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:

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

The book was very insightful and helpful for me.  I am grateful to the author and my sibling.

Chapter 4 on “The Surprising Purpose of Anger” 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.  I firmly believe that learning and applying his teachings can help 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].”  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].”  That, 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) when person B (e.g. a co-worker, dojo member, friend or family member) should have done or not have done something (e.g. completing a task or chore, saying something disrespectful or failing to listen).  Another person C, in place of A, such as a stranger with no prior history or relationship with B might not get angry at all.  Something residing in the mind of A such as expectations, beliefs, thoughts or judgments 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]

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

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 additional notes below.

May your relationships and life be more enriching!

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].


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

[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.

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


Keywords:  Anger management

Copyright 2019




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s