Anger is the most maligned of all emotions. Once we’re conscious of the pain and destruction that comes from acting or speaking out of anger, it’s tempting to judge, stifle, or fear the emotion. But whenever we deny or reject what’s truly alive for us, we risk losing a connection to our authentic selves. So what if, instead, we allow our anger to take us deeper and tell us something about our needs?
In nonviolent communication—a communication process and socio-spiritual consciousness developed by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD—all emotions, including anger, are signals about what we’re needing. Say your mother keeps giving you unsolicited parenting advice. Instead of making the assessment that she doesn’t respect you, or the judgment that she’s wrong or meddling, you can use your anger as an opportunity to understand the needs you’re having, perhaps for autonomy, harmony, or acceptance.
Once you’ve given yourself some loving attention about those unmet needs, you might imagine what your mother is needing—for example, contribution, connection, respect, or inclusion. By making an empathic guess about her needs, even when you don’t like the strategy she’s taking to meet those needs, you can connect empathically with her humanity instead of seeing her as the problem or the enemy.
Next time you’re peeved by her advice, breathe into your anger, dive below your alienating judgments, and ask yourself, with curiosity and care, “What am I needing right now?” Then make a clear and actionable request that holds both your needs and your mom’s with care; for instance: “Mom, whenever I hear you offer me advice, I feel frustrated and hurt, because I’m really longing for acceptance. Would you be willing to tell me a few things you think I’m doing well as a parent?” Making this kind of needs-based request can transform your anger into an opportunity for healing and harmony.
By Angela Watrous