You are the target of someone’s anger: Part 1 of 3

  In most of my earlier posts, I have discussed how to master your own anger. And, in the vast majority of situations, it is your own anger that you will be dealing with.

However, in the course of dealing with other people, it is quite likely that someone has gotten angry at you and you have become a target. Recognizing this, I included a chapter in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, entitled Dealing with Someone Else’s Anger Directed at You.

As I would like to cover this topic in more depth and as I do not want each post to be too long, I will address mastering the anger of another person in the next three posts.

Mastering the anger of another person directed at you involves 6 steps each of which has two substeps. All 6 steps parallel the Anger Mastery Cycle and how you master your own anger. (You can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle by scrolling up to the top and clicking on the tab on the right side of the page.)

Here is an overview:

  1.  Prepare to engage.                                                                                     Sub-steps:  a. Calm yourself   b. Take a physical step back
  2. Insure your safety.                                                                                      Sub-steps: a. assess personal threat level   b.Assess need for immediate action.
  3. Validate their anger.                                                                                    Sub-steps: a. Assume their anger is valid.  b.Calm them down.
  4. Forgiveness.                                                                                                  Sub-steps: a. understand what forgiveness is. b. Don’t take their anger personally.
  5. Empathize with and attempt to understand the other person’s anger.   Sub-steps: a. Seek first to understand. b. Address 7 general issues.
  6. Decide how to respond.                                                                               Sub-steps: a. If you did something.  b. The issue is in their head.

I will address steps 1 and 2 in this post, steps 3 and 4 in the next post, and steps 5 and 6 in the third post.

Let me set the stage…

You are at _____ (work, home, walking the dog) and someone interacts with you in such a way that it seems clear to you that this person is angry with you.  He (or she) might be yelling at you, talking fast, accusing you of having done something and so forth.  It is not immediately clear why they are angry.

Steps 1 and 2 go together and involve preparing to engage the other person and insuring your own safety.

Remember from the Anger Mastery Cycle that all of us are constantly and subconsciously scanning our surroundings for any threat that might hurt us. Anger tells us that we perceive a threat that we believe we can overpower if we throw enough force at it. This is the message of anger.

The other person’s anger informs you that he sees you as a threat. As you don’t know what it is that he perceives or if you are at risk, you need to think about your own safety first.

Steps 1 and  2 are about your safety.

Step 1 (Prepare to engage) involves two substeps.  First, you need to take a deep breath and second, you need to take a physical step back from the other person.

Taking a deep breath performs two functions for you.

Taking a deep breath calms you down just enough so that you can choose what you do next.  This will inhibit you from reacting to the person and possibly escalating the interaction.  Taking a breath also gives you some psychological distance between you and the other person.

Taking a step back from the person also performs two functions.

When you step back from the person, you provide yourself some physical distance between you and the other person.  You also signal to them that you are not an immediate threat to them.

Step 1 and its sub-steps can happen very quickly.  But, they are not automatic and must be “practiced”.  More likely than not, when someone “angers” (my word) all over you, you will want to react and “anger” back on them.  This is never a good idea.

Even if you are “justified” in reacting aggressively toward this person, the actions you take will most likely escalate, or aggravate, the interaction and will not move you and the other person toward resolving whatever issue is eliciting (not causing) the anger.  While this is not necessarily an issue if the other person is a stranger, it may be a very important point if the other person is a colleague, a boss, a co-worker, or a customer talking to you on a help line or at your business.

You “practice” your response to the anger of another person by rehearsing, in your mind’s eye, the actions you will take if you are ever in this situation. Actors, preparing for a part, rehearse, or practice their actions.  Maybe, you have rehearsed what you would do prior to a job interview or a meeting with your boss during which you plan to ask for a raise.  Same idea.  Think about someone getting angry with you and yelling at you.  When you do this, you might feel yourself reacting as if this situation were actually occurring.  If this happens to you, relax, this is normal. The mind often reacts the same to a vividly imagined event as it does to the event itself.  Have you ever gotten scared or cried at a movie?

So, create an angry interaction in your mind and then “see” yourself taking a deep breath and taking a step back.  You should do this several times for a week or so.  While rehearsing makes it more likely that you will do as you plan, I have to tell you that there is no guarantee.  The more you rehearse, the more likely the new action is to occur.

