Living 24/7 with friends or family is a challenge for us all.
Being cooped up and not being permitted to move freely is not how we are used to living in our society. These thankful measures to keep us all ‘safe’ from the virus have for most of us had a knock-on effect of creating health and financial fears.
Those people who have more controlling personalities struggle the most with these restrictions to stay safe (and not stuck) at home. Being in our second run of lockdown in the UK and wherever you are at around the world with this, it might be that perhaps you are feeling less safe in other ways?
If you are noticing that a partner, spouse, other relative or housemate is increasingly stressed, irritable and quicker to temper, it is likely that you have begun to feel as if you are ‘treading on eggshells’ around them. You feel uneasy in their presence because their behaviour is unpredictable.
You can help yourself to feel less anxious with such unpredictability by staying mindful of the points I share with you here.
Aggression can take many different forms
You might be on the receiving end of verbally aggressive behaviour, like yelling or swearing. Perhaps the jibes have escalated, and now unprovoked, you have cruel insults flung at you. Maybe you don’t feel entirely safe and you are feeling threatened by their actual physical aggression.
More passive and psychological forms of aggression, which can still create anxiety, include eye-rolling, withdrawing, sarcasm, smirking and pouting.
It is very natural to feel uncomfortable and anxious if you are living with someone who is consistently displaying any of these behaviours.
How To Diffuse Aggressive Confrontation
It’s a normal human reaction to get tetchy and angry when someone is angry with you. When someone yells, it makes you want to yell back; in general personal interaction, in order to build rapport, we tend to mirror and match the other person’s behaviour. However, the opposite tactic applies when we need to diffuse a volatile situation. When someone is angry and ‘spoiling for a fight’ they will try to get a reaction in order to ‘pull you in.’
Please remember that it takes two to fight, so don’t play! Instead, although it will feel counter-intuitive, you must do the opposite. So don’t be loud or gabble back or be in their face. Work on speaking less, and speak more softly and more slowly. Take a few steps back from them. This will also help you to gather yourself and feel calmer.
This is what you need to remember…
1. Make Yourself As Safe As You Can
Consider your personal safety. If you are with someone who has a tendency to get overly stressed and easily agitated, you must be mindful of how this person could be volatile and unpredictable. If possible, try to keep a healthy distance between you when things start to escalate, so that you can remove yourself to another area, until they are calmer.
From first-hand experience, I do know this is not always easy.
2. Hear Out An Angry Person
An angry person will likely be in denial of what may really be bubbling away under the surface for them. Often it is not what you did or didn’t do (like forgetting something) but really what they perceive ‘forgetting’ represents for that person (perhaps that you don’t care about them or respect them).
Their inflated reaction comes from a need to be right or to get attention in that moment. Their ego is to the fore. They need to hear the sound of their own voice before they can simmer down. For a short time, let them vent.
A very angry person will not listen to reason.
For the time being, try not to win points or prove that you are in the right. They will hold a victim mindset that things are not fair, and blame you for causing or escalating the row.
Accept for the time being, that you are merely in the firing line on the battlefield of their confused emotions. Don’t allow them to suck you in.
3. Encourage Them To Notice Their Outburst
As you begin to feel calmer with the situation by not reacting, first acknowledge and reflect the person’s feelings back to them as specifically as you can. Reflect their anger back to them, saying perhaps “I understand that you are angry” or “I see you are angry.”
Caught in the moment, it is possible they will not have realised the extent of their anger. Only after you have encouraged them to acknowledge that they are feeling angry, can you then ask them firmly but calmly, to please rein in their reaction. Sometimes they need a jolt to step outside of themselves in any moment, to see for themselves just how angry they really are!
Be as assertive as you can in the circumstances. Ask them firmly, clearly and calmly to respect your boundaries. Ask them to stop yelling, to let go of your arm (or other body parts), or to stop throwing things. Suggest that you discuss things later when they are calm.
4. Be Mindful Of What Is Really Going On
Ask yourself what is this person needing and not getting, that is causing this build-up of frustration? If you can let them know that you are able to empathise with their feelings, it will help them to feel heard and understood.
Try to be mindful that it is in those times that we are the least loveable, that we all need the most love. It can be useful to imagine the young child within them and send them love if you can’t love the adult right now.
Anger is always a shield for unexpressed hurt or fear in some way. This angry person is likely feeling unloved, disrespected, or unappreciated in some way. Although the anger may seem directed at you, the truth is that it is probably a means of self-protection, bubbling up from past damaging experience. Your words or actions will simply have triggered an outburst from them because you pressed a button created in their past, without perhaps realising.
Anger is often a power surge in an attempt to regain a semblance of control, as a means to self-protect from further hurt or fear. Often this is driven by a deep-rooted need for them to be safe or significant in some way.
The next step is to take responsibility for any part you have played in contributing to the situation. Recognise and own your feelings. Be honest with yourself and apologise. Offer to make amends if you are in the wrong.
5. Communicate and Negotiate
Once they have had ‘air time’ and they are beginning to simmer only then will they be open to listening to you. At this time, gently ask them how and why they feel the way they do (if you don’t already know). Be soft and open in your body language, be generous with eye contact and actively listen by smiling and nodding a little. Again, if this is hard, imagine talking to the young child – but don’t be condescending.
Reflect back to them what they have said in chunks to show you have understood. Begin with “I understand that you feel…” Ask them to correct you if you haven’t understood correctly, and keep going until they are feeling properly heard by you.
Feeling fully listened to and understood will diffuse someone’s anger and over time will lessen their need to be so exaggerated in their reactions.
Stay on the subject and don’t dredge up the past or other niggles which may be irrelevant. Aim to agree on certain things so that you are strengthening a connection between you. Make it clear how you are feeling, and what you want so that your needs are considered too.
I hope this helps you today. I’m here for any specific advice you may need in your circumstances, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Anxiety Expert – Anxiety Help Bournemouth & Christchurch, UK
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