Expressing Anger Effectively To An Alcoholic

Today’s topic is expressing your anger effectively. When interacting with alcoholics, this can be a challenge. Everybody has a reason to get angry once in a while. But if you lose your temper or you’re really mean or negative, it’s not very effective for long term relationships. When you lose your temper and attack another person, that person is likely to feel horrible and defensive instead of compassionate and understanding of your situation.

So I’m going to talk about what we can learn about ourselves from our own anger in a positive way psychologically and then talk about some steps that we can take for effective communication.

Often beneath anger is another feeling such as fear of abandonment or fear of not being loved. Or a lack of empowerment, feeling small and insignificant and unappreciated. These feelings run rampant when we are in a relationship with an active alcoholic. It’s important to recognize what tends to trigger you. Is it not being listened to? Is it not being able to handle anxiety or is it feeling powerless? Ironically, uncontrolled anger causes the very thing a person fears.

So for instance, if you fear abandonment, by becoming angry and possessive we tend to push the other person away; and if they don’t abandon you physically, often their spirit and their love will leave you.

Often people don’t recognize their feelings until they explode in anger. Which is something that can occur spontaneously when living with an alcoholic.  So it’s important to become more self-aware and recognize feelings when they’re mere irritations and you can do something calmly about them rather than waiting until you erupt in anger.

When you become aware of your triggers and your unconscious feelings and desires, then often you will find out that you have to do something about those desires rather than expect the other person to do it for you.

For instance,  if you’re not pursuing your own interests, rather than getting angry at somebody else, you can do something to change your lifestyle.

Yet often you do have to express your anger or expectations to another person. So I’m going to lay out a four-step process called Nonviolent Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg and he has worked with people in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and the Palestinian conflict as well as with gangs and policemen and couples.

How can we change powerless anger and hostility to personal power where we can peacefully inspire transformation? Most important are not the specific words but the intent, the tone of voice and the demeanor. Without an objective, calm demeanor, you can’t be very productive even using the right words. It’s hard enough when interacting with so called “normal” individuals, much less trying to express anger effectively to an alcoholic or substance abuser.

If you’re too angry, let the other person know that you will discuss things later when you’re calm so he or she doesn’t feel abandoned.

The first step is expressing the facts without exaggeration, judgment or insults and without using terms like “you always,” “you never”.

Number two. Express your feelings. I feel hurt. I feel scared. I feel angry and I feel like walking away. I feel defensive. Now saying you’re angry or defensive is very different than acting defensively and angrily. But be careful that your feelings aren’t judgments. I feel that you’re a jerk. That’s not a feeling.

Number three. Express your needs or desires. It’s really not being needy to let other people know what you want. This gives the other person the opportunity to do something nice for you or at least to know what you want. So I need support. I would like to have more fun. I need to be able to trust someone. Remember, not getting enough food or sleep or exercise can make you grumpy and angry. So those are needs that you have to satisfy yourself.

Number four. Make a specific positive request, not a demand. So you don’t want to be too abstract like, “I need love forever.” What does that mean? And you don’t want to be negative, “I want you to stop being selfish.” That’s not clear either.

So make it very doable and specific. For instance, “Let’s go out to dinner Friday night,” or “It would be great if you would help me do the dishes.” So rather than complaining or nagging, you’re giving the other person the opportunity to do something thoughtful and nice for you.

The last step is to observe patterns and to decide how you might change your expectations of people. So you don’t want to control other people but if you see that they’re repeatedly ignoring your requests and your feelings and desires, then you might change your expectations of them.

For instance if you know someone who rarely shows up or rarely calls you when they’re late, you might not want to make any plans counting on that person. Alcoholics and drug addicts are notorious for doing this sort of thing.  But you might still want to remain friends with them but just arrange your life so that you don’t have expectations that they will show up. Alcoholism affects the family in so many different ways.

It will be difficult however to be married to somebody like that but you could retain a friendship with someone who is flaky. By changing your expectations, you’re less likely to be disappointed and once in a while, the other person will respond by treating you with more respect. When we change our attitudes then people’s attitudes change around us.

So that’s the tip of the day. Express your anger effectively. Remember it’s like learning a new sport. First you learn what the right form is. Then you keep practicing and practicing. And when you blow it, you figure out what went wrong and you try not to be too hard on yourself and you go out there and try it again. Remember to be nice to yourself. Anger and anxiety are two of the things that occur within relationships with alcoholics. Do your best to love the alcoholic without conditions and to communicate your feelings as effectively as you can.

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