It gets messy when we are out of control with anger. Anger can have two versions when it gets unmanageable: rage at others, or self-hatred. The first is when the anger gets expressed from a self-involved egocentric view of other people. The second, self-hatred, is when the anger is habitually hidden or repressed.
When we use anger as our main emotional tool we get locked into the primitive brain, or brain stem. This part of the brain only has two solutions: fight or flight. While fight can look like rage, flight can look like repression, or self-hatred. All wars, whether at home or between countries, begin in the primitive brain’s fight or flight response.
There is nothing wrong with anger. If we have a long history of intense conflict around anger we can get convinced that the goal is to never feel anger, to be nice—even try for sainthood. This is usually a set up for an eventual rage attack from repressed resentments, or ongoing depression.
You may also take the position that “I have a right to my anger,” meaning you can explode at others at will because the other person “deserves it,” or because “I’m just being authentic.” Domestic violence, whether physical or verbal, has its roots in this thinking.
Anger is a protective emotion. It is also a secondary emotion—we first feel fear, then anger. I’m afraid I’m not safe, afraid that I’m not being heard or seen, or afraid that I’m not going to get a need met. When you feel these fears you then feel anger as a way of defending yourself, getting seen or heard, or making sure a need is met by someone else.
So we need to learn to feel anger, express it, and then move into the vulnerability or fear underneath the anger. We can learn to use “I statements” and use “non-violent communication.” These tools allow us to talk from a place of mutual respect and asking for what we want. “I feel angry that you don’t want to hear my side of things. I would like you to just listen for a moment. Can you do that?”
When we move past the anger and into the fear we can then express the unmet need, and the request for change. In this way anger becomes a starting point for effective communication, not a beginning-middle-and end.
Marshall Rosenberg coined the term “non-violent communication.” He uses the metaphors of Jackal communication and Giraffe communication. Jackals tend to be demanding and destructive in the way they communicate anger. Giraffes (the biggest hearted land animals) communicate from a place of authentic love when they are angry. Giraffes ask in the affirmative, make requests, and identify the needs of both people talking. Giraffes are experts at communicating from a place of mutual respect. Below Mr. Rosenberg demonstrates the different styles of the Jackal and the Giraffe. Which are you? Take a look: