It should not come as a shock to learn that you are most likely to fight with somebody when you feel angry with them. You’ve probably been there a hundred times. I know I have.
We feel angry when we feel ignored, mistreated, disrespected or hurt and those are only a few of the emotions that can enrage us. I often feel angry when I feel vulnerable or anxious and I had no idea why that was until I started to take notice of my tendency to snap at people when I was worried about catching a flight or a train. A large part of my grief was anger until I accepted my vulnerability and allowed it to breathe.
Studies suggest that anger is rarely the “primary” emotion that you feel. It is usually a cover for more difficult emotions that we find even harder to express or we may not be aware of.
Some of us were born into families who do not talk about their emotions or see it as weakness. Your parents may have had the attitude that talking about how you feel won’t help the situation. You may have been raised knowing that expressing vulnerability would be mocked, ignored or it would anger your parents. It could have even been physically dangerous to do so.
This blog post is about helping you to understand your anger before it leads to destructive conflict. In doing so, you may even catch a glimpse of the other person’s core pain and realise that that is why they are responding angrily too. Seeing the other person as someone who suffers just as you do is a crucial start in any conflict resolution process.
Anger in Conflict
Disagreements, disrespectful treatment, betrayal and hurtful behaviour can make us feel sad, wounded, rejected and even bereft, especially if the relationship with the person you are in conflict with was intimate. Instead of telling the other person constructively how we feel, we try and dominate the other person in an attempt to overcome our sense of powerlessness and we try to reassure ourselves that our self-esteem is still intact. If we can belittle the person who did this to us, we can feel better about ourselves and anger helps us to ignore those more painful, confusing emotions that we may not have the tools to feel yet.
Our emotions need to be felt. They need space to breathe, to be let out of the cage and expressed. Emotions are just energy which gather strength and burn out. Anger becomes dangerous and destructive when it affects our ability to judge what would be an appropriate response and instead we choose to react to conflict with verbal or physical violence.
That’s exactly how it exacerbates conflict. In essence, you fail to recognise and accept the rainbow of your emotions and instead, express them as anger. You also choose to protect your self-esteem and take shelter in righteous indignation by directing the anger at the other person usually by dehumanising them in some way. We often do this with blame, which shifts our attention away from our own accountability and feelings and we can also start to think of them as inferior. The key here is that you are protecting yourself from your own emotions by creating a shield of anger.
Anger and Relationships
Anger can also act as a control mechanism to stop others from getting too close for comfort. The person afraid of intimacy and expressing vulnerability may react to their friend or partner in anger for no apparent reason after a moment of closeness. It’s a way of stopping ourselves from feeling overwhelmed by intimacy or feelings of love and connection.
Sadly, beneath this reaction is a belief of unworthiness. That the person reacting in anger is not worthy of healthy, intimate relationships with others, of whatever kind.
Anger and Conflict Resolution
Understanding the emotions beneath your anger and fully engaging with them will, with practice, stop you from resorting to rage as conflict strategy. This will dampen your need to turn a potentially constructive conflict into a destructive one. Exploring how your emotions feel, what colour they are, what temperature they make you feel, what they do to your breath, skin, muscles and heart, will open you up to the possibility of a different response.
It will also help you to understand the other person’s anger and why they may be responding in this way. If you want to calm down a conflict situation, a good place to start may be an apology and an assertive and empathetic admission of how you both feel.
I know, first hand, that this is not always easy. There have been times when I wanted to shut down what I feel with alcohol, food or other various negative ways of disconnecting from myself. But real strength, courage and self-knowledge comes from sitting with yourself and accepting pain, suffering and discomfort without trying to run away from it.
In my next blog post, I’ll be sharing tips on how to manage those painful emotions and what to do in a conflict situation when tricky emotions arise !
As always, I’d love to read your comments!