Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nobody Forgets Where He Buried the Hatchet: Dealing with Angry People

Your spouse (friend, parent, partner, colleague, support group member) becomes very angry with you and expresses it in no uncertain terms. Not fun, but there are times that we do let people down and we do have reason to feel bad about what we’ve done (or not done).

In these situations, the best course of action is take ownership of it, apologize, and discuss ways to correct it. This happens a lot in families where one person spends hours and hours caring for Mom/Dad and the other siblings may be clueless about the stress this is taking until the afternoon the frustrated caregiver lets them have it with both barrels.

Since this is a blog for people affected by chronic conditions, it’s important to note that if the person lashing out is dealing with Alzheimer’s, a brain tumor or some other condition that impacts cognition, how you respond will be different in some cases then what is outlined below. The Alzheimer’s Association has a good article on this topic-Aggression and Anger.  In the same vein, if you are a caregiver and your charge suddenly becomes very angry for no apparent reason, it is very possible that something is wrong and their medical provider should be contacted. It could be a reaction to medication, or something else, such as a urinary tract infection

That noted, there are times when a person’s unjustified anger leaves you shamed, anxious, angry and feeling like you’ve been ‘nuked.’ The famous line of Kin Hubbard, “Nobody ever forgets where he buried a hatchet,” definitely reflects the reaction you can have to this type of anger. While you may repair a relationship after such an outburst, you aren’t likely to forget it.

When someone is angrily lashing out at you, consider the following:

• Angry people do this out of fear and the need to gain control. Circumstances, such as endless hours of caregiving, being sick and dependent on others, loosing a job, divorce or any other stressful situation, can render them scared and threatened and so they lash out. Rarely are people angry for the reasons they think they are. Who knows what the trigger might be for them, just don’t take their anger towards you personally.

By the same token, if you find yourself becoming very angry about a situation or person, do a mental check asking yourself  “what am I afraid of?” By understanding your own fears, you can avert an outburst. Anger is a normal emotion. It’s how you deal with it that makes the difference. Learn more about Anger Management.

• Chances are good, they will lash out about the past. You did or didn’t do x, y or z.
The content is often emotional and generally not based in fact, or they want to rehash situations that you’ve apologized and made amends for. When this happen they are in “victim mode,” and it’s all about them.

• Disengage. When someone is angry, there is little you are going to say or do that will make a difference. They’re looking for a fight. Speak softly if at all, and don’t respond. Put distance between yourself and them. While time and distance can reduce the impact of the anger, there are situations where the healthiest thing is not to re engage with this person.

But what if it’s a parent, sibling, or spouse? This is tough to answer because there are so many societal norms that we buy into, whether appropriate or not. I’ve seen families, friends, businesses and even support groups that do everything to placate an angry member, ultimately resulting in less than healthy dynamics within the group and worst of all, the angry person never gets the mental health care they need.

In this social media environment, it’s important to note that people will write things they never would say in person and it can be very damaging.  If you find someone doing this to you, remember there is an  “un friend” button.

• We are all responsible for our behavior and how we feel. While the person lashing out may be feeling unloved, unappreciated, hurt etc., it isn’t your responsibility to take on their emotional vulnerability no matter how much they try to assign it to you. Letting them off the hook by ignoring their behavior and continuing the relationship as if nothing happens is a form of enabling.  As has been discussed in other posts, you can’t change someone. The only thing you can change is how you respond to them.

• If you are regularly having to deal with an angry person, below are tips from Helpguide:
-       Set clear boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate.
-       Wait for a time when you are both calm to talk to your loved one about the anger problem. Don’t bring it up when either one of you is already angry.
-       Remove yourself from the situation if your loved one does not calm down.
-        Consider counseling or therapy for yourself if you are having a hard time standing up for yourself.
-       Put your safety first. Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe or threatened in any way, get away from your loved one and go somewhere safe. Anger Management from Help Guide: In collaboration with Harvard Health Publications.


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