Bay Area Health Psychology  

Topics of Interest

Return to the Table of Contents

Coping with Others’ Anger

By Lawrence Feinstein, PhD

  1. Acknowledge own discomfort and/or fear.

  2. Breathe!  Do slow, deep, relaxing breathing.

  3. Coping self-talk:

    a)   I don’t like this.
    b)   I can cope with my feelings.  I can let him/her be this way.
    c)   I wish this were over.  I really wish I were not here now.
    d)   This is going to be over soon.
    e)   I’m safe.  No one is going to hurt me.
    f)    I’m going to get through this.
    g)   It’s going to be OK.

  4. Understand that people who yell and scream are 2-year old children in large bodies having a temper tantrum.  Your job is to remain calm and listen.

  5. Realize separateness between you and the other person; boundaries; separate identity; independence; individuation.  Realize that you can be and are OK even if the other person holds a very different opinion from your’s, namely, that they blame you for everything that is wrong.  Check-in with your own opinion and sense of judgment; ask yourself, “What do I think is appropriate?”

  6. Remain sensitive to the other person’s feelings, but don’t engage (or disengage) from their anger:  Visualize a plexi-glass shield between you and the other person. Understand that while there is much hot anger (red hot gas or ugly blackish-greenish ooze) on the other side of the shield, on your side it is pleasantly warm and calming with a gentle Hawaiian ocean breeze.

Or, visualize the other person sitting in a large tub full of smelly, brown, bubbly feces.  Each time they yell at you, they are picking up a handful of feces stew and throwing it at you to try to get you to come into the tub with them.  Are you going to let the feces stick to you?  Are you going to crawl down into that smelly tub?

  1. Don’t try to explain your position or engage in an argument.  Realize that someone who is very angry is not able to receive your message.  If you feel like “explaining” something to them or trying to get them to “understand” your position, or if you feel like “defending” yourself or even counter-attacking, you are trying to change the other person, or at least their thoughts.  It won’t work while they are very angry; their defenses (shields) are up and they are not receptive to any input.

Developing “Emotional Safety”:

Three forms of intimacy in a relationship include (1) sex, (2) play, and (3) anger.  Surprisingly, sex is the easiest.  Anger is the most difficult.  Play is a form of letting go and allowing our feelings to show more naturally, like children.  Anger is like this too but involves negative feelings that are often frightening for people.

However, anger and its expression are a vital part of building intimacy in a relationship.  People who avoid anger and confrontation, and their appropriate forms of expression, during the courting phase of their relationship often experience serious relationship difficulties later.  They learn that they have few skills for dealing with conflicts, and feel scared and insecure to feel and express themselves honestly.

Emotional safety refers to feelings of safety and unconditional acceptance that can be developed in a relationship so each partner feels free to have feelings and honestly express them.  When we learn in a relationship that we are acceptable and safe even when angry and expressing it, and that our partner will not reject or abandon us, we often become calm with our anger and more able to express it clearly in words.  We are often then more willing to allow our partner to express their feelings more clearly, too.

Over time, we and our partner learn that there are many levels of anger, from bugged to enraged, and that the security of the relationship is actually enhanced when people practice expressing their anger openly, honestly, and appropriately (e.g., “I feel bothered about ...”) at lower levels.  The more intense the anger becomes, the more difficult it is to contain it and express it in words.  Nevertheless, it needs to be expressed. 

The following paragraphs show some of the techniques that help our partner to express his/her higher levels of anger.

  1. Accept and let go:  When the other person gets angry, don’t leave.  Instead, listen to their concerns, acknowledge their feelings, help them explore what they are feeling and put into words.  This will often help their anger dissipate.

  2. To help the other person through their anger and toward resolution, “admit” to being “wrong” and ask what the other person would like you to do to help them feel better or to help the situation. You do not have to agree with their blame or agree to cooperate.  You are just helping them to put into words what is bothering them.  “What would you like me to do to help you feel better?”  “Please tell me in words what you want.”

  3. Some things to say when you are dealing with someone who is often very angry:

a)   I feel scared when you get this angry.  (Don’t use this line when you are talking
to someone who is “unsafe” and who does not care about your feelings.)

b)   I feel distant from you when you get this angry.  I feel pushed away.

c)   We’re on the same side.  What can I do to help.

d)   It is hard for me to stay calm when you get this angry this often.

  1. Continue to monitor your feelings.  If you find that you are winding up, getting very tense or angry, or becoming defensive, cut back on your sensitivity, respond less to the other person, and respond more to your own feelings by talking to yourself and reminding yourself that you are adult and safe.

CONTACT US

Email: Info4BAHP@Gmail.com

Telephone: (650) 999-0220

Fax: (855) 999-0220

Our Location: Map
1690 Woodside Road, Suite 221
Redwood City, CA 94061

Click to:

Learn About Us

Learn About Patient Services

Learn About Provider Services

Request an Appointment

Request Information

Fees and Insurance

Make a Referral

Featured Articles:

How to Choose a Psychotherapist

Site Map

Copyright© 2013-2017 Bay Area Health Psychology. All rights reserved.

This website is for informational purposes only. Information offered in this website does not constitute a professional relationship, advice, or service with or from Bay Area Health Psychology, its providers or affiliates.