Dealing with Angry People

"ON THE EDGE" Theo Fleury by Mimi Stuart ©

1. Don’t take things personally. Anger is about the angry person. Anger is usually an expression of the person’s vulnerability—e.g., fear or powerlessness and therefore need to control others. It is sometimes about emptiness, and thus, a desire to feel strong emotions or connection. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have valid feelings and needs, but the hostility is about the way they handle stress. So, don’t take hostility in and don’t take it personally.

2. Limit hostility. Negativity and hostility deaden life energy. When you are around belittlement and anger, you tend to shut down and lose vitality. So, mitigate negativity in your life by avoiding people who are constantly angry and by learning to speak up effectively.

3. Defensiveness weakens you and empowers the hostile person. Becoming defensive gives hostility and the angry person power over you. So, don’t become defensive. You might have to establish firm boundaries, but do so without over-reacting or showing defensiveness.

e.g., You can say, “This kind of discussion isn’t helpfulî or ìI feel defensive right now. I need to calm down before discussing this.”

4. Don’t repress feelings and needs. Repressing important feelings and needs leads to a lack of personal power, and can cause specific problems such as outbursts, irritability, depression, or sickness. So, don’t ignore important feelings and needs, although ou don’t need to express every single need and feeling—only the important ones.

5. Don’t attack back. Attacking back causes defensiveness, which makes interaction ineffective, unproductive and painful. If you want to be effective with another person, don’t put them on the defensive. Don’t be judgmental, exaggerate, criticize, mock, show contempt with your tone or demeanor, or be sarcastic. Speak calmly, factually, with both self-empowerment and from the heart.

6. Remain calm. Use a calm demeanor, tone of voice, facial expression, and choice of words. If you feel heated, wait until you’re calm to discuss the issue. But walking away can feel like abandonment. So explain first. E.g. “I feel defensive right now. I need to calm down and can talk to you when I’m calm. Hopefully tonight.”

7. Look through the anger. Learn to see the vulnerability beneath the anger, such as hopelessness, fear of abandonment, fear of loss, or lack of power. Once you do see the feelings behind the hostility, you stop taking things personally, although you may still have to express boundaries. E.g., “I see you’re mad at me, but I’d like you to speak more respectfully.”

8. Express compassion. Try to express the hostile person’s frame of mind, if you are not too heated. Sometimes, just a bit of compassion is all that’s needed to soften the person and lead to their becoming more reasonable. Good intentions and tone of voice are key. But don’t become the analyst-type who says things like, ìyou’re just re-enacting the pattern you had with your mother.î

Eg. “Are you worried that I don’t care about you?”

“You sound jealous. You are the most important person to me.”

“You seem irritable. Did something happen at work?”

“You seem angry. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

9. Maintain self-respect. By not falling apart, becoming reactive, or taking things personally, you exhibit a demeanor of self-respect, which is likely to cause others to treat you with respect.

10. Limit negative relationships. Most people get irritable or raise their voices once in a while. Nobody is perfect. Yet, life is short. If certain people are continuously negative or angry, it may be time to limit or eliminate your relationship with those people.

11. Take care of yourself. Leading a well-balanced life, by getting sufficient sleep and exercise, eating nutritional food, and spending some time pursuing enjoyable acitivities, helps a person to remain calm and reasonable.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Inner Struggle: ‘I’m tired of giving in.’”

Watch video on “Solutions for Dealing with Angry People.”

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