How To Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness

I've noticed a consistent pattern among myself and my coaching clients: we all have a history of not standing up for ourselves when other people behave in ways that we don't feel good to us. Most of us had parents who weren't willing or able to teach us how to deal with our emotions, to self-soothe our nervous system when we were in distress, or to stand up for ourselves when our emotional or physical boundaries were being violated. Often the person we most needed to stand up to was one or both of our parents themselves, and that rarely goes well when you're a distressed child trying to stand up to an adult who is being unreasonable because their wounded inner child is running the show.

Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness

Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness

All of this is a recipe for ever-increasing anger, resentment and frustration. We end up overcompensating in a desperate attempt to get our needs met. Internalise that toxic cocktail and it's no wonder we end up anxious, depressed and lacking self-confidence.

Behavior patterns learned as a child tend to stick even if they never really worked well, and coping strategies learned as a child rarely work well in the adult world. If nobody shows us a better way, we tend to continue behaving in ways that increase our internal store of resentment and frustration long into adulthood with no way of releasing the emotional pressure cooker.

After a while we end up bitter and resentful towards a hostile world that just won't seem to give us what we need or want.

Most of my clients and I were systematically trained to disregard our intuition, emotions and bodily signals in order to suit parents, teachers or caregivers. At the same time we were taught to unconditionally respect these authority figures in our lives; even though we knew deep down that the way they are behaving was damaging to us. No wonder we ended up so angry.

I believe this effect is compounded by the belief that anger is somehow bad, evil or wrong, and by repressive efforts that leave us dissociated from the feeling altogether.

A red flag for me now is when I offer someone empathy for their anger, and they start yelling at me something like "I'm not angry!!! You're wrong!!!" I avoid these people wherever possible now because they tend to dump their anger unconsciously on any sensitive person who happens to be around. I don't take them on as clients and I won't keep them as friends. I don't want that kind of stress in my life.

The ultimate solution to our anger is to channel the angry energy into assertive communication that gets our needs met. That can be easier said than done, so here's my suggested four steps towards healthy anger management:

The first step is to realize that we're angry in the first place, and this can take some therapeutic work if we're in the habit of repressing our feelings.

The second step is to communicate our anger in a constructive way to a safe third party where we can feel heard and validated, such as a therapist or emotional intelligence coach.

The third step is to communicate the anger to the person who stimulated it, in a manner that they're able to hear. This has been a huge challenge for me since the people I historically tend to feel most angry with are often very triggered when I express my feelings cleanly. They tend to go into shame, blame, criticism and justification. They make out that I'm somehow bad, evil or wrong for the way I feel.

It's crazy-making.

Even though I haven't done anything wrong, their pain body gets triggered and their default pattern of shutting me down to avoid their own feelings gets activated. That leaves me feeling unheard, leading to even more anger and resentment in me. Just like when I was a kid.

So now I've come up with a fourth step for times when step three fails: Channel the energy of the anger into assertively getting the underlying need met; not necessarily by the person who triggered my anger. For example, if I'm angry with my sister for not making time to meet my need for connection, I might call a friend to connect with or write a blog article like this one in order to recruit a new coaching client who I can connect with.

Since the energy now has an outlet, it doesn't have to fester in my nervous system and make my head spin. Plus a new client would help ease my financial stress, so it's a double win.

My approach to assertiveness has been heavily influenced by Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication. I believe it's the best model to channel the energy of anger into assertive communication that gets our needs met. When we do this, the anger dissolves naturally because we've responded to what it's telling us. We no longer suppress it, internalize it or stew on it because it's really gone.

I found practicing NVC in the real world a challenge, and am grateful for the many teachers, mentors, therapists, coaches and empathy buddies who I was able to practice with in a safe environment before applying it in real world emotionally charged situations. If you are interested in finding and practicing better ways of dealing with your anger and would like to talk more about how best to handle it, drop me a line.

About Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.
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12 Responses to How To Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness

  1. Jo says:

    I found that pursuing the journey to explore my anger has paled against the journey to find, acknowledge and express my sadness.

    Anger, for me, is but the lid on a pool of sadness. Once sadness was seen and "hugged" I found that my anger, although not gone, didn't matter anymore as much as it pretended to before.

    The greatest source of my own assertiveness is not anger, but the knowledge that the world is no longer a threat as my little boy experienced back then. "I do what it takes to survive, and I can handle any situation," lets me walk tall and bold.

    • That's awesome Jo; it sounds like you're a step ahead. I'm curious what tools or practices, if any, you found helpful in dealing with your sadness?

      • Jo says:

        I've just started that part of my healing and liaised with an art therapist, as something visual and touchable works much better for me than just plain talk.

        But I can already see my homework or 'practice': Allow myself to cry a lot.

        • Awesome! I'm currently studying music, and find it tremendously therapeutic. As another musician friend of mine said to me once, "You channel your emotion into your art... and then let it go." Another sculptor friend of mine was saying recently that she found the tactile medium tremendously helpful for dealing with her emotions. Cheers, Graham

    • Peter says:

      "The greatest source of my own assertiveness is not anger, but the knowledge that the world is no longer a threat as my little boy experienced back then."

      That's the same for me. I'm still working at it though since conditioning is powerful and counterconditioning this takes time and lots of effort.

      • Awesome Peter; it sounds like you're on the right track. I totally relate to the challenge of undoing powerful conditioning. Let me know if I can help out any. Cheers, Graham

        • Peter says:

          Thanks Graham.

          This is a good blog with lots of helpful and valuable info. I've been on a similar track for years and have found a few pieces of the healing puzzle in a couple of sentences in your writings. It's much more than most blogs or sites I visit. Keep it up and thank you.

    • Peter says:

      One more thing Jo,

      How did you get to the point (meaning what practices specifically, and how did you implement them) of integrating the knowledge that "the world is no longer a threat" for you?

      As I mentioned in my previous post I found that direction helpful but I'm not all the way there, it's hard. For instance, I'm not afraid of physical attacks when people are angry anymore but still am afraid of the abandonment that Graham talked about above, if people angrily disapprove for whatever reason. I do feel 'my survival is at stake' and that's a hard one to decondition.

      • Jo says:

        Hi Peter,
        what helped me was to recognise and look after my inner child. The world was a threat to him (my little 6..7-year-old me), and quite understandably, as he still carries the memories of bullying etc.
        Realising that this is one part of me that co-exists with my adult part enabled me to dissociate with the inner child. The present Jo is the adult man, capable of protecting his inner child from the world. Once my inner child trusted my adult self he didn't bother me as much anymore with threat alerts.
        I'm practicing this every time I get an alert from him: Check in with him, then reassure him I'll look after him, protect and love him. Most of the time his alert is about something we as adults can handle easily.
        If you're interested, an organisation called Heal For Life offers workshops, run by survivors, that work with the inner child. I've done two and benefitted each time.

        • Peter says:

          Thanks for that answer Jo.

          Funny, I did lots of inner child work and never had that dynamic, where the inner child felt okay after reassurance from me. He didn't trust me and always asked, 'why?' ... 'How can you protect me? There is a threat out there.'

          What I found works with me is arming my adult self with my anger ( getting in touch with it as Graham has written about in his blog entries) and also disarming people who are threats to the inner child. I do that by challenging the perceived threats in my head (their voices), and, if need be in person ... which never really happens but I do feel a tiny shift each time I make a breakthrough = less anxiety and body tension.

          Anyway, thanks for your reply. This is such complex and abstract stuff.

          • Jo says:

            Hi Peter,
            sounds like you can still strengthen the trust between the two of you. "Arming yourself with anger" evokes an image of a knight in me, and so does "challenge a threat".
            I hope your little one can love and trust you more soon. Agree it's complex and takes a lot of patience. Few do it - it's so much easier to distract oneself.

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