Nonviolent Communication: How to Overcome Anger in 4 Steps

Dealing With Anger

Anger is an interesting emotion. When it comes to its management, the majority of us tend to fall into one of two categories. We either suppress it or we let it loose. Both categories are unhealthy and inappropriate ways to address anger.

Those who over-display their anger see little to no problem with angry outbursts. Those who assume anger as something to be avoided at all costs tend to repress it. These often have to deal with misplaced anger and health problems later in life.

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Marshall Rosenberg defended for many years that anger can be a gift. It’s an emotion that has the potential to help us connect with our unmet needs. His view was also that anger is never caused by anything else but our hidden thinking as we will see later.

Throughout his career, Rosenberg focused on violence and compassionate communication. As a result, he found three factors that tend to determine whether we turn to violence or compassion.

These are:

  • the language we grew up with
  • the way we were taught to think and communicate
  • the strategies we use to influence ourselves and others

We may say that anger is not the problem in itself. Anger is not bad. The problem with anger arises when we don’t understand what anger is trying to tell us. Most of us don’t have the appropriate language, thinking, and strategies to deal with it.

When Anger Becomes a Problem

According to the Mental Health Foundation, anger becomes a problem when there are: 

“any dysfunctional way of relating to and managing anger that persistently causes significant difficulties in a person’s life including their thinking, feeling, behaviour, and relationships”

As you might know, displaying or expressing anger alone is not an effective way to deal with it. Neither it is to ignore or cover it up with an ice packet.

Effective communication requires us to be aware of our emotions. Noticing how we deal with anger as well as how it affects our communication can boost our well-being.

Whether we display it in an overt (e.g. violent gestures) or covert way (e.g. passive-aggressiveness), anger reduces the quality of our relationships and our overall well-being.

So how can we navigate through anger and prevent it from becoming a problem?

Nonviolent Communication 

Marshall developed what we know as nonviolent or compassionate communication. This approach focuses on the type of language, thinking and communication that contributes to well-being.

According to this approach, we ought to see anger as an alarm. It’s a sign that we are embracing some thinking that is counterproductive and will not contribute to our needs.

When we let ourselves be driven by anger, whether it is our own or someone else’s, we create disconnection. We burn the bridge between us and the other person.

If we manage to perceive anger as an alarm, we can avoid that disconnection. Unlike tango, it only takes one person to prevent that. We can not control what other people do, but we can take responsibility for our part. We can choose to stay with the process, regardless of how the other person is choosing to interact.

Please remember and highlight these words: it takes awareness and practice. Now let’s dive into the steps of nonviolent communication.

Step 1: Being Aware of the Alarm

The first step is to acknowledge that we are either on the verge of or already experiencing anger. Being connected to our body is very useful in this stage.

Here are some physical cues to help you recognise anger:

  • increased heartbeat
  • chest tightness 
  • tense muscles
  • sweaty palms 
  • feeling hot
  • headache

From a psychological point of view, there are also some signs you can be aware of. You may find yourself overreactive and mentally stuck on details that wouldn’t otherwise trigger you. If you notice any of these, you can choose to step aside for a moment and then move on to Step 2 of this process.

Step 2: The Trigger is Never the Cause

We tend to think that other people or what happens to us are the cause or source of our anger. However, anger is something that already rests within us. The trick is to know what thinking and unmet need are waking up that anger in the present moment.

The other day I got angry. I thought my anger was the result of someone else’s rudeness and intolerance. When I dived deep into the nonviolent approach, I realised I was wrong. My anger came from an unmet need. The person was only a trigger.

Since I was neither aware of nor meeting my need, I internally cursed that person and blamed her for my anger. The anger was already there though, and it came with some very distorted thoughts. Here was my thinking:

I’m angry because that person is making me feel that way. I’m angry because that person was disrespectful and arrogant. It’s their wrongdoing.

My need was to make sure everyone’s contribution was listened to, respected, and cherished. I couldn’t see that at the time though. So today my thinking would be:

I feel this way because I’m telling myself that the other person is wrong and they are to blame. 

Realising my unmet need was to claim back my responsibility. I’m responsible for my emotions and only the way I interact with others. Not how others interact with me. That alone reduced the anger and it gave me perspective of what was going on.

Step 3: Connecting to Our Heart

Instead of focusing on others’ actions, it is more useful to connect to our hearts and discover our unmet needs. To make this possible, we need to mindfully let go of moral judgments and avoid blaming others.

At the end of the day, judging other people for their behaviour will not do anything for our unmet needs. It will only feed our anger even more. The goal is to look inward and find out what our needs are.

How do we do it? The more we practice being with our emotions, the more we can have access to our needs. So instead of reacting to our anger, we need to use it as a sign that it is time to move into the centre of our hearts.

When we move there, both our heart rate and thinking slow down. This helps us notice the thoughts that occurred very fast and propelled us into anger. I developed a 5-minute heart coherence practice that you can use to develop this skill here.

