“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh tongue stirs up anger”.
How do you respond when you’re angry? What mentality overcomes you—the “turn the other cheek” philosophy or the “eye for an eye” mentality?
In situations where we experience anger, our reaction to the situation can often times be the deciding factor that either fans the flames or diffuses a situation.
When I worked in the inpatient psychiatric hospital setting, I taught a behavioral management course to incoming staff. Amongst many techniques, the technique that deescalated a situation almost every time was remaining calm in response to a heated situation. Remembering to keep your voice low in response to the angry person, body language relaxed, and eye contact continuous but not overbearing, were the key responses in bringing a person’s anger down to a reasonable and communicative level.
It is in our biological make-up to mirror the actions of another human being (i.e. mirror neurons in action!), especially when we like that other person. So by remaining calm and lowering our voices, it has the ability to cause the person that you may be in opposition with to instinctively lower their voice, and in turn, calm them down.
While you and the other person may not have a positive relationship, the key here is that one person’s reaction to the other has the ability to completely calm the other person down or oppositely, incite them. Next time you are in a heated situation, I encourage you to try this.
When we lash out at another person in response to their anger, it only adds the proverbial fuel to the fire. As in the Proverbs verse above, our response to a situation is very powerful. How we choose to conduct ourselves has great bearing on almost any situation that we are in.
Consider this scenario. Your child is misbehaving. They’ve torn the house apart and are not listening to you when you’re telling them to take a bath. You have two choices here. One, you can scream at them until the cows come home which will most likely result in tears and a spanking—and you losing your cool. Or you can take a deep breath, approach them calmly, offering choices and speaking quietly.
A child’s response to the situation will become directly influenced by how you respond to them. While the first option I mentioned may be effective for the short term, it will most likely help your child develop a maladaptive set of behaviors and they will learn that “screaming gets stuff done”. The second option, although more time-consuming and requiring more patience, will inadvertently teach your child how to handle a tough situation. See the difference?
Second example. Your partner has just really angered you. They forgot to pick up milk and laundry detergent on the way home, are now totally engrossed in that “stupid video game” they like, and their dishes from breakfast are still sitting on the counter.
Once again, you have two choices. The first choice is to give into that disproportionate rage you may feel as a result of working all day, not getting enough sleep the night before, and feeling brain fried-lashing out at your partner and screaming “You can’t do anything right!! What a loser! You are so lazy!”. Or you can calmly make your way to where your partner is, sit down to ask them to clean up after themselves, and or ask them to go with you to the store to get the items that they forgot, turning the anger into a proactive response where you actually get to spend time with your partner reconnecting.
I’ve seen the first reaction play out time and time again with the couples I work with in therapy and I will tell you that after a time, the angry partner ends up causing the other partner to shut down. When the screaming starts, the other partner either leaves or slowly begins to detach from the relationship—losing the desire to make their angry partner happy.
Remember: You have no control over what the other person’s response will be to your calmness. But by you taking the responsibility of staying in control of your emotions and reacting calmly and assertively to a situation, it will diffuse your own anger and allow you to become more approachable in the long haul. Not to mention, your blood pressure will stay at a healthy level and after continuing to practice peaceful communication, it will become second nature to who you are!
Developing and cultivating a calm response to situations takes time, energy, and practice. For many people, it is not an intrinsic response. Perhaps you grew up in a household where you watched your parents yell, fight, and slam doors to prove a point. Perhaps over the years, the only way you felt heard was to yell. Either way, when we continually exhibit a negative set of behaviors, they will become engrained pieces of our personalities—humans are patterned creatures with a propensity to gravitate towards the familiar.
Being the best version of ourselves and making healthy choices in responding to anger calmly can be very difficult! Especially if you feel that your newer healthy responses are not as effective as your previous angry self.
Anger has the ability to corrode even the healthiest of relationships. Disproportionate anger especially. Taking out our own personal stress on the people that we are closest to and not giving them a pass for those simple shortcomings (forgetting to buy groceries, leaving the bed unmade, forgetting to take the trash out) are the quickest ways to alienate your partner or children.
The next time that you can feel the rage start to bubble up, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Seeking to understand yourself and what is causing you to react in a certain way is a powerful key in behavior change. I encourage people to use the Alcoholics Anonymous acronym HALT for a quick assessment on what’s going on. Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and or Tired? If you answer yes to any of those questions, chances are you are not in a good place to begin with.
Attempt to alleviate the HALT issues that are occurring and then tackle your grievances—calmly.
Food for thought: if you have “lost your cool” today, remember that you are human and tomorrow is another opportunity to practice peaceful communication and anger management.
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” –Proverbs 12:18
Encouraging you to practice calmness and peace in your interactions today and everyday,