In Your Corner

Feelings come from thoughts about our needs

by Annaleah Atkinson – SPECIAL TO THE GARDEN ISLAND

I had the good fortune recently to share some thoughts about conflict management with Kaua‘i High School’s Peer Education Program. What was most interesting to one of the classes was that how people feel depends upon our beliefs about our needs being met or not.

Let’s use anger as an example. In anger management classes, when students are asked, “What made you angry?” the students frequently reply, “He called me a (fill in a bad name here).”

When I ask them if they are that, I get, “No Way!” My reply is, “So why did you get mad?” I’m told that they had to defend themselves. We eventually come to the fact that the students have to defend their honor when they are disrespected. Feeling respected in our community is a basic need that we all have.

When I ask if the fighting got them the respect they wanted, about 90 percent say no, that in fact it caused shame to their families, and that their anger caused them to say or do things that they wished they could take back. Scientists have found that if you get really angry, you stop thinking well. In Teen Court, we remember it as “The madder you are the dumber you get.”

Anger has a place. Negative feelings such as fear, confusion, worry, sadness, embarrassment or guilt let us know that we think that some need isn’t being met.

The same action can produce different emotions in different people. If you’re with a friend that you know likes you a lot, and he calls you some name, you know it’s a joke and you may laugh. If a teacher calls you that, you may become confused, uncomfortable and sad. If an enemy of yours comes to your face and says it, you may get really angry and feel the need to defend yourself. Each emotion can be traced back to our needs being met or not.

We not only need to feel physically safe, but we need to feel emotionally safe and respected, and know that others care about us. We want to be able to make our own goals for ourselves, and choose how to fulfill them. We need to feel that our lives are meaningful to ourselves and others, and that others care.

We all have these needs, and more. Developing compassion means becoming more aware of the needs that people have, and choosing to be with them in ways that honor their needs. We need to honor our own needs, but not at the expense of someone else.

At the end of the anger management class, the students discover that speaking in respectful tones is more likely to be heard that shouting or name calling. That blaming another person for being a “(fill in bad name again)” is not as likely to get them what they want as asking for it in a respectful way. Saying something like, “How can we both get what we want here?” may signal to the other person that you care, or at least appreciate that he or she has needs that should be considered.

So the next time that you are feeling a negative feeling, take time to think about it. What do you need that you’re not getting? And what steps can you take to get it so that others also feel respected and cared about?

Be a scientist. Try it, and see if it works. It may take awhile to get used to. You didn’t walk the first time either, but you didn’t give up.

“In Your Corner” is a phrase that means support. Its origin comes from boxing: In between rounds, the boxer retires to his corner, and a group of people gives him coaching, medical help, water and support.

Several adults have “stepped into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support in the boxing ring of life!

They are county community response specialist Catherine Stovall, public defender Edmund Acoba, county prosecuting attorney Craig DeCosta, KPD officer Paul Applegate, superintendent of schools Daniel Hamada, DOE Mokihana director Jill Yoshimatsu and Hale ‘Opio teen court manager Annaleah Atkinson.

E-mail Annaleah at aatkinson@haleopio.org, or snail mail her at Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc., 2959 Umi Street, Lihu‘e, Hawai‘i 96766. She will field it to the person who can best help with the answer.

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