Turning Anger On Its Head — To the Heart

By Noor Alexander

Do you believe that other people cause your pain? When you feel angry, do you believe the other person deserves punishment? Anger has been an emotion that I have grappled and worked with for many years and up until recently, found myself controlled by on some level. I’ve done a lot of anger work – from release techniques like using a plastic bat on a mattress to boxing a punching bag, and using modalities ranging from primal scream therapy to EMDR.

Perhaps, the single most effective and simplest answer in helping me to transform my anger and work with it more productively has been something I discovered in the book, Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It is helping me to drop from my mind to my heart, from outer focus to inner connection, and from blame and wanting to punish others to self-understanding.

Let’s debunk the myths and shine some light on the heart of anger, using the life-changing principles and tools of NVC.

Exploring the Cause:

Most of us learn to express our anger superficially through verbal and physical attacks, mental critiques, labels, and judgments. While this allows for some discharge and release of energy, I have not found it satisfying in terms of conflict resolution and supporting connection. Thus, something is clearly missing. External blame implies that the other person is responsible for our feelings, and so often anger becomes an attack outwards. Marshall challenges this notion in this powerful insight, “We are never angry because of what others say or do”. If we accept this to be true, then it stands that “the behavior of others may be a stimulus [for our anger] but not the cause”, as he states.

Let’s take an example – I was recently expressing something important to my boyfriend, Bernie, and he responded in a way that made it hard for me to trust that he fully heard me. My immediate response was one of frustration, “You’re not hearing me!”, which triggered his defensiveness. In that moment, I was making Bernie to be the cause of my frustration, and it was his fault. In choosing differently, I can see that the situation was really a stimulus for me to connect with a sensitive wound, which is that I never felt really heard by my mother growing up and have a really important need to be heard. Understanding that my need to be heard was at the core of my frustration, and ultimately the cause, allowed me take back my power and communicate to my boyfriend about my sensitivity in a way that he could hear, such as “I’m feeling frustrated right now because I really want to be heard and understood by you.”

Understanding Anger:

If we don’t recognize the important message of anger pointing us inwards to connect with our unmet needs, anger can linger. And, when anger is alienated and disconnected from our needs, it can easily take the form of external blame and punishment. As such, it becomes like a moralistic cop, assuming the position of authority, telling others how they “should” behave and what they “deserve”. When I notice this happening for me, my belief is I need to teach someone a lesson and ensure that they learn, so that I don’t have to experience that reaction again. The reality is, however, underneath the reaction (i.e. the desire to punish and wrong) is a cry to connect with our deeper feelings and unmet needs; the real pain is the disconnection. Marshall reminds us, “At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled”.

Problem – Solution:

There is nothing essentially bad, wrong, or unnatural about anger. Letting anger overstay its welcome, however, is not useful or wise. As Marshall states, “Anger indicates that we have moved up to our head to analyze and judge”. Staying in this mental sphere of analysis and labeling “co-opts our energy by directing it toward punishing people rather than meeting our needs”. As such, it is not productive. Anger is valuable, however, when we let it wake us up to the reality that we have a need that isn’t being met and thinking in a way that makes it unlikely that it will be met. Rosenberg’s answer or recommendation is to practice the following four-step formula when noticing anger arise:

1)      Stop. Breathe.

2)      Identify judgmental thoughts.

3)      Connect with needs.

4)      Express feelings and unmet needs.

In the example given earlier, the judgmental thought I had of my boyfriend in the moment of rupture was that he’s a bad listener. My need was to be heard and loved. I felt frustrated and angry because I desperately wanted to be heard and understood. Expressing this to him allowed Bernie to understand what was going on for me, and with this awareness, he was open and wanting to support me in meeting my need, which fostered greater connection and closeness between us. Marshall’s solution, which I resonate with, is to “Shine the light of consciousness on our own feelings and needs. Rather than going up to our head to make a mental analysis of wrongness regarding somebody, we choose [instead] to connect to the life that is within us”,

I am learning to reframe blame in a whole new way outside of my former default setting, based on what was modeled to me growing up. Now, when I notice blame arising, I question what’s going on for me inside – I take a moment to slow down and check in if there is a need that is covered up and longing to be met. Once I connect with this, I notice the energy of my desire to blame, punish, and avenge another lessens, and instead, I choose to focus on compassion for myself.

