Anger often gets a bad reputation and can be perceived as a “negative” emotion that should be avoided. However, anger is just an emotion like all our other emotions. We all experience anger and it is a part of our “humanness” to feel it. In fact, I like to think of anger as a helpful emotion because it tells us when something is not okay with us and it prompts us to do something about it. It motivates us to stand up for ourselves and put in boundaries when we need to. Without anger, we may not be prompted as strongly to act and do something about whatever it is that is causing us distress.
Anger itself is not an unsafe or bad emotion, it is how we manage and express it that is important. You have a right to express all of your feelings and you are allowed to express your anger too. There are helpful and unhelpful ways of managing and expressing anger. Four of the main ways we can manage and express (or not express) our anger includes:
Passiveness is a communication style that we use in order to avoid conflict or confrontation in an attempt to keep ourselves safe in our relationships and maintain our attachments.
Some signs of a passive communication style include:
- Tendency to avoid expressing your true feelings and needs to others, especially if you think the other person will react negatively
- Prioritising others’ needs and feelings ahead of your own, even if it comes at a cost to your own feelings or needs
- Feelings of guilt and shame for saying “no”
- Feelings of guilt and/or fear when putting in boundaries or prioritising own needs.
- Tendency to not react or respond openly to hurtful or anger-inducing situations
- If a conflict arise, tendency to take responsibility for the other person’s feelings and
- Tends to apologise often, even when they haven’t done anything wrong
- Avoids expressing anger outwardly and instead turns anger inward toward self with strong
- self-attacking criticism.
Passive communication is a safety strategy that we use in our relationships to keep us safe. We usually develop this method of communication in relationships where we feel unsafe, unheard or unimportant. We may feel that we need to maintain the relationships or attachment if we are dependent on the other person for certain needs.
If we felt physically or emotionally unsafe in our relationships with others (in childhood or adulthood), it makes sense that we would develop a passive communication style. It may not have been safe for us to voice our feelings or needs as we may have been physically or emotionally attacked or neglected if and when we did voice them. We learn that in order to keep ourselves safe, and have our survival needs met, we must suppress our own needs and feelings (communicate passively) and prioritise the other person’s needs and feelings.
Being passive may keep us safe in relationships in the short term as we avoid the feared conflict or confrontation. However, in the long term using this type of communication can have so many negative effects on the person using it as their feelings and needs become lost under the weight of pleasing everyone around them.
The good news is that we can change our communication style. We can learn new ways of expressing our feelings and needs. We can learn to become assertive. You deserve to be heard, seen and valued. Your feelings and needs are important too.
Passive-aggressiveness is a communication style that we use to indirectly express our anger. We use
this type of communication as a safety strategy if we don’t feel comfortable enough to express our
anger or hurt directly. The purpose of using this type of communication is to express anger, without
being vulnerable, in order to protect ourselves from any further hurt.
A passive-aggressive communication style can look like…
- Denying feelings – “I’m not mad..”
- Sulking inside but faking resolution on the outside
- Using silent treatment
- Disguising criticism as a joke or a compliment
- Withholding important information
- Deliberate procrastination in response to others’ requests
- Intentionally making mistakes in response to others’ requests
- Keeping score or holding grudges
- Ignoring others or intentionally leaving others out
This type of communication can be very unhelpful within relationships. The person on the receiving
end of the passive aggressiveness is often left feeling confused and hurt. Due to the hidden and
indirect nature of the anger directed towards them, they are unable to address the anger with the
person directly. If the anger is not addressed it can fester and build up in the person who is using the
passive aggressive behaviour without an opportunity for it to be resolved. This is not helpful for
either person in the relationship.
There are other more helpful ways of communicating in relationships, such as using assertiveness,
which can actually help to deepen connection and strengthen the relationship. Assertiveness is a skill
that can be learnt.
Aggressiveness is the most obvious communication style. When we use this communication style we
always express our emotions and thoughts openly and directly, however, problems arise in HOW we
express our emotions and thoughts. If we use this style we often use intimidation and other
unhelpful behahiours to get our needs met, often at the expense of others. We create a win-lose
situation as we may believe that the only way to get our needs met is through power and control. An
aggressive communication style can cause a lot of damage to your relationships with others as there
is no room for the other person’s needs, feelings, opinion or rights. In the short-term, using this style
we may achieve what we want, however, it may be followed by feelings of guilt and regret due to
the damage caused to relationships.
If a compromise cannot be reached, be prepared to take a time-out to reflect
- We can find it hard to agree with other people
- We want to win arguments at all cos
- We can explode verbally in a confrontation or conflict
- We tend to interrupt people a lot when they talk
- We often deny or invalidate the rights/feelings/opinions of others
- We can lack consideration and empathy for others
Possible results of aggressive communication:
- Conflict in relationships
- Loss of self-respect
- Loss of respect of others
- Increased stressViolence from other persons
- Does not achieve desired results
- Others often feel hurt or resentful
Many individuals who use this style of communication do so for many reasons, such as: fear of
failure, fear of begin humiliated or dominated, lack of confidence, need to manipulate and success
using aggression in the past. There are just some of the possible reasons that we may use this type
of communication, however, regardless of why we use it, it is still not a helpful mode of
communication in any of our relationships.
There are other more helpful and healthy ways of communicating, such as using assertiveness
instead of aggression. However, the first step in changing this behaviour is internal motivation. The
person using this type of communication has to WANT to change it. We cannot make another person
change the way they communicate. We can let them know that it is not helpful. We can assertively
tell the, that it is hurtful and not acceptable. We can put in healthy boundaries to mind and care for
ourselves. However, we cannot make the other person change – they have to truly want to do it for
Assertive communication is a style of communication in which we express our thoughts, feelings and
needs openly and honestly while also considering the rights, feelings and needs of others. Assertiv
communication allows you to stand up for yourself and set boundaries in a confident and calm way,
while also respecting the thoughts, feeling and beliefs of others. When we are assertive we get our
point across firmly, fairly and with empathy while also listening to other’s point of view. We work
together with the other person to find a solution and aim for a win-win situation.
Possible results of assertive communication include:
- Helps to develop strong and respectful relationships
- Often results in win-win situations
- Builds mutual respect
- Increases self-esteem and confidenceHelps you to feel in control of yourself and situations
Tips for Practicing Assertiveness:
- Concisely state how you feel and what you need from the other person
- Listen carefully to their response
- Respect their thoughts and feelings, don’t argue or attack if you feel resistance
- Offer potential solutions to the problem
- If a compromise cannot be reached, be prepared to take a time-out to reflect
It’s not always easy to become assertive, but it is possible. Assertiveness is a skill that can be learnt
at any age. Even if you were not taught to be assertive growing up, it is possible to begin learning
now. Learning to be assertive takes time and practice. Be compassionate with yourself as you begin
to navigate this new way of communicating. All change takes time. If you would like support in
becoming assertiveness, counselling and psychotherapy can help. Begin your journey toward
becoming assertive today and contact us to arrange an appointment.
Online course on how to be assertive coming soon!