Belinda: Let's talk about anger, especially in relationships. Please share your definition of anger and the very clever acronym you created.

Rabbi Finley: Anger is always the suffering of a disappointed need. Every time you've gotten angry, it's because you had a typically unarticulated need, expectation, entitlement, or demand that was defeated. That's my acronym: N.E.E.D.

B: When the N.E.E.D. leads to anger, do you think it is appropriate to express it?

RF: I think in human society, most of the time the expression of anger is wrong. The feeling of anger is natural, but the raw expression of anger is almost always wrong. It's part of the human condition. You can never get rid of it. But you have to control it, not act on it, when it's being disproportionate.

B: It certainly can be very hurtful to others. Is there a way to express anger that isn't hurtful?

RF: If you do express the anger, don't inflate the language. Don't become hyperbolic; don't exaggerate. Don't turn it into a punitive bickering match.

B: What are some of the recurrent struggles with anger that you see in your counseling practice?

RF: A lot of my time lately has been with people who are divorcing. People attack each other and say the nastiest words over the smallest things because they're being driven by their feelings. They start to rehearse the litany of offenses of the other and it hijacks their thoughts. They get trapped in what I'll call the destructive ego thought.

The feelings of anger produce thoughts of anger that rehearse a narrative that then reinforces the feelings of anger, and the whole system becomes toxic. They fabricate and massage reality so it matches the feelings.

B: How do you help people work through disproportionate anger?

RF: A lot of my work is asking the person what exactly the offense was. Then I try to get them up to the higher self so that they can assess whether their thoughts and feelings are really proportionate to the event. What I almost always find is there has been an ego wound. You know, something in the ego self has been hurt which then generates this huge, disproportionate reaction.

B: What can you do if you're the angry party in the relationship?

RF: If I'm angry at somebody, I really try to do my own self-therapy. It's my job to tone it down to something that is an effective, thoughtful, rational communication and then get out as quickly as possible.

B: What if it's the other person who is angry and you don't want to engage with them?

RF: One major suggestion: if they're angry say," May I speak?" Always ask permission and then summarize what you heard. Sometimes if you just repeat what you heard - summarize it - the disproportionality and ridiculous nature of the other person's communication becomes very apparent. That's one thing: just reflect back. Although, oftentimes when people try to argue real-time, it spins out of control.

B: So, it's not a good idea to try to continue engaging with an angry person?

RF: It's a bad idea. It's a good idea to argue parfait.

B: Argue parfait?

RF: Yes. Make a statement. Create some space. Make a statement. Create some space. When you respond immediately, a person becomes defensive and defense mechanisms are the happy place of the destructive self.

Say you have two people whose defense mechanisms have been activated; anger, despair, lying, projection, hysteria, feelings of abandonment, catastrophizing, displacement... all the defense mechanisms come to defend us because we're under attack. When people's defense mechanisms are activated, nothing good is going to happen from it.

B: Yet another reason not to express disproportionate anger...

RF: Defense mechanisms are the army. They'll fight. That's what they're trained to do. I get my army out. You get your army out. They start to fight.

B: What's the solution here?

RF: What you want to do is send the army back to the barracks and let the diplomats talk.

Rabbi Finley is Co-Founder, Co-CEO and Rabbi of Ohr HaTorah Congregation. He received his doctorate in Religion-Social Ethics from the University of Southern California. In addition to his work at Ohr HaTorah, he serves as a professor at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus, where he teaches Liturgy, Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality, and Professional Skills. Rabbi Finley also serves on the faculty of the Wexner Heritage Foundation and the Department of Continuing Education at the American Jewish University.

Author's Bio: 

Belinda Lams of Soul Organizer is a Certified Professional Life Coach, Professional Organizer, and speaker. She is passionate about helping people live from clarity and purpose. Belinda is available for coaching services by phone and can be reached at bblams@gmail.com.