Anger is a natural emotion that occurs in response to a perceived threat or attack. While we all experience anger from time to time, when it’s not managed properly, it can become excessive and out of control. In context of our relationships, by the time we recognise that anger levels have risen significantly, it might be too late to prevent the situation from escalating into a full-blown conflict.
If this happens to you, it is possible that if and when you look back on the situation, you might even regret saying certain things or behaving in a rash manner. However, when you do encounter a similar situation in the future, the past is likely to repeat itself – trapping you in a vicious cycle that can be hard to break out of.
The good news is that you can take control of your anger by learning how to communicate better. However, this is easier said than done. Communication is often the core problem area when an argument is taking place – often, both parties think that they are communicating, but in reality, the opposite is true.
Not managing your anger well can damage your relationship with others around you. It can even take a toll on your own mental and physical well-being. This is why it’s important to become aware of the way in which you are communicating so you can replace your negative communication style with a more helpful one. This will also help ensure that your anger is used productively – for resolving conflicts and addressing problems.
A healthy communication style has 2 aspects to it – it’s just as important to communicate in a healthy manner with your own self as it is to communicate effectively with others.
Communicating with yourself in times of anger
Change your narrative
Your thoughts are likely to be extreme or exaggerated when you are angry. As a result, you might use harsh language when speaking to yourself; these thoughts can further worsen your anger. A good practise is to try to replace these thoughts with more balanced and neutral ones. Acknowledge that things did not go your way and take stock of how you feel. At the same time, remind yourself that things may not be as bad as you initially thought. Be kind and compassionate to yourself in order to reduce any bitterness and self-critical feelings.
Let go of your expectations
You may have certain expectations about the way things should be, about yourself and about others. When these expectations are not met, you may experience anger. In such cases, take a moment to pause and analyse your expectations. Are they realistic or unrealistic? If you attempt to adjust your expectations, you are less likely to feel disappointed and angry.
Try to understand your anger
When you feel angry, stop everything you are doing and think about what’s happening. Try to simply observe how you are feeling and get clarity about all possible reasons that could have made you angry. Focus on your breathing while you are thinking, as this will help you feel more in control while expressing your anger.
Listen to your body
When you feel angry, you are likely to experience it in your body. For instance, your heart may start beating faster, or your muscles might get tense. Notice how your body tries to tell you that you are angry. By paying attention to these signs, you will be able to identify and deal with your anger before it escalates. You can also address these sensations to reduce your anger – for instance, by trying relaxation techniques like Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Guided Imagery.
Communicating with others in times of anger
Pause before reacting
While responding to something that makes you angry, avoid jumping to conclusions or reacting immediately. Instead, listen carefully and try to understand what the other person is saying. Take time to think over what you want to convey. If required, leave the situation and come back when you feel calmer.
Look at the lighter side of the situation
Humour not only helps you be more optimistic, but also reduces stress and aggressive behaviour. It can diffuse the tension created by anger, as long as it is used sensitively and is not intended to harm anyone. You can either use humour as a distraction (by reading a comic book or watching a funny video) or to directly address the situation. For example, if you think of calling your friend a pig in the middle of a fight, think of them as a pig and imagine them doing whatever a pig would do. This will help you laugh and can ease you out of anger.
Try to understand the other person’s perspective
When you get angry with someone (or when they get angry with you), spend some time to calmly listen to them and understand their perspective. Keep an open mind and acknowledge the other person’s needs and feelings. Conveying that you care through your actions and words can help the other person feel understood. This can also diffuse the tension and motivate both of you to work through the difficulty or argument more constructively.
Focus on what can be done
When someone is angry with you, ask them questions about what they would like you to do to make the situation better. This can help you make better sense of what may have upset them in the first place, and by understanding their view, you can attempt to resolve the problem. Similarly, when you feel angry with someone, you can focus on what you can do to make the situation better. Think of ways in which both of you can collaboratively address the problem.
When you are angry, it is important to assert your needs and feelings clearly. While doing so, however, you need to make sure that you don’t appear hostile or aggressive, since this would negatively affect the way others will see you and can make a difficult situation even worse. Instead, try being considerate of the other person’s needs and feelings, and focus on arriving at a mutually acceptable solution. When you need to convey what you are feeling angry about, use “I” statements to focus on your experience of the situation (instead of “You” statements that can come across as accusatory or blaming). Clearly state the behaviour that has upset you and try making a request for what can be changed.
In a conflict situation, it’s important to express your needs but not to the extent that it damages your relationship with the other person. The next time you enter an argument, pause for a few minutes and think about whether your style of communication is helpful or unhelpful. Remember: the power lies in your hands. By simply changing your style of communication, you can express yourself in a healthy manner and even protect your relationship from damage.