Do have someone in your life who is frequently angry, confrontational or aggressive? You know the kind of person I’m talking about. This person makes unfair statements and then cuts you off every time you try to have your say, brings up controversial topics at the dinner table and seems to pick fights at every turn. If you were to think back over the months or years, you’ll probably recall memories of this person engaging in regular conflicts with colleagues, family and friends. Whilst you may occasionally fantasise about cutting this person out of your life, this is not always an option, particularly if the angry and confrontational person is a colleague, family member or partner/family member of someone close to you.
Angry, confrontational people can have an incredibly negative impact on others, often leaving anyone at the receiving end of such hostility reeling for days after such an encounter. Therefore, to help you take care of yourself and minimise the impact on your emotional and physical well-being, I’d like to share some tips on dealing with the angry person in your life:
Evaluate the anger
Trying to understand the bigger picture may be the last thing you feel like doing when faced with someone who’s shouting at or insulting you. However, take a few deep breaths and listen to what they’re saying. Ask yourself – Is their anger justified? Is there some truth in what they’re saying? Remember that anger often comes from a place of hurt, fear or rejection. This doesn’t justify bad behaviour, of course, but trying to see behind the angry words may help abate your own anger and see the other person with more compassionate eyes. Once you’ve evaluated the situation, take responsibility for your contribution, if any, to the conflict. Apologising for any hurt you may have caused can go a long way towards reconciliation and healing.
Try to remain calm
Rather than shouting or hurling insults back, acknowledge the other person’s distress with a statement such as – ‘I can see that you’re very disappointed and hurt right now’. Back this up with non-threatening body language and open posture. This may be very difficult in light of what may be a very unfair and unkind attack, but nothing positive can ever come from meeting another person with the same level of aggression.
Don’t make it personal
It may feel very personal when someone behaves in a hurtful or aggressive manner, particularly if this person is someone close to you. However, avoid the temptation to make personal jibes and focus instead on the person’s behaviour and how you experience them. For instance, rather than telling someone they’re an obnoxious so and so, try saying something like – ‘When you shout at me like that, it makes me feel like I have no space to reply or explain how I’m feeling’ or ‘It hurts me when you call me names’.
Know when to disengage
You’re no-one’s punching bag and need to be wise enough to walk away when you know a heated exchange is going nowhere. If someone is so irate that a healthy, reasonable conversation isn’t on the cards, suggest to the other person that you meet and speak at a later time or another day. This will allow you both time to calm down and reflect on what actually happened, giving you more time to respond appropriately.
Assert your boundaries
Be clear about what you’re willing and not willing to accept. For instance, you may make statements such as “If you continue to shout at me, I’ll have to leave” or “If you continue to bring up topics you know will cause conflict, I won’t invite you for dinner with my friends”. Anticipate that asserting your boundaries may not be appreciated by the other person but assert them anyway and ensure to follow through. If not, you’ll be sending a clear message to the other person that they can get away with such behaviour without any consequences.
Remember, it’s not about you
We all get angry sometimes, and this can mean doing or saying things we regret. However, when someone is frequently angry, rude, aggressive or confrontational, the likelihood is that they’re unable to manage their own personal issues and then project their pain onto others. For instance, someone struggling to find self-acceptance and self-worth may put others down, in the mistaken belief that they’ll feel better about themselves. So, before you get lost in a whirlwind of self-doubt and self-deprecation, remember that this person’s words have nothing to do with who you are or your worth as a person.
Distance yourself emotionally
We need to accept that someone may never change their damaging behaviour and our expectations need to be adjusted accordingly to avoid repeated disappointment and pain. This may require you to grieve the loss of the relationship and accept that, at this point in time, this is all you can expect from this person. By doing so, you’ll stop handing them the ammunition to hurt you time and time again. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself and nurturing your other relationships.