How to take the heat out of anger
Anger and empathy are two emotions which are in balance with each other. When people get angry, they tend to see the actions of others as intentional, deliberate, selfish, or uncaring. It becomes harder to see things from another's perspective.
This happens because the purpose of anger is to direct your energy at something you see as a threat, in order to reduce or remove that threat. Empathy would get in the way, because empathy is the antidote to anger. Conversely, as you start to empathise with others, it becomes more difficult to get angry with them.
So, if someone pulls out in front of you making you brake and you see them as being selfish or inconsiderate, then you will feel much angrier than if you see them as just another person like you trying to get to work on time.
One of the barriers you might have to using empathy, is a notion that understanding someone, also means accepting what they have done. It is important to realise that understanding why someone behaves the way they do, does not mean you also have to accept their actions as being OK. So while you may accept that the person pulling out wasn't trying to be inconsiderate, they may have caused an accident, which is not OK.
The basis of all empathy is this question “how would I feel if I was in their position?”. Empathy is a creative process where you imagine what it would be like to see things from another's viewpoint.
It's much easier to get this kind of perspective by talking it through with another person, than on your own. The person we are talking to will often give their view – they will make empathy statements about what they think is happening.
In counselling, building empathy can help to quickly cool a person's anger. By taking the heat out of anger, it also opens up other possible ways of responding. It prevents anger being the only option.
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