Tag Archives: anger


Recently, I’ve developed a secret fascination with Twitter. Secret, because I don’t contribute, just follow. It has, I admit, led me to some interesting, funny and worthwhile bits of info and ideas. However, it also often leaves me frustrated as … Continue reading

Fight for, not against!

Fighting is a big part of my daily life. In fact you might say that it’s one way I earn a living. Okay, you got me……….it’s not me fighting, it’s many of the clients I see in my counselling practice. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is “How do we stop fighting?” My answer is that you don’t have to. Fight for what’s important to you, stand up for your own feelings and rights………..just stop fighting as if the goal is to defeat the other person.

Let’s just say the other person starts it (isn’t that usually the case?). They say something outrageous or demand something. Perhaps the thing they want isn’t really unreasonable, but it’s the way they ask for it that raises your hackles. Maybe the “outrageous” thing they said isn’t actually all that bad, but you just know that it was said to get your goat. Hmmm………………. You could react a few different ways. The easiest way is to go on the offensive, keep them off balance, make sure they don’t get one up on you.  So, in that scenario, you respond to the hackles and the goat. Another way, not too difficult, is to stonewall, refuse to respond, keep your own power, and in no way give them an advantage. A third way  is maybe a little more difficult, and definitely requires that you leave yourself pretty open. That could feel like a problem if you think they actually are out to hurt you. There are probably many versions of these three options, but let’s keep it simple and take a look out how these could play out.

The hackles and the goat: the first is a pretty instantaneous reaction without too much thinking involved. Kind of like stepping on something sharp – before you know what it is, you feel startled and hurt. Your reaction is self-preservation. When your hackles get raised, you know without really thinking about it, that this is not a good thing, so you throw something back. And that knowledge that they are trying to get your goat doesn’t really require much examination, does it? If you go with that, you’ve already moved off the actual topic and right into your certainty that they don’t have your interests or sensibilities at heart. So the reaction is again to throw something back, probably something you have stored up for just this moment, something you know will get them off balance or strike a blow for the side of right. Most times, the next stage is just a reversal of roles, and you’re in a fight.

Scenario two: stonewalling, a good tactic if you don’t want to feel like the bad guy. See, in this instance, for a fight to happen, the other person has to keep raising the stakes until, well, you just have to respond, and then they’ve probably pushed your buttons enough, that you can make a case for yourself as the aggrieved party. Stonewalling is also good if you have no idea how to respond to whatever the other person is saying or asking. Just pretend you don’t hear them. The plan is generally to communicate that whatever they have to say is beneath you, unworthy of response. You might or might not get a fight out of this but you definitely will be striking a blow.

Scenario three: As I said above, this one could be tough. You check out what you think may be going on, and as you do this, hold back on your initial assumptions that the other person is trying to harm you. You might also need to set aside some verbal clumsiness, strident tones, poor timing, or unfair assumptions on the part of the other person. Are those things something to talk about or even fight about at some point? Maybe, but for now stick with the actual request, statement or complaint. Yikes, sounds like you’d actually have to cede that it’s possible that the other person might have a point. What if you’re sure they don’t? My guess is that this interaction feels pretty familiar and you may really believe that there’s nothing you don’t already know about the other person’s position. This is where you take a leap of faith.

The leap of faith could be trust in my experience with many fighting people, that there’s always more beneath the surface of even the most entrenched fight, and that the something often is more important than the familiar feints, lunges and blows. It could be trust that even though they seem to be acting like an a**, this is a person who matters to you, who you care about and who cares about you. It could simply be that any option besides having another fight that leaves both of you feeling hurt and alone, is a better choice.

So, my secret? Ask some questions. Look for even the tiniest bit of what the other person said that you could possibly agree with or be curious about and explore that. If you need to, ask for a little bit of time to consider what they’re saying, but if you do this, you do have to really consider it and come back ready to talk about it. Be aware that if you’ve successfully avoided having important conversations in the past, the other person may just be skeptical, so the two of you will have to practice this time out technique and work out the best way to do it. If you think this is something you might want to do, and you’re not in a fight right at this very moment, you could start a conversation about it, like: “When we have fights, I think I get defensive pretty quickly and don’t handle my feelings very well. Sometimes, I might be better to take some time to calm down so I can talk about it reasonably. If I want to try and do that and promise to come back to it, would you agree to give me that time?”

The main point of the third, and if I may be so bold, best, option is to start from the position that, even if you disagree, the other person has something to say that is important to them, something that you might not see immediately because of the way they communicate it. Believing that does not mean you need to agree with it, but if they are important to you it’s important that you give yourself an opportunity to hear it. I meant what I said earlier about fighting for what’s important to you, standing up for your own feelings, but this kind of fighting isn’t against an opponent, it’s against misunderstanding and for increased understanding. If something hurts, say it hurts. If you’re angry, say so. Help the other person understand more of your experience and point of view. The operative word is to help them hear you, which will most times require that you are willing also to hear them.

