Relationship conflict can sometimes bring out the worst sides of ourselves. Often, we react quickly and make statements that are harsh or cutting. But what is underneath the anger or behind the defensiveness? Those are a few of the questions I often ponder both personally and professionally as a psychotherapist at PRO Medical, because anger is never the first emotion we feel. We feel anger in response to something else. Perhaps we feel hurt, overwhelmed, betrayed or out of control. Acknowledging those feelings and speaking out of those places may feel vulnerable, uncomfortable, and sometimes scary. Conversely, reacting out of anger can feel good in the moment because we may feel big, powerful and in control. But there is a relational cost to angry outbursts. Trust may be shaken. Vulnerability might be lost. Ultimately, we may lose intimacy or connection.
So how do we navigate our own anger during a conflict? Well, there are many practical things we can do to ground ourselves as a conflict builds, such as:
- Taking some space: This could include going for a walk or sitting somewhere quietly by ourselves for a time.
- Naming our feelings: There is power in identifying and naming what is happening. Once we acknowledge what is happening, we can remind ourselves of our options.
- Breathing deeply: Angry responses tend to speed us up. Breathing deeply brings us back into our bodies, slows us down, brings a sense of calm and relaxation and increases the flow of oxygen to our brain which will help us make more thoughtful decisions.
- Exercise: Feel good endorphins are released that utilize energy for a positive benefit.
Once we have grounded ourselves how do we re-enter the conflict? Now that we have acknowledged the feelings underneath our anger and things happening behind our defensiveness, this also may be happening for the other person. Next, it would be helpful to ask these types of questions:
- What does the other person want me to know and what do I want the other person to know right now?
- What is their message underneath the anger or behind the defensiveness?
- In what way is the other person trying to be known?
- In what way is the other person trying to be understood?
At the end of the day conflict is inviting us into spaces of difference and vulnerability. In these spaces we have an opportunity to know the other more intimately and to be known as well. To do this we must listen and remain open to ourselves and the other. This work can be challenging, but it is work that is also deeply rewarding.
For further support in this area, please contact our counseling center at 425-376-3320.
Written by: Scott Vranicar, LMHC, MHP at PRO Medical
Scott believes healing, wholeness and integration are possible within the therapeutic process and will respectfully partner with clients as their unique story, thoughts and feelings are explored with openness and curiosity. Scott’s therapeutic approach is informed by Relational Focused Psychodynamic Therapy, DBT, CBT, Solution-focused Therapy, Attachment Therapy, Object Relations, Client-Centered Therapy and Play Therapy. Scott received his Master of Arts in Counseling and Psychology from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He has worked as a mental health therapist in community mental health and in-patient hospital settings for 8 years. His specialties include, but are not limited to, treating issues related to depression, anxiety, self-esteem, attachment, relationships, communication, grief, loss, and trauma. Currently he works with children, adolescents and adults and can accommodate afternoon/evening appointments including in-person, phone, and video sessions.