My intention with this blog is to pull together some of the salient points from the last four blogs and tie them all together to demonstrate an assertive response to anger. Few of us are able to respond assertively to anger. Most of us fall into one or more of the types of anger expressions I have blogged about. The main reason we don’t have this ability is that no one has ever taught us how to deal with our uncomfortable (negative) feelings. On the contrary, as children we were taught our emotions are a sign of weakness and we learned to suppress them.
In order to express them healthfully, you first need to unlearn what you have learned in childhood, and accept that anger is a natural emotion that arises in us when we are feeling threatened, hurt or fearful. It is part of our defense mechanism and its original intent was to protect us. Given the social stigma around emotions and our programming from childhood, accepting them as natural and not bad will be challenging. Like anything else though, if you really want to succeed, you have to want something badly and put your whole self behind it. You may want to revisit the It’s So Hard blog to help you get in touch with how to motivate yourself.
Once you have chosen to accept your negative feelings, in this case anger, and see clearly that you would like to learn how to express it more constructively, you want to know what that looks like. The most important thing to remember is that you are no longer a helpless child but a grown up who is capable of stating what you think or want without worrying about the other person’s reaction – they CANNOT hurt you. This realization will give you some space to examine what it is that you are really angry about. You will discover that there is no need to react in a defensive way, but instead you can respond in an authentic and constructive way.
The assertive response must begin by learning to perceive situations as less threatening. Prevention is the key. Most reactions come from misunderstanding and/or distortions of what is really going on. Learning to not jump to conclusions or to seek clarification before reacting can eliminate much of what makes us angry. You want to come from the perspective that people don’t want to hurt or threaten you. If you operate from this premise, then when you hear something threatening coming at you, you may want to assume that you have misheard or misunderstood and ask for clarification. As soon as you begin to feel some heat arising, or a sense of wanting to shut down or flee, intercept it by repeating to the person what you thought you heard them say and asking them if that is correct. Almost always, what we thought we heard is not what was said. This is not easy to do, but when you do this, you will be able to transform your angry reactions to constructive dialog that brings clarity to the situation for all involved.
When you are the one who is on the receiving end of anger, work on not getting triggered by the anger energy coming your way and instead recognize that the other person is feeling threatened and gently ask, what is his/her concern, or what does s/he needs from you. If you do it from a kind and caring place, you will immediately disarm the anger and the person will most like melt by your caring action.
Again, this is a lot easier said than done, but it is absolutely doable. Keep practicing and ask your significant others to join you. Over time, you and others in your life will find yourselves becoming more peaceful, trusting, and loving.
To read about responding to anger assertively when frustrated with people and situations, check out my Being with what IS blog.