Nonviolent Communication for Anger

“The cause of anger lies in our thinking – in thoughts of blame and judgment.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD.

Many people want to know how to use Nonviolent Communication for anger because it can be such a scary emotion for so many people. Feeling it, expressing it — and being on the receiving end of it — can be extremely unsettling!

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps us navigate anger in a holistic way. Using NVC for anger is a healthy and empowering way to rewire our responses to this powerful emotion.

Because anger is so often associated with violence, it’s common for people to avoid anger — as they might avoid conflict — out of their need for safety.

But anger itself is simply an emotion.

How we choose to handle it — including how we hold it within ourselves and how we express it — can make all the difference.

Just as importantly, how we handle another person’s anger, especially when it is directed toward us, can also make the difference between conflict and connection. Let’s take a deeper look at how Nonviolent Communication for anger works with our internal dialogues….

Healthy Ways to Handle Anger Inside Ourselves

Nonviolent Communication gives us healthy ways to handle anger inside ourselves.

Employing Nonviolent Communication for anger first requires acknowledging that this is an incredibly powerful emotion, and that we probably need to find more healthy ways to handle it inside ourselves.

One of the main challenges to finding healthy ways to deal with anger inside ourselves is that by the time anger arises we have usually already lost control.

By using Nonviolent Communication for anger, we rewire our capacity and skills for handling anger constructively. At first, our attention centers on how soon we can recover from an anger episode, and with what intention and how soon do we engage in any necessary relationship repair and clean-up.

As we cultivate healthy ways to handle our anger, we begin to catch it sooner. We start to notice subtle shifts and changes before we’ve erupted in anger! We can notice where we’ve made an assumption or an interpretation that in the past would have led to us feeling angry. This helps us calm down and deconstruct the story that has led to anger. It also gives us the opportunity to question it or check it out with others, before lashing out in anger.

As we cultivate healthy ways to handle anger inside ourselves, we begin to discern the deeper Universal Human Needs and values that underlie an expression of anger. Once a person has connected with their own (and/or others’) underlying needs and values, what we find is that the emotion shifts. At that point it’s usually not anger anymore. The shift from right/wrong thinking to connection with the underlying needs or values comes with a shift in the feeling which now might be frustration or sorrow, but no longer anger.

When we connect with our feelings and needs, and we allow our feelings to flow in a space of presence, healing begins to happen. At this point, we are getting closer to a place of mourning, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness.

Healthy Ways to Deal with Anger from Other People

Learning healthy ways to handle anger inside ourselves is only one part of how Nonviolent Communication and anger relate. Another part involves learning healthy ways to deal with anger from other people. Being on the receiving end of anger can be incredibly scary for reasons of our emotional, mental, and physical safety.

In these situations, besides high-level NVC skills, we want reassurance that we will be safe. (See the distinction between protective and punitive use of force.)

If we are certain of our physical safety, sometimes another’s anger is disconcerting for other reasons:
They have judgments of us which are hard to hear and/or,
We are taking responsibility for their feelings, telling ourselves that we made this person feel bad, and/or,
We’re concerned about some damage to an important relationship, as well as all that that can mean and imply.

The tools of NVC come in handy when cultivating healthy ways to deal with anger from other people. These tools include self-empathy, empathy toward others, and the ability to express truthfully or authentically with the intention to create a connection and refraining from using words that would cause more harm.

Imagine working on anger — your own or receiving others’ — to the point where you felt safe and comfortable around it, and knew how to handle it confidently and effectively, able to defuse conflicts and guide them toward more connection!

How does this look in an everyday context?

Let’s consult Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC and anger to find out….

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC for Anger

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. had revolutionary insight on the relationship between NVC and anger. According to Dr. Rosenberg, anger means we are disconnected from our needs. He taught us that anger is one of the four emotions that are disconnected from needs because of what we are telling ourselves. (The other three are shame, guilt, and depression).

In a practical context, these are the types of questions we can ask ourselves to see if we are progressing on using NVC for anger:

When someone speaks to me in anger, do I stay self-connected? Can I give myself self-empathy rather than judge them back or blame myself?

When someone speaks to me in anger, how soon does my attention go to what their needs might be? Am I able to give them empathic presence (perhaps after giving myself self-empathy) rather than judge them back or blame myself?

When someone speaks to me in anger, to what degree am I able to hang in there with the conversation? Am I able to express my honesty from the heart, my feelings and my needs — perhaps in addition to empathic presence, possibly with moments of self-empathy throughout — rather than judge them, blame myself, lash out, disconnect, or rush to a solution for short term relief?

To what extent can I hang in there in a tough conversation for the possibility of deeper connection and a mutually satisfying outcome?

If I notice we’re both angry, and both want to be heard at the same time, can I call a time-out in a way that we can get support in order to come back to the conversation?

With NVC for anger, we also learn how to own the causes and express anger fully. This means deconstructing the story we have and getting to the underlying needs. When we do this we can express what we value and cherish — rather than focusing on our judgments of others or becoming entrenched in who was right or wrong. In this way, NVC for anger helps us shift the feeling of anger to other, more life-connected feelings.

Puddledancer Press Books for Personal Growth

PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication and anger.

Employing Nonviolent Communication for anger can help you facilitate healthier internal dialogues, as well as more effective, empathic communication with others.

Whether you have been a long-time student — or are new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources for you to grow in your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.

Check out our catalog of books on Nonviolent Communication and anger …. and give yourself the gift of NVC today!

NVC Anger Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Anger Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Anger Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Anger Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Anger Videos

There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web.