What to do with anger



“We’re simply becoming aware that our anger is not caused by what the other person has done, but by our judgment” M. Rosenberg

Rosenberg’s view of anger brought an awareness about my own anger. Normally, if I become angry I would associate fault to my anger on the person who caused it. Rosenberg, however wants us to see anger not caused by someone else but caused by our judgement of that individual’s actions. In Rosenberg’s book, The surprising purpose of anger, beyond anger management, (2005) we are invited to look at using anger to understand our needs instead of using anger violently. He sets out four steps to transform our anger from violent to useful; he does this via Nonviolent Communication framework.

To do this Rosenberg tells us to first, identify the source of our anger. People do things to us all the time, we witness wrongs and experience injustices that give rise to anger. But if we take a closer look into what we think is triggering us we may find something surprising.

Fill in the blank; ______________really causes me to be angry. I feel anger when (TRIGGER).

The cause of our anger is often confused with what people do to us otherwise known as a trigger. (p4) Triggers are not the cause of anger, instead it is our evaluation of the trigger. This is the second step in dealing with anger. Numerous times, Rosenberg states that if we can become aware that triggers are no more than unidentified judgments, we would not have anger. For example: if I ask the kids to take the trash to the curb and they don’t do it, I become angry. Initially, because they didn’t do what I said. Then, on further reflection, I internally, judge their action as my needs are not being fulfilled; perhaps ignoring my position as mother. This judgement can send me into an angry tirade. Now it’s your turn;

Fill in the blanks: I asked _______________ for _____________ and he/she didn’t do it. I think he/she is _____________________ for not doing it.

Identifying our internal judgments of another person’s action leads to the third step, which is to transform the judgment into a need. This is probably the most difficult step and one that will take the most time to master. It requires us to take a look at how our internal dialogue is guided by what we perceive. (p.7) Let’s take the above example above, I asked the kids to take the trash to the curb,  I can become angry because they didn’t do it, thinking they didn’t really care about me.  But if I look deeper into why I am angry, i find it’s because the trash collectors are coming and if the trash cans are not put to the curb, we won’t have enough room for next week’s trash. It will smell and it will take weeks to catch up. Once I identify my need I can then lead into the the fourth and final step of managing anger; putting words to what I need and expressing it to others.

Continuing with the working example of trash, Once I identify the true need, my communication of that need comes from a rational calm place rather than a disruptive commanding place. I acknowledge that I believe they don’t intentionally forget to take the trash to the curb, but it is important that they get it out because if they don’t do, the cans won’t be emptied and we won’t have room for the coming week’s trash. This communication comes from a place of need and not from judgements that can cause me to punishment the kids instead of living life with them.  

Something that struck me is that our judgements are not always the most positive. Philippians 4:8 says, “finally, brothers, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy- think on these things.” Regardless of the true motives of someone else, this scripture encourages me to entertain more positive judgements about someone’s motives as a way to keep my own spirit in check. That way mercy and grace will follow me all the days of my life. Isn’t that a lovely aspiration?

Whether you agree with Rosenberg’s approach to nonviolent communication, his idea that our judgements of a situation can make a situation more challenging. Experiment for yourself next time someone offends you in anyway, seek to understand your judgement of the situation before you approach the other person.

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