We have all experienced anger at some time in our lives. An unjust sandpit moment, the
parental wrath of a teen missing curfew, the disappointment when a partner misses an
anniversary, (again), one request too many at work. Anger is a natural way to communicate
our story of pain. It tells us and others that someone or something has harmed us.
Unfortunately using anger to communicate our hurt does not get us good results. Anger
increases the chances of being misunderstood and rejected. Rather than achieving the
understanding and connection we desire, we usually achieve anger in return, and
To eliminate anger from our emotional library is also not ideal. If anger ceased to exist, not a
lot would change in the world. Anger emboldens us to act. It motivates us to seek justice
against the odds. Anger can be the catalyst for much needed change.
So how much anger do we need? Aristotle said "Anybody can become angry - that is easy,
but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."
If we ignore a difficult conversation for fear of conflict, it often comes back to haunt us. If we meet it head on, we can escalate the problem. Often, we react in the same way we always have, despite it causing damage to our own reputation and relationships.
However we choose to react, the unruly nature of anger stems from a surprisingly ordered
set of core concerns. (see footnote) These concerns relate to how we feel in any given moment. The need to belong (affiliation) gives us a sense of social safety. The need to be appreciated tells us that we are valued (acknowledgment). The need for autonomy is about the comfort we take from being in control of our lives. The need to find meaning in what we do allows us to feel fulfilled, and our need for status reminds us that we are important enough.
Understanding the pain at the heart of our anger is the first step in learning about disputes
and potential conflict.
Think about a recent time when you felt angry. Which core concern were you trying to
communicate? How did you tell your story of pain?
Fisher & Shapiro, Beyond Reason. Penguin Books 2006.