Once you do this exercise, you will have greater clarity about:

  • what triggered you 
  • the thinking behind your anger
  • the need behind your judgment

Step 4: Communicating Our Needs With Compassion

Once we understand that:

  • the trigger is not the cause of our anger
  • there is always some thinking going on behind our emotions
  • an unmet need behind our judgments

It is then time to communicate with compassion. That’s the fourth and final step of the nonviolent communication process. In this stage, the goal is to deliver four pieces of information to the other person. These include:

  • What behaviour triggered you
  • How you are feeling
  • What needs were not fulfilled 
  • What you would like the other person to do concerning your expressed feelings and unmet needs

The more you practice and stay with this process, the faster you will be able to respond in a nonviolent way. Never feel ashamed or uncomfortable for asking for some time to process your emotion on the side.

It is far more important to process anger in a healthily way than to provide quick answers. Those might be filled with anger and feed unhealthy conversations. Remember that anger, whether displayed overt or covertly always leads to disconnection.

Concluding thoughts

Communication is not always easy to manage. However, there are tools and skills we can develop to make it more effective. Nonviolent communication is something you can now add to your toolbox.

This type of communication is a process. You can practice and follow through to prevent the negative consequences of anger. The first step is to be aware and use anger as an alarm.

Every time we get angry, we need to remind ourselves that the trigger is never the cause. Moving into our heart space will allow us to get to the root cause of our anger and communicate better.

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The 4 Sources Of Self-Abandonment

Becoming conscious of choosing love as your highest priority takes a devotion to staying in Step One of Inner Bonding – staying present in your body, becoming aware of your feelings, and wanting responsibility for them.

Dr. Margaret Paul

Dr. Margaret Paul’s work has been a huge personal catalyst for me in the last couple of years. She’s one of my favorite writers and therapists. I found out about her work in 2018, and I have listened to her book Inner Bonding: Becoming a Loving Adult to Your Inner Child countless times, whenever I’m in a queue or waiting for sleep to come. It has helped me more than I can say and each time I listen to her book it’s like I learn something new, something I didn’t catch the previous time.

What is inner bonding though? Inner bonding is a process that helps you connect with your emotions and needs. In other words, it helps you get out of your own head and move more into your heart space. Margaret says we suffer when we abandon ourselves and choose to adopt controlling behaviors in the face of fear or pain. Instead of holding a love-based attitude, we react and engage with reality from a place of insecurity. This kind of attitude leads to negative outcomes such as self-hurt and unhealthy relationships.

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We often unconsciously assume that if we’re hurting, then others must notice it and shower us with the love and attention we need to stop feeling so negatively. This is, of course, a very unhealthy way to lead a life, and I tell you this because I used to be in that place of pure self-abandonment. I was not holding myself accountable for my feelings and reactions. In fact, if it wasn’t for the countless nights listening to Dr. Margaret Paul I would still be writing about the “poor me” and how this or that person is being so insensitive for not providing me with the love and attention I crave. I was always complaining and blaming others when I was the only one who could do something about my needs.

It took me some time to shift my mindset and learn that I needed to become the loving adult my inner child needed. It was unfair to hold other people accountable for my emotional unmet needs. There are many lessons I haven’t mastered yet, but I’m happy with the fact that I no longer sit here and write relentlessly about what my mother or father did, or didn’t do, according to my fantasies and ideas about parenting. Over time, I internalized that people can only give you what they have and the only aspect you can change is your own response and attitude toward what happens.

Slowly but steadily, I have been learning to become the loving parent my inner child needed and a more responsible adult too. Understanding more about what inner bonding entails and how to become a source of parental love for myself has allowed me to deal with less positive experiences and cater to my own emotional needs. The more I practice and expand my awareness, the more I can soothe and settle the intense emotions and thoughts that are often associated with being highly sensitive. To achieve this, I have paid more conscious attention to these four sources of self-abandonment:

Living Exclusively in Your Head

Although I used to be very impulsive, I was also very mind-oriented. I still am, to be honest. I live in my head most of the time and there was a time in which I was totally disembodied. I was not present in my body and I had no clue about what was going on with it. I slowly learned to be more mindful and raised my body awareness. Instead of avoiding my body sensations, I approach them today with curiosity. This allows me to learn and listen to what my body is trying to tell me.

Harsh Self-criticism

I was always very good at this. Oh, extremely good. I still am, sadly. If I cook something, I’m the first person to address the problems and limitations of what I did. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best thing someone ever ate. I will find and say what is wrong with it. Thankfully, this tendency to punish me through criticism mine is not as bad as it used to be. I used to have mean thoughts about myself and I would secretly compare my body to other women’s bodies all the time, only to feel worse afterward. It was pure self-torture, so I’m glad I no longer mistreat myself that way anymore.

Addictive Behaviours

For most of my life, I’ve dealt with food addiction. I lost count of the number of times I told myself this very same lie: just this time, tomorrow I’ll be good. That was my excuse and permission to indulge and eat even without being hungry. I just wanted to eat to numb my discomfort and stop feeling or thinking so much. As you can guess though, relief would never last and then shame would come to make it worse. Any type of addiction is an escape, an attempt to run away from ourselves and from what hurts. It’s likely the most life-threatening form of self-abandonment.

