Anger & frustration - active listening

There is much more detailed article on emotional healing, including a detailed section on the 'fire' of certain of our feelings that include anger and frustration, introduced here

This article is specifically about dealing with our angers and frustrations in relationship. Whoever we live with it is fair a guarantee that at some point there will be an escalation of tension and irritability and that there will need to be a way to deal with it.

A person who is not allowed to express out what is bothering them can stay in a bad mood for days, even indefinitely! But once they get what is bothering them out in the open and then, just as importantly, work out what they are going to do about it, peace can be restored just as quickly.

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The way for most people to get out what is bothering them is to talk about it and no-one has to have any fear that any lines of violence will get crossed if our freedom of speech is respected and understood.

People, at least in our English-speaking culture, are terribly frightened of raising their voices. They are frightened because they are afraid that it will escalate into violence or some form of public shaming.

This is unfortunate and it can cause a great deal of resentment and ill-feeling to build up because, of course, people do get frustrated with each other and need to find ways to resolve those differences and to clear the air.

With my own patients whose health can be gravely affected by such tensions I find it of much value to clearly explain the 'rules of engagement' for when they need to have conflict. If everyone understands these rules, and lives by them, there is nothing to fear from conflict but rather much to gain...


Step 1: Know the Rules:

You have the freedom of speech to say anything you like, at any volume, using any language, but you cannot threaten violence nor physically hurt someone or hold them against their will.

Knowing that you can shout or swear if you get unbearably frustrated, can help you to trust that you can and will get out what it is you have to say.

You can trust yourself, and be trusted, that you will not be breaking any laws. That you will be safe. Then, you simply have to feel heard and at that point, well, just about anything can be resolved, even deep, horrible, old hurts. People hardly believe they can get over their past hurts when they feel so damaged by them but they can, and do. I can tell you for a fact that a lot of sickness gets healed in these ways.


Step 2: Practice Active Listening.

The second step is to practice active listening. People will never feel the need to have to shout or swear for any amount of time if they feel listened to. Active listening is a truly simple process where, when someone is expressing something that is obviously important to them, you say back in a few words what it is you hear them saying, or what you understand they are feeling.

For the understanding part, I generally coach people to start with the phrase 'so what I hear you saying is...'. and then go on to use their own words to sum up the key points of what they have heard. It is marvellous how well this works, so long as you actually do it!

Another, equally effective method to practice active listening is to simply reflect back the feeling you hear and see they are struggling with and trying to communicate. A phrase to start this process is to say 'I see, or I hear, that you are feeling (x y or z) and go from there.

What you are doing is simply acknowledging the feeling that is being expressed, without any judgement, or condemnation, or analysis, or criticism. Leave your opinion out of it for the time being, it is a simple reflection which shows them that you can understand them and that you accept that this truly is how they feel... : 'I can see (or I can hear, or I can feel) how you are feeling very... angry, upset, sad, frustrated, hurt etc...'

You never try to talk someone out of how they feel. The worst thing you can say to someone who is feeling bad is 'you shouldn't be feeling bad, (or mad, or sad, or angry, or depressed or whatever...).

People have feelings for good reasons, and when those feelings are bad ones you can be sure they do not want to hold on to them for one second longer than they have to.

However, it can be very hard for us to 'let go' by ourselves -- hence the need to be heard. Once a person feels heard they can almost always start to let the bad feeling go, rather quickly too if you give them half a chance. Just don't attack them for feeling bad, don't make them justify feeling bad, your job is to accept it and show them that you are doing that by practicing active listening.

Even if they are attacking you and saying that you are the reason they are feeling bad. Wait, hold your fire. Let them express themselves and show them that you accept how they feel. Your time to talk will come soon enough and, if you have treated them as you would like to be treated (with respect, understanding and acknowledgement), then you may well find that it is now your turn to be getting exactly what you need.

The effects of this 'being heard' on both parties is quite marvellous. Put simply, this method works, and it works every time it is used, but people have all kinds of resistance to doing it, and most people won't do it, and won't even try it. Especially because they soon start feeling defensive and feel that that cannot passively listen and reflect, that to do so is as good as an admission of guilt on their part and indicates an acceptance of all the criticism or condemnation they are receiving from the person who is now directing all their anger on to them!

It takes a big heart, and a wise mind to know that this is a process that you have to stick at, even if it is just for a little while, and that the fire and bluster and blame soon evaporate away, in fact they always do when people feel heard, acknowledged, and understood.

Then, finally, the other party can release their negative feelings, and be ready to return the gift of their own time, and be ready to show that they too have a big heart, and that they too have the ability to be wise, at least for a little while, in this most important matter.




© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd