64 Days – Week 8


Practice Group Curriculum

Week Eight - Understanding and Expressing Anger

Thoughts and Intentions for the Week

The study of anger through the NVC perspective encourages us to use our skills in understanding and responding to intense emotions in ourselves and others on a new level. Because anger is emotional, intellectual and physical, it creates some of our greatest challenges when it comes to "living" NVC. Because of the time constraints created by the practice group, we will not intentionally be working with intense situations. The process of understanding and acting on our anger can be time consuming (and doesn't work as well rushed). Because of this, we will be working with hypothetical anger or with less stimulating situations where the level of feeling is more in the "annoyed" zone as opposed to "angry."

Reading and Discussion

Stimulus, Cause and Anger Management


by Thom Bond

Even when we've heard it before... “People don’t make us angry, how we think makes us angry” it can be hard to wrap our brains around these words. What is meant to be remembered through this quote is that when we are stimulated (in other words when we’re upset) that the experience comes from a combination of two things happening at once. First, something is stimulating us (something that happened or that somebody said or did). It could be something like somebody cutting you off on the road or driving in front of you on the highway or something like missing an elevator by two seconds. The other thing that's happening is that, we are holding a judgment about that event (often a should/shouldn't thought like "This shouldn't be happening" or "They should be more considerate"). 

In the concept of "stimulus v. cause" the elevator didn’t make you angry, the elevator didn’t make you frustrated. You made yourself frustrated; the elevator was just the stimulus. This is a hard concept for a lot of people so I’d like to demonstrate it with two versions of the same story to look at it as a way of really getting clarity around this. 

So let’s suppose that I had planned to have a friend over for dinner and it was a very special dinner and we were suppose to start dinner at 8:00 sharp and I made a big deal about it, that it was going to be 8:00 sharp because we’re having soufflé and it was really just going to be this amazing gourmet meal so I get home from work at quarter to six and I start to work on the meal and I get everything set up perfectly for 8:00. The candles are lit, the soufflé is perfect I’m just sitting there waiting for that doorbell to ring and nothing. And so 15 minutes goes by nothing. 30 minutes, nothing. 45 minutes the doorbell rings. It’s 8:45, my soufflé has fallen and so I’m at my wits end and my friend shows up at the door. So did he make me angry by coming 45 minutes late? So to get the answer to that question let’s try another version. 

I’m on my way home from work and I get stuck in the subway for an hour and I don’t end up getting home until 7:30 and my ice cream melted so I had to buy more and I ended up not even getting into the house until 8:00. Then I spent the whole time preparing dinner like a manic waiting for the bell to ring or anticipating the doorbell ringing and moving like crazy just getting everything ready by 8:45. Ding dong, the doorbell rings and it’s my friend 45 minutes late and I have the greatest sense of relief that I could ever imagine because he was 45 minutes late. 

So if he mad me angry in the first time and he didn’t make me angry in the second time, What did he do differently? He did the exact same thing. So that makes him the stimulus, in other words, he’s doing what he's doing and I'm reacting based on whether or not my needs are being met. Because of this, I can think of my needs being the cause. That’s really the bottom line. This is not to say that we couldn’t argue about this forever, but let’s just think of it this way… Why? The advantage thinking about this this way is that if I am the cause then I am at choice. In other words, if he’s making me angry I’m in trouble because I have no choice. If it’s how I’m thinking about it that’s making me angry, then if I’d like to think about it some other way I have choice. 

So when I say we have choice… well, what’s our choice? Our choice is that we can think about either judging (or what the persons doing wrong or blaming or what the other things we’ve been taught to do) or we can think about what needs of ours we would really like to have met and focus on having that happen without the judgment and blame. Is the judgment true? Is somebody rude? Can people be rude? Can people be bossy? Is that true? Is that really true? I don’t know if it’s true or not? I know that thinking with my judgments in the front of my mind is less likely to get me to having my needs considered and met. I like the way Marshall put it... "I strongly believe that to the degree I support the consciousness that there is such a thing as a "careless action," "conscientious action, a "greedy person," or a "moral person," I am contributing to violence on this planet." 

Being the cause points us to choice as to how we want to think. Do we want to think in terms of  judgment or do we want to think about the needs beneath the judgment?

Discussion Questions

1) Feedback about homework #3 - Situations where you got angry. Identify judgments? Identify Needs?

