3 Steps to Dealing With Someone Else’s Anger
Everyone gets angry sometimes. As much as happiness and joy are a part of life, so are sadness and anger. As humans, we experience a wide range of feelings and emotions, and it is both healthy and normal. The problems people have with anger are not simply because they experience anger; rather, difficulties often arise with the way one actually handles their anger.
Living with or loving a person who frequently displays anger in inappropriate ways can have its challenges. If this person gets angry often, and flies off the handle every single time, it can really take a toll on you. You might get angry back, and then end up having ugly confrontations with one another.
Perhaps you spend a lot of time and energy trying to make things better and make them happy, as if somehow their feelings are your responsibility or your fault. Sometimes, you might even feel defeated and just acquiesce, which is in essence tolerating the behavior. Frequently, people describe feeling quite anxious and reactive as a response to their loved one’s anger. There are better ways to handle this problem.
First and foremost, you must learn to set very clear boundaries. You are two separate individuals, with two different sets of thoughts and feelings. While you cannot change the other person, you certainly have total control over yourself, your thoughts, feelings and actions. Just because your loved one is angry does not mean you have to be angry. Just because they are yelling does not mean you have to yell. And even if they blame you, it doesn’t mean you’ve actually done anything wrong.
Other people don’t always have to like what you say or do, but they are responsible for their own feelings and reactions. They don’t get to yell at you or throw things or exhibit any inappropriate behaviors just because they don’t agree with you. Rather, they could learn to express themselves appropriately.
Boundaries can be verbal, not just physical. Verbal boundaries include making clear statements, such as “I will not allow you to bark orders at me like that. If you need something, you are to ask me kindly and respectfully.” They can also sound like, “Mom, I will no longer tolerate you insulting my wife. The next time you say anything negative to me about my wife, I will hang up the phone or leave.” These are healthy ways to separate yourself from someone else’s problem, and to stand up for yourself.
It is important to understand where another person ends and where you begin. When someone else has a problem, it is their problem. You must learn to separate yourself from others and form your own opinions and allow yourself to feel your own feelings. It can be challenging to not automatically get angry when your loved one is angry. But, when you really think about it, this rarely makes sense. When your toddler is having a temper tantrum, you are able to stay calm and rational and watch as an observer, not a participant. So why is so difficult when other adults are having their version of a temper tantrum to stay removed and separate from it?
You should not ever tolerate being treated badly. You are not a physical or emotional punching bag. When your loved one is acting inappropriately, you have an obligation to set a clear boundary, one which states I will not tolerate being treated this way, and remove yourself from the line of fire. If this means ending a phone call, then end it. If it means asking someone to leave, then ask them to. If it means moving yourself to a different location, then do it. And if for any reason you feel unsafe, leave and get help immediately.
So, if you really love this person who is getting angry all the time, you might try to understand why. Anger rarely just comes out of nowhere. Rather, it is a sign of being in distress, feeling hurt and of emotional pain. Sometimes the feelings stem from past issues, from past relationships or even from childhood. Other times, it could be a response to things that are happening currently.
Rather than attacking, accusing or blaming, when your loved one is displaying anger, take a step back and ask what they might really be upset about. Don’t take the bait. Be the voice of reason. Get curious. What is going on with him that he is feeling so bad to behave this way? If it happens over and over again, you can even talk about it when they are calm. This allows for some introspection, some insight, and ultimately can improve your relationship.
When someone is really angry, they are obviously in a highly emotional state. As a result of this, their brain is not working at full capacity, and they quite literally cannot think clearly. Trying to talk reason with an angry person in the middle of an outburst will only add fuel to the fire.
It is much more effective to report like an impartial observer, much like you would with a toddler. This could sound like, “Wow. You seem really agitated right now. You are yelling very loudly.” Another effective way to communicate is to ask questions. An example of this is, “Do you mean to sound threatening and intimidating right now?” Often, a simple observation or question can be enough to reel someone in. It is quite common to hear from the angry person that they didn’t even realize they were doing anything inappropriate. You could actually help if you catch their attention soon enough.
It is not particularly effective to attempt a deeper or lengthy conversation while they are still worked up. Wait a few hours or even until the next day to address it. When you do address it, make sure to express things from your perspective, rather than attack your partner. It is more helpful to say, “I felt really embarrassed when you yelled at the waiter last night” or “When you insult me, I feel very hurt”. It seems awkward at first, but you will find it is far more effective, and it does become easier over time.
Overall, try to remember that this a person you love, and they are obviously having a hard time with something. As long as you are safe and nothing abusive is happening, take a step back and show some compassion. It might be just what they need.
Communicate clearly, set those boundaries, and don’t allow anyone to cross them. With your love and ability to stay calm in the heat of the moment, you are helping your loved one gain insight and maybe even get better at expressing their anger more appropriately. Most of all, you are demonstrating that their anger belongs to them and only to them. You will no longer allow yourself to take on someone else’s unpleasant feelings.