Topics of Interest
Coping with Others’ Anger
By Lawrence Feinstein, PhD
Or, visualize the other person sitting in a large tub full of smelly, brown, bubbly feces. Each time they yell at you, they are picking up a handful of feces stew and throwing it at you to try to get you to come into the tub with them. Are you going to let the feces stick to you? Are you going to crawl down into that smelly tub?
Developing “Emotional Safety”:
Three forms of intimacy in a relationship include (1) sex, (2) play, and (3) anger. Surprisingly, sex is the easiest. Anger is the most difficult. Play is a form of letting go and allowing our feelings to show more naturally, like children. Anger is like this too but involves negative feelings that are often frightening for people.
However, anger and its expression are a vital part of building intimacy in a relationship. People who avoid anger and confrontation, and their appropriate forms of expression, during the courting phase of their relationship often experience serious relationship difficulties later. They learn that they have few skills for dealing with conflicts, and feel scared and insecure to feel and express themselves honestly.
Emotional safety refers to feelings of safety and unconditional acceptance that can be developed in a relationship so each partner feels free to have feelings and honestly express them. When we learn in a relationship that we are acceptable and safe even when angry and expressing it, and that our partner will not reject or abandon us, we often become calm with our anger and more able to express it clearly in words. We are often then more willing to allow our partner to express their feelings more clearly, too.
Over time, we and our partner learn that there are many levels of anger, from bugged to enraged, and that the security of the relationship is actually enhanced when people practice expressing their anger openly, honestly, and appropriately (e.g., “I feel bothered about ...”) at lower levels. The more intense the anger becomes, the more difficult it is to contain it and express it in words. Nevertheless, it needs to be expressed.
The following paragraphs show some of the techniques that help our partner to express his/her higher levels of anger.
a) I feel scared when you get
this angry. (Don’t use this line when you are talking
b) I feel distant from you when you get this angry. I feel pushed away.
c) We’re on the same side. What can I do to help.
d) It is hard for me to stay calm when you get this angry this often.
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