The Alarms – Anger, Guilt, & Shame
Anger, guilt, and shame are alarm feelings. They let you know that there may be a threat to one or more of your needs and that you are are engaging in "should" thinking. While it's important to feel and name anger, guilt, and shame; it's equally important not to take action from them. These alarm feelings are your cue to pause and reflect on your thinking and connect with vulnerable feelings and needs so that you can take wise action.
Guilt & Shame Behind guilt and shame there are thoughts that are some version of "I have behaved badly or been a bad person deserving of punishment". The concept of deserve has paved the way for over 8,000 years of sanctioned violence. Taking action out of guilt and shame can land you in the violent concept of repentance in which someone else decides how bad you are and doles out a punishment or forgiveness. Guilt and shame are only useful when they lead you to connect with unmet needs in someone else and yourself.
Anger Behind anger there are thoughts that things should be different than they are or someone should act different than they are. The word should can lead you quickly to a disconnected state. In the context of recovering from an abusive* relationship anger can also indicate progress. Anger can be an important indicator that the receiver of the abuse is beginning to recognize that they have a right to have their needs met. But even in this context if action is taken from anger, more violence and unmet needs will likely result.
So how can you handle these emotions in a way that leads to connection and honor of all involved? Below I list steps in a particular order, but of course life isn't this neat. These four steps are meant to be touchstones that you come back to again and again in the way that works for you.
Acceptance & Space to mourn.
First, there is just to accept the way things are. I don't mean submit or accept in a hopeless way, but rather acknowledge what is or what was without resistance. This may be a long process. It's common that mourning take up a space of years. Mourning is often accessed through telling your story to an empathic listener or group.
Name the next layer of more vulnerable feelings
Second, there is to feel the feelings below anger, guilt, and shame. Fear, hurt, and/or sadness or regret for needs unmet is usually there. Feeling these vulnerable feelings requires more courage and responsibility than staying in anger, guilt, & shame.
Name the needs
Third, from sadness or regret you can name the universal needs unmet in yourself and others in that particular situation. This step of naming needs is also about claiming your right to them. From the framework of Compassionate Communication it is the birthrite of all living beings to have their needs met and thrive in harmony with others. Standing confidently in your birthrite to have your needs met creates a simple sense of knowing what's true which replaces the sense of threat so often associated with anger, guilt, and shame. In other words, the more tenuous your relationship is to claiming your needs, the more anger, guilt, and shame will arise and stick around.
Fourth, responsible action comes from honoring needs of all involved, including yourself, and acting to meet them. When you take clear action to meet needs or move into alignment with values, your body and mind can release the sense of threat and alarm and anger, guilt, and shame dissipate.
The next time anger, guilt, or shame arise, set aside reflection time to go through the practice steps given above.
*When I use the word "abusive" I am referring to a relationship in which there is neither awareness nor skill to honor and meet the needs of those involved, but rather consistent behavior that costs needs.
It’s not about NVC