Anger is Anxiety
CARING — SOURCES OF ANGER: Anger results from unresolved fears regarding something we feel is important. If we haven’t been schooled in using anxious or angry feelings properly, when we care we block our feelings. This usually means that we avoid taking the steps necessary for emotional sensitivity, thinking through resolutions and creating solutions. If so, internal emotional and hormonal intensity builds into a pressure cooker where frustration explodes. And, the problems probably escalate rather than being solved.
ANGER IS ANXIETY: Healthy anger is empowerment and relaxation. We feel anger when we encounter something which we want to change. And, it is our anxiety which triggers the nervous discharges of unbridled rage. We are anxious about the situation.
STAY OUT OF THE COURTROOM: The start of fighting is when we blame. There’s a temptation to “build a case” to support our argument…like a prosecuting attorney. Instead of working on the problem at hand, we can fall prey to the seductive urge of bringing up all the old evidence to support our case and ensure that we prove we are right and that the other person is proven to be wrong.
LISTEN TO BOTH SIDES: – START WITH ONE: Be careful! If we ‘fight nice,’ we, as a couple, choose only one issue and work together towards solving that problem and not making the other person our enemy. Stay focused on the disagreement at hand and we are better able to solve the problem. Decide who goes first. Bringing up other issues or past conflicts will escalate, confuse and start an unresolvable conflict…a fight!
CREATE A PLAN TOGETHER: Learn to trust your ability to approach other problems when the time is right…rather than avoiding. To structure safe and effective problem-solving, see the Marriage Meeting instructions in the Designer Marriage book. This ensures that you focus on the solutions rather than correcting the other person’s opinion.
CONFLICT RESOLUTION: I also recommend that you use the renowned work of the Gottmans to develop your problem-solving skills. Their book includes four techniques of effective conflict resolution: Softened Start-up, Accepting Influence, Repair Work, and De-escalation in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (includes questionnaires) by John M. Gottman. There’s nothing better than the results of their extensive research.
Four Steps to Fight Nice
- Withdraw to Cool Down – Manage Yourself with Permission to Return.
- Catharsis & Calming – Let it Out Alone and Face the Fear.
- Think it Through – Together, decide what to do.
- Take Action for Solutions – Solve the Problem with Strategies & Goals.
1. WITHDRAWAL TO COOL DOWN – Agree to Manage Yourselves
When you do find yourself becoming angry, the best course of action is to hold yourself back and find a safe place to calm down. You may choose to withdraw as in the affirmation statement examples. Make sure that you have talked this through together and that you both agree on this when you are calm so that there is no experience of being manipulative. You can say:
Let’s give ourselves some cooling off time, calming down time, etc.
I will not participate… I need to settle down.
We need some retreat time…etc.
INVITATION TO RETURN
Give the other person an invitation or permission to return by saying:
If you feel ready before that time (a suggested time for discussion or a family meeting such as in an hour or a day), please let me know, I want this for us.
2. CATHARSIS OR CALMING
When you’re alone, work through your anger without hurting anything. With hormonal build up, you may need to use large muscle groups or loud language to let go. If you need this kind of release, take care to do it for yourself, by yourself. But, the more effective method is to calm the anxiety and stress hormones so that you can think things through and focus on what you are afraid of losing.
3. THINK IT THROUGH ALONE &/or TOGETHER – Together, Decide What to Do
Once you are calm again, think through what happened and how you felt. Consider possibilities which might make a difference or solve the problem or resolve the issue. Make a plan as to how to approach solutions. If appropriate, return to the person or place ready to apologize if necessary, to communicate (BOTH ways—listen AND speak) and to work in partnership on finding a resolution or compromise. (P.S. remember to avoid playing Ya’But!)
THE VOICE OF REASON STOPS BLAME: When we stop blaming the other person, we have stepped out of feeling l ike a victim and take responsibility for our part. You may also use these assurances for yourself and dear ones:
You may be right. I understand what you mean and, if I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way. But I cannot help to solve a problem when we are out of control. I am withdrawing so we can have a discussion about solutions later. I know we can do this.
We can always learn how to resolve our differences or have conditional agreement and that’s what I want.
We’re frustrated because we care. We’re scared and hurt because we care; we forgive because we care. So, there’s nothing to be afraid of; there’s nothing to fear. It’s okay. I believe in us.
4. TAKE ACTION FOR SOLUTIONS – Solve the Problem
Anger is a signal that we are afraid of losing something. To protect yourselves from loss and anxiety, decide what your goals are, possible strategies to get there and the first course of action you want to take (either yourself or together with your partner) and plan what you need in order to put it into motion. The power of your anger can create something new and needed. As in any problem-solving plan, if it works, great! If it doesn’t try something else. And don’t give up.