The first step in handling our anger using Non-Violent Communication is to be conscious that the stimulus, or trigger, of our anger is not the cause of our anger. That is to say, that it isn’t simply what people do that makes us angry, but it’s something within us that responds to what they do that is really the cause of the anger. This requires us to be able to separate the trigger from the cause.
NVC is built on the premise that anger is the result of life-alienated ways of evaluating what is happening to us, in the sense that it isn’t directly connected to what we need or what the people around us need. Instead, it is based on ways of thinking that imply wrongness or badness on the part of others for what they have done.
Now, this is very hard for many of us to keep straight: to not mix up the trigger, or stimulus of our anger with the cause of our anger. The reason that that’s not easy for us is that we may have been educated by people who use guilt as a primary form of trying to motivate us. When you want to use guilt as a way of manipulating people, you need to confuse them into thinking that the trigger is the cause of the feeling. In other words, if you want to use guilt with somebody, you need to communicate in a way that indicates that your pain is being caused simply by what they do. In other words, their behavior is not simply the stimulus of your feelings; it’s the cause of your feelings.
If we are to manage anger in ways that are in harmony with the principles of NVC, it’s important for us to be conscious of this key distinction: I feel as I do because I am telling myself thoughts about the other person’s actions that imply wrongness on their part. Such thoughts take the form of judgments such as, “I think the person is selfish, I think the person is rude, or lazy, or manipulating people, and they shouldn’t do that”. Such thoughts take either the form of direct judgment of other or indirect judgment expressed through such things as: “I’m judging this person as thinking only they have something worth saying.” In these latter expressions, it’s implicit that we think what they’re doing isn’t right.
Now that’s important because if I think this other person is making me feel this way, it’s going to be hard for me not to imagine punishing them. We show people it’s never what the other person does: it’s how you see it; how you interpret it.
The kind of thinking that leads us to be angry is thinking that implies that people deserve to suffer for what they’ve done. In other words, I’m talking about the moralistic judgments we make of other people that imply wrongness, irresponsibility, or inappropriateness. At their root, all of these kinds of judgments imply that people shouldn’t have done what they did, and they deserve some form of condemnation or punishment for doing it.
Anger is a very valuable feeling in NVC. It’s a wake-up call. It tells us that I’m thinking in ways almost guaranteed not to meet my needs. Why? Because my energy is not connected to my needs, and I’m not even aware of what my needs are when I’m angry.