Are you skeptical? Fair enough. Human relationships are complicated and there’s probably an argument against most if not all of what I’m suggesting. I’m not going to be able to convince you that this will fix all of your relationship woes, but I truly believe that if the way you’re fighting against each other is hurting both of you, you have very little to lose by trying to change that.


Dealing with Anger

Lately, I’m hearing and seeing expressions of anger – among friends, in public places, on the news. Mostly, I support the expression but wonder at times about the manner. When it takes the form of violence, physical or verbal, with words or with a weapon, it seems to obliterate the capacity of the recipient to hear or understand it. When it takes the form of an electronic message (texting, email, IM, BBM…………..uh, I don’t know the full list of such tech options), it is bereft of nuance which would accompany face to face communication. It may also be bereft of editing and second thought! But I also know that it can be downright scary to confront another person with feelings that can create a reaction in them, which might be redirected back. So I’d like to talk about some things to consider when you feel angry, and some factors to consider about communicating it.

I think of anger as an emotion of action, or at least a call to action……the “fight” part of “fight, flight, freeze”. That response is pretty primal; some call it a “lizard brain” reaction. It’s part of our instinct to survive and, as such, has very little connection to the parts of the brain that have to do with reason, thought and judgement. However, as a primitive response, it usually doesn’t have much to do in today’s world with an actual threat to survival. Today, it has more to do with a perception of threat to identity, way of life, freedom and personal boundaries. As such, it may be important, unless an actual physical threat is imminent, to try and create a moment to question what makes you feel threatened. Easier said than done, I know, when your heart’s pounding, your vision narrows, you feel like all your blood is rushing to your head and all the muscles in your body seem ready for action.

I’ve talked before about breathing, with focus on your breath as it comes deeply into your lungs then is released, as a tool to slow down impulsive thought and physiological reaction to strong emotional states. I will keep talking about it………..it’s the easiest and most convenient way to pause and get back the ability to use the part of your brain that can assess and reflect. Now that you’ve got that, let’s talk about some things to reflect on.

How close and important is this person to me? In a close relationship, there’s often a lot of safety and room to be thoroughly p***ed off and say it without hurting the relationship or the person. The genuine love and appreciation inherent in the relationship can contain and handle strong emotions. Having said that, reflection on this question may also help to temper the assumptions which fuel anger or the in-the-moment belief that they’re trying to harm me. Might even create pause to be less adamant and more curious in finding out more about what’s going on that created the situation in the first place. If it’s not a close personal relationship, with the trust and safety that engenders, I might want to reflect on whether the relationship is meaningful enough for me to threaten it’s capacity to tolerate a high level of expression of anger, or whether it’s worth it to me to put myself on the line. That might be the case, for example, with a work colleague or boss. If it’s not a personal relationship at all, say a driver in another car, does that person matter enough to me to spend the energy it requires to be mad at them?

What is my intent and desire in expressing anger? Do I want to be understood or do I want to impact the other’s behaviour? If I want to be understood, I can do a quick intuitive assessment about whether this person would ordinarily be interested in understanding me. If my gut says no, then to give them the full force of my personal, emotional self, is like, well………..you know………p***ing in the wind. If my gut say yes, the question is how to best accomplish being understood. The wish to impact another’s behaviour is most often a way of saying “Stop!”, and halting another’s infringement of your boundaries, and anger expressed can be really helpful in that.

Am I angry at the behaviour or at the person? Yes, I know, it often feels like both, but considering this can narrow down the focus of my expression to how I feel betrayed or hurt, rather than just hurling out an attack on the other as a human being. Yes, even focussing on the behaviour rather than the person doesn’t guarantee that they won’t feel hurt and react angrily themselves. But that isn’t within my control. Providing the best opportunity to be heard and understood is.

 Having asked you to consider these questions, I do recognize that anger is powerful and not always pretty. It is an emotion of strength trying to protect the more tender and painful feelings we can have when we feel hurt, diminished or betrayed. No matter how mindful we try to be, the expression of anger hurts us and it hurts the ones who receive it. Humanity is messy, and it has been the aim of philosophers and wise ones throughout our history to find ways to improve and heal the injuries. My small stock of accumulated wisdom tells me that we have a ways to go, but that it’s worth the effort to keep trying. Remember that now that you’ve expressed some anger and maybe trampled a bit on someone else’s feelings, you’re now responsible to recognize and hear how they feel.