When Angry, Get Curious not Furious

anger managementAnger Management

Many individuals seek counselling for anger management.  Anger shows up in all sorts of places in our lives, and in all sorts of different ways. But anger itself is not a “bad” emotion, as many people might think. Rather, it is what you do in response to a feeling or a thought.  This is what is most important in our relationships with loved ones, particularly with partners, but also with our children, parents and siblings. But you can’t be angry and be understanding at the same time! When you’re angry and defensive, you are so captivated by your own feelings, thoughts and assumptions, that listening to the perspective of another is seemingly impossible. Instead, we get stuck in blaming others and defending ourselves.

Breaking the Anger Cycle

Anger management is possible for all couples.  When you find yourself in this spot, it’s hard to know what’s really going on, especially between you and your partner. But getting, and staying stuck in the same-old negative patterns, repeating them over-and-over, doesn’t work. So, you need to do something different. You need to have a deliberate alternative to begin with.

This is the beginning of the solution. The challenge is learning how to shift from an angry “furious” place, to a position of “curiosity”. Curiosity means being interested and intrigued about the other person’s experience. That means learning about how they are thinking, interpreting, assuming, perceiving, feeling, and responding to what is happening in the moment, as the entire negative interactions between the two of you unfold at the moment.

It also means slowing down, holding angry impulses and taking the time to understand the fundamental nature of that person’s experience. This can often be at the core of a partner’s belief systems, fundamental matters like “am I lovable”, “do I matter [to myself] [to others]”. That’s at the core of your partner’s feelings. Because these matters can be so deeply rooted for a partner, don’t be critical or blaming. Instead, ask questions and putting aside your own opinions for the time-being. Although this isn’t t an easy, it is something that one can learn.

Anger Management Step by Step:

Step one:

Anger management is about learning to hold back your usual negative reactions. This means learning how to pause and slow down the initial trigger response. Do this by experimenting with “Time Out” methods. It could be as small as leaning how to take a deep breath, you could count to 10 slowly, curbing the current of the impulsive responses that are charged with negative thinking and negative feeling. Establish the usual length of a Time Out (ie., 60-90 minutes). During a Time-Out It is critical you cool down in any way that works for you (except drinking and/or drugging). This could be going into another room, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, etc.

Be careful you don’t work yourself up during the Time-out. If you are reviewing the argument and preparing for a counter-attack and/or rebuttal during your Time-Out, you are actually winding yourself up, rather then winding yourself down.

Step Two:

After a Time Out, both of you need to return to talk about the issues. Return to the conversation having considered what is your part of the current matter. Don’t come back having used the time-out period to prepare your position and argument; planning on how you’ll give your partner “a piece of your mind”. Doing this only re-ignites the negative feelings, and the same-old argument. Again, once calm, think about how you contributed to the argument. Were you defensive? Blaming or sarcastic? Critical of your partner? Did you decide to not listen? It is important to return to the discussion having some understanding of your role in perpetuating the negative cycle. Return to your partner with a new attitude. Be curios, stay “open”.

Take five minutes per person to explore each other’s positions. One partner is the ‘talker’ and the is deliberately the ‘listener’. The listener takes the curious posture, asking questions as a means of encouraging an better understanding of the true matters, getting the breadth of the story and experience of your partner. The curious partner asking questions is likely to want to make a rebuttal. Don’t. Remember, this is about doing something different, interrupting the negative patterns – so control that impulse. Don’t interrupt, don’t ask loaded and leading questions, or those that seem to support your point of view. ( e.g. “Don’t you think I was in the right?”). The aim is to better understanding your partner, even if you disagree. You can’t resolve a problem or negotiate a compromise unless you know each other’s position.

Anger management really about purposefully getting to know your partner on a deeper level. There often are surprising and satisfying discoveries.  At Waypoint, we help couples find their curiosity for each other, there is palpable relief; they feel more hopeful because they understand each other better and can communicate more clearly. They learn to be curious, not furious.

Waypoint counsellors are located in the Greater Victoria area, Colwood, Langford, Sooke, Metchosin, and soon we will be adding counsellors in the Nanaimo and Surrey BC areas.  Check out our team profiles and select a counsellor to meet with to see if the “fit” is right for you.  Or, contact us and we will help refine the search to ensure you are matched with the right counsellor.

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash