Healthy Conflicts: What's Underneath the Anger Costume? By Julia Menard

 Gabor Mate in his book "When the Body Says No - The Cost of Hidden Stress" says, "I am greatly empowered without harming anyone if I permit myself to experience anger and to contemplate what may have triggered it... I may choose to display my anger as necessary in words or in deeds, but I do not need to act it out in a driven fashion..."

When we are angry, everything seems to speed up, we react so fast. Things escalate. But what if, when faced with anger, slowing down was our first impulse instead of speeding up or hitting out?

John Nicol, who is involved in the non-violent communication teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, shares one way to do this:

"... [I like the] Marshall Rosenberg saying that anger is a wonderful thing because it lets us know that we are out of touch with life-serving consciousness. When I feel angry, I try to look at what thinking I did to cause this feeling and I almost always come up with a thought that the person who stimulated my thinking should or should not have done something. The anger rarely survives this kind of scrutiny, and I can engage with the person compassionately to try to get my needs met."

What if our anger was really about our feelings - and not because of what someone else should or shouldn't be doing? How would it change our approach to conflict if we saw our anger as a need not being met?

Instead of viewing our anger as something terrible - or blaming others - we could choose to see anger as a sign that we are out of touch with "life-serving consciousness" - our own feelings and needs. Our anger could then be a signal to slow down and connect with ourselves.

Rosenberg's work is so simple that I always come back to it for my own grounding: What am I feeling? What is the need that's not being met?

And it also works the other way. When I'm feeling hurt because of someone else's anger, what might the other person be feeling and needing?

Lenedra Carroll in her book, "The Architecture of All Abundance" says, "We each have costumes and scripts and agendas attached to the costumes. They need not be of great dramatic concern. Beneath the costume we are simply two humans with human feelings and needs. Two souls having a life - no game - equal. It shifts the context and allows a new situation to develop... I relate to the soul that wears the costume."

So, our anger "costumes" the conflict, disguising our true feelings and needs. But it's only a costume, not the person.

What if we didn't take it personally? What if, instead of taking the bait, we asked, "What's the essence of the person beneath the costume?" and speak to the person underneath the costume, underneath the anger?

It's so simple really: We just need to slow down - and get curious!

Here are some questions for you to take away and ponder around conflict in your life:

  1. How do you think your conflicts could be different if you began to approach conflicts from this compassionate, honest and curious place?
  2. What would it be like to slow down and get curious next time you're in a conflict situation?
  3. What if I stopped hiding behind my "costume" of anger? What am I feeling? What is the need that's not being met?
  4. What if I was to speak to the essence of the other person, not their "costume"?
  5. What if I remain open to what is underneath the other person's anger? What might their unmet feelings and needs be?

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Contributing Author:

This article was written by Julia Menard, PCC, M.Ed. and Professional Certified Coach. Julia has a Masters in Educational Psychology specializing in Leadership. She helps Leaders Transform Workplace Conflict through Coaching, Mediation and Training. To learn more about Julia and her work, please check out her website And if you're interested in communicating better and staying calm during conflicts be sure to check out Julia's great ecourses on how to have tough conversations and how to stay cool during conflict. Lastly, join other collaborative leaders receiving regular conflict guidance by signing-up for my newsletter here.

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  1. Lalitha Brahma

    Excellent article!

    I liked the idea of "costume" and "person underneath the costume"
    Julia, you have also provided excellent and pertinent questions to ask, when we are angry and I am sure, when we do so, it is easier to connect with the person beneath the costume.
    Based upon my personal experience, I can say that following strategy works for me.
    1. I take three deep breaths and this helps me come to the present powerful moment. It also helps my lower, threatened emotional child-self to look up to my Higher, confident, logical Adult-self and seek compassion.
    2. Then a meaningful conversation takes place inside of me between my Child-Self and Adult-Self. With consistent practice, this conversation happens more frequently and sometimes I even don't get angry, because my sub-conscious mind is programmed to take preventive steps.
    2. When I am compassionate to myself, I tend to be compassionate with the other person too.
    3. Then I feel very connected to my True self/pure soul and it becomes easy and effortless to deal with the situation involving anger.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Lalitha,
      that is a very adult - and beautiful way - to approach difficult situations and conflicts! Thank-you for sharing with us 🙂
      Warmly, Emma-Louise


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