I encourage you to take these insights and practice them in your life – see that others are not a cause for your anger, but the stimulus; realize that anger focused on punitive actions diverts and co-opts your energy; when anger arises, shine the light on your deeper feelings and unmet needs. In doing so, you will turn anger on its own head and let yourself drop into your heart, deepening your compassion and self-understanding. Not only is this practice more productive and effective in dealing head-on with anger, but it is also more kind and loving to self and others.

Dancing With Young Stars: When It Hurts & You Don't Know Why

Dancing With Young Stars: When It Hurts & You Don't Know Why


By Marina Smerling

While I regularly encourage my clients to practice self-listening, and while I'm a steadfast believer in the power of self-connection, there are some moments (and days) in which for all my self-awareness and personal growth tools, I can’t figure out what the heck is going on.

This weekend was “one of those days.”  As many of you know, I moved from the metropolitan superstar land of the San Francisco Bay Area a little over a year ago to Gainesville, and I’m still adjusting. 

A life-long dance lover accustomed to boogying down in all kinds of dance classes with adults in Oakland and San Francisco, here, where the dance pickings are slim, I’ve resigned myself to taking dance classes with people less than half my age.

Seeing the Unseen: 3 Steps to Creating More Consciousness In Life

I consider one of the fundamental requirements for living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life is to live consciously. What I mean by this is not being on autopilot. I could also describe this as being present, as having an awareness moment-to-moment of my thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

I’m not implying that one has to have a monk-like perfect awareness in order to live consciously and be happy. Naturally, being conscious and cultivating awareness is a process (as annoying as this may seem at times), and losing awareness is in itself a valuable experience that we can become conscious of.

Being conscious is not about knowing everything, being enlightened, or being perfect. It’s about being present and vulnerable enough to recognize when we make mistakes, to notice the intentions behind our actions, and to be open to discovery. Being conscious is about having a keen and sometimes child-like (not child-ish) sense of discovery.

And, perhaps most challenging, being conscious is about taking responsibility about all of our life experience (including all of our life experiences). taking responsibility,  is awesome, empowering, and different from blame, and ultimately it’s about noticing what I am doing or not doing that is creating the life experience that I am having.

A brief story about a moment of consciousness I had just a few days ago:

It was a cool summer night in Florida with a nearly-full moon beaming down her gorgeous light upon my yard, as I was texting an old friend whom I had reconnected with moments prior. I was enjoying the connection so much - even though it was significantly past my bedtime - the interaction was nourishing to my heart and mind. I then became aware of feeling sad, even guilty, and I wasn’t sure why, it didn’t make sense to me at first, but knowing fully well that what I was feeling was real, I decided to take a deeper look at what was going on inside myself.

 

Step 1: Notice the inner discomfort, and feel the feelings.

 

I indirectly asked myself “what’s going on for me?” and became aware of this oh-so-subtle belief about this person, that they were evil, dark, and manipulative. I was shocked! This thought, was so well camouflaged into my reality that I didn’t even know I believed this about her! It wasn’t like “she’s evil. Oh yeah, definitely” or even “she’s manipulative. No she’s not!” It was so stealthy, so sneaky, this belief I had formed, I didn’t even realize there was a belief that I could question. It was part of “how the world is” for me.

 

Step 2: Pause to ask, “what is it I believe that's causing the discomfort/ feelings?”

 

As I write this I’m still thrilled that I noticed this belief because to me it signals a stepping into the next level of self-awareness. I feel like I’ve leveled up in my ability to live consciously in a more subtle, refined, and deeper way.

I feel inspired to share this because this process is representative of what I mean when I say that living consciously is a prerequisite for living happily. This isn’t by any means the first “heavy” judgment or belief I’ve found myself carrying, albeit the subtlest. And there’s no way in heck I could ever be happy if I didn’t endeavor to recognize these little sneaky, squirmy thoughts and stop them from propagating.