Abandonment of the Inner Child

I honestly didn’t know how to handle myself. I was always looking forward to being in a relationship or wanting my parents to comfort me and help me ease the intensity of my feelings and thoughts. In romantic relationships, I would unconsciously delegate my emotional needs to my partners. I’d then feel hurt when they were not emotionally available. What I never stopped to consider was whether I had the emotional maturity I sought in another toward my own self. If I hadn’t, how could I demand that from someone else?

Concluding Thoughts

There are different ways we can abandon ourselves. From entertaining addiction to engaging in self-harsh criticism, all these are routes through which we increase self-disconnection and generate disempowering states of mind. Some of these are even unhealthy attempts to find love, which we should be seeking and nurturing by doing what can positively impact our health and well-being. Some examples of healthier strategies include journaling, exercise, or taking up a new hobby.

Other blogs you may like to read:

What is Holding You Back? Four Major Psychological Roadblocks

Sometimes we want to move on with our lives and create positive change only to find out we can’t or that we are not ready yet. Sometimes we know why we remain stuck in old ways of behaving, thinking, and feeling, but other times we don’t. This list of major psychological roadblocks may help you tap into some hidden reasons or factors that have prevented you from designing and living the life you wish for yourself. If you have found you are being affected by one or more of these factors, please know you are not alone and you can ask for help.

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Finding “Home” Through The Power of Intuition

The more you trust your intuition, the more empowered you become, the stronger you become, and the happier you become.

Gisele Bundchen

Are you happy?

I know, this is a difficult question to start with. Many people talk about happiness, but how often do we really reflect on whether we are happy and satisfied with the life we lead? What is happiness after all? It is such an abstract concept and it can mean so many different things to so many different people. My concept of happiness has changed over the years. Happiness is no longer a target, a place, a person, or a result. Happiness is the way; it became part of reality itself. It is always available because I no longer equate happiness with a distant destination. I now see it as a state that may fluctuate in intensity but is always present and available as long as I consciously choose to tap into it.

I can’t say this is the best way to approach life. I know, however, that changing my perception of happiness has helped me reduce suffering and unnecessary misery. I now choose to look at my thoughts and emotions as a constant stream or flow of energy. They come and they go, and I have the switch to manage this flow. It’s under my control to create peaceful thoughts and emotions. It’s up to me to remind myself that you have to have some rain to see a rainbow in the sky, and you ought to experience the bad in order to savor and value the goodness.

Can you imagine if we were happy all the time? It would be a utopia and we would miss much of what the human experience entails. At the same time, I don’t believe we are meant to suffer endlessly and just for the sake of learning and repenting. That’s an old misinterpretation of the meaning of suffering, much imposed and spread by religion in general. The old stories tell us that man fell out of paradise due to sinful actions and, therefore, we are all “stuck” on Earth, paying for it. This sounds very sadistic to me and far from the why we are here. We do experience, however, high contrasts throughout life. They are not meant to punish us but to allow us to learn and outgrow life’s challenges and lead us to find our way “home”.

Well-being Journal for Bloggers

And what is “home”? Home is that beautiful place in which you are who you are, fearlessly, and where you feel safe to follow and pursue your intuition and inner voice. We have been disconnected from our inner wisdom and conditioned by a social system that demands blind obedience to a set of rules, norms, and traditions in the name of social cohesion. To follow this system, you must be disconnected from your own needs and natural aspirations, which can only speak to you through intuition, that gentle inner voice that you were made to believe to be wrong or silly. It is about time that we reconnect with that voice though.

To put it in another way, it is time to be you. It is time to witness the incredible connection between your thoughts, emotions, and actions as well as the feeling of being whole. Once we realize everything is deeply connected and interwoven, that our energy influences others and vice-versa, our perception of reality shifts, and we start opening ourselves to the idea and feeling of being individually empowered. When we have such experience, we become rooted in our own energy field and flow. We stop perceiving ourselves as limited and separated beings. We realize we are part of something much, much bigger, and that we can feel at “home” by tapping into it.

After so many years looking for where home was, I now find it in this connection with the whole. Some call it nature. Others call it God. The Universe. It doesn’t matter what you decide to call it or feel more comfortable with. The key is to go within, quiet your inner world, and find that intuitive voice. That voice has great power and it can show you the next set of steps you need to make. As we keep learning to listen and tune into it, the feeling of “home” becomes more and more anchored in the present moment. Eventually, it becomes our default mode.

So, let’s go back to my initial question. Are you happy? Don’t answer it based on what society, culture, or family told you happiness was. Find your own meaning of happiness by looking within and by paying attention to your intuition, which is a subtler form of intelligence. Ask questions, and listen quietly. What makes your life worthwhile? What makes you feel alive? Turn the world off for a moment and go within. Find your home by connecting with your intuition.

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