By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
People can get very upset and angry sometimes, can’t they? And some people, when they get upset, lash out at others. And some of those who attack or lash out, can get pretty irrational and difficult to deal with. It can be rather anxiety provoking and scary to be around such people, and ten times so if their guns are pointed at you. How successful have you been at handling these situations and these people? I’d like to help you out with covering some of the worst and then the best ways to respond – equipping you so that you can reduce your anxiety in such situations, feel more personal confidence, and be able to actually help people who are not doing so well inside.
Let’s begin with the worst ways and see how many you find yourself falling into. Most of the time these are conditioned or learned responses that we developed to protect ourselves.
- Tell Them to Turn it Off
Often, when someone encounters an irate person, if they aren’t scared they will let the person know that they need to tone it down or cool off. Bad idea! This will likely incite the attacker even more, like throwing gasoline on the fire.
- Power Up or Threaten Them
The idea here is to show them who’s the boss and get them to back off. If you succeed in getting them to back down it seems like you have done well. However, if this is a person you have to work with or relate to regularly, you may have set up an adversarial situation in which the person now feels they need to get you back, and it could get uglier. Or, you could get a reputation for being difficult to work with, even though you didn’t start it. Threatening someone is always a dangerous game, as you may have to put “your money where your mouth is” and follow through on the threat if they call your bluff. Escalating a threatening situation is extremely unwise! That’s not likely to work out well for you. If this approach appeals to you, then I’m thinking YOU are the irate person this article is written to help other people deal with.
- Get Defensive
This doesn’t seem like such a bad strategy usually. In the moment you maybe feel that you are simply explaining your reasons or answering the person’s questions. However, the attacker is not often assuaged by your explanations, are they? This is the difference between someone actually asking why you did something and someone just wanting to attack you. If you explain and they are still at the same level of upset, then you’ve discovered that they aren’t seeking information; they are wanting to shame you, or they are just raging because that is how they cope with their own internal stuff.
- Respond With Your Own Irrational Anger
How about launching back at them a verbal barrage of your own? It’s different from number 1, as you aren’t specifically powering up, but just ranting, name calling, spewing profanity, or attacking them for a fault or mistake you’ve maybe saved up for just such an opportunity. The idea here is the age old – two wrongs DO make a right. You can just bask in the maturity of it all, can’t you? Do I really need to offer an explanation of how this doesn’t go well?
- Mock Them
So, maybe you’re not the blow up or aggressive type. Instead you prefer to use your sharp wit and sarcasm. You laugh at their behavior and let them know how stupid and immature they are. Oh, and it also makes you feel superior. The point of these first five approaches is to protect yourself by attacking back. They may end the attack, but they are short sighted in their value. They don’t help you learn how to deal with irate people effectively, they don’t help you to develop personal maturity, and they don’t help the irate person learn to understand or manage themselves better.
- Manipulate Them with Tears
Then there are those who think that they would never even consider any of the above responses. They instead melt in the face of someone’s attack. They usually don’t realize that this also is a protective strategy to get the person to back off. And as far as this is concerned, it does rank higher than the aggressive strategies on the list. But it falls short of being a positive way to handle irate people because of its effect on your own self esteem and on people’s perceptions of you.
- Agree with Everything They Say
This is another one of the melt-from-an-attack-approaches. Just cave in. And like the previous one, it wounds one’s own self worth as you become conditioned to believe that you are not capable of dealing with difficult people, or you don’t see yourself as courageous or clever enough. You will probably also create a monster, as the other person will learn to expect that they can get what they want when they treat you this way.
- Plot to Get Them Back
Maybe you stand there and take it on the outside. But on the inside, you are fuming and stuffing your anger and plotting your revenge. The energy involved in holding and nursing a grudge and the investment of plotting in this way is just a huge waste of time and energy! It will not bring the satisfaction or the apology you want. It will not likely convict the offender to repent. It will not heal, it will not repair, it will not build anything of value. And it turns you into a negative, hard hearted person – you are becoming like the offender.
From what we have seen there are many ways that we can be conditioned to respond to anger and threats that aren’t effective in terms of our own coping or resolving the situation or helping the irate person or the relationship. But when we take a look at them and understand how they are unproductive, we will be open to developing more useful approaches. Next time I’ll outline some of those for you.
If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.
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Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.