When your anger is triggered, try the following anger interventions:
1: “Ride It Out.”
This is not the same as “ignoring.” You are consciously choosing to give his argument all the attention it so richly deserves, namely none. You just appear to be paying attention. Nodding your head would be a nice touch. You are choosing to keep your peace. You are making this new choice consciously on an informed basis. You are using your judgment to make this choice, not your old attitudes.
2: Your Power of Choice
You can choose to catch yourself being provoked to retaliate out of your own immature attitudes. As an adult now, you can choose not to. Instead, you can choose to shift your gears and operate out of the mature judgment that temporarily got away from you in the stress of this crisis. It is your right and your responsibility to get your equilibrium back. You can choose to tend to your own wounds before you begin to address his. That is a much more effective priority. You can choose to calm yourself down. You can remind yourself that you are worthwhile in spite of your motoring imperfections. You can remind yourself that he’s not 10 feet tall. He’s only an imperfect human being operating out of attitudes from his own past.
3: Don’t Take It Personally
You can catch yourself about to take his barrage of insults personally, as if they were a reflection on your worth as a person. That is exactly the way he wants you to take it! He is building himself up by tearing you down! This tells us that he is badly in need of building up. Self-respecting grownups have no such need, but those lacking self respect do. You can choose not to give him verbal ammunition to use against you. You can choose not to tear him down more than he is already.
4: Do Not Take Hurtful Words Literally
Do not take his hurtful words literally as if he means what he says. He is merely “firing for effect.” He wants to intimidate you into submitting like a victim, and he uses strong language to do it. You are not the worst person in the world. You can choose not to take his words at face value. They are non-rational absurdities in the service of his negative, destructive purposes. You can agree that he feels the way he feels: “You sound hurt “. That must be painful” and so on. We can keep our version of the facts to ourselves. This is called, discretion, which is the power to choose how much we wish to reveal and when. Right now, we do not choose to reveal anything. It wouldn’t help if we did. He isn’t interested.
5: Know You Are Equal
If you just have taken his insults personally, you have been put in a “one down” position. He made it happen. He was in control. He has put you in a condition of inferiority and self-doubt. You don’t know how to prevent this process from happening because you didn’t go to school for it. As of right now, you can choose to regain your context of self-respect by reminding yourself that you are worthwhile in spite of your faults and imperfections. You are still an equal member of the human race in good standing in spite of what he just said. Even if he is right in his facts, you are still worthwhile in spite of them. They merely prove you are an imperfect, like everyone else. Your “imperfection” made him angry, and you regret that it did. You have used your resilience. You can allow yourself to bounce back from his unhelpful put-down shtick.
6: Use Your Judgment
In this context, your new choice is to use your judgment to override his, not your defensive attitudes. Reality requires you to know what you are thinking and trust your own judgment. You can use your adult judgment to determine which words make sense and which are used to be hurtful. Any solution using your judgment will be good enough to get the job done.
7: Catch Yourself
You can get your independence back by reminding yourself that you have the power of choice. Specifically, you have power and control over what comes out of your mouth. You can catch yourself about to live on others’ terms and choose to shift your mental gears. Catch yourself about to explain, defend, debate, cajole, counter-attack or submit, and choose not to do it. You are choosing not to operate out of your old carryover attitudes from the playground. You do not react, but you are choosing to respond. That includes choosing to say nothing while he vents. You can stay in the present and exercise your power of choice constructively, using your adult judgment, which your adversary does not have. Nodding your head during the tirade is a sign that you are hearing what he said, not that you agree with it!
8: Regain Your Self-Respect
His criticisms of your skills are not to be taken as a reflection on your worth. But it’s hard to avoid going down the path of doubt and self-criticism. You can’t help yourself in a way. You can regain your self-respect by reminding yourself that others’ comments are merely a child’s temper tantrum; they don’t help the situation for him or for you. Even if they are true, they are only imperfections. They are regrettable, and you wish you didn’t have them. You wish you had seen this coming in advance, but you did not. You are a worthwhile human being in spite of these human imperfections. This part of the process is not between you and him, it is between you and you.
9: Liberate Yourself
You are choosing to liberate yourself from the tyranny of your old attitudes, such as, “I don’t want to be displeasing” Or, “I have to take a stand or he’ll think I’m a wimp.” Instead, you are making a Third Choice. You are freeing yourself to act responsibly and effectively on your own terms in this crisis. You don’t have to say a word. You are able to use this turmoil as an opportunity to replace your own self-doubt with mature, effective self-respect: the feeling that you are a “worthwhile human being in spite of your faults and imperfections.” That is reality. We don’t always feel that way. We need to feel it more often. You can use this crisis to grow on, to declare your mature independence as a person in your own right, not against him, but for you. He doesn’t have to know what is going on in your head. It’s none of his business.
After awhile, these experiences of self-respect in your daily life all run together. Your previous roles in the family as the Pleaser, the Victim or the Responsible One have been replaced by an independent identity on a realistic basis. You have been tried in the fire and come out stronger than you went in.
10: Regain Control
This whole situation is scary. He is making it scarier than it needs to be. Why is he doing it? Because he can. This is a person who can’t make a positive contribution to highway safety, but he sure can make a negative one. In his book, it’s better than no contribution at all! All of these behaviors arise out of his attitudes toward you, himself and the whole human race. His attitudes are in the saddle, controlling his empty words and his negative behaviors. His attitude-driven words must not be taken at face value as if they made sense.
We feel anxiety when we feel out-of-control. He is in control, all right, but it is negative, destructive control. It’s the only kind he has. He is using it to make this regrettable situation worse instead of better. His attitudes are not set up to control positively. That would be inconsistent with his low self-regard. He can’t do it. When we feel controlled negatively by him, we feel out-of-control. That’s scary.
When do we feel out-of-control? When a) our own anger is out-of-control, we are out-of-control along with it. That’s scary, too. When we b) live in the future, predicting a disaster for ourselves at any moment, we are out-of-control in the present, and when c) we live on other people’s terms, not our own, we cannot be in control of our own life. These are three situations that contribute to our anxiety, which is the feeling that “something terrible is going to happen and I can’t prevent it.” You can choose not to argue with these attitudes from the past. You are in control of you in the present. You are choosing to exercise admirable restraint: “I really could have let him have it, but I chose not to! I made it not happen!” When you minus a minus, it’s a plus. That’s an accomplishment. That is a success between you and you. You have used this crisis to strengthen your self-respect.
What is panic? Panic is the feeling that “The bad thing is happening to me right now and I’m going to die!” Not if you choose to ground yourself in the real world, in the present you won’t. The reality is that he’s only making scary mischief in order to build himself up. You can choose to ride it out until it’s over. It will never be over for him, but that’s his problem. You are not his shrink. You are not required to make him understand the error of his ways. That’s your good intention! You have your hands full with you! You can choose to keep on having real intentions for yourself.
In making these informed choices in your own behalf, you are replacing your scary out-of-control feeling with control of you. You are living in the present, not the future. You are taking control away from your attitudes and emotions, and giving it back to your adult judgment where it belongs. When you make these self-affirming choices, your anxiety comes down, which is the very thing you want it to do. Your self-doubt goes down. Your self-respect goes up: you have earned it in the line of fire. You have done a Homework in your own behalf.
Aaron Karmin is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and member of the American Association of Anger Management Providers. Aaron provides anger management counseling at UB’s Chicago office for individuals and groups. For more information, please visit www.urbanbalance.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.