“Where there is anger there is always pain underneath.” – Eckhart Tolle
Learning Assertive Communication For Holistic Health
Rage can be frightening–and not only to the people who witness it. As a teenager I struggled with depression and anger. I had no idea what was going on for me. All I knew was there were times when I couldn’t even stand myself when I felt so angry.
Looking back I realize I kept everything inside– I’m sure I suffered from depression as a teenager. Over the past thirty-plus years I have done my share of counseling, introspection, and art therapy to heal. I have learned how to use assertive communication to express myself rather than holding things in. It’s not always easy, but anger is no longer part of who I am. You can read more about my experience with art therapy here.
I have also learned a great deal about assertiveness, anger, and depression working as a mental health counselor. The majority of people I work with struggle with effective communication in their personal and professional relationships.
Where Anger Comes From
Why does anger get such a rap in our society? After all anger is a normal, healthy emotion. Just like happy, sad, or frightened we need the mad feeling too. Unfortunately, very few families discuss what emotions are or how to deal with them in a healthy way.
Some say anger is a secondary emotion resulting from either fear or sadness. This typically goes back to childhood. If someone doesn’t receive the unconditional love they need and deserve as a child this creates a sense of unworthiness. After all, if your parents or guardians don’t show you love this often leads to the inner belief that something must be wrong with me.
Many of us have years of unmet needs due to not feeling worthy and never learning the importance of expressing ourselves. When we develop the belief that our opinions, interests, or needs don’t matter where does it all go? We learn to stuff it down inside.
We feel sad and become depressed. Sadness–plus not having our needs met consistently–add up to anger. Storing everything inside eventually leads to an emotional dam–we are full and there isn’t room for anything more. But, we keep trying, holding it all in. Eventually we may start to explode–often over tiny little things. This is rage.
Finding Your Voice
Assertive communication is a skill that many people have never been taught. I believe every family, school, and community needs to teach its youth how to express their needs in an assertive manner. When we are given the opportunity to speak our truth and be heard and validated stored hurt and anger don’t become an issue.
Communication is a key factor in having healthy relationships–including our relationship with self. Our self-respect suffers when we aren’t assertive. We must find our voice and learn to express our needs in a healthy way. This not only helps decrease depression but also prevents more anger build up.
8 Assertiveness Tips
- Stay calm. Look the person in the eye and maintain a relaxed posture. Practice Yogic Breath
- Use “I feel or I think…” statements. Avoid blaming statements such as “You always…”
- Be open and honest. This is tough at first–as your confidence grows it becomes easier.
- Practice active listening to validate the other person’s experience.
- Agree to disagree–having different viewpoints does not mean one person has to be right and the other wrong.
- Treat others with respect and expect the same. Both of you should walk away from the conversation with your dignity intact.
- Refuse to be belittled or put on the defense. If the other person is attacking tell them the conversation is done and needs to be rescheduled.
- Work toward a solution. Both people involved need to be open to compromise.
Practice using assertiveness with someone you trust or even in front of the mirror to build your confidence. Be patient, it takes time to unlearn old habits and replace them with new ones.
Healthy communication can only happen between two healthy, respectful people. If the other person has control issues or is aggressive you aren’t going to be heard no matter how great your assertiveness skills are. I recommend seeking counseling or reading more on domestic violence if this is the case. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has an excellent website for more information.
Being assertive doesn’t mean you will never again feel sad or angry. Just remember–anger is a sign that something is not right in your world. Pay attention to triggers to determine what is creating the anger and do something to change the situation. More on this in a future post!
“The quality of your communication
is the quality of your life.”
– Anthony Robbins
If you’ve had experience with assertive communication and anger that you are willing to share please comment below.
Peace & Love, Sandra