Step 2 (Insure your safety) also involves two sub-steps.  First, you need to assess your personal risk and second you need to assess the need for any immediate action.

Assessing your personal risk involves looking at the other person, their tone of voice, the actions they are taking (moving toward you as you move away), what they are saying (any threats) and so forth.  If your “gut” tells you that you are at risk, then your best course of action is to act as if you are at risk.  This gut feeling is your Amygdala sending you a message. Honor it.

Sub-step 2 involves deciding what you need to do in the moment based on what you feel following sub-step 1.  If you sense that you are in danger, leave.  If you have to, just walk away.  If you need to excuse yourself before you walk away, make an excuse and leave.  If you do not sense that you are in danger, then you can move on to step 3  and step 4 which we will discuss next week.

I welcome your comments.

It’s an emotional world: 3 rules for living in it with others.

If you are alive or you interact with others, you come into contact with emotions on a regular (even daily) basis.

In the course of living your daily life, you may get angry, anxious, sad, doubtful, jealous or envious.

In your interactions with others such as your boss, your spouse, a customer, or your kid, you may experience someone who gets mad at or impatient with you or who is sad or anxious.

How well do you deal with emotions (and the behavior that goes along with emotions) in yourself and others?

Information about what emotions are and how to master them is available both on the internet and from me in my books and my blogposts.

In my first book (Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings), I discuss what emotions are, why we have them, and the Emotions as Tools Model. I also discuss specific emotions of anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame.

In my second book (Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool)  I focus specifically on anger including the Anger Mastery Cycle, anger management verses anger mastery, the anger myths, what to do when it feels like anger but isn’t and both how to deal with other’s anger and when other’s won’t let you be angry.

Both books are Amazon best sellers and you download the first two chapters of each book for free with no log-in required by scrolling up to the top of the page.

With that being said, let’s look at 3 general rules which will help you deal with another person who is emotional with you.

Rule #1: Assume that everyone (including you) does the best they can in the situation given a) what they know about what is going on, b) the assumptions they make and c) the skills they have to deal with what is going on.

My guess is that this rule doesn’t sit well with you as you know that much of the behavior you have seen in others (and in yourself) doesn’t qualify as either good or “best”.

True. In fact, what they are doing may be destructive, wrong for the situation, or just unacceptable.

Indeed, I not saying that what they are doing is the best that can be done or even what they should be doing. In many cases, this is usually obvious.

What I am saying is that, when you do not immediately judge the behavior and assume that this is the best they can do, in the moment, with the information they have, the assumptions they make and the skills they have, you have many different options from which you can choose to deal with this individual.

The other alternative is to judge the behavior and react by doing something that worsens the interaction and that you may later regret. This, by the way, is what usually happens when one’s feelings get hurt, misunderstandings occur, and the situation gets out of hand.

When you assume that what they are doing is the best they can, your next step can be to understand what underlies and has led to the actions they are taking with you.

Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People notes that, in your interactions with others, you should seek first to understand and then to be understood.

When we react to others out of our own emotional state, we do the exact opposite.  We want to stand up for and defend ourselves to a perceived attack.  If you are interacting with a boss, a spouse, a customer, or even your kid, this usually is not an effective way to move the relationship forward.

In dealing with another person whose emotionally driven behavior clearly seems over the top or not fitting the situation and making the above assumption, you now have the opportunity to look into the information they have and the assumptions they are making.  Once you know this, you can begin to change the interaction by giving additional information and clearing up any misunderstandings they (or you) may have. With new information, the behavior they are displaying toward you can change.

Please note that you have not given up any of your options either in the emotions you feel or the responses you may choose to make. But, when they change what they are doing, you, most likely will also change what you choose to do.

And, this leads us to Rule #2.

Rule#2: Know what you want to accomplish in your interactions with this person.

In any interpersonal interaction, it is important for you to know what you want to accomplish because this will determine what you choose to do.

Interpersonal interactions cover a wide range of situations from wanting good service from your server in a restaurant, building a healthy (however you define this) relationship with your spouse or significant other, keeping a customer happy on a service call, through getting respect from your supervisor and so forth.

