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Empathy works. It always does.

Four steps from anger to reconnection

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http://www.parallax.org/books/anger/front.jpg

Angry? Focus on your breath

Thich Nhat Hanh has a simple four step process to support connection when we are angry.

The first is to bring our attention back to our breath; to notice where it is in our body, how it rises and falls. To continue doing this as long as anger is grasping us and to embrace the anger as if it is a crying baby that needs holding.

Hum. I can stop right here. I have failed this first step often enough. Yep. Sneaky moments where my mind told me Thich Nhat Hanh was wrong. That it was much better to slash out, yell, blame, disconnect.

Ànd I have had times when I followed Thich Nhat Hanh’s invitation and focused on my breath first. Then I was ready for the second step. Breathing in, breathing out, “Darling, I suffer, I am angry.”

Express your pain

‘What?! Darling?! Thich Nhat Hanh got thàt all wrong! My husband is a jerk, hè caused my anger, and he needs to be punished for my pain.’ No matter how much Nonviolent Communication I have under my belt, and how aware I am of emotional liberation, and the difference between cause and trigger of my feelings, this is thè exception. ‘My husband is not a darling, he is a jerk, and I a saint, and we need to be treated accordingly.’

So another breathe. In. Out. Looking him in the eye. Seeing a glimpse of a human being. A hunch of someone who loves me. Cares for me. Wants to support me. Breathing in. Feeling my anger. Breathing out. Feeling my suffering.

Applause for your failed efforts

Step three. I breathe in. I breathe out. “I’m trying, I’m really trying.”

Something softens in me. I feel my anger towards myself. That I screwed up my mindfulness practice, that I failed. And I feel compassion that I try, that I really try. To dissolve the habit energy of my anger, the years of practice slashing out. I do fall off the ‘mindfulness bike’ a lot. Like, rèally, a lot. And I get back up. After every failure. Trying loving speech when I am angry, again, and again, and again.

Courage to ask for help

Now I am ready for the last step. Breathing in, breathing out. “I need your help and support.”

I feel vulnerable. To own up to my pain. To acknowledge I am struggling. To tremble in that nakedness. Will he help? Or will he retaliate? Will he blame mè for yelling, slamming doors, running away? I want to be held. Seen for my humanity. For my struggles. And for my longing to connect.

I feel scared. And proud that I dare to ask for help.

Success guaranteed

Sometimes these four steps take a while. Often it takes my husband’s generous and empathic heart. And the process always works.

Thich Nhat Hanh is right. Just four steps to get us from anger to reconnection. Isn’t it fantastic?

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping professionals schedule time for relationships and self-care. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

4 thoughts on “Four steps from anger to reconnection

  1. I think “you are an expert at anger.” I am smiling after reading your blog. Perhaps it is my generous heart. Your husband.

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  2. Breathing is the one method of mindfulness, of stress management, of meditation, of being in the moment that we can take with us wherever we go. And it is the one thing I always recommended to my co-workers when they started to get frustrated or stressed out at work. Just Stop…and take a breath. Now take another. Breathing works such wonders on our brain – it stops the anger, calms us down. It let’s us remember there there is something other than the anger and what we perceived as it’s cause. And yet, it’s also the hardest thing for us to remember – perhaps because we take it for granted. After all, it’s always there…why pay attention to it?

    Because without it, we would be dead. So maybe if we spent a little more time each day just focusing on this gift of breath, it would be easier for us to remember it in times of emotional need. That is one of my goals for this year – to focus on my breath. Breathe in…breathe out. Relax. Focus on the breath.

    Thanks for your great post, Elly!

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    • I enjoyed reading your response. I like your insights that we can always take our breath with us (if not, we are dead), and that -as easy as it is to focus on our breath- it is hard, because we take it for granted. It was with us before we knew it. I feel excited and happy with your comment! Nurtures my need for community, inspiration and enrichment.

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