 

Step 3: Decide if you want to keep the thoughts causing the discomfort (sometimes you will want to), or if you want to think new thoughts and create a different experience.

 

There are things you believe you don’t even know you believe. I challenge you to discover them!

Being with What Hurts: Soften and Touch by Marina Smerling

Sometimes, all the tools of self-help and personal growth and relational realigning are just too much.  My good God, all the books we could read, all the seminars we could take. 

In my life and in my coaching work, I look for themes. Anything to help make this complex endeavor called Being a Human on Earth in 2018 a slightly more bearable or even graceful journey.

In a sense, so many of the questions can be boiled down to: when I hurt, what do I do?

Over the years, I’ve written about manifold, many-stepped processes involving various role plays and affirmations and perhaps even a guardian spirit porcupine or two, and yet I am finding that, so often, a simple two-step process helps most in the moments when our hearts ache, our hands tremble, and our bellies rage.

Soften

When we are triggered, our bodies tend to tighten, our chests constrict, and we harden around our emotions.  I find with many clients, and in my own being, that there is often a sense of aloneness that accompanies our pain, and then a defendedness, a kind of, “If you’re not gonna see me in here, I’m not gonna show you anyway.”  Indeed, the showing of our hurt would be too risky, too painful.  And so we harden, put up walls, hide in order to protect our sweet, suffering hearts.  But the irony is, we hurt even more in our aloneness. 

With my partner, for instance, when I am tight and guarded with him, I experience the most anguish.  “Why can’t you be with me in here?” I plead silently, even as my overt words debate the logic of who’s right and who’s wrong.  He can’t feel me because my walls are up.  I feel anguish, wanting his company, but all he hears is my argument, my poke, my defendedness. 

Softening is the process of allowing our feelings, offering gentleness around them, giving them permission to be here.  You might imagine warm hands embracing the hard stone in your throat.  You might remind yourself, “It’s okay, Fear/Anger/Grief, etc.  You get to be here, just as you are.” 

This is often the hardest of the two steps.  Moving away from our animal instinct to curl up and retract in the face of a poke to our hearts and psyches, and instead allowing our feelings to be here.  Softening *around* the curling up, instead of tightening around it.  The curl may remain tightly bound, but it will nonetheless notice the presence of softness just outside.

When I practice softening when my partner and I have had a disconnect, it might take the form of me envisioning a pillowy cloud around a little girl with her brows furrowed and chin down.  Or simply reminding myself, "It's okay, sweetheart. Your fear is welcome here."  Or dropping an intention of allowance and welcoming into the waters of my heart. So many ways to soften.

Touch

We were born and designed to be regulated through contact, through kind and loving presence and attention from another.  We were not meant to fend for ourselves, alone.  Despite our conditioning to “go it alone,” “figure it out yourself,” and “pull up on your bootstraps, kid,” in truth, we were meant to have many other hands around those bootstraps, many other hands and arms and hearts to accompany our own.

Thus once we’ve softened, unfolded, revealed the ache, the burn, the terror inside… our feelings need contact. 

We can find contact in several ways.

One, we can call upon our very own selves.  This is self-empathy, self-compassion, our physical hands on our hearts, on our bellies, our imaginary hands cupping our young selves, the ones aching for touch and acknowledgment.  This may look like saying to ourselves, “There there, I see you, and I’m not leaving.”

Two, if we are so lucky, we can call upon another.  This might be a friend, a family member, a therapist or a coach, someone who can lend us their kind, attuned, empathic attention to the places we hurt most.  These are our trusted listeners, and they help us remember what it is to be loved in the places we feel most unlovable, to have company in the places we feel most destined to eternal solitude.

Three, if we have a spiritual practice, we can open our hurt to God.  Saying to God, “See God, it hurts right here.  Will you touch the hurt?”  We open, and then we let God touch what hurts.  Letting God touch, caress, kiss the owies that are too big for us to figure out alone.  Handing them over.  “Here God, you take it.”  I use the word God, but you might say Spirit, Creation, the Universe, or something else.     

