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A conflict analysis of anger

May 31, 2011

Many people are uncomfortable with anger. It isn’t fun when you’re the target of someone else’s anger and it’s rarely a good feeling to be angry. Even non involved by-standers who witness an angry confrontation that has nothing to do with them can wind up feeling bad. It’s hard to know what to do when someone is showing the common signs of anger: loud voice, facial changes, rigid body language, aggressive words, and threatening gestures. What’s a person to do with that? To be clear, I’m not referring to violence – that’s another discussion altogether.

I find it helpful to think about the “because” of anger. To make it more explicit, think of anger as a secondary emotion. First, we feel something – for example, hurt, humiliated, rejected, misunderstood. Then, secondarily, we get angry because of that primary emotion and the meaning we make of the behaviour.

So, if I’m angry because my beloved has made me feel rejected through neglect, it’s quite a different than if I’m angry because I believed that my beloved had publicly humiliated me. In both cases I’m angry with him. In my opinion, he crossed a boundary in each case. The results I want from him are quite different in the two cases.

Unless I have the insight to differentiate between how his neglect makes me feel and how his statements in public make me feel, then telling him I’m angry is potentially unhelpful in initiating a useful conversation. In the cases of rejection from neglect, I may want him to talk. In the case of humiliation from his public statements, I may want him to stop talking. The statement “I feel angry …” seems to call out for a deeper exploration of the “because” underlying that statement.

The most helpful response in the face of anger is often to intuit the feeling underneath the situation that led to the anger. Stopping at ‘anger’ as the identified emotion seems to be stopping too soon.

Filed Under: Conflict Competence      

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