How to Deal with an Angry Person?
Updated: Jul 4
Firstly, despite the wording of the title it is not helpful to label people, including using the label an ‘angry person’. Labels can over-simplify and generalise complex human emotions and behaviours as well as lead to negative stereotypes and create stigmatisation. A more helpful description is a person who has a tendency to become angry and/or someone who displays angry behaviours. Anger can manifest in different ways, and angry behavior can vary from person to person. Here are some common examples of angry behaviors:
1. Verbal aggression: This can include yelling, shouting, name-calling, or using threatening language towards others. 2. Physical aggression: This can involve hitting, punching, pushing, or other forms of physical violence. 3. Passive-aggressive behavior: This can include behaviors like sulking, giving the silent treatment, or intentionally doing things to annoy or frustrate others. 4. Sarcasm: Using sarcasm or making cutting remarks towards others can be a way of expressing anger. 5. Disrespectful behavior: This can include ignoring others, interrupting them, or dismissing their opinions and feelings. 6. Blaming others: When someone is angry, they may try to shift the blame onto others and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. 7. Destructive behavior: This can include breaking things or damaging property in a fit of rage.
It's important to note that anger itself is a normal and natural emotion, and it is okay to feel angry from time to time. However, it's important to express anger in a healthy and productive way that does not harm yourself or others.
The Impact of Being Around Someone who is Angry
Do you have someone in your life that displays some of the above angry behaviours, whether it is a partner, relative, friend or colleague? It can be challenging to say the least. Here are some common ways in which it can challenging to be around someone who has angry tendencies:
· You may feel you have to walk on egg shells
· It may put you on edge not knowing when the next angry outburst will arise, you are unsure if what you may do or say next may trigger them
· You may feel you have to sacrifice some of your needs just to keep the peace. This may entail avoid expressing your opinion about something at all or too strongly as to not aggravate the other person. This can contribute to the lowering of self-esteem
· In contrast you may try hard to assert yourself and/or try to reason with them but this may serve to further fuel their anger leading to extended angry episodes which can be emotionally and physically exhausting
· It can lead to negative emotional responses within us, for example, we can feel more stressed and anxious in their presence. This may even be experienced even if we are not in their presence as it may be hard for your brain and body to relax back down. It can also lead to depression in some people as they are worn down by the angry episodes and perhaps feeling stuck in their situation with the person who expresses anger
· You may attempt to limit time spent with this person. Alternatively, if spending time with them you may choose to withdraw from being around others and avoid doing certain things and going to certain places as you may feel it is the easier option
· If you have children, quite rightly, you may be worried about the negative impact the displays of anger are having upon them
· Anger can often lead to communication breakdown, as the person may not be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a productive manner. This can result in misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and damaged relationships.
It may feel like a lonely experience to be around someone who has anger difficulties. Please remember you are not alone. It is important to not keep it all to yourself and not keep this problem hidden from the world, seek support from someone close to you and/or seek professional support.
Ways to Manage When Someone is Angry
· Self-Validation and Self-Compassion: Reflect upon your experiences thus far when facing situations where someone has been angry and the impact it has had upon you. Validate this and try to foster self-compassion. Appreciate in yourself that this is not easy and it is understandable it can have a negative impact upon you. As humans we can have a tendency to downplay things and to be self-critical, for example, by saying to ourselves “I shouldn’t let this affect me as much as it does” and “I should have stood up for myself more”. It is already difficult facing angry episodes of others, having such thoughts are not only unfair but they also just add to the overall negative emotional impact upon you.
· Identify Triggers and Early Warning Signs: Reflect upon past experiences of when a person has become angry. What common situations trigger them? What usually happens? Where are you? Who are you with? Also try to identify early warning signs, that is, early signs that someone’s anger levels are rising. What behaviours do they begin to display (e.g. they pace up and down, they clench their fists, they clench their teeth, they appear agitated, they begin by making small negative comments)? When you notice such common triggers and early warning signs occur take a moment to reflect upon what urge you have. If you were to act upon this urge do you think that will help in the short/long term? What has happened in the past when you have responded in this way? Sometimes our urges are based too heavily on our emotional responses which can lead to impulsive, and sometimes, overall non-conducive behaviours hence why it can be helpful to pause, reflect upon our urges and other choices of actions we can take before acting.
