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A Mindful and Compassionate Approach to Anger in Relationships

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

arguing coupleThich Nhat Hanh, a highly regarded Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, wrote a wonderful book called Taming the Tiger Within. In this book he expresses a more mindful and compassionate approach toward anger in relationships. 

He says that if your house was on fire, the first thing you would do is go put the fire out, not run after the arsonist. But too often in our lives we try and seek revenge, punish or passively do this by holding a grudge.  This is equivalent to running after the arsonist. The first thing we need to do even when in relationship with others is recognize our anger, and then take care of it. 

Imagine the anger as a little child inside of us, take a time-out and see yourself holding or embracing this part. You can take a walk and do this. Usually when we interact with others in a state of anger, we end up being impulsive and making the situation worse. Becoming mindful of anger isn’t about denying our anger, just taking care of it and then coming back to the person.

The bottom line is that we can learn to recognize our anger as it arises in relationships and approach ourselves with more compassion and kindness. This is not easy, especially after years of doing the opposite. Next time you get angry, frustrated or annoyed in a relationship, try to take a deep breath and remind yourself to take care of your anger before making any impulsive actions. You may want to then express your anger to another, but it will likely come out more effectively from a more grounded place. 

Easier said than done, but remember it's a practice and can support you and others over time. If you are unable to do this many times, you are not a failure and don't even waste a minute berating yourself. Simply remind yourself this is a practice, forgive yourself for that and now invite yourself to act differently. The phrase “forgive and invite” can really be helpful.