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Name Your Anger

Two Minute
by Maria

Disagreements often start when someone doesn’t want to discuss something or take a necessary action, and someone else accuses that person of avoiding. That accusation will generate a wide variety of responses based on the kind of avoidance being demonstrated. 
Luckily, Bernard Mayer very helpfully came up with eight (8!) different kinds of avoidance behavior in The Dynamics of Conflict:

  • Aggressive avoidance (Not now!)
  • Passive avoidance (not engaging at all)
  • Passive/aggressive avoidance (make an accusation and refuse to discuss it)
  • Avoidance through hopelessness (What’s the use?)
  • Avoidance through surrogates (Call my lawyer.)
  • Avoidance through denial (Conflict? What conflict?)
  • Avoidance through premature problem-solving [(I took care of that for you (so you wouldn’t argue about what I wanted to do.)]
  • Avoidance by folding (Fine. Let’s move forward.) 

Identifying the specific type of avoidance behavior gives us an insight into how to address it and maybe even engage in resolving the conflict. What we see as denial might be considered “a positive outlook” by someone else, so logical arguments won’t work, and you’ll have to find another way to help that person see your reality. Or maybe you are the one who needs to see a different perspective. It is much easier to see these behaviors in others than to see them in ourselves, or once seen, to address them in ourselves.
Turns out, we can do the same kind of specific identification with types of anger, which is often generated by the frustration of someone else’s avoidance (never our own).
Anger is thought of as the basic response to a threat. It’s defensive and gets the defensive responses – flight, fight, or freeze – engaged. Also, I was always taught that underneath anger there is always a more subtle and important emotion. 
Turns out there are just as many – maybe more – kinds of anger as there are avoidance. And those different forms of anger have different names in different cultures, so anger is more difficult and complex to understand. 
Luckily, Michaeleen Doucleff  (NPR Morning Edition, 1/28/19) has created a way of identifying different kinds of anger that help to understand and address it. 
There is an “exuberant anger” when you’re getting ready for the big game, or a sad anger when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. There are short and long term angers. There can be self-anger, when you do something dumb and get mad at yourself. There can also be anger toward an organization or institution, and that generates a different emotional responses. (Maybe avoidance through hopelessness?)
Saying “I’m angry” is not specific enough for someone to know how to help, so we ask what that meansUnfortunately, the question can be interpreted as asking for justification of the anger, something we tell others they don’t have to do. Your emotions and feelings need no justification, they are just yours.
Naming the specific form of anger or the more specific emotion helps in regulating your behavior and generates productive actions rather than stewing in them because they’re not clear enough to address. For example, if you sense that this is a short burst of anger, then you know to wait a bit and it will subside, requiring no action on your part at all and avoiding a fight.
The beauty of this approach is that it can be personalized. Analyze the source of your anger, what triggers it, and give it a name that means something to you. Doucleff paid attention to what triggered anger, what was happening at the moment, and came up with words to describe it and practical ways to address it. She found that she was quick to anger when someone made a decision that was completely illogical to her, and then also realized that she could not overturn that decision or change that person’s mind with logic, so she let it go and worked on what to do next.
Doucleff also created her own new word for a type of anger that resulted from loud, annoying sounds that occur at the same time,“disonophous anger,” in her case the baby crying and the dog barking. When she gave the anger a name, she knew what to do: put the dog outside and pick up the baby. Maybe two annoying sounds don’t make you angry, they make you “frazzled.” OK, know you are “frazzled” and figure out how to change what is “frazzling” you. 
A new name creates new options for action, giving us more control over our own anger so that we don’t have to put up with or avoid what “frazzles” us. It might even help eliminate one avoidance response that pretty much always makes us feel bad: hopelessness.
When we know we can understand and control our own feelings and behavior, we can go into many more situations with confidence and get more positive results.
Have an absolutely wonderful and peaceful week.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

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