· Walk Away: This may be hard for both you and the other person. Perhaps you are a person who does not wish to ‘stand down’, you want to resolve an argument quickly, you want to reason with them and make them see the way they are acting is unreasonable. However, often no constructive conversations can be had when emotions are high. When emotions are intense, this can lead to stronger negative thinking which together can lead to words being said or actions being taken that are far from helpful. It is hard for a person who has become angry to take in and listen to what is being said to them. Their cognitive processes are narrowed thus their ability to absorb and process what is being said to them is greatly impaired. So tell them that it is too difficult to have a constructive conversation with them when emotions are high, you are walking away but will speak with them again when emotions have settled. It can even be helpful to inform them that this is the action you will begin to make if a future anger episode were to occur so that they are aware of your reasons for walking away rather than misinterpreting this which may anger them further.
· Speak with Them Afterwards: Once the angry episode has passed, both theirs, and your, emotions have settled, and it is generally a good time (e.g. not a busy time or too close to going to bed) have a discussion with the person about the episode. Express what the impact was of their angry behaviours, even include a degree of vulnerability here if you can. For example, ‘it made me feel scared’ or ‘it has been lowering my self-esteem which I’m already struggling with’. Assert your needs and wishes, including what behaviours you want them to work on. This can help them to understand and (hopefully) appreciate things from your perspective. If there is an aspect that you brought into the situation that contributed to the escalation that would be good for you to work on yourself it is good to take responsibility for this. By hearing you take responsibility for something this models responsibility taking and can hopefully lead to the other person accepting responsibility. Also provide them space to voice their thoughts.
· Avoid Criticism: You may wish to impart harsh (yet fair!) words when someone around you is being angry. It can often be challenging to receive criticism, however, if someone is feeling angry this can be perceived as particularly threatening and is only likely to lead to an escalation of anger so try to avoid saying critical things during this time. When emotions have settled, and you discuss the angry episodes focus on their behaviour as opposed to using labels, for example, ‘when you did X, this led me to feel X’ rather than ‘you’re an angry, nasty person’
· Calm yet Firm: As hard as it can be try not to let your emotions lead you to become angry in response. Even though you may not feel it, try to remain calm through the way you speak, your posture and your actions. If the other person detects you becoming angry, even subconsciously, this can be perceived as threatening and can further fuel the other person’s anger. As well as trying to remain calm, try to be firm. If the person who has become angry detects passivity this can also elicit more dominant behaviour from them. So a calm, yet firm, stance is the best middle ground and you will also be prouder of yourself when you look back at how well you managed the situation
· Stay Boundaried: This is linked to the above tip. Through being calm and firm, assert your boundaries. Consider what you are willing and not willing to tolerate and communicate this clearly and firmly to the person. Acknowledge your rights as an individual and stick with your boundaries. If the person is being verbally or physically aggressive, it's important to set boundaries and make it clear that their behavior is not acceptable. · Reflect on Your Past: Ask yourself what is your past experiences of anger and confrontation within and outside of your family when growing up? What was the impact upon you then? How did you learn to cope back then? When you face someone who is being angry in the here and now are your thinking and emotional responses as well as coping responses similar to those in the past when you experienced someone being angry? If so, how much are these accurate and helpful in the here and now? Would it be helpful to tweak some of your responses where you can? For example, I know for myself, during past experiences of confrontation/when being the recipient of anger I coped by shutting down and remaining silent. This has led me to be overly passive over the years in such situations which is not helpful for me or the situation. It helps me to be mindful of this default coping mechanism coming in and to work harder at asserting myself and remaining boundaried during such situations in the here and now. · Reflect on Their Past: In a similar way, try to reflect upon the past of those who are being angry that is perhaps partly contributing to their raised emotions. Anger is a secondary emotion, another primary emotion underlies anger, often fear and anxiety linked to threat and insecurities. Not that you need to play the role of a therapist for them but it can be helpful to reflect upon what is underlying their anger This is not to justify and excuse their angry behaviours but it can help your understanding of their inner workings and behaviours as well as learn what their needs are and how best to navigate challenging situations with them. · Listen actively: Try to listen to the person's concerns without interrupting or judging them. This can help the person feel heard and validated. · Acknowledge their feelings: Let the person know that you understand their feelings and that you're willing to work with them to find a solution. · Offer support: If the person is expressing anger in response to a specific situation or experience, offer support and help them find resources that can assist them in dealing with the underlying issue. · Seek professional help: If the person's anger is causing harm to themselves or others, or if the situation feels unmanageable, it may be necessary for them to seek support from a mental health professional or other trained expert.
Dealing with an angry person can be challenging, but it's important to approach the situation with empathy, patience, and a willingness to find a solution that works for everyone involved.
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