The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift

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Other people in the same room had the same family members killed, maybe had even more killed, but they are not angry.

They have strong feelings, but not anger. They have feelings that lead them to want to prevent this from ever happening to others again, but not to punish the other side. We want people to see that it's how we look at the situation that creates our anger, not the stimulus itself. We try to get people to see that when you're angry, it's because your consciousness is under the influence of the kind of language we all learned: That the other side is evil or bad in some way.

It's that thinking that is the cause of anger. When that thinking is going on, we show people not how to push it down and deny the anger or deny the thinking, but to transform it into a language of life, into a language in which you are much more likely to create peace between yourself and whoever acted in the way that stimulated your anger. We talk first about how to get conscious of this internalized thinking that's making you angry and how to transform that into what needs of yours have not been met by what the other person has done, and then how to proceed from that consciousness to create peace again between you and that person.

The first step in expressing our anger, managing it in harmony with NVC, is to identify the stimulus for our anger without confusing it with our evaluation. The second step is to be conscious that it is our evaluation of people — in the form of judgments that imply wrongness — that causes our anger. I was working one time in a correctional school for delinquents, and I had an experience that really helped me learn the lesson that it is never the stimulus that causes the anger.

There is always, between the trigger and the anger, some thought process that is going on. On two successive days, I had remarkably similar experiences, but each day I had quite different feelings in reaction to the experience. The experience in both situations involved my being hit in the nose, because on two successive days, I was involved in breaking up a fight between two different students, and in both cases as I was breaking up the fight, I caught an elbow in the nose.

On day one, I was furious. On day two, even though the nose was even sorer than it was on the first day, I wasn't angry. Now, what was the reason I would be angry in response to the stimulus on day one, but not on day two? First of all, in the first situation if you had asked me right after I had been hit in the nose why I was angry, I would have had trouble finding the thought that was making me angry.

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I probably would have said, "Well I'm obviously angry because the child hit me in the nose. As I looked at the situation later, it was very clear to me that the child whose elbow hit me in the nose on day one was a child that I was thinking of before this incident in very judgmental terms. I had in my head a judgment of this child as a spoiled brat. So as soon as his elbow hit my nose, I'm angry — it seemed that just as the elbow hit I was angry — but between that stimulus and the anger this image flashed within me of this child being a spoiled brat.

Now, that all happens very fast, but it was the image of "spoiled brat" that made me angry.

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On the second day, I carried quite a different image into the situation of that child. That child I saw more as a pathetic creature than a spoiled brat, and so when the elbow caught my nose, I wasn't angry. I certainly felt physical pain, but I wasn't angry, because a different image of a child in great need of support flashed through my mind rather than the judgmental image "spoiled brat" which caused the anger. These images happen very quickly and they can easily trick us into thinking that the stimulus is the cause of our anger.

The third step involves looking for the need that is the root of our anger. This is built on the assumption that we get angry because our needs are not getting met. The problem is that we're not in touch with our needs. Instead of being directly connected to our need, we go up to our head and start thinking of what's wrong with other people for not meeting our needs.

The judgments we make of other people — which cause of our anger — are really alienated expressions of unmet needs. Over the years, I have come to see that these kinds of judgments of others that make us angry are not only alienated expressions of our needs, but at times they look to me like they are suicidal, tragic expressions of our needs. Instead of going to our heart to get connected to what we need and are not getting, we direct our attention to judging what is wrong with other people for not meeting our needs.

The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift by Marshall B. Rosenberg

When we do this, a couple of things are likely to happen. First, our needs are not likely to get met, because when we verbally judge other people as wrong in some way, these judgments usually create more defensiveness than learning or connection. At the very least, they don't create much cooperation. Even if people do things we would like them to do after we have judged them as wrong or lazy or irresponsible, they will take these actions with an energy that we will pay for.

We will pay for it because when we are angry as a result of judging people — and we express these judgments to them either verbally or through our nonverbal behavior — they pick up that we are judging them as wrong in some way. Even if people then do what we would like them to do, they are likely to be motivated more out of fear of being punished, fear of being judged, out of their guilt or shame, than out of compassion in relation to our needs. When we are using NVC, we remain conscious at all times that it's as important why people do what we would like them to do, as it is that they do it.

So we are conscious that we only want people to do things willingly, and not do things because they think they're going to be punished, blamed, "guilted," or shamed if they don't. This practice requires that we develop a literacy and a consciousness of our needs. With a greater vocabulary of needs, we are able to more easily get in touch with the needs behind the judgments that are making us angry. For it's when we can clearly express our needs that others have a much greater likelihood of responding compassionately to whatever it is we would like.