Something happens in the touching – whether it’s contact from ourselves, from another, or from a sense of the divine.  Sometimes clarity arrives – a long-awaited answer.  Sometimes, it’s a deep and unfathomable self-tenderness.  Sometimes, there is a sudden and unprecedented letting go where just moments before our palms were tightly gripped.

One step, two step.  Soften.  Touch.

When we soften and touch in the presence of another, even if it is we ourselves who do the contacting, suddenly, we can let others see us, see in.  When I can do this with my partner when we’ve had a disconnect, everything shifts.  He can see me, and is naturally moved toward tenderness with me.  When we let trusted others in, we often find even more contact in the places where we’ve felt unbearably alone.

This softening and touching is, I believe, the greatest gift we can offer our tender, hurting, inevitably fallible human selves.  Not denying the pain, not “getting over it,” not shoving it into the closet.  But letting it be here and offering it the kind and merciful presence that is and was always its birthright. 

It’s here that the magic unfolds.  Our suffering finds hands to hold (within or without).  From an embodied sense of a larger “we,” new wisdom emerges.  The alchemy of softening, then contacting allows new possibilities to emerge in moments of adversity, lending long-awaited mercy to the places where we have believed we were all alone.

Feeling the Unfeelable: Freeing Yourself to Love

We humans are so precious.

Loving light beings with aches and bruises and owies galore.

Doing our best to love each other.  Doing our best to be kind.  Doing our best to get the dang laundry done, the kids in bed, our teeth and theirs brushed quickly and on time, without hurting anyone or anything in the process.

We try.

And yet those feelings arise in us, the ones we would rather do anything than feel, the ones that have us lash out, say things we don’t mean, pull away when we actually want help, go quiet when there is actually so much to say.

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Humbling Realization by Eze Sanchez

I've been practicing Conscious Communication for 3 or 4 years informally, formally for 2, and teaching it for almost 1. This information will come in handy later for shock appeal.

Last week, after a painful conversation between my mom and I - a conversation which was filled with crying, mostly on my part, suffering, on both parts, and in the end, connection - my mom decided she wanted to understand me and my siblings more. This culminated in my purchased her a copy of Comunicación No Violenta - the NonViolent Communication book in Spanish (which for both of us, serves as our native tongue).

I was thrilled.

FINALLY. She'd finally get how much she was getting in the way of our connection by not empathizing and with her habitual roadblocks. 

I would finally be understood by my mom.

The following week l called her for a brief check-in conversation, and she began sharing with me about some pain she was experiencing. Someone in our family kept attacking her relentlessly and she couldn't get over the emotional.barrage.

I quickly saw a solution - "mom, if you change your perspective about it, it won't hurt you."

"Just listen to HER needs, mom!! What could she be needed?!!" I passionately commanded.

After some time, maybe it was 30 minutes, maybe it was an hour, I realized I had been yelling at her, advising her, telling her what to do, and otherwise roadblocking her from multiple angles, without a sliver of empathy. "I know just what she needs" was my agenda.

After this embarrassing realization, I decided to switch to what I know always works and never fails - empathy. I offered her empathy through some simple reflections and within 2 or 3 paraphrases came the resounding "that's it! I have clarity!"

After celebrating with her, I decided to share with her my embarrassing realization, which she received lovingly and easily and shortly got off the phone.

I'm still using this realization to keep myself in check of when I think "I know better," and when I may be forgetting the foundation of Conscious Communication - empathy.

When in doubt, empathize.

I'm sharing this - not to intimidate by giving you the idea that even years after learning about empathy you'll still be telling at your loved ones - but to offer a playfulness and even self-empathy around the times when you "mess up," roadblock a connection, and get in the way of love. I'm sharing this to let you know that I'm not perfect, and I don't recommend expecting that from yourselves either.

I'm sharing this, so you'll accept yourself, as you are, "wherever" you are.

I'm sharing this because I care about you.

It's not about perfection, it's about empathy, acceptance, and love.

I'll finish off here by recapping a quote Noor shared at our last workshop this last Wednesday, presumably by Eckhart Tolle:

"If you think you're enlightened, spend a weekend with your parents."

