Understanding Anger

“At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.
I would like to suggest that hitting, blaming, and hurting others—whether physically or emotionally—are all superficial expressions of what is going on within us when we are angry. When we are truly angry, we want a much more powerful way to fully express ourselves.

The Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process does not encourage us to ignore, squash, or swallow anger, but rather express the core of our anger fully and wholeheartedly. The first step to fully expressing anger in NVC is to understand where anger comes from, and to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger. We must rid ourselves of thoughts such as, “He (or she or they) made me angry when they did that.” This type of thinking leads us to express our anger superficially by blaming or punishing another person. We need to remember that we are never angry because of what someone else did. We can identify the other person’s behavior as the stimulus for our anger, but not the cause. It’s important to establish a clear separation between stimulus and cause.

Anger is not generated by the actions of others, but is located instead in our own thinking. Whenever we feel angry, we are finding fault; we choose to play God by judging or blaming the other person for being wrong or deserving punishment. This is the cause of anger. Rather than going up to our head to make a mental analysis of wrongness regarding someone else, we can choose to connect to our own consciousness of our feelings and needs. For example, if someone is late for an appointment and what we needed was reassurance that she cares about us, we may feel hurt. If, instead, our need is to spend time purposefully and constructively, we may feel frustrated. But if our need is for 30 minutes of quiet solitude, we might be grateful for her lateness and feel relieved. Thus, it is not the other person’s behavior but our own need that causes our anger feelings.

When we are connected to our need, whether it’s for reassurance, purposefulness, or solitude, we are in touch with our life energy. We may have strong feelings, but we are not angry. Anger is a result of life-alienating thinking that is disconnected from needs. It indicates that we have moved up to our head to analyze and judge someone else rather than focus on which of our own needs are not getting met. Anger can be valuable if we use it as an alarm clock to wake us up—to realize we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely to be met.

Understanding Anger
-Excerpt from Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD
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