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Control family anger with assertive communication

“Dr. Fiore,” my 42 year old married patient (Mary) began, “my family expects me again this year to host Christmas dinner and I am just too exhausted; what should I do?”
“Why not tell them how you feel,” I suggested.
“Because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and I feel guilty if I don’t do what is expected of me.”

Lack of communication such as this among family members is the root of much conflict, hurt, and misunderstandings any time of the year – but especially during the holiday season which, unfortunately, if often a time of great stress.

Mary’s dilemma is all too common – she wants to be a nice person and avoid conflict with family members, but then feels resentment and other negative emotions when she is overwhelmed or feels taken advantage of.

Unfortunately, not being direct and emotionally honest with people we love or care about can have long-reaching consequences because it gives other people the wrong message about you, what you need, and how they should respond to you.

The elephant in the room

When you have unexpressed feelings toward another person, it is like you are both sitting on a couch with an elephant between you. Neither wants to acknowledge the elephant, but its existence is there between you. The elephant acts as a barrier to real communication. It also prevents positive feelings from flowing between you and the other person.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is the art of speaking in a reasonable tone with good eye contact using “I” messages (as opposed to “you” or blaming messages) while clearly stating your needs, feelings, and requests. If you are an effective assertive communicator, you will also invite the listener to work toward a mutually satisfactory resolution of the problem or conflict, without offending them.

Speaking of offending, an important point to remember is that you won’t offend people if you stick to communicating your feelings, as opposed to telling others what they should or should not do!

The assertive communication formula:

There are four parts to effective assertive communication: Here is the formula:

I feel____________
When you____________
Because______________
I need___________

  • Part 1: “I feel”— start be expressing how you feel about the behavior. Stick to one of the five or six basic emotions: “I feel overwhelmed;” : I feel angry,” “I feel hurt.”
  • Part 2: “When”—What specifically bothers you about the behavior or situation? Examples: “when the family expects me to do this every year;” when it is assumed I will do it,” when no one else volunteers.”
  • Part 3:“Because”— How does the behavior affect you? Examples: “I feel pressured to do something I really can’t do this year,” and “it makes me feel taken advantage of.”
  • Part 4: “I need.” This is the tough part for people like Mary who feel guilty simply letting others (especially family members) know what their needs are. What this really means is giving the other persona clear signal of what you would like them to do differently so they have an opportunity to change.
  • Examples: “I need for the dinner to be rotated among the family; I need for everyone to bring a dish and I’ll cook the ham; I need for my sisters to come early and help with the setup”

Does the formula work all the time?

Of course not, but it works a high percentage of the time and it gives you a much better tool to deal with the situation than using anger – which rarely gets you the results you want.

If it doesn’t work at first, try different variations by using your own words – keep at it because sometimes people don’t immediately respond differently to what you are saying because of your previous established communication patterns with each other.

Also make sure that your tone clearly conveys sincerity, clarity, genuineness, and respect toward the other and his or her opinions.

Federal Employees need Anger Management Too Sometimes

I recently received a referral from an employee for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS employees often face very stressful situations, depending on their job function and can find learning skills in anger management to be extremely helpful. Homeland security is one of our nations top priorities and therefore can be an equation for stress for those that are in high demand positions. The employee who we are currently seeing for executive coaching will be taught a series of tools from our highly acclaimed client workbook “Anger Management in the Twenty-first Century”. We will focus on improving empathy and emotional intelligence, stress management, assertive communication and managing expectations. Anger management skills improve relationships and sharpen ones ability to have more positive interactions.

Posted with permission from
Ari Novick, Ph.D.
AJ Novick Group – Anger Management

Five tips to deal with holiday anger and stress

The holidays often bring family members together who maybe haven’t seen much of each other throughout the year. Old resentments and grievances can often emerge, sometimes with strained or even disasterous consequences. Many families find themselves time-stressed with holday preparations and activities which lower coping ability even further.

The following five tips have been found useful to help you deal with that inevitable holdiay stress:

1. Watch carefully the amount of alcohol you consume. Many anger management students confess that excessive drinking definitely contributed to family conflict and aggression.

2.Reduce stress by managing your time carefully and not over-scheduling yourself. Take time for yourself.

3. Adjust your expectations of family members. No, Aunt Irene hasn’t changed since last year. Tell yourself that you only have to see her once a year- you can cope with it.

4. Work on forgiveness skills. Let old resentments go. Holding grudges hurts you more than your relatives.

5. Develop better empathy skills. Try to see the world from the viewpoint of irritating family members and you may be shocked at how your anger dissipates.

For more tips on how to deal with angry feelings or the angry behavior of others, visit The Anger Coach Website.

Holiday Stress Leads to Anger

Learning to deal with stress is one of the eight tools that is needed for anger control.

Learning to deal with holiday stress is even more challenging because of the time crunch around the holidays and the need to deal with relatives who might not always be exactly at the top of your Christmas list.

Here are some tips to deal with holiday stress that should help you get through the season more comfortably:

1.Catch your stress early. Notice physical signs of stress such as muscle tension, voice getting louder, or behavior becoming more disorganized.

2. Make Necessary Life Changes to reduce your stress. Shop earlier. Get more family support. Take time off from work. Request more civil behavior from family members.

3. View Stressors Differently.For a stressor to cause stress in our lives, it has to be perceived as a stressor. Work on how you see things and try to see them in a different light. (Hint: this really works well with obnoxious family members: try seeing them as “limited” than than “irritating.”)

4.Stress-guard your life. Eat right. Exercise. Sleep well. Take care of yourself emotionally. Get your needs met. Have a good time.If needed use supplier of fine bed linens to get better sleep because sleep is really important.

Reduce Anger by Asserting Yourself

This holiday season, you may find yourself in groups or gatherings that make you feel uncomfortable. Sometime you can change it without offending anyone, yet standing up for our rights or opinions. We call this “assertive communication.”

When the tone of a social gathering becomes too confrontational, negative, lewd, insensitive, prejudiced, or otherwise distasteful, you needn’t remain at the mercy of it. You can usually find a way to but speak up,so that
things back move back into positive territory.

Speak your mind (in a nice way) by letting others know how you are feelings in response to what is going on. Offenders may be taken aback, but those who share your discomfort will welcome the intervention.

Too often we let situations deteriorate beyond what we find acceptable and may be hesitant to address it. But silence often only helps to condone the behavior and may create resentment and stress in you.