Accusing our loved one of being “overly sensitive” or having “no sense of humor” doesn’t change the fact that they are feeling pain because of something we have said or done.
Guest blogger Stephanie Quattrocki shares her thoughts on the impact anger has on relationships and how to heal.
“I was angry when I said that, I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry.” This seems like the right thing to say after snapping unnecessarily at someone we love.
If this is something we say to resolve conflict in our relationships, I acknowledge your willingness to admit fault and seek forgiveness. That’s hard to do and it requires a certain amount of inner strength. However, it does nothing to heal the damage done.
Unbridled, anger tears at the flesh of a person’s self worth. Words that come from anger create a landscape of blame, hurt, shame and confusion. Just because we didn’t mean to detonate the bomb, doesn’t excuse the explosion.
Apologies are not refresh buttons, to be pushed anytime the system gets jammed. Apologies lose their strength when they are thoughtlessly and repetitiously repeated. The most important part to apologizing is to understand the impact our actions have on the people we love. This insight reinforces our commitment and motivates us to make a behavioral change in a constructive way.
Here are two examples of how uncontrolled anger is most likely killing our relationships.
1. It disrupts our ability to connect
Anger inhibits the expression of vulnerability. Vulnerability is that beautiful, pristine place where trust is born. Vulnerability is necessary for amazing sex, empathy, thoughtfulness, patience, and selfless generosity. These are all elements of a healthy relationships, which spring from the ability to be vulnerable in the presence of another.
People who have been struck by undisciplined anger, learn to protect themselves from future attack. They avoid being vulnerable and a relationship’s authentic connection dies.
2. Anger dilutes the accuracy of our word
Uncontrolled, hurtful speech is destabilizing. It is so painful, so unwarranted, so ambushing … it leaves a welt on the soul. When others’ feelings and experiences are devalued by brushing over it with .. “I didn’t mean what I just said” the wounded must then decipher which version of their beloved are they to believe. The kind, remorseful one or the angry, hateful one?
In turn, it becomes the task of the wounded to forgive. They have to trust the person who has just profoundly hurt them. That is an impossible and obscene request. Trust in the angry person is not at all deserved in that moment. To offer that trust, the wounded have to believe their beloved’s angry words did not mean what they said. Its a covert way to dismantle their sense of reality.
When there is no acknowledgement of the damage inflicted, the words are empty and without meaning. When we hurt someone with wicked language, it is not their responsibility to understand us, to trust us, or to forgive us. It is our responsibility to rehabilitate the bond.
Understanding how our actions affect our loved ones can help to strengthen our intention to change. Knowing why we want to change unlocks our motivation to get it done.
The following methods can useful to diffuse any excess emotional energy, so our words can remain constructive and respectful.
1. Carve out time in your day to day to do something you ” used to love but have no time for anymore.” Find 20 minutes for joy, inspiration, excitement on a regular basis for you and you alone. This will help you be more patient, emphatic, peaceful.
2. Locate where in your body you are feeling the anger. Are you hot? Is your chest tight? Are you sweaty? Dizzy? Being mindful of how your body experiences anger will help you realize when you are reaching critical mass and need to take a step back.
3. Figure out what sets you off. Identify patterns and prepare for the next go round. How? Thought stopping mantras are used by repeating a phrase over and over and over again, internally or out loud. Things like “I am ok” or “I am in control” or ” I will deal with it”.
4. Breathe. Do it, Im serious. Our loved one deserves the effort no matter how silly you might feel. In sets of ten, deeply breathe I n your nose and pucker your lips and blow out.
5. Disengage. We do not have to remain in a conversation that is flooding us with rage. If after breathing we are still fuming … disengage. Tell them you cannot speak constructively or respectfully when you are flooded with anger and that from now on you will be disengaging from heated conversation to cool down.
Explain that you are committed to finishing the conversation before the end of they day ( or some other mutually agreed upon time frame)
6. Re-engagement. Calmly, try to express the need that was unmet or the feeling you experienced, as opposed to getting caught up in content of the argument. This is where therapy can really help, but I assure you these arguments are never about dirty socks or being late or any other minor annoyance we experience throughout the day. Lead with how you feel.
Protect your relationship and your piece of mind. If you put in the work, things will change.
Stephanie Quattrocki is a licensed psychotherapist with Urban Balance. She works with individual adults and children but is drawn to helping families improve their ability to communicate effectively. She helps to nurture secure connections within the family unit while strengthening each individual’s connection to themselves. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two children. She can be contacted at: [email protected]