Our last four posts have discussed Beverly Engel’s research about passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and projective-aggressive forms of anger expression as unhealthy responses. Since angry responses can leave emotional scars for children and adults alike, how one communicates anger is critical within a relationship. Some people spend a lifetime dealing with this issue both as a victim and as one who is unaware of the impact of his or her anger on loved ones. Of course, most vulnerable are our children. They usually cannot change their circumstances with an angry parent who has only learned unhealthy forms of anger expression. But Engel does describe two healthy styles of communicating anger.
What are healthy responses when angry?
We know that there are situations in life and in our homes that make us angry. So, what are the ways we can express anger, communicate it and not create harmful consequences?
Engel describes two forms of healthy expressions of anger: assertive and reflective.
Assertive expression: The person who is angry is clear, direct, specific and willing to take responsibility for his or her feelings. He or she often uses I-message statements. He or she stays in the present (does not bring up past grievances), does not accuse, ascribe motives or blame. He or she states the impact of the behavior, and may provide information with regard to personal values, needs, perspectives or issues.
Here is an example of an assertive style of anger expression.
- Imagine a parent who has tried to confront an issue with his or her teenager who has become disrespectful and accusatory.
- Here is how this style of anger expression may sound: “While I understand you are angry with me, it is not acceptable to me for you to speak using such harsh and accusing words. You and I will talk about this in a calm way or we will wait until we are both calm enough to do so. I expect you to treat me with respect even when you are angry.”
You can see this statement is clear, direct, non-accusatory and protects both individuals from unhealthy forms of anger expression that may be damaging to the relationship. As well, it allows angry emotions to calm prior to dealing with the issue.
Here is an example of a reflective style of anger expression.
Reflective expression: This person who is angry steps back and internally processes the situation, recognizing that he or she is angry and is making a conscious decision to take time to process feelings, needs, perspectives, and any other aspect that might clarify the reasons for the situation and the decision he or she would like to make more calmly. When ready, the person decides whether to share his or her feelings. There are times when the person may simply walk away, having decided that it is unnecessary to outwardly express his or her anger.
- This is not a form of denial; rather, it is a decision based on how significant the situation and its repercussions appear to that person.
- A parent in the same situation I described above may simply say, “I need some time to think about what you said. I’ll get back to you in a while.”
Honor your anger and your relationships
In our lives where we face a burden of difficult issues, there are healthy ways to deal with situations that upset us. These two styles of anger expression allow us to talk about what frustrates us and deal with our feelings while keeping more peace and harmony in our relationships.
There is so much more to say, but perhaps a new awareness and understanding of these forms of anger expression will help us think about how we can respond to anger in a healthy way.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.