Anger vs. understanding

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-Young

• Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Anger is a biological response designed to help us protect ourselves in threatening situations. It would be entirely appropriate if someone were trying to steal our wallet or abduct our child. In the wild, the ability of an animal to take a fierce, aggressive stance readies it for attack or discourages the potential attacker.

Unfortunately, the human ego can react with anger when ego’s needs are threatened. This anger can put the recipient into fight or flight mode so things can quickly escalate. This can be very damaging to intimate relationships.

Do you ever notice when you are annoyed with a loved one it can be hard to see his or her good points? This is because when we go into a place of anger, most often it is because ego is reacting to something not being the way we think it should be, as opposed to a real threat.

Ordinary, everyday anger is often about control. The angry person is frustrated at not being able to control another person or situation. Struggle for control is the source of most conflict in the world and rarely leads to anything good.

It is far better to invite cooperation. Going into anger almost of necessity requires us to drastically collapse our perceptual field and to focus only on our own narrow point of interest.

Little children do this – “I hate you Daddy!” – but as adults, it is our job to compensate for their momentary intense self-interest and not take such an outburst too seriously. On the other hand, it takes an incredible amount of wisdom and maturity to do this with teenage children or partners.

Knowing this, if we want our exchanges to be something more than childish bickering and emotional venting, we need to upgrade our programs. Still, even with the most rational Dr. Phil / transcendental yoga training / Oprah-approved methodology, we are emotional human beings.

We need to install a ‘firewall’ to protect others from our potentially burning words. For example, before confronting another with your upset, first take a few minutes to become calm and centred. Then think of everything you appreciate about this person and what you would miss if he or she disappeared totally from your life.

Then begin your communication by telling them why they are special to you, what their unique gifts are and how much you love them. Let that sink in.

Now you can proceed to explain that you want to talk about something that is upsetting you and that you are willing to really listen to their interpretation of the situation. The aim of this kind of communication should be to understand each other and move forward in a positive way. It will not work if sharing your upset is really an attack, criticism or judgment of the other person. If you want to have peace talks, you have to lay down your weapons.

This approach helps to keep the problem in perspective and prevents us from using others as punching bags for our own pent-up frustrations. It moves the relationship forward as we are honouring both others and ourselves.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, Deep Powerful Change hypnosis CDs and new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

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