2) What do we mean when we say "people don't make me angry, how I think makes me angry."?

3) What is the relationship of anger to judgment?

4) What is the best thing to say when I'm angry?

5) Why is anger the hardest emotion for most of us to control?

Exercise #1 - The Anger Process

This is a template for using NVC in situations where you notice you are angry. This utilizes several skills you have been developing over the past weeks, such as identifying judgments, and feelings and associating them with needs. The process as outlined, could take minutes, hours or days depending on circumstances. It is not designed to be done in any particular time frame, however the order of steps is very important. For tonight, it is recommended that we work on the level of "annoyance" not full blown anger. Because of the time restrictions of a practice group, it is not recommended that participants work with very stimulating situations. This exercise can be done in diads with your partner as support. Work with an observation or a judgment where you are stimulated, write it down and go through the process. Switch. Repeat.

Step 1 - Notice. Are you tense? Are you thinking someone should or shouldn't be doing something? Are you feeling agitated and uneasy? Do you need something? 

Step 2 - Stop. Still Angry? Don't speak. Wait, go for a walk, do anything but speak your anger.

Step 3 - Make Space - Excuse yourself, run!

Step 4 - Identify my moralistic or should/shouldn't thinking. (Get empathy support if necessary/possible)

Step 5 - Identify underlying feelings such as agitation, fear, frustration (Get empathy support if necessary/possible)

Step 6 - Identify and connect to your unmet needs (Get empathy support if necessary/possible)

Step 7 - Think of requests you can make of yourself or others.


Exercise #2 - Hearing No

For many of us, hearing "No" meant no forever and that we would never get our needs met. And for some of us, hearing "No" meant that someone was saying no to who we are as an individual. This exercise is meant to help us transform how we hear "No" into listening for the "Yes" with our giraffe ears. By listening to the feelings and needs behind a "No," we can continue dialogue through empathic inquiry. We can also start to look for other strategies that will meet our needs.

This exercise is done in diads. Have your partner respond with a no to your request. Shift to empathy and see if you can find the need. See what happens next. Below are some example requests.

1) Will you stay and help me clean up this mess? 

Pause. What are they feeling? What are they needing?

2) Would you mind picking up some milk on your way home tonight?

Pause. What are they feeling? What are they needing?

3) Do you want to talk about it?

Pause. What are they feeling? What are they needing?

4) (Your own request)

Pause. What are they feeling? What are they needing?


Exercise #3 - Screaming in Giraffe

Many of us, when first learning NVC wonder if we will ever have the satisfaction of screaming at someone again. Well... close, we can scream TO them. In this exercise we will practice what we call "Screaming in Giraffe." When we scream in giraffe we express ALL our pain, discomfort, sadness or whatever! And yes we can be energetic, enrolled and emphatic. The only difference is that we will channel the energy that we usually use up in firing judgments, to fuel our expression of our unmet needs. This is fun, challenging, empowering and freeing. 

An example might be " I'm really hurting here!! I'm going out of my mind! I'm at my wits end! I need a Break!!!

Try to channel your intensity without channeling judgment. It can be tricky. Practice, Practice.


Exercise #4 - Empathy Circle Part IV (optional)


a. NVC empathy is a process of discovering feelings and needs. “Accuracy” is not necessary for empathy to take place. If the person does not connect with our guess, he or she will let us know and we can then make another guess based on this new information.

b. Keep yourself out of the empathy guess, making sure to connect the person’s feelings to his or her own needs, not to you, even when their feelings seem very much about you. Example: Instead of saying: “Are you frustrated at me because you want me to understand you?” you could say: “Are you frustrated because you’re needing understanding?” Keeping yourself out of the empathy guess will help both of you to remain clear about the source of feelings and give you more room to hear those feelings without either “defending” yourself or “attacking” the other person.

This exercise is designed for Diads. In this exercise have your partner tell you about what they liked and didn't like about the 64 Days For Peace practice group over the past nine weeks. Give them empathy and identify the needs met and not met. Think of Requests you could make of yourself or others that you think would contribute to that need being considered or met. After 5 - 10 minutes switch and repeat.


1) Find an "empathy buddy" and exchange 30 minutes each of empathy sometime this coming week.

2) Go through your notes and write down anything you want clarity about.

3) Bring a candle next week (optional).

For more information call (646) 201-9226 or email to practicegroups@nycnvc.org.