I have a fiery emotional nature, so I tend to blow up instantly when I am angry. Fortunately, I don’t get angry often any more because I’ve put a lot of dedication into resolving my anger issues. And I mean fortunately for myself as well as others, because I used to feel terrible after an angry outburst; guilty because I made the other person feel bad, and sad because I was still angry.
I’m going to share something about fighting that I learned in grad school. It’s so simple, I wondered why I hadn’t figured it out myself – but that’s what school is for. This technique alone was worth the money I spent for my education.
Even though the process is simple it’s not so easy, because you have to let go of your ego to make it work. So here goes.
There are three steps to successful outcomes with touchy subjects:
1. Diffuse your anger
2. Talk calmly about the situation
3. Talk about yourself, not the other person.
In my experience, there are two scenarios in which an argument can occur. One is in the moment when an irritating incident occurs and the other is some time after the incident, in which case anger has been simmering on the back burner for a while.
If you get angry in the moment, tell the other person you need to leave and will talk about this later. Then do something to diffuse your anger. If you’re angry about something that happened in the past, tell the person you’d like to talk. Make sure you are feeling calm.
For example, say your husband leaves his towels on the bathroom floor every time he takes a shower. You have spoken to him about this before (probably not so nicely) and you are angry about it.
The first thing to do is dissipate your anger energy. Screaming into your pillow, going for a run or to the gym, beating up your mattress, breathing deeply, or counting to 100 are all effective techniques. Just say nothing to your husband until the rage is gone. Then calmly state that you would like to talk to him about something and ask if this is a good time.
If it’s not a good time for him, set a time that will work for both of you. Wait respectfully until the appointment. No pouting, etc. At the appropriate time, tell him what you want to talk about. Calmly let him know how you feel when you find towels on the bathroom floor. For example, maybe you do your best to keep the house tidy and, when you trip over towels in the bathroom, you feel defeated, or like no one cares, or unappreciated. Whatever is true for you.
Do not accuse him. The basic language is, “When you do/say this, it makes me feel this way.” Now you are talking about yourself. It neutralizes the fight-or-flight energy of anger and opens up space for discussion. And it puts you in the driver’s seat in your own life when you are authentic about your feelings. You don’t have to resort to drama (pouting, yelling, shutting down, etc.) to make yourself heard.
I remember practicing this with a lovely man I was living with. I was really frustrated with him, but I didn’t want to be the old me and attack him. I decided to take responsibility for myself and try to work out some way we could both be winners.
He was remodeling the kitchen, and we had been without a sink for weeks. We washed dishes in the laundry room, and I used the kitchen table for preparing meals (no kitchen counter, either). I had asked him many times when he thought we could get a sink, and his answer was always about having the time.
At the end of my rope one day, I asked him again. Same old answer. I had been thinking about this for a long time, and I had a solution. I told him I had decided to do something about this that I could control; something to keep myself from going crazy. I could see that he was getting ready for a confrontation. Instead, I calmly said, “I’m not going to cook any more. We can eat sandwiches; it will be easier.”
The next weekend we bought a kitchen sink. He had it installed within days, including the new kitchen counter.
It felt so good to let go of anger and be myself throughout this process. And it opened up more space for loving in our relationship. When you are genuine, the other person is more likely to be genuine, as well. Anger makes people feel threatened, and they automatically take a defensive stand when confronted.
What if the other person doesn’t want to discuss the matter, but resorts to their own anger drama instead? Stay calm and end the conversation in a civil manner, such as, “I hoped we could talk about this. Maybe another time.” If you feel angry, take the time to dissipate the energy and let the incident go.
The key is that you are taking charge of your life by changing the only person you can – yourself. The other person may eventually take a cue from you and decide to open up. You can’t change anyone, but it only takes one person to create a safe space for change.
Live your purpose every day.
- What to Do When You’re Angry (socyberty.com)