Hurting people is one of the weakest ways to express our anger. The goal of nonviolence is not to stifle anger, but to express it in more effective ways.
Distinguishing Stimulus From Cause
First step: Divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger. No more thoughts like “(s)he made me angry when (s)he did X…” It starts a cycle of blame. The behavior of others is a stimulus for our feelings, but never the cause!
We are never angry because of what others say or do.
No more “It hurts mommy and daddy when you…” or “It disappoints me when …” Mixing stimulus and cause is a great way to motivate by guilt.
The cause of anger lies in our thinking - in thoughts of blame and judgment.
When getting angry: Examine your feelings and unmet needs. And do the same about the other person’s behavior that is causing your anger.
All Anger Has a Life Serving Core
When we judge others, we contribute to violence.
Anger co-opts our energy by channeling it towards punishment instead of meeting our needs.
Obviously, all this takes a lot of practice.
Get used to thinking: “I am angry because I am needing…”
Stimulus vs Cause: Practical Implications
When we become aware of our needs, anger gives way to life-serving feelings.
Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and thus deserve punishment.
Judgments of others contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies.
(If you don’t trust someone, the will justify your lack of trust). When you judge others as bad, greedy, irresponsible, etc, very few of them will try to meet your needs. You can succeed by guilt or intimidation, but it is not very effective in the long run. The other will become gradually more defensive or aggressive.
Four Steps to Expressing Anger
- Stop and breathe. Do nothing.
- Identify the thoughts making us angry (bad thoughts).
- Connect those thoughts to our needs.
- Express our feelings and unmet needs to the other person.
The last step is hard.
Offering Empathy First
Before step 4, we may need to empathize with the other person first.
The more we know them, the more they’ll hear us.
Don’t suppress the violent thoughts - just don’t use them for judging.
When we hear another person’s feelings and needs, we recognize our common humanity.
Our need is for the other person to truly hear our pain.
You can ask them to repeat what they hear you say. Ensure they reflect back feelings/needs. If instead they reflect back judgments, then they did not hear you well.
People do not hear our pain when they believe they are at fault.
Taking Our Time
Don’t rush the process. And don’t expect a quick change in your behavior. It will take a lot of practice.