“Anger is a secondary emotion.”

I said this to one of my boys the other day, and he looked at me like I was nuts.

Maybe, or maybe my timing was off. He was, after all, rather angry.

Still, I didn’t know this until the past few years. If only I’d known 20 years ago! So I waited for a calmer moment, and then continued our discussion in hopes of a teaching moment.

Anger is a surface response to deeper emotions. It helps us recover a temporary sense of control, when circumstances feel out of control. It keeps us a safe distance from the more vulnerable emotions of hurt and fear. In a way, anger covers the tenderness enough to give us a sense of self-preservation or safety, much like a wounded and cornered animal fights for his life with violent strength. When we feel exposed and vulnerable to a threat, anger acts as boxing gloves.

There are times anger is appropriate, even healthy. Often in conflict, however, relationships remain stuck in the anger cycle and never unravel the cause. We retaliate rather than listen. We defend ourselves rather than ask questions. We storm out of the room, rather than pull up a chair and take a deep breath. The fallout: Relational disconnect.

Whether we talking about the office, the church or the family, conflict doesn’t have to erode a relationship. It can be the basis for deeper connection. How? The first step is to correctly identify the problem. Not only does this require honest, self-evaluation, it always demands the ability to look and listen behind the dark cloud of the other person’s emotion to discern the true tension generating the storm.

How skilled are you at responding to anger in conflict?

(pic courtesy of andysteel, stock.xchng)

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