By UB therapist and anger management specialist, Aaron Karmin, LCPC
Here are some helpful techniques when responding to someone else’s anger:
Technique #1: Agree With It!
You can choose to agree with the feelings, not the facts. Agree that he feels the way he feels: You can say, “It’s awful, isn’t it!” Or, “I don’t blame you for being angry.” You are not agreeing that he is right in his “facts.” You are just letting him know you heard what he said! You are merely agreeing that he said it. This is not “pleasing,” or “kow-towing,” or “giving him the satisfaction.” It is taking the wind out of his sails.
Technique #2: Do The Unexpected
As you replace your childhood beliefs of “control” with mature ones in the present, your anxiety level comes down. You are freeing yourself to override your own inappropriate attitudes as they rise up, and choose to operate out of your civilized judgment. You are freeing yourself to do the last thing he expects you to do. This includes agreeing that he feels the way he feels: “I don’t blame you for being angry.” He can’t fight that. If he tries, you can agree with that, too! You are not agreeing that he is “right” in his facts, merely that he feels the way he feels at the time. You can’t talk him out of his non-rational feelings and attitudes. It is a mistake to try. As a self-respecting human being, you can choose not to do it.
Technique #3: Validate The Anger
You can use the word “angry” in a sentence, “I don’t blame you for being angry,” or, “I’d be angry too…” You are not his enemy! You are on his side! When you validate his anger, you are validating him. You are giving him permission to have the emotions he has. No one ever has ever done that for him before. He might like it. He might even calm down.
Technique #4: Shift Your Gears
You can choose to calm yourself down, and put your own anger in a moderate, manageable perspective: “It’s not the end of the world. It’s only a regrettable circumstance between two imperfect people in an imperfect world.”
Technique #5: Express Appropriate Regret That It Happened
You can choose to replace your old, deferential mind-set with a better one: Regret is the wish that things were other than they are. But they aren’t. This thing happened, and it’s regrettable. We can’t live with guilt, even when it is fictitious guilt, or self-recrimination. “Guilty” people can only exist till they die. We can live with the regret that we are less than perfect drivers. Saying “I’m sorry that it happened” is a sign of personal strength and self-respect. This is what Nietzsche meant when he said, “What doesn’t kill me makes me strong.”
Technique #6: Do Not Defend
As soon as you defend, you lose. In so doing, you are making his accusations real, as if they were worthy of rebuttal. Your imperfections are not crimes, and you are not guilty as he charges that you are. You may have violated a county statute, but you are not a guilty criminal worthy of instant extinction. He is not the judge and jury. You can replace your fictitious guilt with the regret that you aren’t as perfect a driver as you might wish yourself to be. You require no defense under these battlefield conditions. Do not give him one. He will only knock it down. Instead, you can validate his concern: “Don’t you hate when this happens!” Or, “There’s just too much traffic on the road these days, isn’t there?” Your response doesn’t have to be literally true. He doesn’t care. It’s not his problem. All he sees is that you avoided stepping on his provocative land mine. You didn’t give him a target for his childish rage.
Technique #7: Our Secret Weapon: Self-Respect
The antidote to losing your self-worth in these close encounters of the worst kind is to put your current problem on a sound footing. It is true that a perfect driver would have been able to avoid this regrettable circumstance, but you are not one of them. You can remind yourself that you are covered against such mishaps in advance: You are worthwhile in spite of it. You wish it hadn’t happened, but it did. You are prepared to make appropriate, not inappropriate amends.
Technique #8: Stress Reduction
Stress is what happens when we exceed our ability to adapt. These run-ins are very stressful. They are hard to adapt to. We never took adapting lessons. We didn’t go to school for this. We feel inadequately prepared to cope with this mess, and it’s too late to prepare now. We feel angry and out-of-control, and this leads to painful anxiety and self-doubt. These are internal stresses that we bring to the situation from the past. They compound the pain of the external stress we are under.
Technique #9: Discretion
We are not agreeing that he is “right” in his facts. These aren’t facts at all. These are his mindless attitudes speaking. They are overriding his adult judgment, and predisposing him to behave like the overgrown third-grader he is. We aren’t going to tell him that. That’s for us to know and him to find out. This attitude is called, Discretion-“The power to choose how much or how little we wish to reveal.” We are choosing to reveal very little. We are angry too, but we are choosing not to give him any ammunition to use against us.
Technique #10: Don’t React, Respond
We do not defend or counter-attack. Those are reactions to his provocation. Those are our attitudes firing. They are out of our conscious control. Instead, we can use our own adult judgment as our means of regaining positive control. We free ourselves to make the choice not to take his provocations personally as if they were a reflection on our worth as a person. The whole thing is merely regrettable, perhaps even very regrettable. We can’t live with “guilt,” it hurts too much, but we can live with regret. This unfortunate incident only proves we are imperfect, which we already knew. We wish that things were otherwise, but they aren’t. We are worthwhile in spite of it. We always were. We will be again.
Like this article? Check out Aaron’s Anger Management Workbook for Men, a new guide that teaches men the skills they need to manage their anger without aggression.