Learn To Understand The Meaning Behind Your Anger

ASK DR. DONNA

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Dear Readers,

It is my pleasure to meet with you once again. Perhaps some of you will recall my previous Dr. Donna column that published in the Payson Roundup. Looking through my files I see it began here eight years ago and ran for a couple of years. My focus at that time was teaching and practicing a process of nondefensive communication skills and this is still my intention, because this tool really works. I'm still doing it, in my private practice as a licensed psychologist, and my passion for this process is just as great as ever.

So, I wanted to reach out to our community once again on these pages and I plan to meet with you here each Friday.

Feel free to write to me with your comments and questions for this column. In my responses, any references to identity will be kept confidential. Send your questions to: Ask Dr. Donna, P.O. Box 2204, Payson, AZ 85547-2204 or e-mail drdonna@cbiwireless.com.

The process

This "too"' is called Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication, and it has been developed by mediator and author, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (www.cnvc.org). He travels around the world teaching this process and he finds over and over again that any conflict can be resolved within 20 minutes. Can you imagine the power of this possibility?

I met Dr. Rosenberg in 1990 and have been practicing the process since that time. Here is my personal experience of what it can offer:

  • Honesty: A way to express whatever I may be feeling at any moment in time in an honest yet nonjudgmental manner.
  • Empathy: The ability to hear others' messages, even if they appear critical, without reacting defensively
  • Self-compassion: A way to listen to one's own feelings and needs, without self-judgment or criticism.

These times are so filled with anger and fear.

Do you remember the saying, "Point a finger at someone else and three point back at you?" This saying reminds me that we are harder on ourselves than on anyone else. And blame and shame are two sides of the same coin. Blame points outward and shame points inward. When we think we are under attack we strike out and attack back and also silently attack ourselves as well.

Here is an example: Suppose someone said that you should do something differently than the way you enjoy doing it. Perhaps they say that you should clean the house better. Your initial reaction might be to tell them that they should help if they want it to look better, while inside, you may be questioning your own ability to keep a clean home.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) offers a way out of this "blame and shame game." I believe that just as anger and fear fuel the same type of reaction, so does empathy and honesty.

If you are wearing your ears of self-compassion, you will not find any blame anywhere "out there" no matter where you look, because compassion begins within.

One of the major points of this process is that all negative labels are the tragic expression of painful feelings and unmet needs. Tragic, because their expression actually prevents us from getting our needs met.

For example, you are driving down the road peacefully and another driver cuts in front of you. You get angry and yell a name or worse.

Now then, what kind of pain or unmet needs might be underneath that reaction? Can you guess? How about fear and a need for safety?

Although in this particular example, one may be unable to express the feeling and the need, one could calm down just by recognizing the feelings and needs stirring inside.

This brings me to another point. Our feelings are the messengers of our needs. For example, when one is hungry or tired, he or she needs food or rest. Well, the same holds true with emotional feelings and needs. So, when we are angry, perhaps our need is for respect or consideration. When we are disappointed, perhaps we have a need for understanding.

And once we begin to listen to ourselves with compassion, the benefits increase. It then becomes easier to start speaking our truth, and be heard in ways that inspire cooperation. And we can also begin to hear others' feelings and needs more easily and offer empathy. Empathy and honesty are the tools to resolving all conflicts peacefully.

The good news is that communication skills are learned. And they get better with practice. These skills are useful in any type of relationship -- business, marriage, with friends, with parents or with our children.

Here are some things that people who have learned and practiced these skills have said, "My self-esteem has improved. I feel the freedom to experience all of my feelings, including anger," "Once I recognize my needs, I now know that I have a choice to make a request to help get my needs met," "I feel more in control. I'm not as scared of anger. I know that my anger is a message that brings me closer to my needs, and that underneath my anger lies my need for empathy."

And so dear readers, I invite you to come along with me for awhile and play a different game ... of compassion ... and see what you think.

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