So, you can see that it is important to understand the nature of your relatioship with this other person, what you and they expect in the relationship and where you want the relationship to go (what you want to accomplish in the relationship).

Once you know this, you are in a better position to decide what actions you will take to get you where you want to go.

And, this takes us to rule #3.

Rule#3: Seek to get a win/win with the other person but settle for a compromise if you have to.

Most people think that compromise is the best you can hope for when there is a disagreement.  And, sometimes, this is true.

When you compromise, both you and the other person give up something you can do without to get something you must have. There is nothing wrong with this but, in one sense, it is a lose/lose proposition in that you both have given up something you would just as soon have if you could.

Someone once said that if you shoot for the stars and you miss you end up on the moon.  If you shoot for the moon and miss, you end up back on earth.  The moon is a compromise.

I am suggesting that you shoot for a win/win in which both of you get all that you want, whenever this is possible. If this is your goal in a relationship, you will work to find ways that meet all of both your needs.

This is often possible if you look for it.

If not, you can always compromise.

In an upcoming series of three posts, I will discuss in detail a six step process for dealing with someone who directs their anger at you.

I welcome your comments.

If you feel anger, should you always express it as long as how you express it is not destructive?

I was asked this question on Quora and wanted to address it here (in greater detail) as I believe it raises an important issue involving anger and whether or not you should express the anger you feel.

Well, as you might suspect after reading some of my posts, the answer is: it depends.

No, this is not an attempt to evade the question.

Rather, there are three elements which go into determining whether (how and if) you express you anger:

  1. understanding the message of anger
  2. assessing the nature of the threat (is it valid or due to a misunderstanding)
  3. whether to express anger or not (and under what conditions) and the nature of your expression (direct or in.

The message of anger.

Anger is one of six primary emotions, four of which are primitive threat detectors. Anger is a primitive threat detector which has been around since we lived in caves, can be seen in all human and some subhuman species, and functions today as it always has.

In other words, your brain is genetically programmed, just like in your ancestors, to both search for threats and subconsciously prepare your body for fight, flight or freeze to “deal” with those threats. This happens very fast, as it should if you are facing a valid threat to your survival, and is not consciously mediated. We call this the fast track message. Your brain prepares you to react.

Each emotional threat detector informs you about the nature of the threat you have perceived and your relationship to it.

If the threat is more powerful than you, your body is “set-up” to freeze or flee and fear is the emotion you experience.  The message of fear is that the threat will “kill” you so get away from it.

If you subconsciously size up the threat as being “weaker” than you (You are more powerful than it is.), your body is “set-up” to go to war with the threat and the emotion you experience is anger. The message of anger is that you have detected a threat you believe that you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. Thus, when you are angry, the Adrenalin that flows through your body makes you ready to attack and overwhelm.

While the primitive emotional cycle unconsciously prepares your body to REACT and fight off the threat has not changed, your human brain has evolved giving you the option to respond rather than react.

The reactive aspect of the emotional cycle involves a fast track message from the sensory organ (eyes, ears) through the Amygdala in the brain to the Thalamus. If the threat will kill you (as all of them did in the lives of our Savannah or cave dwelling ancestors), your survival would necessitate a quick (and unconscious) reaction.

As humans evolved and the brain grew, the Cerebral Cortex developed to give us options beyond our primitive drives.

The element of the emotional (or in this case Anger) mastery cycle which allows you to choose how you want to respond to the threat goes through the thinking part of the brain, the Cerebral Cortex, and is referred to as the slower track message.

Thus, you have a choice about how you want to respond to the threat. The Anger Mastery Cycle reflects this choice.

As a reader of this blog, you are probably aware that I have discussed the Anger Mastery Cycle in other posts and that you can download a copy of the Cycle using the link in the “welcome” post at the top of this page.

Assessing the threat.

It is important to note that, in our “civilized” world, the threats we are most likely to encounter are psychological (not physical) and involve our goals, our egos,  or our values rather than our lives (although this can happen).  We feel (and we may actually be) vulnerable and this vulnerability elicits anger.

Once you become aware of your anger by noticing how your body physically alerts you to anger, your next step is to create some “distance” between you and the threat.  The purpose of the “distance” you create is to protect you from the threat and give you time to assess the nature of the threat. You create physical distance by taking a step back and you create psychological distance by taking a breath to calm yourself so that you can respond rather than react to the threat.

