People often tell me that their biggest concern when hearing about Nonviolent Communication is that they can’t have their emotions. For some reason they think they can’t get mad anymore.
I am here to say that just isn’t true!
All of our emotions are important, including being mad (anger). In fact, our emotions are the most effective tool we have in guiding our actions. Instantly, we can know if we want more of something, or less of something. That something is the NEED or experience we are hoping to have. True emotions last 30 seconds to 5 minutes. So being mad is awesome… for 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
How are we so confused about this idea that being angry or mad is a bad / unacceptable thing?
Here’s what I think drives this kind of thinking:
1. In our culture, we seem to think that emotions on the side of happy are better than the ones on the side of unhappy.
2. We often confuse the cause of our feelings to be ‘the thing that happened’, rather than the need we are longing for more of, or celebrating being met stimulated by ‘the thing that happened’.
3. Most of us tend to have the habit of making the other person responsible for how we feel in our response to ‘the thing that happened’. The communication then becomes confusing and defensive and most often not very productive.
With these three things in combination, the possibility of hearing each other in ways that bring more connection is unlikely. When we are mad, blame the other person, and then demand that they change their ways (often in ways that are less than pleasant for the other person), they respond in kind. Now everyone is mad and is blaming the other person for the fact that they're mad.
That's why people think it's bad to be mad.
Next time you get mad at someone ~ before you say anything ~ connect in with yourself. Ask these questions:
What did they say or do that you're ‘mad’ at?
What would you have wanted them to say or do?
If they did the thing that you would have preferred, what would you be experiencing differently or more of?
What response could you have in this moment that might generate more of the answer in #3 above?
I will share this example of a few possibilities of following the practice steps:
1. What happened...
My friend and I have plans to meet at noon for lunch. I find out at 11:45am that she's going to arrive at 12:20 and has two other friends with her whom I don’t know. My friend didn’t let me know why the other people were invited, nor did she ask me how I might enjoy having other people join us for lunch. I'm upset.
2. What I would have preferred to happen...
I would have preferred that she let me know the change in plans a day or two prior and give me some more information about why she wanted to make the change, and then invited me to share what I thought and how I felt about the change.
3. What would I be experiencing more of if she acted as I preferred...
I am guessing that ‘consideration’ and ‘to be valued’ or ‘to matter’ are at the core of my distress. These are the needs.
I have many choices for number 4. Here are a few:
4a. I could let my friend know that I was expecting something different. [Share Honestly] I might let my friend know I was hoping that we could catch up because it had been a while since we spent time together. I was thinking it wasn’t the same for her and feeling disappointed about that. I wanted her to want to catch up with me. I could ask her to set up another date where we could have the ‘catch up’ or intimacy and connection that I was hoping for.
In this case I am taking responsibility for my feelings.
4b. I could ask my friend for the information I wanted. “Will you tell me how you decided to invite the others?” [Connection Request] I might find out that she was disappointed as well because these friends had invited themselves at the last minute. She felt uncomfortable saying no, and didn’t have the time to let me know. She regrets as well how it all went down. I might find out that she thinks these women will benefit from knowing me, and me them, that she wants her friends to bond with each other.
In this case, I am generating the need ‘to matter’ by connecting to the idea that my friend matters to me. That I trust her and our friendship enough to ‘go along with what she is doing’.
4c. I could ‘trust my friend’, and assume innocence. [Request of Myself] I could opt to remember that I have accumulated, over many years, lots of evidence that my friend deeply cares about me and about our friendship. I could ask myself to find calm, and to trust that she and I will continue to matter to each other, do the lunch, and share all the things that I was hoping to as a catch up with my friend. In other words, rather than create more distance with my friend, stay connected with her since that is what I was hoping for.
With this response, I am taking the most responsibility for the experience that I want to have, and am sinking into the trust of what I say I want with my friend. To matter. Both of us. All of our needs.
I hope it becomes clear in these examples, that being mad can be used for 'good'. The emotion of anger let me know what is important to me. With this information [knowing the need] I can respond in a way that I think will create more of that. What these example-responses don’t do is blame the other person for my experience and require them to change their behavior in order for me to be happy in the moment.
That is completely up to me.