Have you ever had to deal with someone who just wouldn’t stop yelling, screaming, and insulting you (or someone you know)? It isn’t an easy thing to cope with. In fact, it’s very humiliating, demeaning, and embarrassing. I work with a lot of families who display difficult patterns of behavior at home, in the community, and in my office. It isn’t easy to change a pattern of behavior that becomes ingrained in the relationship and communication style of the relationship.
What do you do when someone is so angry that they will go so far as to embarrass and humiliate you? I say get calm and “shut-down.”
This article will briefly discuss ways to deter an argument before it gets started.
Anger is an emotional catharsis. It is a poor way to regulate one’s own emotions. It often stems from negative, skewed, or incorrect thought patterns. It may also stem from powerful emotions such as envy/jealousy, arrogance, low self-esteem, and/or shame or humiliation among many other emotions.
Anger is also very normal. We were designed to express anger. But when anger becomes abusive, insulting, or humiliating to others, it is a problem. When it becomes the only display of emotion within a relationship, it is a problem.
When I see clients for depression and anxiety, I often ask about anger in their lives. Some say that they are not angry when they really are. Others say they are angry when they really aren’t. Believe it or not, most people would benefit from an educational course on what anger is and is not. In fact, I once counseled a client with Borderline Personality Disorder who swore he was not angry. It took over 16 sessions before he could admit that he had been holding malice toward his grandfather in his heart. He didn’t realize that his anger was manifested as self-harm, suicidal ideation, and risky behaviors. Symptoms that were characterized as BPD were motivated by internalized anger. Years of treatment for BPD were unsuccessful because he had never truly came to terms with the fact that he was angry. He thought that because he didn’t yell, scream, slam things, argue, or confront others that he wasn’t angry. But his anger was very clear to me when he would shut-down in family sessions, refuse to talk or explore ideas, and triangulate.
It is important to understand where anger is stemming from and how to get it under control. Sadly, not everyone is dedicated to this matter and may believe their anger isn’t a problem.
As a result, I have come up with 6 “tools” that seem to work for me and my clients. When someone is attempting to engage you in a dispute or confrontation, you should:
- Get very calm: Interestingly, some people never get a chance to get their anger off the ground when you don’t give them anything to go on. If you don’t say a word they have nothing to say about you or your statement. If you refrain from doing anything, they have nothing to judge you on. They have nothing to say about you. They have nothing to “prove” about you if you don’t act out. The only thing left to look at is their own behavior. When you get calm when someone is attacking you, you are maintaining self-control and the control of the climate. When you respond and lose control of your emotions in response to someone calling you out, you are allowing them to control you and pull you out of your calm demeanor. They win at this point.
- Not respond to unfounded statements: Most statements, during an argument or confrontation, are made to pick at the sensitive parts of who you are. The statements are made to make you feel a certain way. They are almost always incorrect, motivated by emotion, and maintained by a skewed perception. Don’t let statements that don’t make sense, add up, or aren’t true make you respond negatively or angrily. Once you do, you give the other person control over you and your emotions. Again, they win.
- Ignore personal attacks: Personal attacks are made to make you feel bad about yourself. They are “low punches” and attacks aimed at your self-esteem. Name calling, cursing, or bringing up the past (including embarrassing or humiliating details) is a low way to gain control over the other person. Ignore the person who may use this tool in arguments. Why would you respond to someone who isn’t capable of having an adult conversation? Why would you respond to a statement that clearly isn’t logical and is only based on emotion aimed at making you feel bad? Personal attacks say more about the other person than they do you. Ignore it.
- Fight the urge to react strongly: Urges to respond to someone who is emotionally distraught and angry can be very strong and difficult to overcome. Practice will be extremely important. When someone is yelling at you, calling you names or cursing, humiliating you, or even threatening your safety, it can be really difficult to not respond, ignore the behavior, and walk away. But if you are able to take the high road, do it. You win if you don’t give in to childish and unhealthy patterns of behavior. Keep in mind that this may be a very difficult thing for you to practice. Give yourself room for error and improvement.
- Overcome with good: My mom would also remind me of the scripture verse that says “overcome evil with good.” She was right. Any time I have ever had to engage in a dispute of some sort I was able to overcome the situation (and the person) with good. Sometimes this isn’t the best approach so know when to use this tool.
- Distract yourself and then reflect: Once the argument or confrontation is over, distract yourself until you are capable of calming down and reflecting. Once you are able to calm down, use that time to reflect on what happened, how you may have contributed or not contributed, and how to approach the situation (or a similar situation) in the future. Learn from what happened and move on. If you owe someone an apology, be the bigger person and do it. If not, consider how you need to be with the person as you move forward.
Do you have any tips or thoughts on how to manage a situation where you are interacting with a difficult and angry person?
As always, looking forward to hearing your stories.
I wish you well
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