It’s important to recognize and respond wisely when anger (or other forms of aversion) arise in us, because these are the situations in which we have the potential to do lasting damage to ourselves and our relationships.
Marshall Rosenberg outlines a wholesome response to anger. He says we should:
1. Stop. Breathe.
2. Identify our judgmental thoughts.
3. Connect with our needs.
4. Express our feelings and unmet needs.
It is quite possible to apply these principles, even if we end up saying nothing in the moment. First, we have to recognize what’s happening: “Anger is arising”; then we turn our awareness towards the anger without flinching or deflecting. We investigate, not the outside stimulus but what’s actually happening within us. What words appear in our minds? What body sensations arise? We try to look beyond the “s/he shouldn’t do that!” feeling. If we are persistent, we can identify feelings (in us) other than anger and start to see what inner need is going unmet.
A need to have things be a certain way (when they’re not), is not an actual need; it’s a wish. Anger in general can be reduced by examining our assumptions and expectations. The more we set those aside and (mindfully) observe exactly what’s going on both inside and outside ourselves, the better chance we have to be at peace.
After we calm down, we can express our feelings and needs in such a way that we retain responsibility for them. “When you say X, I feel Y and my need for safety (or acceptance, or something else) is not being met.” It may be that we need to walk away. But if we start the conversation, we may discover what is behind the other person’s actions or words. There is the possibility of connecting, heart to heart, through allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and expressing our feelings and needs clearly.
Sometimes, the things I get angry about are not directly my problem. When I read that Israel was taking another thousand acres from the Palestinians, my blood boiled at the injustice. But what was really happening? I’d read or heard an account on the news and gone straight to blaming. The only direct engagement was between myself and the radio/magazine; my strong objection that this action should not occur created friction within me. Later, I read a good analytical article explaining why the Israeli leadership was behaving in this way at this time. I could see, when it was pointed out to me, that depending on where one stands, the situation can look entirely different from my point of view. This has changed my framework so I’m not quite as likely to rush to judgment and blaming. There’s still discomfort and an awareness of all the pain and suffering in the world (limitless, really), but there’s also the knowledge that I am only seeing a small part of the full story.