Helping an angry person – Part 2

Managing your own anger is hard enough, but what do you do when you need to help someone else? After all, you  don’t really know what is going on in that person’s mind, and you can’t change their actions. All you have is some minor influence based on second or third hand knowledge of their situation.

Last time [Link] we covered a basic understanding of anger, assessing the risk/severity of anger, how insight plays a part in someone’s ability to change and when to leave.

Boy throwing paper in a temper tantrum. Rage. Anger.
Rage – an extreme version of anger

Why you might stay with an angry person

There are several excellent reasons to stay with an angry person. Four of the most common reasons are:

Transitional Anger

If the person is coping poorly with a temporary stressor – such as the end of a work contract, poorly managing grief, or a conflict with a family member – then the anger should resolve when the temporary situation does.

Once the situation has resolved and the anger dissipates it is time to have a serious sit down talk about what happened and why that reaction was bad due to how it affected other people. Remember to include in part of this discussion avenues for better managing anger so as not to create aggressive consequences. If this happens semi frequently, then the person should probably see a counsellor about their anger management problem.

Statue of grieving person
Grief – a common phase is anger, but it is generally short term.

Safety

Abusive partners use fear to keep their victim controlled. When the victim (measured by who is scared of the other in the relationship) tries to leave, the perpetrator will frequently escalate their violence (various methods to create fear – such as physical assault, sexual assault, intellectual and emotional abuse, destruction of property etc) in an effort to reassert dominance and control. The risk of murder increases significantly at the point of or shortly after leaving.

This is not to say that all angry people are perpetrators of domestic violence, or that if they are that they will intend to or accidentally kill their victim.

The risk increases and the victim may not feel safe to leave without a good exit strategy. This leaves the person trying to de-escalate the aggression and violence of their perpetrator.

On a side note, I have mostly tried to leave this section gender neutral as it is often assumed that men are not victims or that perpetrators cannot be women. This is not true, however it should be noted that most harm is done by males and that is mostly against females. It is also important to note that most males are not abusive, nor are most females.

Progress

The angry person has insight into their anger and the consequences of it and don’t like the effect. In this case people will often stay with their angry person in the hopes of either the return of the person they fell in love with, or an evolution to a new relationship.

As life is not binary – black or white – there is no stay or don’t stay advice for this. Each case must be assessed on its own merits. If your safety is reasonable and the angry person is making good headway into changing – attending counselling, communicating, making actual changes – then staying can be good.

Signs that it is not good are that you seem to be the source of anger, the person is making token changes that don’t actually make a difference and once you back off they return to their previous behaviours or the risk to you becomes too high.

Dependency

Dependency comes in two permutations that are not necessarily exclusive. On the one hand, you may need the angry person due to financial, social or some other factor. Leaving them may seem to be more harmful to you than good.

Another key factor is they may be dependent on you. For example, if your under aged child has anger issues, you can’t just leave them. Instead it is important to work a way through issues with the help of professionals.

Other vulnerable demographics are disabled people and the elderly. Again professional help is generally available for these situations. If the person has insight they may chose to go to a facility, there are community supports available or perhaps they person has lost insight and can be moved to a suitable facility. See your doctor to gain options for your local area.

Tempering Anger

Once you have decided to stay, it is important to categorise your angry person. They either have insight into their actions (explained in the previous post) or they don’t.

Insight

If the angry person has insight into their actions and is motivated to change, then they will be willing to go to counselling to seek anger management. This can be done in group sessions or individual sessions. There will be more than one – it takes time and dedication to change a bad habit. Sometimes the counsellor is not the right one for the angry person, so they need to persist in finding a compatible counsellor/facilitator. Gaining skills to manage anger is a process.

You and/or they can read up on self anger management here [link].

That is great for what they can do to help themselves, but the question still remains – what can you do to help them?

Assessment

Angry people are generally angry for a reason. Charitably they are angry because they feel threatened and unable to meet the threat in a dispassionate way, thus they escalate in aggression to meet  the perceived threat. When someone is already feeling pressured or stressed, excuses can be made to vent out frustration, excusing their anger.

The assessment section is to try to primarily ascertain what is the cause, if possible, for the anger; and secondarily how strongly are they reacting. Ideally this is done via a conversation with the angry person.

Communication

Keeping lines of communication is essential to resolving anger quickly, but it isn’t always feasible. The angry  person is likely already feeling threatened and may perceive questioning as a threat or an excuse to be aggressive.

Having a conversation with the person before they are angry about agreed upon signals to identify concern and ways they can assure a lack of anger, or a need for space is important. Remember that the last thing people who are angry want to hear is the phrase “calm down”. Instead ask questions, starting with short answer and working your way up to conversation. Start with an observation like “you seem a bit miffed/angry/peeved/frustrated [pick one]” and let them voice or indicate an affirmative or negative such as “yeah” or a head nod. If they affirm, then perhaps it may be suitable to ask “are you okay?” allowing for a short response. If that goes well, open a conversation with “what’s up?” or “want to tell me about it?”

Sometimes whens you are in a crowd it is bad form to ask “are you angry?”, so having a code phrase like “green light or red light?” where green indicates things are going okay and red indicates problems allow for you to support your angry person without alerting everyone to the situation.  Your angry person may have a code phrase to tell you they need to go out and get some air.  Having these codes available to you both that have been organised when they are feeling cool and level headed is essential.

Giving Space to Support Self Management

There are various methods to self manage. Often taking oneself out of a bad situation is a first good step, or doing a distraction to shift focus away from the source of anger, or helping oneself to a drink (not alcohol – that can fuel anger or detract from self control). Take a look at our Anger [Link] page to look at more self-management techniques.

When to Judge

While the angry person may not be responsible for their mood, they are responsible for their actions. It is more than possible to be furious and do nothing. It is important to challenge bad behaviours – aggression and passive aggression – and not take responsibility for the actions of another.

However it is important to consider timing. A calm discussion to explore the consequences to actions is civil and likely to have a good outcome, while pointing out the other person is being bad in the middle of an enraged temper tantrum is basically poking the angry bear. Keep in mind that as feelings become stronger, the ability to think rationality decreases.

Above we talked about communication and phrase words. Things like “you are scaring us/me” or “you seem really furious” or “is it punching bag time?” are observations and prompt the angry person to regain control of themselves. If this is ineffectual, then it is time to get out for a while to be safe.

Judging is not a bad thing. Holding onto that judgement despite newer facts is.

Next time [link] we will be covering how to help someone with no insight.