Anger and Relationships

In my last news post I discussed how anger develops. In this article I’m going to look at how anger affects relationships. When we are angry, we are most often angry with other people. Our anger is generally ignited by something the other person has said. It may also be a look or tone of voice, or sometimes an action. Either way, the words, look, or action has generally angered us because we think it demonstrates the other person’s disrespect or even hostility towards us.
We react as if we could read the other person’s mind, when really all we have to go on is a look, a few words, a tone of voice, or a trivial action. However many different ways these things could be understood, we jump to the conclusion that they show the other person’s total disregard for us. This sets off a physical reaction, including muscle tension and increased heart beat, which we call “being angry”. This physical reaction is preparing us for “fight or flight”. Our body is telling us to hit the other person! The idea that we are being disrespected comes more from our imagination than from anything really happening in front of us. But straightaway, this reaction sets off certain thoughts about ourselves. Deep down, we feel that if we let them get away with this show of disrespect, we will end up being disrespected by everyone, and treated as if we had no rights or dignity at all. This activates our survival instinct. Either we fight back there and then, verbally or even physically, or we make plans to get our own back later, or else merely imagine some revenge, comforting ourselves through fantasy. All of this is based on our unspoken belief that everyone should respect us and make every effort not to hurt our feelings, at all times.
If we react to what we see as an attack, the other person will often feel that we have attacked them, for no reason whatsoever. They cannot read our mind, any more than we can read theirs. They have no idea of the thought process in our mind that has made us so angry about something they have said or done- something they maybe have forgotten already by the time we hit back at them.
To prevent this development of anger, we need to nip it in the bud, that is, to intervene as early as possible in its development. The anger begins when we imagine that we know the other person’s motivation for annoying us. That is, we imagine that they deliberately intended to annoy us by the words or actions. Therefore, we need to make the effort to consider whether there’s another explanation for their words or behaviour. However, thinking carefully like this is difficult when our body’s instincts are telling us to just punch the other person in the mouth! If we learn to calm our emotional reactions, using a simple breathing exercise, we can “buy time” in which to think clearly and decide whether we have really been insulted, and even if we have, whether it’s essential to react.

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