionate work for most things. We don’t need to know all the background, just that people act the way they are acting for a reason. Be curious instead of furious. There is a great TED talk from Russell Kolts on Anger, Compassion and What it Means to Be Strong
Research and personal experience show that being listened and feeling heard has almost magical powers. More tips on listening Mark Goulston in his book, Just Listen, describes how listening can help us manage our own anger and help others manage theirs. It’s not easy to listen, and we want others to listen to us. Until we have told our own story, we find it hard to listen to others. That’s what I do as a mediator. I let each person tell me their story and work out what they need. Once a person understands what is needed, it is much easier to express that need. If you need someone to listen because you are caught in tensions, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Communicating your needs
Once we understand our needs, we need to be able to communicate them in a way that is requesting rather than demanding. When we demand from others, it can trigger anger (from a perceived loss of status, unfairness, control, etc). Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication is an excellent way of expressing needs. Asking for help isn’t easy. If done well, it is more effective than being angry that others aren’t meeting our needs. Some tips on asking for help.
How I can help
I can help you work out what is important, learn to communicate it in a way that makes it easier for others to understand and figure out how to manage the emotions and the “no” you might be hearing from others. An initial exploratory call is confidential and free– contact me email@example.com.