How Empathy Helps With Anger

In the classic novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the central character Atticus Finch teaches his children that ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it’. This is empathy and it’s an essential emotion for building bridges between individuals and a powerful tool in helping with anger issues.

Empathy is being able to truly feel what another is feeling, it’s the ability to understand someone else’s complex emotions and outlook on life, and have the capacity to respond appropriately to a person’s psychological state. It is about opening yourself up fully to someone else’s experience in order to understand it. When you have an experience of empathy, it feels like it’s your experience, even for a fleeting moment, and when this happens a correct response comes naturally.

Sensing another person’s feelings can be experienced cognitively, emotionally or compassionately. Cognitive empathy is described as knowing how the other person feels and what they may be thinking. Emotional empathy is when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were transferable.

This type of empathy makes us well attuned to another person’s inner emotional world and forms part of a healthy relational landscape. And, then there is compassionate empathy whereby we not only understand a person’s predicament, and can feel along with them but we are moved to help in tangible ways.

So, how does all of this information on empathy relate to anger? Anger in its purest form is not a bad emotion it is part of the human condition. It is when anger turns aggressive that it becomes concerning. The solution to anger lies in learning to use anger in a way that is good. The way we do that is to not hurt the other person, emotionally, physically, intellectually, socially or spiritually but to become attuned to them using our empathetic skills.

When we use anger in a way that is good, that is by showing empathy to the other person, we become aware of that persons feelings and emotions. Empathy is the skill that helps us feel for them and hence value their safety and security, and hold their wants and needs as being important too.

Having strong empathetic skills supports you in being able to use anger in this positive way. Conversely, a lack of empathy leads to serious consequences. Conflicts arise first from misunderstanding, that often lead to serious and ongoing negative outcomes usually as a result of behaviors associated with uncontrolled anger.

So, building empathetic skills helps turn negative anger into ‘good anger’. Empathy takes you out of yourself and into the heart and mind of another, and when this happens unhealthy anger transforms into a much more powerful and healing emotion called compassion.

Working on improving your understanding of empathy and compassion is key to resolving conflict and moving on from difficult emotional situations. Our anger management courses not only focus on building skills to manage anger but they also focus on how to build empathy and compassion. Click here to enrol in our complete anger management course