If in anyway, I was getting in my.head about "being great at empathy," my mom came through to offer me a liberating gift from this trap of ego, in the form of a Humbling Realization.

 

With care, Love,And affection,

Eze

The Bison in the Room by Noor Alexander

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My boyfriend, Bernie and I are just wrapping up a visit to Destin, Florida with one of his historical friends I’ve just been introduced to, who he warned me in advance was unusual and a character. I got to experience this side of him, and one way that happened was through my shock when we arrived at his friend’s house during our second evening together for our pre-arranged dinner plans (just him and us) – only to discover he had already eaten with other guests and left some bare bison leftovers for us. When we arrived at his home a little earlier than we said, Dick greeted us with (what appeared to me) a cold, aloof look on his face and suggested we could grill more bison if we wanted to. I really didn’t know how to take it all in; I was in disbelief; I felt like I was in a movie or unreal dream. As I was noticing all that was coming up for me – feeling shocked, confused, angry – I simultaneously felt pressure or expected to – given social rules – to put on an open, friendly mask and turn my social graces on. However, I wasn’t in that space. I was present with my anger and confusion because I needed clarity, communication, understanding. In exchanging eyes with Bernie, I could tell his face communicated, “WTF?” Allowing Bernie to speak with Dick and his guests, I excused myself to use the restroom and begin to take the whole spectacle in. At one point, I waved to my boyfriend to join me in the bathroom, where we briefly discussed our responses to the situation, and he shared that he was choosing not to react.

A little later, when I heard the guests getting up to leave, I felt this was a good time to enter back and ask Dick about the whole situation. So, I did. Granted, I didn’t know him well (having just met him the day before), but I do know myself and attuning to my own feelings and needs is a new practice of conscious self-care for me. I was aware I was feeling outraged, hurt, and disappointed because I needed respect, clarity, communication, understanding, and resolution.

Then, I put myself in his shoes to help me make sense of my confusion, and I speculated that he may have been feeling upset, disappointed, and let down because he may have been wanting more inclusion and connection time with us. I also guessed he may have felt disappointed because he expected to hang out with us the previous evening and that the dinner time we proposed was too late for him. As I’m writing this, I’m aware how much hurt and suffering can be caused when there is a discrepancy between one’s expectations and the reality of a situation, or when we don’t communicate our expectations or wants by expressing our feelings and needs clearly and in a way that advocates and truly stands up for ourselves. That was my experience of Dick, and that is also how I used to be. I am choosing differently now.

Subsequently, I chose to speak my truth and address the situation head-on rather than simply partake in the small talk because I needed authentic communication and wanted connection. Dick appeared uncomfortable and quickly steered the conversation in a different direction. Feeling unmet and resolute in my intention, I chose to nudge further and inquire whether he was maybe feeling upset or disappointed about the night before and our proposal to meet a little later for dinner; Dick then hesitantly and uncomfortably acknowledged that that had played a role, and admitted that he was being passive-aggressive.

Sometimes, it takes patience, resilience, and a commitment to connection.

We both hastily apologized for the impact and miscommunication, and though I wasn’t entirely satisfied, I was reminded that making space for unmet needs is important and an expression of compassion – and that, I can offer myself self-empathy to attend to some of my residual unresolved feelings and needs, which was self-supportive.

Overall, our expectations of a solo dinner with Dick on Saturday did not meet the reality of how things unfolded. Taking a bird’s eye view, I find the entire experience now somewhat amusing and a lesson in taking in information…

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Experiencing Dick in this challenging way allowed me to eventually connect to our shared values of inclusion and connection and to appreciate his preference for eating early. Accepting the reality as it happened, while integrating my guesses of his feelings and needs, is what I am gathering and taking away to inform me how to better show up next time in a more mutually enriching and connecting way.

After addressing “the bison by the horns”, I noticed a shift in Dick –  he offered to grill us some meat, suddenly became more host-like, and the conversation that followed was pleasant. Together, Bernie, Dick, and I ended up really enjoying the bison burgers and hot dogs (my first ever!), after the “bison in the room” had finally been addressed.