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Coping with Others' Anger
By Lawrence Feinstein, PhD
discomfort and/or fear.
Breathe! Do slow,
deep, relaxing breathing.
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.
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.
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?"
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?
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.
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 and last to develop in relationships. 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 less thinking occurs and 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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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