Is empathy important for anger management?

In a recent anger management class, a guy had a struggle understanding what empathy was and why it is important in anger management. The specific issue involved learning to listen with more openness to what was being said rather than listening defensively, or through mental “filters” which distort the message. For instance, wife says: “Our bathroom is too small in this house we just bought.” Husband (also in our class) hears: “She is saying that if I were more adequate and earned more money, we could afford a bigger house.”

The guy could not understand why we were encouraging the husband to learn to “hear” his wife differently. He thought the problem was the wife: “she shouldn’t say things like that to upset her husband.”

The practical answer is, of course, that we cannot control what others say; we can, however, control how we elect to hear it and respond to it; this is a skill of empathy- the ability to experience the world from viewpoint and perspective of another. It is an important tool of anger management.

Even the husband who gave the example admitted that HE was the problem in terms of his “hearing.” His wife did not say anything that was meant to be mean-spirited; she was just stating an opinion about the bathroom size. All the rest the husband “added” in his mind which created anger and angst.

What do you think? What is your perspective of the situation?

All comments welcome!

Dr Tony