Ways to Communicate without Anger

In 2014 I wrote this post based around a client of mine going through a holiday get-together that most of us are all too familiar with experiencing.

I was recently was asked to re-publish this post and as I went through it I thought about how relevant this particular issue is today more so due to the presidential election coming up and the emotional state of  our country as a whole. So now I wonder…

If there was truly a way to work through  this post issue, anger, how would you want to learn to manage it and use what you learn in your small corner of the world? Maybe this will spark some ideas…..

Key West

There are times when the ocean is not the ocean – not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most.” M. L. Stedman – The Light Between Oceans

What I’m learning is that the light is in the asking of the questions and the heart of every human being. The answering is the communication where peace can begin. But I think it matters to go back a little step and start by asking:

Why do people get angry?

Why does anger live so long within us?

Are anger and communication based only on defending, judging, criticizing and/or withdrawing?

Are there rules to communication so that anger can be lessened?

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle

On a coaching call this week my client talked about wanting to better understand and get control of her anger toward her in-laws each and every time they all get together. She started out our session absolutely dreading the upcoming holiday. Her dilemma revolved around the criticism and judgments thrown at her by her in-laws and her own sensitivity to it all. She did not grow up with this kind of self-centeredness and judgment. Logically she knows that people bring their own pasts and life experiences to the table (no pun intended) but she just felt helpless to look at their way of communicating in a non-judgmental way. The overall feeling of anger toward her in-laws was coupled with the knowledge that this was driving a wedge between her and her husband and creating more problems than they both knew what to do with.

So why do people get angry?

Ryan Martin, Ph.D. wrote an article for Psychology Today about the scientific study of anger. In his article he references Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher’s 1996 model of anger by defining what Dr. Deffenbacher calls the trigger event; the event that happens right before someone gets angry for example, perceiving an insult or being cut off in traffic.

“The implication is that those kinds of events caused the person to get angry directly. If that were true then we would all react the same way to such situations.”

There are more than trigger events at play when anger sets in. Individual characteristics such as personality traits and the individual’s pre-anger state are 2 things that matter.

“Competitiveness and low-frustration tolerance are some ways in which a person’s personality characteristics play into anger. As for the pre-anger state of a person just before the trigger event, physiological and psychological situations play heavily into this arena. Feelings of being tired, anxious, stressed out, nervous are considered to be pre-anger triggers. A nervous person already has an elevated heart rate so he/she doesn’t have far to go to become angry.”

Ryan goes on to explain:

“Dr. Deffenbacher’s model of anger is mainly based on the appraisal of the situation by the person on the receiving end. When a person appraises a situation as blameworthy, unjustified, punishable, etc. it pushes buttons with in that person to react with anger. If the person interpreted the situation a little differently he/she wouldn’t have become so angry. The important thing to remember about appraisal isn’t necessarily that the person’s reaction is inaccurate but there are always 2 sides to every story.”

The next question then is how do we communicate effectively so that anger doesn’t show up or take over?

In his outstanding and amazingly insightful book, Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph. D and author tells of his preoccupation with 2 questions and his attempt to find the answers:

“What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively and what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?”

“When we give from the heart, we do so out of the joy that springs forth whenever we willingly enrich another person’s life. This kind of giving benefits both the giver and the receiver.”

While getting deeper into the coaching session my client started to become aware of her own compassionate nature and how she deeply desired to live on that plane and not engage in anger and despair. She is by nature a giving, loving, and curious person and realized that she always wanted her marriage to be one of love out loud and as an example to others of what real love looks like. That realization turned the whole session around. But how to get through the inevitable anger she will feel at some point during the holiday visit?

Dr. Rosenberg says:

“There are 4 steps to express anger: (1) Stop and breathe, (2) identify our judgmental thoughts, (3) connect with our needs, and (4) express our feelings and unmet needs. The key to all of the anger is empathy. Empathize with the other person so that he/she will be better able to hear us when we express ourselves.”

The coaching session concluded with awareness that although my client can’t change how other people behave and communicate she can change how she behaves and communicates. By showing up fully for her husband and not giving in to her personal feelings she will be able to create an ally in her husband. More than anything she wants him to know how much he means to her and how much she understands that the holiday get together is equally difficult for him. “Living out loud the loving, caring and supportive marriage I always imagined having is so much more powerful than giving in to the anger and judgments of others.” She now has a plan of action and tools to help her achieve her ultimate goal of making this family holiday one in which she will cherish and not regret. My client says:

“I can’t believe how I am feeling at this moment realizing that it is so much easier to love not only myself but my husband and our child. It feels freeing to know that I can choose love rather than defensiveness and anger toward difficult people. I don’t know for sure if love will bring about a more positive atmosphere all around us but it will bring about more connectedness and compassion in my marriage and therefore to my child.”

