Anger as a Gift and Alarm – Enriching Our Relationships and Life

This article is on the “Anger Management” aspect of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg.  Thanks to a recommendation from a family member, I recently read the following very insightful and helpful book:

Marshall Rosenberg, Living Nonviolent Communication:  Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation, Sounds True Inc, 2012.

Chapter 4 on “The Surprising Purpose of Anger”, in particular, caught my attention.  I have experienced unpleasant and stressful situations where anger has arisen or been expressed – in or out of the workplace, dojo or home.  The chapter explains the underlying mechanism operating in the mind in such situations.  It also explains a way to handle anger in a constructive rather than destructive manner.  To move towards resolution and calmness rather than further division and the escalation of emotions.

I believe that this topic is important since respectful, harmonious and enriching relationships seem paramount in kendo and life as also reflected in The Concept of Kendo by the All Japan Kendo Fedration (AJKF).  I sense that learning and applying his teachings could foster such relationships and improve the quality of lives for those like myself who could use some aid in handling anger when it arises.

Rosenberg writes that “anger is a gift, challenging us to connect to the unmet needs that have triggered this reaction [p. 95].”  He describes how we can “use anger as an alarm that tells us we are thinking in ways that are not likely to get our needs met and are more likely to get us involved in interactions that are not going to be constructive for anyone [p. 95].”  These lines surprised me.  I had never thought of “anger” in such terms.  And that “the stimulus, or trigger, of the anger is not the cause of the anger [p. 97].”  For example, it is not what a person does that makes us angry but rather “our evaluation of what has been done that is the cause of our anger [p. 98].” *

This is very revealing, humbling and potentially healing for me to begin to learn.  For example, imagine if I, you or a person A gets angry due to some stimulus (event or input) from person B (e.g. a co-worker, dojo member, friend or family member).  Perhaps B behaves 1) in a disrespectful, controlling or offending manner, 2) repeatedly fails to follow through on his or her word or 3) takes much more than give.  Another person C, in place of A, such as a stranger with no prior history or relationship with B or with a different social upbringing may become slightly intrigued or annoyed and may not necessarily become angry.  Something residing in the mind of A such as expectations, beliefs, thoughts or judgments with respect to B or in general must be in place, as a necessary condition, for anger to arise in A and yet not necessarily arise in C.  This, as Rosenberg explains, is the cause of the anger.  The stimulus – what B did or did not do – which triggered the anger is not the cause.

Rosenberg goes on to provide a number of examples illustrating the distinction between stimulus and cause as well as the steps to manage anger.

With anger, we are not in touch with the needs that would naturally motivate us to want to get our needs met.  The anger is created by thinking about the wrongness of others, which transfers this energy away from seeking to get the need met and into an energy designed to blame and punish other people. [p. 104]

Examples of underlying and unmet needs could be the need to feel recognized, accepted, safe, valued, important, loved or respected.  An extensive and categorized list can be found at [CNVC_NeedsInventory].

For those interested in learning how to manage anger or NVC, I’d highly recommend checking out Rosenberg’s books on NVC or the many online resources on NVC – such as these ones:

I am grateful to the author for his book and writings.  And I suspect that NVC will help improve my ability to handle potentially tough situations when anger could arise and as I begin to absorb the teachings into “muscle” memory.   Fingers crossed.

Some notes and quotes from Marshall Rosenberg and William Ury on this topic are added below.

May your relationships and life be more enriching!

* It appears that emotions in general can serve as invaluable alarms with varying degrees of intensities as described by Karla McLaren in [McLaren_EmotionsPrograms]   What wonderful insights! 🙂

Revision History:  Updated on Nov 21, 2020 with a reference to an article by Karla McLaren.

Some Notes

The NVC approach to understanding our responses (not limited to anger) to stimuli seems similar to that of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as described in [KendoNotes_Calm2].  And it seems to be nicely summarized by Morty Lefkoe [Lefkoe_Suffering]:

There actually is a way to quickly and easily dissolve the meaning we unconsciously and automatically give events all day long.  Whenever you notice a negative emotion of any kind, ask yourself what happened just prior to the emotion and what is the meaning you gave that event that caused the emotion.  Then make a clear distinction between the event and the meaning you gave it.  That’s it.

