Communicating Anger Compassionately
Whether it is irritability or unmitigated rage, anger is an emotion everyone knows about. Unfortunately, few people have been taught how to mange this feeling in an assertive and compassionate way. If we resort to raising our voice, yelling, or lashing out when we are angry; that is an aggressive expression of anger. Approximately 70% of people have a tendency to suppress anger. In other words, they bottle it up and lash out later. Bottling up feelings often leads to 'anger attacks'-those bursts of rage that leave you feeling guilty afterwards.
Given the statistics, there is a 90% chance that you may not be communicating your anger in a compassionate way. What happens when anger is not communicated compassionately? In other words, what is the effect of either suppressive or aggressive anger behavior? Aside from destroying relationships and careers, the physical health affect of inappropriate anger management can be deadly.
My review of the medical literature over the past 30 years on the effect of inappropriate anger behavior health suggests a direct link with heart disease, arthritis, MS, high blood pressure, cancer, and strokes to name a few. Such professionals as: Deepka Chopra, Bernie Siegal, Wayne Dyer, Carolyn Myss, Maryann Williamson, Louise Hay have reported the same conclusions. It has been reported a person with high anger has a risk of a heart attack that is three times more likely than someone who has low anger. It is also a fact that a woman is ten times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer with anger being an independent risk factor for the former illness.
If you are a person who suppresses anger, you may have a greater likelihood of turning the anger toward yourself, known as depression, than someone who expresses anger assertively. Women resort turning the anger inward at roughly twice the rate of men. Men are encouraged and rewarded from a young age to externalize their anger. Women are encouraged and rewarded from a young age to turn their anger inward. One of the symptoms of even mild depression is insomnia. Insomnia in turn can lead to a weakened immune function, memory loss, and in the worst case, prevent tissue repair and being accident prone.
As you can readily see, anger is not simply an unpleasant emotion. It can have a deadly influence on your health. However, note that anger per se is not the problem. It is what you do with the anger. So if you are angry with someone or some event, how can you communicate compassionately?
Communicating anger compassionately requires a two step process. The first step involves communicating with yourself so that you understand the spiritual significance of your anger. The second step is expressing your anger compassionately involves getting your needs met without harming others. It also means forgiving others.
Step I: Communicate with yourself by reframing your anger. Instead of blaming the other person or event when you are angry, ask the question, "What is my anger teaching me about myself?" You need to shift the negative focus off the 'other' person or event and direct the questions to yourself. In fact you can harness this very powerful energy and use it for healing in the broadest sense of the term. Think of your anger as a doorway to some virtue that you need to learn. It could be that you need to learn personal responsibility, a greater sense of self-esteem, compassion or creativity. Anger is a barometer that can help you assess where you need to do spiritual work on yourself.
If for example you are angry because you have been abused in a relationship the message of your anger could be that you need to stop being a victim. In other words, it is a self-esteem issue. It means loving yourself more. Loving yourself means realizing that you are one with everyone from a divine standpoint. Avoid confusing this with the ego belief that you are superior or inferior to anyone else. It means that you do not tolerate your own inner dialogue of criticism. It also implies that you may need to garner the courage to speak up when you need to set boundaries. After taking corrective action to restore your self-esteem, the second step is to nurture it on a regular basis, so it continues to grow.
If you think you are victimized and are angry about it, then you need to ask yourself, "What mistaken belief patterns am I still holding?" Your anger is simply sending the message that, 'some thing is not right.' It is up to you to figure out what is not right in your belief pattern. Your task is to change these beliefs of unworthiness to beliefs of infinite potential.
While your anger can teach you about self-esteem, it can also teach many other virtues. For example, you may need to learn personal responsibility. Without personal responsibility for the affairs of your life, it is virtually impossible to succeed in any major area of your life. Although you may have legitimate concerns in your life, the important point, however, is your ability to respond to such concerns and your decision to learn from them. From a spiritual sense, a 'problem' really does not exist. It is how you interpret and label the 'problem.'
If you label your concern as a 'problem' in your mind, then it is likely that you will trigger anger. The message of your anger is that you need to change your label of 'problem' into a label of 'learning.' If you are able to do this, this will solve 99% of your emotional pain. Often it is too difficult for us to accept personal responsibility because we think we are separate from each other.
One meaning of responsibility is the 'ability to respond.' Before you respond to a stimulus (e.g. an outside event or something someone said to you), there is a gap between the stimulus and your response. It is within this space that you have the opportunity to think and choose your response instead of automatically doing what you have been doing all along (i.e. being reactive). It is not what you experience; it is how you choose to think about what you experience.
If you have found the spiritual meaning of your anger, you may not need any verbal or written communication with the 'offending' party. Sometimes, however, you may need to verbally communicate your anger. In this case, you can communicate assertively.
Step II: Communicate assertively with others:
As a general principle, your goal for the communication is to dialogue and not simply have a one-way lecture. Further, your goal is to achieve a sense of peace at the end of the conversation by having a better understanding of the person and the situation. You will need to take the following steps to express your anger.
1. Avoid expressing your anger in the heat of the moment. Give yourself plenty of time to think about what you want to say. It could be hours or days.
2. Before starting the conversation, have eye contact with the person and have a relaxed pleasant body posture and facial expression. There are studies, which show that the act of pleasant and relaxed body posture and facial expression, itself reduces tension.
3. Listen to what the other person has to say by repeating or playing back (paraphrase) what he or she has said. Encourage the person you are speaking with to play back (paraphrase) what he or she has heard you say.
4. Empathize with the other person. For example: "I know this is a difficult subject to talk about." It will soften any negative feedback you need to convey.
5. Start the conversation with "I" rather than "You" statements. Remember, you are the one who is experiencing the angry feelings and the other person is simply the 'trigger.' There is no such thing as 'blame from a spiritual standpoint. Communicate your needs with statements such as, "What are your thoughts?" or "Here is my request." Finally close the conversation with a positive note, such as; "It was good to talk with you about this. I have a better understanding." Sometimes of course, this kind of communication will not work. You may need to take physical action such as leaving the room until the person is willing to listen in a calm un-hostile way. In the worst case scenario you might need to terminate a relationship or a job.
If a person has left your life and you are unable to express your feelings, what can you do? In this case, communicate through forgiveness. To forgive means that you erase a negative memory or picture of someone with a positive one. It does not mean condoning someone's negative actions or letting them off the hook. It merely means that you will no longer hold any anger towards them.
Forgiveness is for your healing and your well being. Forgiveness frees you to learn from the experience. It is important that you learn to forgive the person, but not forget the spiritual lesson that was behind the experience. Until you forgive, the blocked energy of resentment will remain within you. Either of two things will happen: it might materialize as disease, or angry events will occur in the future in order that you learn the lesson of forgiveness. This is why forgiveness is so important.
Embrace your anger and learn from it. Instead of pushing it aside or expressing it aggressively, communicate with compassion so that it can aid you on your evolutionary growth to wholeness.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD specializes in: Mind, Body, Spirit healing for Individuals, Special Issues and Professional Coaching. As an inspirational leader, Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's challenges as an opportunity for Personal/Professional Growth and Spiritual Awakening. http://www.gen-assist.com.