Whether we are face to face or in communication through email or text messages or any other social media venue we are always in a position to respond with empathy and heart.

I often find myself wondering when I read the comments section of other blog posts or I read text messages or I witness a negative conversation what was going on in the responder’s mind at the time of a negative comment. What life circumstances pushed that person over the edge?

All of this leads me to take a stronger, more open-minded approach to reader responses whether it be to a blog post, a comment to someone else’s writing or a face to face exchange.

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

Communicating needs and feelings without creating defensiveness and anger can be successfully accomplished by using “I” messages. For example: “I feel taken for granted when the laundry isn’t put away” or “I am having trouble managing my worry around our finances and as a result I am not sleeping very well.” These messages are to the point and simple; they are not blaming or accusing.

“Reflect your thoughts and watch others mirror them back to you.” Stephen Richards

Don’t respond immediately to the comment or letter. Take a deep breath, re-read the response or think through the exchange and think about how it truly applies to what was originally said. Time can be your ally. Take your time to respond. Be thoughtful.

“In quiet places, reason abounds.” Adlai E. Stevenson II

People are not bad inherently. Sometimes their life circumstances have caused them to form habits that are difficult to deal with. It’s not personal.

“The sound of the words as they’re said is always different from the sound they make when they’re heard, because the speaker hears some of the sound from the inside”David Levithan, Every Day

A really great coaching tool that has worked for many of my clients is when I have them do an exercise called purging. In the case of an email or text or letter, sit in a quiet space and hand write every single feeling you are experiencing and use every single word that will make you feel justified if you were going to be utterly, no-holds-barred honest. DO NOT SEND THE WRITTEN RESPONSE. Save it. Wait a few days and re-read your own response. Be aware of how you are feeling as you re-read. Are you still so enraged? Has your own anger or shock lessened? How would you like to communicate now? The point is to not meet on the impulse level of the reader. Rise above by getting out of your system all that you are feeling and let those feelings go. As a final step, rip your letter to pieces or stomp on it or just throw it away.

“Transferring my anger and pain onto paper turns it into something tangible, something that can be shredded or burned, or at the very least, sealed shut in a box. ~Call Me Tuesday”Leigh Byrne

If you were seeing the anger from face to face interaction how would you respond in that moment? Would you want to also be seen as someone losing his cool? Think about your own tone of voice and how you would like to sound or how you would like someone to talk to you about their concerns.

“We do not have control over what happens to us in life, but we do have control over how we chose to respond.”
Bryant McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life    

If it is important that the other person hear from you right away simply send a follow-up email or text or comment right in that face to face moment by stating that you will respond more fully when you are in a better frame of mind.

Your life mainly consists of 3 things! What you think,  What you say and  What you do! So always be very conscious of what you are co-creating!”
Allan Rufus, The Master’s Sacred Knowledge    

If your response is only in the form of writing then before your response goes out to anyone have someone you trust, someone who knows your heart and intentions, read your response before you send it out. The objective person will be able to stay out of the emotional end of this negative situation.

Merely because you have got something to say that may be of interest to others does not free you from making all due effort to express that something in the best possible medium and form.” [Letter to Max E. Feckler, Oct. 26, 1914]” ― Jack London

Here is where curiosity comes into play: If you sense that your colleague is angry or accusatory ask that person if you are interpreting their response correctly. Don’t assume to know for sure what you are reading or hearing.

“Every man, it seems, interprets the world in the light of his habits and desires.” Richard Wright, The Outsider

Whenever possible don’t write but talk, face to face, person to person. Effective communication is most achievable when we are in the present moment. Stay clear of bringing up the past. Stick to what is happening right now.

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

There is no substitute for real, live interaction. Your body uses every emoticon there is. Effective communication keeps anger at bay when we remain as calm as possible. Body language can have the same anger inducing affects as something we write. Create breathing space between the parties speaking, reframe when possible for better understanding, keeping advice and opinions to ourselves unless asked to offer that input. These steps all aid in a successful communication process.

We never can completely know what is going on in someone’s life to help us fully understand why they react the way they do. Everyone has something going on that feels overwhelming. Whenever possible put yourself in their shoes and summon a more compassionate you.

