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DEALING WITH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
The famous phrase from the movie Dune had it that “Fear is the mindkiller”. Psychologists now believes that any extreme emotion which floods the brain impedes rational thought. Of course there are excellent reasons why we should occasionally feel angry, jealous or afraid, but it is when these get stuck on some kind of permanent flood setting that we find ourselves in trouble.
It can be frightening to be overcome by bursts of anger and even scarier to be on the receiving end. But anger does not have to be negative provided you and the recipient learn how to use it. The simplest method of dealing with anger is to literally imagine a thick glass screen between you and the angry person. However mad they get behind that screen they cannot harm you. It’s a form of distancing and helps you survive their angry words and stay in good enough shape to deal with the complaints.
It also helps to know there is a recognised technique for turning anger into a positive exchange rather than a negative one. The starting point is that the person who is angry needs to be listened to properly and the listener needs to give their permission that this is a platform for the angry person, not for him/herself. In other words they won’t butt in with self-defence. If the listener is also angry, there needs to be specific agreement that they will get their turn on another agreed date or time.
BOX – THE ANGER TECHNIQUE
There are three basic steps to resolving anger. These are:
1. Begin with self-disclosure, or by offering reassurance. Invite the other to explain their problem
1. Make it clear you are listening properly and without interruption
2. Without falling into the trap of defending yourself, negotiate realistic solutions.
The purpose of this is to establish you are open, concerned and prepared to tackle the difficulty. It’s important to appear warm, and genuine and on no account to seem patronising. Avoid subterfuge and try to employ some empathy. Sit at the same level as the angry person, lean back, with your arms open to establish through body language that you have nothing to hide and that you invite their disclosure in return. Say something like” I can see that you are feeling upset about something.” Do not say “You have been making life hell recently.” “You” is accusatory, “I” is not. The “I”
2. DRAWING OUT THE PROBLEM
The angry person will probably boom on for some time. Do not interrupt but instead show visibly that you are listening. Nod. Say “I see.” When they finally stop don’t try to reply.
Instead say “I see. And is there anything else?” In other words, you are actually asking for more. This may feel as if you are sticking your head in a noose but it is vital that they should expel every shred of their annoyance. If they don’t do this, then they don’t complete the process and the real issue will not get properly dealt with and anger will continue to fester. It is only when finally they say “No, I don’t think there’s anything more” and draw to a halt that you can respond.
3. RESPONSE AND NEGOTIATION
This is not the occasion on which to come back with a barrage of counter-arguments. If you have complaints it will be your turn on another occasion. This is instead your cue for saying “Well, I can see that you are very upset about…..” You are acknowledging their difficulty without the complication of self-defence. And you need to come up with some offer of change that is acceptable.
BOX – CHANGE
An important point here is that you have to recognise there must be change. Without any commitment for change on your part the quarrel will simply recur. So now it is your turn to negotiate what that change might consist of. There is no point in agreeing to something you know you cannot or will not keep. But you might agree a compromise solution which you could put into practise, even if it is not exactly what the complainant is looking for. This shows your good will and your desire to improve things.
You might say for example, “I can’t agree to stay in every night of the week, but I do see that you need me there more than once. How about agreeing that Tuesdays and Thursdays will always be our nights for spending together, either at home or out somewhere?”
Of course occasionally there will be problems that can’t be solved because they have carried on for too long and gone too deep. This means that one of the outcomes of listening to a person’s anger could mean a radical re-structure, the end of a marriage, a work colleague giving in notice. If this is on the cards, try to be aware of it in advance because if this is a solution you do not yet want to face up to, you might prefer to batten down the hatches on anger and live with it for a while longer.
In most cases using this technique will result in greatly improved communication and warmth of feeling between the two people involved. The knowledge that you have both survived such an episode can cement a relationship and make it exceptionally open and satisfying.
JEALOUSY, FEAR AND ALL THE OTHERS
The structure of the anger conversation is one that can be used well during most other highly emotive discussions. Its strength is that it allows proper resolutions to be made. However please be aware that occasionally jealousy can be obsessive, pathological and may need specialist treatment. More often than not though, it is based on an instinctive understanding of body language which tells the jealous person something untoward is going on which, in turn, throws them into paroxysms of insecurity. There is nothing abnormal about this response – it is usually entirely logical.
Fear is often translated into anxiety and if this becomes obsessive drug therapy is often the best treatment combined with counselling. Drug therapy is highly effective for anxiety and once you’ve tried it youe tend to wonder why you didn’t go for it earlier. The new anti-anxiety drugs are not addictive.
There are usually straightforward solutions to insecurity, based on building up a solid platform of things likely to increase a sense of security. This may be focused on tangible objects such as putting your bank balance in your own name, or finding your own apartment. But insecurity can also be seated in childhood and in this case a combination of talking things through with a partner using the method outlined for anger, combined with some counselling or therapy may be helpful.