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Comparisons & Stuck Anger

If you find yourself angry at someone and unable to release that anger, there is a chance that a comparison may be lurking.

If you are caught in a comparison that keeps anger stuck, you might hear yourself say one or more of the following phrases:

  • He just doesn't care enough to make an effort

  • I did it, why couldn't she?!

  • I was in the same situation and I was able to…

  • How many times have I shown up for you?!

Thoughts or words like these are usually preceded by comparisons that take at least two basic forms:

1) Comparisons regarding ability

2) Comparisons regarding how to show caring

In the first type you compare yourself to another by projecting your own abilities or behaviors onto the other person.  You imagine that because you could do something in particular, under certain circumstances anyone can; and if they don't, it's not about an ability, but rather a lack of caring, laziness, stubbornness, etc.  When you are in pain about something and want it to be different, it sometimes seems easier to write someone off by assigning them a negative motive or label, rather than consider that they may not have access to the behavior in which you think they should engage.

Let's look at an example, Blake works hard at self-improvement and is dedicated to creating a healthy life.  After years of asking her partner to collaborate on this, she finally learns that her partner believes that all their problems are due to external events and if those things were changed they would be okay.  From the perspective of Blake's partner, self-improvement is a distraction from gettings things done that would really help.  When Blake misperceives her partner's "no" to personal work as a lack of caring, she stays stuck in hurt and anger.  When she realizes that her partner doesn't have access to personal work in the way she does, Blake can grieve their differences and approach the relationship in a different way.

This first type of comparison of ability also often shows up in the context of comparing hardship.  For example, you find yourself comparing how you were busy and overwhelmed and still managed to reach out to your brother, but he was in the same circumstance and didn't reach out to you.  You imagine the hardships are the same; in actuality the details of another's hardships are utterly unique.  Imagining the hardships are the same, you then imagine the response to them is the same.  Each person's response to their hardship is also incredibly unique.  Each time you think to yourself, "I was overwhelmed too, but I reached out to him," you engage in these two comparisons, and keep yourself stuck in anger.  

The second type of comparison is about how to show caring.  You imagine that there is a standard way to show caring (often resembling way you do it) and that if that other person cared they would show it in that way.  You know you are caught in this kind of comparing mind when you find yourself saying things like, "All my friends would do that," or "It's just common courtesy!" or "I do it for you all the time."  While intellectually, you may know that everyone expresses caring differently, in a moment of pain, it may be hard for you to accept such differences. In a moment of pain and reactivity, you just want them to get it "right".  If you can find just a little space to question your assumption that they were willfully uncaring towards you, you may find some release from anger and pain.

Lastly, with any type of comparison there can be the more subtle error in assumption that because someone had access to a certain behavior once, they should be able to behave that way at any time, and thus, not showing up that way must be about a lack of caring, laziness, stubbornness, etc.  

When you think about activities like sports and music performances you know that some days you are in the zone and some days you just can't find that perfect shot or play that piece of music.  It's the same in the realm of interpersonal relating.  Sometimes there is not the same access to responsiveness, compassion, skillful speech, etc.   

Before making a comparison or assigning motive or labels, take a breath and ask yourself if you can give that person the benefit of the doubt and remind yourself that you don't really know what that person is experiencing or can or can't do in any given moment.

When you let go of comparing mind and turn your attention to honoring differences and allowing the discomfort of not knowing, you open the door to compassion.


Take a moment now to reflect on any situation in which you are irritated with someone.  Check to see if you have made any assumptions or comparisons.  Then ask for yourself to get curious about what might going on if your assumptions weren't true.

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1 Response

  1. Mar 28, 2017

    Dear La Shelle,

    Once again, with your writing about "comparisons and being stuck in judgment/anger/pain" you have hit the jackpot for me with your clarity of describing the deep inner "how-to" of compassion that is helping relieve my pain and suffering in an intricate and tricky relationship I am involved in. After all, it is the real "how-to" that really works, puts teeth into the prescriptive slogans that float around us.

    In spite of a recent insight/slogan of mine (that I was so proud of) that says, "Compassion Restores Your Dignity" I could not quite translate that, when in pain, into the commonsense insights & behavior you offer here. Couldn't quite break through that edge. Instead I was in pain and caught up in behaviors like craving and grasping that led me to think in terms of negative labels and assume that my friend does not have caring abilities, is lazy and lacks responsibility, doesn't really like me, etc. In other words I was harboring assumptions that kept me stuck in the pain that blocks compassion, after all my NVC training and teaching others! I know that grasping, clinging, craving and attachment are not dignified behaviors/thoughts.
    But releasing myself into real compassion, a warm and welcome release/relief, only happened when reading your very clear insights and super real practical instructions of how to get unstuck when in pain by looking into my assumptions that others are somehow fatally flawed, blaming them because they "are not like me" and do not offer relief to me, and all that yucky stuff when my abandonment pain gets triggered. Wow, what a trap that is.
    What's interesting here for me is that tomorrow in my NVC group we are studying Chapter Two, "Communication That Blocks Compassion" in Marshall's book. Should be fun!
    So, once again, I reach out to profoundly thank you for your skills and wisdom and your ability to put those qualities into words, insights and writing that I find so very helpful personally. Thank you so much! Gassho :)

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