Written by Sophia Campbell
Behind anger, there is a vision or longing for what we want. That longing arises from a need, held in the heart, that is not being met or even recognized.
The other day, I was babysitting my four-year-old granddaughter, who takes a nap in the afternoon. We both lie down together in my dark, cool bedroom. I read her a story of her choosing and tuck her in with her teddy, and we both go to sleep. I love napping with her. She usually sleeps two hours. This day, I awoke after one hour and tiptoed out.
At the end of her nap, she awoke to find me gone. She came out of the bedroom with her sleepy eyes glaring, her hands on her hips, and stuck her tongue out at me in her scrunched up face. In the past, before I learned compassion and empathy, I would have said, “Don’t you dare stick your tongue out at Grandma! That’s not nice, and it’s rude!”
I was able to meet her actions with compassion and curiosity. I asked her, “Are you angry because you wanted Grandma to stay sleeping with you until you woke up?” Her hands dropped. Her body relaxed and she gave me a resounding, “Yes!” Then the energy of her anger vanished in an instant, and she asked me for a snack. The longing in her heart, her “vision,” was recognized and met with understanding and compassion.
Of course, I think that a grown-up’s anger is much harder to stay in compassion with. But, for me, it is the same thing. The angry person is expressing a longing in his or her heart that is not being recognized or attended to. I strive to meet that person with compassion and curiosity, guessing at what they might be feeling and wanting.
I also hold any fear that comes up in me with compassion: “This is scary!” Sometimes, the other person’s anger is so scary that I cannot respond with compassion, so here’s what I do:
–I let the person know, “I care about you and really do want to respond,” and “I’d like some time to think about it before responding.”
–This “thinking” time is really time for me to connect with my own feelings and needs and give myself empathy. I make guesses about myself. What am I feeling? What am I longing for? I am probably feeling frightened, maybe angry, and really wanting to be safe and perhaps be heard and understood myself.
–If I don’t feel able to give myself empathy, then I can call someone who can guess at my feelings and needs and give me clarity.
–After getting empathy, I can go back to the person who expressed anger and really listen and reflect or guess at what that person is really wanting under the anger.
–Then, if there is a reduction of energy, getting to a more peaceful place, I can ask if that person would be willing to listen to what I am feeling and wanting.
–Thus, anger becomes a door, opening to a larger conversation that creates connection instead of disconnection. Connection is what my heart is really longing for.
These are ideas and skills that might serve you. Try them next time you are met with anger.
These are skills that my husband, Bruce, and I teach in our classes, called “Compassionate Communication.” We will be teaching in the fall in “Erin’s Home,” the home of the Erin Kimball Foundation.
For more information on our classes, workshops, and practice groups, visit our Facebook page or our website and check out “events.” Also, feel free to email Sophia at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bruce at email@example.com.
This Peace on Paper article is sponsored by World Peace Gardens. Meetings are held every Sunday at 11:30 am at Green Valley Spa, 1871 W. Canyon View Drive in St George. All gatherings are nonsectarian and encourage inner peace, world peace, and sustainable living. Admission is free. For more information, call (435) 703-0077.