How to Respond to Anger and Angry People

Assertiveness

by Susan Dunn

If you want to stay well, the best path for handling anger is to experience as little of it as possible. However, we aren’t all lamas, we live in increasingly stressful times, and to be numb and feel nothing is no solution either.

We need our emotions for the information they give us and to connect with others. But here are two ways not to handle anger. Research shows that both expressing it OR repressing it leave us at-risk for heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.

The best approach is a flexible one, where we choose a suitable strategy depending upon the circumstances. Constructive discontent depends upon self-awareness, practice, and being able to experience the anger, have the self-control to possibly temper it, and to think about how you’ll respond, if at all.

This is what you can do for yourself. But what do you do when you’re forced to deal with someone who has no anger management skills. They’re toxic to be around and you’re not going to change them, so you need to protect yourself. You’re probably very good at this.

What I want to talk about in this article is the feelings their behavior will INDUCE in you that you want to resist. This effect is particularly strong in intimate relationships where emotions are intensified and we tend to lose our perspective.

THE EXPRESSER

This is the person who thinks the world should know when they’re angry, and waves should part in order to make their life trouble-free. When something goes wrong, they blame anyone but themselves and make a lot of noise. They never see themselves as part of the problem (or the solution) and don’t mind what their outburst does to the other person.

It’s their hope that in doing this others will take action to make them happy, give them what they want, or stop doing what they’re doing, and the reason this works is because it’s worked in the past.

Obviously your self-protection plan includes getting away, limiting your time with them, putting up a Plexiglas shield, and making sure you don’t take what they say personally. In other words, don’t pick up the anger they’re trying to pass on to you. Let it flow through you and get on your way.

What feelings will be induced? If you don’t keep your personal boundaries, you’ll feel a pull toward placating. What you pick up is what they’re not expressing – their basic fear and feelings of helplessness.

Our natural urge with someone who’s afraid and panicking is to comfort or soothe them. In fact, if exposed to them enough, we start walking on eggshells, keeping the children quiet, and trying to smooth things out for them in anticipation of their tantrums, basically giving up our own personality, needs and desires. We take on their fear and need to control.

This can turn you into a doormat and, while your heart may be in the right place, it actually defeats your purposes. First of all, you can’t make life easier for a person like this. Most of their anger is self-generated because it’s their habit and what makes them feel comfortable (oddly enough). (And studies show that expressing anger perpetuates it, so there’s more anger.) Other people have the same frustrations, after all, and manage to stay on an even keel most of the time. Like you!

Secondly, when they get angry what they want to do it pass it on to someone else. When you get in the middle, so-to-speak, and try to explain away their anger, or make things better, it just infuriates them.

The lesson: Be aware of being induced to feel responsible for their anger, and to feel you can (and should) do something about it. If you’ve done something that needs correcting, of course do so, but understand that you aren’t globally responsible for making their life frustration-free. Refuse to accept the feelings they can’t deal with and therefore want to get you to accept on their behalf.

THE REPRESSOR

This is the person who seems to just take it and take it and never get angry. Others may call them “a saint,” or “long-suffering,” or “sweet,” but you may experience it differently. Underneath this placid exterior, there’s a cauldron of resentment and unmet needs. “A person who is outwardly calm,” say the Filipinos, “has anger raging inside.”

When they get angry, instead of getting in your face, the person who represses anger turns cold and distances themselves, a sort of anger that’s even harder to deal with. When you’ve seen them do this to others, you may find yourself pussy-footing around this person, knowing that one slip and you’ll be ostracized forever. They are very unforgiving. Flame that’s blue is hotter than flame that’s yellow, and cold-steel anger is harder to endure than red-hot anger. It’s “the silent treatment” with lots of stuffed down inside.

The same strategies apply – avoiding them if you can, not taking responsibility for their anger, staying centered, and keeping your boundaries.

What feelings will be induced? They want you to feel and express the anger that’s seething within them. You’ll find yourself getting angrier and angrier, while they sit there with a smug smile on their face. It’s like smoke and mirrors, if you don’t understand the dynamics behind it. In fact you’ll even begin to feel guilty about being angry at someone who’s “so nice,” or experience a general sense of guilt because someone you’re responsible, and somehow you’ve failed.

What happens is that when you take the bait, they move in for the kill. “I can’t imagine why you get so upset,” they’ll say, or “I can’t deal with someone who’s so angry,” or “You’re so immature.”

If this puts you over the edge, that’s the scenario they want – you very angry, and them, coldly arrogant about their “self-control.”

Emotional intelligence starts with self-awareness. You need to understand your response to others who have low EQ, and what is likely to push your buttons.

People with low EQ can be quite adept at figuring out what annoys other people; in fact it’s an important part of their strategy. Since they don’t know how to get what they want in mature, healthy ways, their needs aren’t met, and become even more pressing.

They have a way of bringing out the worst in others. If this happens to you, learn from the experience. Process what went on and identify exactly when and where you took the bait. This is the point where you found yourself waving in the breeze, realizing that whatever you said, you were “dead.” Boxed in and rendered impotent, you’ve taken on the anger, and the other person gets to gloat. Having given up on getting needs met, they settle for making you feel bad.

Working with a coach can be helpful, because they can help you see objectively what happened and why, and present alternative strategies that work. Manipulative people can set up a smoke screen it’s hard to see through, even in retrospect.

With a little practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

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Author:Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach. Susan Dunn may be contacted at http://www.susandunn.cc sdunn@susandunn.cc