Have YOU ever wondered about this?
“Does my anger towards someone always indicate that I have not heard them? If I empathize with someone but find (judge) that their values which underpin their behaviours are at odds with my own then surely it means that I don’t like them?
Should you take every opportunity to connect with anyone at work as long as they clearly request a need for connection? What about people with psychopathic tendencies?”
Here’s “empathy before education”
I can only guess at the state of inner caution the person who asked the above question may be in.
He wonders about the philosophy of Nonviolent Communication (which we both appreciate), given that “it appears to assume that all people want to connect with each other if only we could find some way to reach through the layers which impede this”.
If you’ve come across this perspective, you might feel rather vigilant too and wonder about the aspects of human connection that just don’t seem possible or sometimes even desirable.
If you imagine an expectation to connect with everyone and you have a quiet, sensitive or introverted disposition, you might even fill with dread.
You’d naturally want to protect your space and sanity, the more so if you also find yourself feeling angry around someone.
I can understand it.
How to understand connection
I suspect there may be a misunderstanding in seeing connection as something you should be interested to always “give” or “do”.
Words can be confusing that way.
Where you hear someone express “a need for connection”, it may sound like an empty bucket they are expecting you to fill from your time and energy.
Clearly, you cannot do that for 7 billion people on the planet or even for that one “annoying person” too many in your daily life.
Surely though, everyone needs connection in as much as it feels really healthy to be in that state and we are unquestionably connected anyway in terms of inhabiting the same planet.
I guess we humans are yet to fully get how much everyone affects everyone…
Can we help each other to tap into the STATE of connection?
How anger helps with connection
When you’re feeling “angry towards someone”, for sure it doesn’t seem that you’re interested in connection with that person.
Nor do I imagine this is the time you’d like to hear about connecting with everyone.
But equally, perhaps you’d be wise not to busy yourself with finding reasons why disconnection with that someone is justified, for example by their “psychopathic” or other “tendencies”.
Red herring alert here!
Let me illustrate my point with a true story.
Some time ago I found myself FUMING about my partner.
I forget what it was about and that’s something to note in itself. What seemed “a crucial issue” to defend when I was angry, became not worth remembering after I regained inner peace.
Suffice it to say that my feelings were so intense that I jumped at the chance to visit a friend and stay over, so I wouldn’t say or do something “stupid”.
I vividly remember the walk to my friend’s house.
Swearing inside as I walked, I found myself listing reasons I should end the relationship. It felt scary and good, in a way scratching feels – at first – good.
Luckily, I then had gentle listening of my empathic friend and tired, fell into long, sound sleep in her house.
In the morning, I spent a few hours in the empty house and dipped into a book I found on the shelf called “Sitting in the Fire” *
As luck or life would have it, the book whispered about the wisdom and beauty of allowing what is. It was obvious that it must include the experience of anger too.
When I returned home – I couldn’t believe it – I had one of the kindest and sweetest connection times with my partner ever. We hadn’t done anything to address any “issues” and yet everything was different.
How to explain this
What my surprising experience has taught me is that anger can be a paradoxical ally to connection.
That is, if you don’t squash it or fuel your judgments with it!!!
Karla McLaren *, who studied the “jobs” of each emotion, says that the purpose of HEALTHILY experienced anger is its “protection and restoration”.
When you feel protected and restored, you can say “yes” or “no” to someone without defending your needs with a judgement of who they “are”.
It makes it easier to know what to do and do so kindly.
You do what you can and need to do and you don’t do what you don’t wish to do.
It’s so strange but it’s possible to say “no” and stay connected to someone emotionally/energetically and I for sure have experienced saying “yes” and keeping my heart closed.
I can see no better response to everybody’s efforts in this place than compassion and I imagine you do too.
Hints for honouring your anger
To summarise, I believe that the state of anger has a very positive if misunderstood role to play in human interactions: as an eventual bridge to connection.
Connection appears not as a result of overriding your anger but by heeding its call to protect and restore your boundaries and values.
How anger gets misunderstood and therefore dishonoured is when people try to judge the anger itself or judge someone using anger as some kind of validation.
One way to avoid this common confusion is to watch out when you interpret your anger as flowing “towards” someone, rather than experiencing it INSIDE you where it is indeed taking place.
You have a choice to experience anger as something endangering you or enriching you, by the virtue of the assumption you’ll make about it.
The difference comes from how you relate to this inner experience and there’s always the next time in which you can try a more generous interpretation of what your feeling angry is about.
What if anger (or any intense emotion) you experience IS indeed a gift and as such needs you only to receive the experience, without any other reaction?
What if the act of receiving “what is”, what you’re feeling, will THEN bring you clarity about what is best to do next so you do justice to your life and values?
My experience is that whenever I allow my emotion to exist in the moment without distracting myself with “doing”, it softens into something sweet and life informing. It’s something I then see I wouldn’t want to be without!
How to understand anger in NVC
When Marshall Rosenberg said that being angry means that you haven’t heard the other person, I believe he wasn’t speaking against feeling angry nor suggesting to override anger inside you.
I think he just wanted to spare us from the red herring of mis-using anger as a weapon.
He was asking us to look more deeply: towards satisfaction that comes from identifying and responding to needs. The anger arises INSIDE each person and it’s where we experience our needs being met too.
Then, when we see and care for our needs, we feel safe to connect to the hearts and needs of others too. Marshall might say we’re designed to be self-full that way.
How about an example?
Whenever I can (I’m work in progress just like you, gentle reader :-), I respond to my feeling angry by reminding myself to stay with the experience of anger INSIDE ME instead of “meditating” on the other person’s words/actions.
This is of course hard to do because the general culture conditions us to avoid vulnerability (including FEELING anger) and the easiest way to feel “invulnerable” is to get blaming and “correcting”.
Whenever I succeed in being present to my anger though ( which is easier done with an empathic friend than alone) I discover that indeed there was a value or need in me that I was ignoring or compromising and my anger was alerting me to that.
The other person only mirrored the phenomena to me.
Humans are generous that way 🙂
The trick is to remember that your values, just like the state of connection, are experienced inside you and are available there always and unconditionally.
They are yours regardless of what anyone does, says or believes and anger is a beautiful ally who’ll remind you of that each time you need it.
May we grow in appreciation of all our emotions, experiences and earthlings.
P.S. BOOKS I MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE: