Part 2 of a 2-Part SeriesIn my previous article in this two-part series, I suggested that anger is like a fire alarm that alerts us to problems that we need to address and explore. However, people who struggle with anger issues also need to manage their anger. In this article, I show that how we think can have a big impact on anger management.
Changing How We Think of Anger
In his book Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg argues that anger can be completely avoided. He advocates making the following changes in our thinking. Instead of thinking, “I am angry because they…” he recommends replacing it with the phrase, “I am angry because I am needing…”
If our spouse is late coming home for dinner, let’s consider two options we have in responding that are based on our needs. If we have made a wonderful dinner and it is getting cold, our need to see our effort appreciated may go unmet. Not having our needs met can be a trigger for anger. However, if we needed some solitude, and the lateness gave us time for that, we might be grateful. The behavior of our spouse did not change from the one scenario to the other. Rather, it was our needs that changed.
The Difference between Stimulus and Cause
The following dialogue is an example given by Marshall Rosenberg of an interaction he had that demonstrates Stimulus vs. Cause. Anger is triggered by a stimulus that is based on our needs. The other person’s behavior is not the cause of my anger. It may be a stimulus, but it is not a cause.
John: Three weeks ago I made a request to the prison officials and they still haven’t responded to my request.
MBR: So when this happened, you felt angry because what?
John: I just told you. They didn’t respond to my request!
M: Hold it. Instead of saying, “I felt angry because they…,” stop and become conscious of what you’re telling yourself that’s making you so angry.
John: I’m not telling myself anything.
MBR: Stop, slow down, just listen to what’s going on inside.
John [after silently reflecting]: I’m telling myself that they have no respect for human beings; they are a bunch of cold, faceless bureaucrats who don’t give a damn about anybody but themselves! They’re a real bunch of…
MBR: Thanks, that’s enough. Now you know why you’re angry – it’s that kind of thinking.
John: But what’s wrong with thinking that way?
MBR: I’m not saying there is anything wrong with thinking that way. Notice if I say there is something wrong with you for thinking that way, I’d be thinking the same way about you. I don’t say it’s wrong to judge people, to call them faceless bureaucrats, or to label their actions inconsiderate or selfish. However, it’s that kind of thinking on your part that makes you feel very angry. Focus your attention on your needs: what are your needs in this situation?
John [after a long silence]: Marshall, I need the training I was requesting. If I don’t get that training, as sure as I’m sitting here, I’m gonna end up back in this prison when I get out.
MBR: Now that your attention is on your needs, how do you feel?
MBR: Now put yourself in the shoes of a prison official. If I’m an inmate, am I more likely to get my needs met if I come to you saying, “Hey, I really need that training and I‘m scared of what’s going to happen if I don’t get it,” or if I approach while seeing you as a faceless bureaucrat? Even if I don’t say those words out loud, my eyes will reveal that kind of thinking. Which way am I more likely to get my needs met?
Three hours later, John approached Marshall and said, “I wish you had taught me two years ago what you just taught me. I wouldn’t have had to kill my best friend.” Heartbreaking.
Steps to Expressing Anger
These are Marshall’s steps to expressing anger. He recommends putting them on a small, accessible card and carrying it at all times until the process is practiced and becomes more automatic.
- Stop. Breathe.
- Identify our judgmental thought.
- Connect with our needs.
- Express our feelings and unmet needs.
Christian Counseling to Address Your Anger Issues
Everyone experiences anger and many people struggle with anger management. But each of us has a chance to decide how we will respond to the invitation to anger. As a Christian counselor, I am convinced that it is possible to live in freedom.
“Couple Making Up,” courtesy of StockPhotosforFree.com LL0000A182.jpg; “Angry Couple,” courtesy of stockphotosforfree.com, LL0000A192.jpg