I suspect that it may also help in additional ways.  For example, in understanding and dealing with the four sicknesses (四戒-shikai) in kendo [KendoInfo_Shikai].  And offering further insight and a means to experiencing heijoushin (平常心), the “usual mind” or, literally, the “always calm mind” [BudoBum_Heijoshin].

Quotes from Marshall Rosenberg

  • Some excerpts from a list of 865 quotes from Marshall Rosenberg [Rosenberg NVCQuotes]:
    • Use anger as a wake-up call to unmet needs.
    • Depression is the reward we get for being ‘good’.
    • Don’t hate the circumstance, you may miss the blessing.
    • Expressing our vulnerability can help resolve conflicts.
    • Empathy lies in our ability to be present without opinion.
    • At the root of every tantrum and power struggle are unmet needs.
    • Take your time to understand. Don’t just do something, be there.
    • Criticism, analysis, and insults are tragic expressions of unmet needs.
    • Your presence is the most precious gift you can give to another human being.
    • As we learn to speak from the heart we are changing the habits of a lifetime.
    • We are never angry because of what others say or do; it is a result of our own ‘should’ thinking.
    • Anger is a signal that you’re distracted by judgmental or punitive thinking, and that some precious need of yours is being ignored.
  • [Rosenberg_FourSteps]
    • The four basic NVC steps of Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request (OFNR):
      • Share a non-judgmental observation without any charged language
      • Identify feelings that are coming up.
      • Connect the feelings to an underlying and universal human need.
      • Make a request for the person to reflect back what you said and/or to take a specific action.
    • Whenever you say “No” to someone, you’re saying “Yes” to one of your own needs.

Quotes from William Ury

  • From [Ury_PowerNegotiation]:
    • One of the greatest powers in negotiation is the power of not reacting. 2:42
    • Human beings are “reaction machines”.  As Ambrose Pierce once put it: 
      • When angry, you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
    • And in negotiation, in particular, where we are trying to advance our interests, the single biggest barrier isn’t the other side.  It turns out to be us. 3:10
      • It’s our own natural human reactions.  Which is why it’s so important not to react but instead, … take a step back from the situation.
      • Imagine you’re negotiating on the stage.  Part of your mind goes up to a mental balcony, someplace overlooking the stage where you can see what’s really going on.  You can keep your eyes on the prize … my real objectives in this negotiation.
  • From [Ury_Yourself]:
    • “Jiddu Krishnamurti:  To observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”


[BudoBum_Heijoshin] Peter Boylan, “States of Mind:  Heijoshin,” The Budo Bum, Nov 3, 2015.

[CNVC_NeedsInventory] “Needs Inventory,” Center for Nonviolent Communications,

[KendoInfo_Shikai] Geoff Salmon, “The four sicknesses “shikai” – is there a cure?” KendoInfo.Net, April 13, 2015.

[KendoNotes_Calm2] Young, “Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai – Part 2: A Deeper Look,”, Oct 14, 2017.

[Lefkoe_Suffering] Morty Lefkoe, “I spoke at TEDx: How to stop suffering,”, July 2, 2013.

[McLaren_EmotionsPrograms] Karla McLaren, “Emotions are Action-Requiring Neurological Programs,”

[Rosenberg_FourSteps] “The Four Basic Steps of NVC,” (PDF, 7 pages).

[Rosenberg_NVCQuotes]  Marshall Rosenberg NVC Quotes from (PDF, 8 pages). 

[Rosenberg_NVCTools] Marshall Rosenberg, Living Nonviolent Communication:  Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation, Sounds True Inc, 2012.

[Ury_PowerNegotiation] William Ury, “One of the Greatest Powers in Negotiation,” May 20, 2016 (3:55 mins)

[Ury_Yourself] William Ury, Getting to Yes with Yourself: and Other Worthy Opponents, HarperOne, 2015.

Keywords:  Anger management

Copyright 2019

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