Three ways we can express ourselves with love, even when we’re angry.
I find all aspects of language challenging, interesting, and fun. I have been consistently awed by the power it has to affect people and effect change. How we use language matters at every scale; just ask the millions of people whose lives have been changed by people like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King about the power of words.
It also matters intensely at the smallest scale: two people interacting with one another.
In that sense, language – spoken, signed, body, subconscious – plays an integral part of the tapestries we weave with those closest to us. I am charmed by it, and love its power to let my loved ones know that they are loved. I have also – to my sadness, much too often – reminded myself of its terrible destructiveness. Somehow it is easiest to wound the people that I least want to injure; a quick tongue and raw impatience have not made stellar combinations when my emotions ran high. Because of this, I have taken some time to work on how I can love someone even through anger. That is when I am most out of control of myself, when I am most outraged and least willing to listen, and most likely to do the most damage. This is the time when I need to be able to show them I love them the most. And for me, it has come down time and time again to language.
It comes down to language usually because that’s what fails me when I am not my best self – tired, hurt, angry, depressed, frustrated, sick. Not because I can’t find words, but because my normal filters have short-circuited like live wires laying in a puddle and I am left without an internal editor. So instead of communicating calmly and rationally, conversation becomes this sort of pre-emptive emotional carpet bombing – I get all of my internal garbage out as hard and fast as I can ahead of the other person.
What do I think I am doing? The one who hits hardest and fastest, “wins”? I don’t really know. All I know is that while this is an emotional compulsion of mine, it never, ever, ever fails to fail as a strategy. A conversation goes from being about an issue to being submerged in emotion, usually on both sides, and by that time any rational conclusion is pretty much impossible.
Over years I have come to watch and understand this cycle of communication within myself, and begun to build new cycles – healthier, more pleasant, less taxing – to replace the old ones.
When I am angry, I eliminate emotional language.
I don’t mean I don’t talk about emotions; quite the opposite. But I don’t talk USING emotion. So I will say that I am sad and frustrated, instead of using that sadness and frustration to fuel complaints and accusations.
When I am angry, I eliminate flooding statements.
A flooding statement is characterized by categorical imperatives. You can catch them because they often include “always,” and “never.” Statements made with these words are somehow really gratifying (in a tremendously petty way) to toss in someone’s face and yet are rarely true.
“You never really listen to me!” “I always have to manage the fallout of your decisions!”
When I hear myself making flooding statements, it’s the most crystal-clear indication that I feel like I’m not being heard, and so I’m souping up the strength of my statements in order to try to get through. It doesn’t work, though, especially if I’m talking to fact-based people. They hear the hyperbole and invalidate the whole statement because it’s unspecific and untrue, and I’ve totally lost the battle of trying to be heard.
For me, it’s much better to be really precise. “When you came home after work today, I had something important to talk with you about, and yet despite sitting down together I felt like I only had your partial attention. This was frustrating for me because it felt like you were not valuing what I say.” Precise, accurate, and inclusive of the emotion I was feeling without being communicated using that emotion.
When I am angry I try to say something, but kindly.
Another key to being loving through anger is NOT LETTING ANGER AND RESENTMENT BUILD UP.
(I’m capitalizing this one because I think, of the strategies I try to use, this one is probably the foundation of them all.)
I’ll never fight every battle. I’ll never turn every single time I feel something negative with my loved ones into a conversation. But if I observe a pattern of action in them or response in me, that’s causing me to feel anger, then the responsibility is mine to communicate it with them, urgently and soon. And if the same matter comes up again down the road, which has almost always meant that there is a more underlying issue to address than just the manifestations of behaviors and responses. Perhaps I have a hot button from something unresolved in the past. Perhaps the triggering behavior is actually being prompted by something that is tremendously personally important to the person doing it. At that point it is still incumbent upon me to look at the situation “with my brain on”, as some of my favorite friends-who-are-parents say; and to respond calmly, rationally, honestly, working very hard to understand the other person’s point of view rather than trying to win them over with mine.
I have worked hard on my love language when angry for years now, and the results have been almost universally positive, with some surprise responses thrown in. When I use these strategies with my closer circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, the conversations conducted using them almost always are more productive. I feel heard. The other person doesn’t feel bombarded. And we both find some kind of mutually agreeable closure to the incident. On the other hand, when I use my “Love in Anger” language with people I know less well, I have found that I can unnerve them a bit. My uber-precision and super-even tone have sometimes made them feel like I am being manipulative and deceptive. I think this is interesting; I validate that response, and do not have a solution for it yet.
In the meantime, I am grateful to have ways of communicating with the people who are dear to me when I am anything from frustrated to furious, without worrying that the way I am communicating is going to damage a relationship that is precious to me.
How do you hold on to love when you are angry with someone close to you?
This post originally appeared on Over Pancakes