How to Respond to a Loved One’s Anger

In our last Mindful Minute, we shared information on Understanding the Anger Iceberg.

Beneath everyone’s anger lies more complex feelings.  The anger iceberg illustrates how anger is what is showing externally and that a person’s internal experience is often more raw and vulnerable.

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What the anger iceberg does not explain, though, is what to do when someone you love is directing their anger at you. Being around an angry person is very difficult. That anger can jeopardize that ability to maintain a loving relationship and have closeness. You want to get to what is under the anger.

Here are tips on responding to someone’s anger:

  1. Do not take it personally. Their anger is usually not about you.  Try taking a curious or investigative approach to the anger.  This shift in perspective, from defensive to inquisitive, may help you to really see what is going on. Remember, there is something beneath the anger. Is it fear? Loneliness? Frustration?
  2. Do not try to fix their feelings. The goal here is not to change or fix their anger.  You may not be able to calm the person down, but you can hear them. You can abandon any attempts to reason or defend yourself. Just listen. When a person stops trying so hard to convince you why they are justified in being angry, they may be able to move through their anger and access the feelings underneath.
  3. Restate what they need.  There is usually some unmet need that is going unheard and unmet. Can you identify that and bring the focus to that unmet need?
  4. Leave. If their anger is harmful, threatening, or destructive to you, leave.

Anger is usually an attempt to cover up some kind of pain or vulnerability—listen for that pain.

This is never an easy task, but to salvage meaningful, fulfilling relationships, it may be necessary. If you and your loved one are experiencing frequent, unresolved anger issues, consider getting help. Trained mental health professionals, like the Clinical Social Workers at Mindful Transitions, can help you work through the anger and salvage your relationship.  To learn more about our service, please call us at (678) 637-7166.