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What's Your Anger Style?

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Try as we might to keep our emotions in check, we invariable get irritated and sometimes succumb to expressions of anger. We display our individuality in our anger styles. We learn these as children, watching our elders deal with difficult situations. We can usually, for instance, recall Mom's and Dad's modes. In fact, we probably knew them well enough to manipulate them to our best advantage, or at least we learned when to get out of the way!

I think people are defined by two distinct and diverse anger styles: the shouters and the sulkers. Neither of these terms is completely accurate, for "shouters" don't always raise their voices and "sulkers" don't always pout and retreat in silence, but the terms will work for our discussion and the descriptions call to mind appropriate pictures of what goes on when the lid blows off.

Shouters appear to fill with anger and then spill over. Words spew, often accompanied with frantic hand gestures and contorted facial features. The language can be uncomplimentary and vivid. Non-shouters, or those targeted by the shouter's anger, generally retreat into protection mode and try to sort the profanities from the messages. Those messages are often difficult to discern, so it is best to wait for the storm to subside before attempting to have a rational conversation with the shouter.

Sulkers, on the other hand, "lose their words" and are struck dumb with the effort of forming a coherent thought to express. Emotions fill sulkers, choking off their ability to speak. It's not that they are unwilling to communicate -- they feel unable to do so. Sulkers need time and often solitude to quiet their emotions and collect their thoughts. They can then return to the scene and discuss the issue rationally. They cannot do this when heightened emotions frighten and silence them. Sulkers' retreats are often viewed by an irate shouter as running away from the problem; shouters want to settle the issue right now! Sulkers just can't do that.

How, then, can a shouter live harmoniously with a sulker? Understanding the different expressive styles helps, as does agreement about how to fight constructively. This negotiation must be done when no one is angry. For instance, the sulker should reassure the shouter that they will return to tackle the matter after a cooling-off period.

As to how a sulker lives with a shouter, they view the other side of the coin. The sulker needs to learn not to take the fiery outbursts personally and optimally allow the shouter a few minutes of venting before taking leave of the scene. For their part, shouters can agree to monitor name-calling and plate-pitching in exchange for an audience that will permit angry expression for a limited period. It's true that when the sulker returns, calm and prepared to deal with the argument, the shouter has often moved on to other things and must be brought back to the topic. But all this is workable.

Giving our partners the respect they deserve goes a long way towards resolving the issue at hand. When shouters are granted a few minutes of angry spewing and sulkers are afforded some time to settle down, both feel validated. This method reduces the escalation of the argument and affords both sides the focus needed to reach resolution.

What about two of one variety? What then?

When there are two shouters involved, there's lots of noise, then often hot sex.

With two sulkers, we find lots of silence and feelings of abandonment and futility. Without a plan about when the fighters will reconvene to hash out the problem, they often encounter lack of resolve and distance regarding sex. Indeed, sex becomes apology, often intimate and bonding, but sometimes a substitute for needed verbal communication.

Communication and respect for differences is the key to fighting fairly and respectfully. Good relationships require good communication and acceptance of differences. Anger is healthy and unavoidable. Violence, of course, is not and we must all draw the line about what sorts of expression are acceptable and which are not. Still, accepting our opponent's anger style and knowing they will accept ours creates an environment of caring and nurturing. It takes practice to learn how to build the best of relationships. Fighting styles are just one more piece of the glorious puzzle that we call love.

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