Let's go back to the case of the prisoner from Sweden. After we had identified the judgments he was making that were creating his anger, I asked him to look behind the judgments and tell me what needs of his were not getting met. These unmet needs were actually being expressed through the judgments he was making of the prison officials.

Marshall Rosenberg

This wasn't easy for him to do because when people are trained to think in terms of wrongness of others, they are often blind to what they themselves need. They often have very little vocabulary for describing their needs. It requires shifting attention away from judging outward, to looking inward and seeing what the need is.

But with some help, he was finally able to get in touch with his need and he said: "Well, my need is to be able to take care of myself when I get out of prison by being able to get work.

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I have integrated the type of language, the kinds of thinking, and the forms of communication that strengthen our ability to willingly contribute to our own well-being and the well-being of others, into this process that I call Nonviolent Communication NVC. The concrete actions I would 4. So, lets slow down again. Please select How do I purchase? Manufacturers, suppliers and others provide what you see here, and we have not verified it. SlideShare Explore Search You.

So the request that I was making of the prison officials was for training to meet that need. If I don't get that training, I'm not going to be able to take care of myself economically when I get out of prison, and I'm going to end up back in here.

Surprising Purpose of Anger

Then I said to the prisoner, "Now that you're in touch with your need, how are you feeling? The anger hasn't been repressed; the anger has been transformed into need-serving feelings. The basic function of feelings is to serve our needs. The word emotion basically means to move us out, to mobilize us to meet our needs.

So when we have a need for some nourishment, we have a feeling that we label as hunger, and that sensation stimulates us to move about to get our need for food taken care of. If we just felt comfortable each time we had a need for nourishment, we could starve, because we wouldn't be mobilized to get our need met. This is the natural function of emotions, to stimulate us to get our needs met. But anger is stimulated by a diversion. We are not in touch with the needs that would naturally motivate us to want to get our needs met.

The anger is created, as I've said, by thinking about the wrongness of others, which transfers this energy away from seeking to get the need met, into an energy designed to blame and punish other people. At the moment that he had this insight into what a different world he would be living in when he was in touch with his needs as opposed to judging others, he looked down at the floor and had about as sad a look on his face as I can recall any person ever having had. I wouldnt have had to kill my best friend.

But instead of being conscious of what his needs were behind all of that, he really thought it was his friend that made him angry, and in a tragic interaction ended up killing the friend. Im not implying that every time we get angry we hurt somebody or kill them. But I am suggesting that every time we are angry, we are disconnected from our needs. This is a very important step that I have just outlined: To be conscious of the thinking that is creating our anger.

And as I said, the prisoner at first was totally oblivious to all of the thoughts that were going on within him that made him angry. The reason for this is that our thoughts go on very rapidly. Many of our thoughts go so quickly through our head that we are not even aware that they are there, and it really looks to us as though it was the stimulus that was the cause of our anger. I have outlined three steps in managing our anger using NVC: 1 Identify the stimulus for our anger, without confusing it with the evaluation. These three steps are done internally—were not saying anything out loud.

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Were simply becoming aware that our anger is not caused by what the other person has done, but by our judgment, and then we are looking for the need behind the judgment. The Fourth Step The fourth step involves what we would actually say out loud to the other person after we have transformed our anger into other feelings by getting in touch with the need behind the judgment. The fourth step includes saying to the other person four pieces of information. First, we reveal to them the stimulus: what they have done that is in conflict with our needs being fulfilled.

Secondly, we express how we are feeling. Notice we are not repressing the anger. The anger has been transformed into a feeling such as sad, hurt, scared, frustrated, or the like. And then we follow up our expression of our feelings with the needs of ours that are not being fulfilled. I still havent heard from you, and Im feeling scared because I have a need to be able to earn a living when I leave this prison, and Im afraid that without the training, I was requesting it would be very hard for me to make a living.


So Id like you to tell me what is preventing you from responding to my request. He needed to be conscious of what was going on in him.

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He needed some help getting connected to his needs. In this situation he had me to help him, but in our training we show people how to do all of this for themselves. When were stimulated by another person and find ourselves starting to get angry, we need to manage that anger in the following ways. If were sufficiently trained in getting in touch with the need behind the judgments, we can take a deep breath and very rapidly go through the process that I led the prisoner through. When were in touch with the need we will feel in our body a shift away from anger to other kinds of feelings, and when were at that point we can open our mouths and say to the other person what were observing, feeling, needing, and make our requests.

This process takes practice.