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How to cope with someone else's anger

We all get angry; from feeling irritated to blind rage. Anger is a powerful emotion triggered by a threat or a real or imagined wrong done to someone. It is often a means of protecting ourselves from other vulnerable feelings such as feeling disrespected, feelings of being trapped or controlled or fear. When thinking about anger, it is neither good nor bad but it becomes a problem when it negatively affects us or our relationships with family, friends or colleagues. Learning how to deal with anger leads to more fulfilling relationships with others.

Generally, some people tend to verbally express their anger by shouting or threatening while others internalise their anger due to various reasons. When anger is suppressed in a relationship, it may lead to behaviours such as jealousy, verbally attacking, blaming, negatively criticising, exploding emotionally, questioning, or by self-harming. Furthermore, if feelings of anger in a relationship are not addressed, it can result in hostility, guilt, loneliness, rejection, suspicion or inferiority. People with long-term and intense anger have higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and self-harming behaviours.

Witnessing or being on the receiving end of someone else’s anger can be frightening and, often, we don’t know how to handle the situation. Below are 10 points which may help when dealing with someone else’s anger:

  1. Never get involved unnecessarily in another person’s anger, i.e. do not take sides in a fight.

  2. As mentioned, anger is a secondary emotion linked to feelings such as fear, hurt, rejection or humiliation etc. Try to identify the core emotion being covered by the anger.

  3. Acknowledge and validate the other person’s feelings of anger.

  4. If you have a part to play in the other person’s feelings, accept responsibility.

  5. Try to remain calm. Remaining calm can help the both of you as things can escalate quickly if you are angry as well.

  6. If you cannot remain calm, acknowledge your own feelings of anger but do not try to win the argument or fight. If need be, remove yourself from the situation until you are calm enough to continue the conversation.

  7. Try calming the other person down so that you can have a positive conversation and find a solution. It may help to give the person some time to cool down. You can continue the conversation once she or he seems less irritated and is able to engage in a constructive conversation.

  8. Try to remain objective and verify the facts. Help the person identify her or his reasons for being angry and encourage her or him to calmly explain it to you.

  9. Do not let feelings of guilt or loyalty interfere with your ability to remain calm or constructively resolve the anger.

  10. Repair the relationship: admit any wrongdoing and apologise in a sincere manner.

Being able to cope positively with anger in a relationship, can lead to feelings of optimism, increased self-worth, an increased ability to solve problems and achieve personal goals. Suppressed or internalised anger may lead to regrettable actions. Therefore, it is important to discuss and then let go of the anger and move on.

Being afraid or feeling threatened by someone else’s anger is unfortunately not an uncommon find in our current society. If this is a situation you find yourself in, ask for help. If anger is interfering in your everyday functioning, well-being or relationships, it may benefit you to consult with a mental health care professional.

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