: Anger is considered taboo, associated with unacceptable behaviours - however appropriate expression may actually be constructive. Image courtesy of Ioscene at freedigitalphotos.net
Anger is an emotion that we’d rather avoid. It is rather taboo in this society to express anger. This can be especially true for women, who may see it as ‘not nice.’ Even in men, it is frowned upon to only a slightly lesser degree.
We associate anger with unacceptable behaviours such as yelling, violence and abusing others.
So, does that mean it is an ‘unacceptable’ emotion – one that is ‘wrong’ and that should be denied in our interpersonal relationships? We may even feel uncomfortable with anger if it’s just left inside us, feeling it’s ‘not right’ to feel that way.
However, it is not that anger is wrong – it is valid. In fact, if not dealt with, it can lead to resentment, a build up over time that boils over into a torrid of anger that can be damaging to relationships. It can have health ramifications, associated with ulcers, high blood pressure and headaches.
There are acceptable and non-acceptable ways of dealing with it, however. Yelling, and the other behavioural manifestations mentioned above not only do not work, they can be damaging and counterproductive They can hurt the other person, and damage our relationships.
It may or may not be appropriate to express our anger. Firstly however, if we do express anger it should be:
1. Communicated in a calm, controlled voice, and should not be abusive in any form.
2 Context-specific. The “I feel angry when….because” technique. This is so the person recognises the particular behaviour that you felt angry about. For example: “I feel angry when you don’t do the dishes when you promised to.” It also allows the other to know why it causes you to feel anger. It allows them to know why and how it affects you. “
3 Addressed at a time when the communication can take place in an appropriate setting. For example, instead of telling your husband before he leaves for work, and is in a hurry, make a time that suits you both. It may be that a person is tired and cranky when they come home: each person’s situation and time they are most receptive are influenced by many factors.
4 Expressed in a way that is most likely to encourage receptivity in the other. People often tend to be defensive when confronted with anger. This can occur if the communication occurs when you are not putting yourself in the other’s shoes. You may be thinking “Wait! They should put themselves in my shoes. That’s all there is to it”.
However, there are 2 reasons it is important to be validating to the person you are communicating your anger to: Firstly, it may be that they did not realise, or had reasons you were not aware of that elicited the behaviour that incurred the anger. For example, the person may not see it as a big deal they did not do the dishes, and may not realise for example, that for them, it may not be important, but for you, it was a signal of disrespect and/or not caring.
Secondly, even though it may be difficult to do this when you see the other has wronged you, simultaneously validating the others’ emotions while still communicating your feelings encourages receptivity. An off-shoot of this, is that change and understanding in the other is more likely.
One way of doing this is the ‘sandwich technique’.
It is named such because your message is embedded within two other statements. Before you communicate the main message (the top layer of the ‘sandwich’) you acknowledge the other’s position. For example “I realise you have been busy/tired/not feeling well…” If you are not sure, validate by saying “I am not sure what is going on for you lately, but like everyone, I guess you are experiencing a fair degree of stress.”
The inner layer of the ‘sandwich’ is the message you wish to communicate, using the “I feel angry when…because” technique.
Finally, let the other person know what you would like done in the future. This makes it clear for them your expectations; however, at the same time recognise their position. Also, include a statement of validation of what you do appreciate about them. This may not always be easy, depending on how angry you are, and whether you feel they do deserve appreciation!. However, in most cases, there is something positive to be found. This encourages feeling validated and appreciated in the other. The acknowledgement is more likely to incur receptivity to your message as the other feels understood.
So, for example: “ I know you are tired and stressed when you come home from work. (top layer of ‘sandwich’. However, I feel angry when you don’t do the dishes as you promised. This is because I feel you don’t realise that I am working all day with the housework as well as taking care of the children. I often feel tired and stressed too.(second layer of sandwich). In the future, would you please tell me if there is a reason you can’t help me with something I asked if you to do for me with? I do want to tell you I appreciate the time we spend together when you come home.”
Anger is a perfectly normal emotion. When it is dealt with inappropriately, it is true it can be counterproductive .When expressed in a calm and controlled way, it can actually improve relationships.