What’s Wrong? Aren’t I allowed To Express My Anger?
Answer to this,
“Yes, of course. But, I will not stay in the room with your hostility.
Some people do not know there is a difference between expressing anger and being hostile. Do you know the difference between expressing anger and expressing hostility? If you cannot differentiate between the two then you may think you’re expressing legitimate anger when you may really be doing something destructive.
The effect of this is that your partner will resent being attacked in a hostile way. And, you may feel as if you are not allowed to express your anger. You may also think that your partner will only hear your anger if you are unrealistically sweet or unemotional. You may think you are expressing angry feelings your partner, but your tone of voice may actually be hostile and filled with contempt for your partner. In hostile expressions people end up talking more about the other’s defects of character, rather than about feelings that you want understood.
Expressing anger does not mean hurting others, though if that was the style used in the home growing up as a child then it is understandable how someone learns to express herself that way. . It is not an excuse not to learn how to express anger constructively without using contempt.
Despite this, people can learn to express anger without contempt.
Some people may think they are expressing a feeling
when they are being blaming, shaming, rejecting, or being hostile.
These people will get what they want more easily by learning
to express feelings like sadness, fear, shame or confusion.
Here’s an exercise I have on the blog for helping to discern the difference between being angry and being hostile. Download exercise below HERE.
The following exercise is very important to help couples get clear about the difference between expressing anger and expressing hostility. So forForthe next 15 examples of statements one partner makes to the other circle either anger or hostility.
Anger is about expressing what I think and feel.
Hostility is always about hurting, blaming, or shaming the other person.
1. You spend so much time on the computer! You don’t have any time for me.
2. Why do you always have to ask how much something costs when we go to someone else’s house. What are you an appraiser? You sound so tacky and classless. What’s wrong with you?
3. I told you how we’re going to handle that bill when it comes. Don’t you pay attention to me when I talk? And you say you went to college. I don’t know how I ended up with such an idiot?
4. Why do you always have to say something that disagreeswith me? You’re so argumentative. Can’t you just let me talk without pointing out what’s wrong with what I’m saying?
5. You’re telling me the pasta was overcooked. Well next time you cook it! You’re always criticizing my meals. Did you say stuff like that to your mother about her meals?
6. It makes me mad when you try to read or watch T.V. while we’re talking. Would you cut it out?
7. You didn’t clean up after yourself when you made your lunch. You’re such a slob. What….., were you raised in a barn?
8. For the hundredth time, No! I’m not interested in seeing any of those movies with blood and gore. I’m not a sicko like you. Quit asking me! Don’t you understand English?
9. All I said was “My mother thinks you should be more loving to me.” Your reaction to this is crazy. You’re too sensitive. What’s wrong with you?
10. Was that Wendy, your sex-etary, calling you at home again? Doesn’t she know you’re married? Don’t you know you’re married? I can’t live like this any longer!
11. I don’t want to talk about this right now. The tone of your voice disturbs me. It makes me mad. Let us talk about this later. Please stop asking me questions.
12. You haven’t complimented me on how I look tonight. Aren’t you proud of me? Aren’t you attracted to me? You never compliment me anymore.
13. Would you stop bothering me as soon asI get home? Can’t you wait a few minutes while I relax? No, you have to get your needs met right away. Well, what about me, and my needs?
14. Can’t you just not interrupt me? Every time I talk, you have to get in there and tell me what’s wrong with what I’m saying. Don’t you have any respect?
15. I can’t talk with you because you get so angry and threatening. You won’t let me talk about my side of a story. It makes me so mad!
Answer key: 1- H, 2- H, 3- H, 4- A, 5- A, 6- A, 7- H, 8- H, 9- H, 10- H, 11- A, 12- A, 13- A, 14- A, 15- A (These are somewhat arbitrary answers. It’s just helpful to ask yourself the question, “Am I being hurtful?”)
Let us go through each of the 15 statements again to see which of them are expressions of what is felt and which are focused on the other. Expressing a feeling is a statement that is About Me. Let us abbreviate this with AM. Even if the other’s behavior is mentioned, a statement is considered About Me(AM), if it’s clear that the sentence refers to back to the speaker (i.e. “It makes me feel _____.” “It makes me think_____.”)
Expressing a belief or feeling about others is a statement About You. Use AY for short to show that the statement conveys anger, but the person is not saying how it feels. The person is saying something mean or blaming the other. Here is the mask of anger covering up more vulnerable feelings. If only men could learn how to say “Ouch!” This applies to women as well. It’s just that it’s culturally ingrained in men.
Put an AM or an AY next to each of the statements above. Write AM if you think the statement is saying something about how the speaker thinks or feels. Write AY if you think the person is referring to the other person’sthoughts, feelings, or character.
Marc’s subjective answer key:
1- AY, 2- AY, 3- AY, 4- AY, 5- AY, 6- AM, 7- AY, 8- AY, 9- AY, 10- AY, 11- AM, 12- AY, 13- AY, 14- AY, 15- AM
If you completed the AY/ AM (about you / about me) part of this exercise you may notice that many of the statements you identified as being hostile, you later also labeled as AY, or About You (the other). This is because statements made about the other tend to contain all sorts of negative shaming, labeling, mindreading, or simply focuses exclusively on the other. It’s missing the expressive element of saying, “… it makes me think _____ , which makes me feel _____ .” If you speak primarily about the other, do not be surprised that you get defensive, or angry responses. You may think you are expressing yourself. But, you may be simply labeling and defining the other.
It is more productive to make statements that are About Me. One reason is that no one can argue with you. Who can tell you that you do not feel somethingor that you should not think something? While it is ridiculous, many people may indeed try this. Italways violates the other’s mental or emotional boundaries to say he shouldn’t feel something. The other person will hear an angry statement better if the expression is made as an ”I statement.” There are people who can’t tolerate hearing any statement that reflects poorly on them, so it does not matter how you express yourself. They will always try to avoid, deny, minimize, defend, rationalize, justify or blame you, even when you express your anger as an, ‘I statement.’ It is best, for your own growth,to learn to speak your feelings more expressively using the About Memethod. Forget about getting the results of getting him to change or understand you. If you get too focused on the result of getting him to change then you’re more vulnerable to being upset if it doesn’t happen.
There is difference between expressing anger and expressing hostility.
It is important that you be willing to see that perhaps you are broadcasting hostility and do not know it.
Hostile and intimidating language usually involves descriptions of ‘The OTHER.”
Angry expressional language usually involve descriptions of “My, thoughts and feelings.”
Download this exercise HERE.
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