Call to Action

How can you begin to speak with your heart so that anger is kept at bay?

Words Are Windows

(or They’re Walls)

I feel so sentenced by your words,

I feel so judged and sent away,

Before I go I’ve got to know,

Is that what you mean to say?

 

Before I rise to my defense,

Before I speak in hurt or fear,

Before I build that wall of words,

Tell me, did I really hear?

 

Words are windows, or they’re walls,

They sentence us, or set us free.

When I speak and when I hear,

Let the love light shine through me.

 

There are things I need to say,

Things that mean so much to me,

If my words don’t make me clear,

Will you help me to be free?

 

If I seemed to put you down,

If you felt I didn’t care,

Try to listen through my words,

To the feelings that we share.

–Ruth Bebermeyer

7 Tricks to Ease the Melancholy of the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving

“Your heart’s strength is measured by how hard it holds on. Your self-worth and faith is measured by finally letting go. However, your peace is measured by how long you don’t look back.” Shannon L. Alder

It’s hard to not look back on your life or certain memories especially during the holiday season. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it always gets me to thinking about the past even if I think only about the year that is almost ending. I think about family, the people I can still share the holiday with and the people that are no longer part of that tradition. I’m grateful for the memories of past family gatherings during the holiday season and I get a bit emotional when I dwell too long there but I find that as I get older I long for the new experiences to start so that I can add them to the list of things I’m grateful for.

A few times in my life I’ve been the host for Thanksgiving dinner, the most I’ve entertained at one time was for 23 people. Our family really isn’t that big but I never believed in putting a limit on how many were welcome to our table. We lived in a condo at the time and although it was a 3 bedroom unit the living space was small and so it was quite a feat to figure out how to seat 23 people for such a huge dinner. Funny that I was more concerned with how to seat everyone comfortably and not worried about what to serve and how to serve. My children were all under the age of 10 at the time so it took probably close to 2 weeks to prepare not only the menu and the seating plan but to prepare the house comfortably for those guests that were staying for an overnight .

The anticipation building in those 2 weeks was volatile. The kids were excited every day to count down to family coming over to their house. The smells in the kitchen radiated throughout the entire house for days on end. To this day my daughter associates certain foods that I cook throughout the year with Thanksgiving such as caramelized onions, sautéed apples, homemade bread, anything made with nutmeg, etc. Mmmmm…my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

“Hunger of the heart is much stronger than hunger for food.” Amanda Comer

I can’t help but think back to the craziness of preparing for Thanksgiving because the celebration is so different now. I definitely have a hunger in my heart to relive those crazy holiday times. I was busy, I felt purposeful and I felt needed and important. That is the magic and the power of family.

I have to admit right here that although it was a lot of work and I enjoyed the anticipation as much as the kids did not every ounce of it went smoothly or happily. I felt stress and I’m sure at one time I murmured to myself how I would like it if just one year we could be the guests and just show up to eat and schmooze.

“Family isn’t something that’s supposed to be static, or set. People marry in, divorce out. They’re born, they die. It’s always evolving, turning into something else.” Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key

Many years later, kids mostly grown, family moved away and/or defected I find myself melancholy about the holiday season for different reasons entirely. My soul feels alone. On the one hand I’m not alone because I am blessed to have my husband and almost all of my children still living at home to share in the celebrations of the season but the enthusiasm and anticipation is tempered to an extreme and I feel the emptiness of that. I don’t know, there is just something magical in cooking for more than just my immediate family; listening to different kinds of conversation; getting lost in someone else’s life for a while; listening to the children get involved around the table and really noticing them blossom into adulthood. It’s just the 4 of us now, no friends, no family and oh how I wish I could cook and bake and fuss over a house full of family now that I actually have the living space for them all to come over and spread out. Even with all the family members and their issues it would still be nice to fuss.

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” George Burns

Life is funny that way. It is my “life is backwards” theory. The theory is that things that should be obvious and make sense, don’t. When we had hardly any space to entertain, people came over in droves to spend time. Now that we moved up a bit I hear crickets. When I felt overwhelmed at entertaining I wished it would not be so stressful and now I’d give almost anything to have just one stressed out, manic, family crazy, I-hate-you-but-I-love-you Thanksgiving. I’m sure you can think of a few examples of life being backwards for you as well.

But what I’m realizing as time goes by is that we are in a transition phase. I will have family to cook and fuss for again someday because the children will bring new people to my table and one day I might even become a grandma and then not only will I have someone to fuss over but I’ll have someone to teach and play with and pass on a part of me to. I can look forward with anticipation to that.

