When someone else is angry, it can trigger all sorts of responses including our natural defenses, a sense of overwhelm, underlying self-doubts, or a combination of many internal playlists. Those defensive mechanisms are there to protect us, and if you’re in real danger, then seek safety immediately. However, most angry outbursts aren’t really about you. They are about the pain and inner story of the person that’s yelling.
The first thing to do when you’re around someone who is angry is to allow a pause—a breath—for yourself. Even the great wisdom teachers have to allow space for a breath before proceeding with a wise response. It gives you the space you need to not react but better assess the situation and respond wisely.
When people are angry or yelling at you, reassure yourself that the reason they are angry most likely has nothing to do with you. You just stumbled on a trigger. Give the person who is angry your full attention, helping them to know you are fully listening to what they are saying. Do not defend yourself or bring up any other issue in which you feel they are at fault. (Save that for another, less emotional time.) For now, just let them feel heard.
When they’ve finished, ask if there is anything else. Make sure they’re done and have truly emptied what’s been bottled up. By this time, their own emotional reactivity will have settled down (those chemicals in their brain that took over) and if you’ve been able to give them a true listening space, they will feel seen and heard—which may be what they really wanted all along.
If you need to apologize for something, do so. Include how important your relationship with that person is to you.
It may take some practice to “allow” someone’s anger without getting rigid or defensive, but an open gentle space will diffuse their anger much more quickly. Defensiveness or a mutual heightened emotional state will only inflame the situation. It’s NOT EASY but can make all the difference in the world.
[Of course, never EVER put yourself in danger. If someone’s anger is out of control and you feel like you’re in danger, leave immediately.]
Then, when you get some personal space, practice some self-care. You don’t have to be in a different room or anything. The following self-care “check-in” can be practiced anywhere and the more often you do it, the better you’ll feel in general. This self-care is important, so please don’t omit it.
Ask yourself: What is your immediate experience?
- Find your ground. Feel your feet on the earth, your body in its chair, etc. Really feel into what is beneath you and how it contacts your body, supporting it.
- Feel your body as you breathe three breaths.
- Ask yourself these three questions:
- What am I experiencing right now? (in your body, your mood, your thoughts)
- How am I relating to it? (am I allowing that it’s happening? am I resisting?)
- What can I do? (a wise, kind response for your needs)
- Notice how you feel now after going through these three questions. How has it changed in your body, your feelings?