Transforming Hurt to Healing

It's so hard to deal with anger (speaking personally for myself).

Anger is the most misunderstood and misused emotion. Many people hate it. They don't ever want to experience it or receive it. Others abuse it and use it to hurt and destroy. But the purpose of anger is to tell us that something needs to be fixed or protected and to give us the energy to do so. It prepares us for the worst, in case we have to fight for our lives or the lives of those we love. But in most situations we don’t need so much fight. And the fight makes us distort information and perceive things in the worst way possible. 

The secret to using anger well is to actually understand the power of vulnerability. This is particularly true when fighting with someone you love or at least want to maintain a connection to. You have to uncover the underlying vulnerable feelings that the anger is meant to protect. Then you have to fold this into your communication in a way that expresses it as a bid for closeness, connection and correction. 

Obviously, the more the communication comes from intense feeling the more likely the other hears it as an attack. But, even if things are said nicely and calmly, the other’s internal mental expectations or state of anxiety can cause them to focus only on attack. 

When this happens in therapy, I immediately intervene. I don't let hurt happen or escalate if I can help it. I call a foul and start working on identifying vulnerable feelings and bids for emotional closeness. Then, I sometimes strongly encourage partners to listen to each other again in the hurt and bids with an open heart that remembers how much they matter to each other. 

Here’s an example of this idea in action, presented with permission, from a lovely and loving couple: 

Husband to me: I want to be close to my family and reach out to them, but my anger gets in the way and becomes the only thing I experience. How do I overcome my anger?

Wife: You have to tune up! Listen to us! Pay attention to our feelings!

Husband: Well, you never give me a chance, etc, etc. (I don’t remember, but it was definitely an attack.)

Me: Stop, stop! Husband, what are you feeling right now? 

Husband, long pause (because it’s hard to be reflective when hot): Angry. 

Me: And what deeper feelings is the anger trying to protect?

Husband, long pause, and tentatively: That I”m not good enough again. I’m feeling defensive.

Me: Wife, what are you feeling? You’re energy is intense and you’re teary eyed. 

Wife: I’m feeling hurt!

Me: Ok, husband, did you hear the hurt and hear what she wants from you? 
Husband: hmmm...

Me: Wife, as succinctly as you can, please say what you want and maybe what you are feeling.

Wife: I’m hurt and I want you to connect to me, to us. 

Me: Husband, now let that sink into your heart and respond from there. 

Husband: I feel sad and disappointed in myself. 

(Here I wished he was able to actually connect with his wife and apologize. But, instead of saying that…)

Me: Wife, how was that for you, better? 

Wife: Not bad. (then to husband) I know it’s hard. It’s hard for both of us. We are both bad at being there for each other and we have our own childhood pain and didn’t get much 'tuning up' ourselves.  

What this couple did for each other is so admirable and so difficult! I'm only just becoming better at this myself in my own life and I've been working on it for, what 20 years?