In the years since the “great big Thanksgiving” we have enjoyed a few Thanksgiving meals away from home like the time we spent Thanksgiving in Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. It was cold and it was a beautiful grayish day with the smell of snow in the air. If you have never been there in any season, please try to go around Thanksgiving time. The village encases you in the past and helps you feel what it was like to live around the time when the pilgrims came to America. During our day long tour, before our dinner reservations, it did indeed start to snow. It was probably the most beautiful snowfall I have ever experienced. The snow blanketed the outdoor sounds and made me feel more intimate and connected to my surroundings. As the snow was falling it seemed like it was just for effect. The roads home stayed clear but the village was awash in seasonal holiday cheer made ever more magical by the snowfall. I let myself get so caught up in the holiday lights and spirit, the smells in the air and the historic feeling of it all and the snow just brought more coziness to the village and the warmth of a good meal waiting for us by the open fire.

We have created new traditions within our little clan. I have enjoyed experiencing Thanksgiving in many different ways with our children. I try to find new ways to anticipate the holiday season and to try to hold on to the magic of it all. For example we started watching the movie Scrooge and also the movie Elf as after dinner family time entertainment; and while cleaning up from our large holiday meal we get ready for the winter holidays by playing seasonal music and singing out loud. That’s always fun because not all of us have a singing voice. I’m happy for having had the experiences of holidays of the past but I consciously now choose to look forward to what could be. I try not to let my heart get too heavy for what is missing.

If this holiday season finds you with a melancholy heart or a yearning for what used to be, here are some tricks that might help ease the pain:

Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at least 2 weeks before the holiday. Sleep keeps your body regulated not only in its basic functioning but also emotionally.

“Also, I could finally sleep. And this was the real gift, because when you cannot sleep, you cannot get yourself out of the ditch–there’s not a chance.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Follow a healthy eating plan. While this is something you need to do all year long, at least one month before the holiday reset your stomach and hormones by eating better before the emotional stress sets in.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” David Mamet, Boston Marriage

As best as you can, try to do some physical exercise even if you go for a walk for 30 minutes every day before the holiday. Physical activity just for yourself is soothing, refreshing and empowering. It naturally reduces stress and sets your brain to a more positive way of thinking. Exercise increases creativity.

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” Ellen DeGeneres

At least one month before the holiday purposefully allow yourself to enjoy activities that make you happy. Enlist some friends if you can but it is okay if you go alone. Having happy experiences to bring to the conversation at dinner time will be a big boost for you and the people around the table.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” Anne Frank

If, like me, your table will be short a few more people than you would like perhaps setting their pictures around the table as decoration would help. Include photos from holidays past and let the reminiscing begin. Before you know it laughter will take over and the trip down memory lane will feel like you traveled somewhere for a little while.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, and the people you have loved.”Ansel Adams

Reach out to a trusted friend, mentor, coach, clergy or family member and talk through the melancholy you are feeling. Maybe ideas will pop up and help ease the pain and infuse hope. If talking to someone is not comfortable for you then consider writing out your thoughts just for yourself. Twenty minutes for 4 consecutive days does wonders for the soul.

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Albert Camus

Take time to force yourself to do relaxing things leading up to the holiday. Go to a spa for a massage, sit in a steam room or Jacuzzi, play soothing music while falling asleep, light candles around your space instead of turning on lights, burn some incense, meditate, anything to help create an air of relaxation and peace.

“A massage is just like a movie, really relaxing and a total escape, except in a massage you’re the star. And you don’t miss anything by falling asleep!” Elizabeth Jane Howard, Mr. Wrong

perspective change

I know it can be a tough situation at holiday time for many reasons but in the whole of each person’s situation is the truth that our own attitude and perspective can make or break the moments we experience. The undisputable truth is that when things get really dark in my life I always have the choice to be afraid and sad or I can choose to see the stars more clearly. I am trying to train my perception of what appears to be a negative and find the hope that lives in the positive.

I wish you all peace, happiness, renewal, and an abundance of reasons to be filled with gratitude this year. Thank you all for your support and friendship. Happy Holiday Season!!!

Call to Action

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

How do you bring newness to the holiday?

Where can you try to see the good in the perception of bad?

If you are disconnected as a family this year, why and what does the disconnect mean for you?

Images by afieldofblessings.blogspot.com and simplereminders.com