You then need to assess the validity of the threat.

If there is a real threat to your life, your core values, your finances and so forth, then you will need to take action (This is the third element above.) Here you are expressing your anger.

If the threat is not valid, you will need to choose a different response.

Whether to express your anger (or not) and the nature of the expression.

How (or if) you express your anger depends on three factors:

First: is the threat valid or not?

  •          If you are facing a predator who wants to hurt you (physical threat), you should, if you can safely do so, use all the energy your anger provides and attack the predator.
  •         If the threat is real but not life-threatening (psychological threat), then you need to make a plan to effectively nullify the threat and execute your plan.
  •        If you decide that there is no real threat because you have misunderstood the other person, then the “expression” of your anger is a genuine apology or doing nothing.

Second: Do you express your anger directly or indirectly:

  • Direct action.

If you can directly address the threat and resolve it, do so.

  • Indirect action.

Sometimes, directly attacking the threat may not be “safe” for you to do because your “adversary” is too powerful, too influential, or too evasive.  The risk (unwanted consequences) to you is too great.  In other words, the threat may be real but your surroundings do not permit you to directly express your anger.

An example is a professional setting in which women, who are legitimately angry because boundaries have been violated are demeaned or marginalized by the men in their office when they (the women) express their anger.

Under these circumstances, a more indirect approach is needed which eliminates the threat without directly focusing on the the threat or the person who is engaging in the “threatening” behavior.  The “project manager” approach I discuss in Chapter 10 of my book Beyond Anger Mastery Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool is a possible suggestion.  I’ll discuss the “project manager” approach in a future post.

Third: Match the response to the situation.

Whatever you do (or do not do) should match the context of the situation in which you find yourself. This will help to avoid either an inadequate (ineffective) response or an inappropriately aggressive (attacking) response.

I hope this information is useful and I welcome your comments.

Anger is like a sunset: Think psychology not poetry.


Everyone has “experienced” anger.

If the word “experienced” in the context of an emotion seems odd to you, that is because it is odd.

You “experience” a sunset in that you see the sunset and you “choose” how it will impact you.

You may be overwhelmed or touched by its beauty. Or, you may just notice it and move on. You don’t control a sunset, you master it.

This is a subjective, or unique to you, emotional response.

With anger, however, most people believe that you get angry. Or do you?

The implication is that anger just happens to you.  While some people believe this, and it is partially true, overall, it isn’t either the whole story or even accurate.

So, back to sunsets and anger.

Psychologically, you subjectively “experience” anger similarly to how you experience a sunset.

The sun sets every day and you have seen many sunsets.  But, you may only have stopped what you are doing to interact with the sunset and let it impact you.

With anger, as I discuss both in previous posts and in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, you are constantly scanning your surroundings for threat. The anger mastery cycle begins with the perception of threat and quickly moves to the unconscious reaction to the threat.

This is the ONLY part of the emotion of anger where the anger “controls” you.

You engage the threat when the cycle proceeds to the conscious recognition and labeling of the emotional reaction as anger, validating the nature of the threat and choosing a response.

Objective and subjective “definitions”.

You can look at sunsets and anger both objectively and subjectively.

Sunsets (objectively)

Objectively, you can talk about how a sunset is caused when light is scattered in the atmosphere by different molecules and how clouds in the sky reflect the light in different ways the scattering of light.  There is no emotion in this description and unless you are interested in the science, none of it matters.  In fact, to stand in awe of a great sunset and have someone tell you what is really happening would be a “buzzkill”.

It is a bit different with anger.

If your goal, as in many anger management courses, is simply to control, minimize, or eliminate anger, then you really don’t need to know what anger is.  Once you recognize you are angry,  you put on the brakes, and you are done.

Well, many anger management approaches are unsuccessful because they do not provide a context for anger which explains what anger is, why we, as humans, have anger, and how we can use, or master, our anger to improve our lives.  Being able to objectively understand anger facilitates our subjectively learning to master it as a tool.

Anger (objectively)

Anger, as an emotion is one of the 6 primary emotions “discovered” by Paul Ekman. These emotions are mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise. All of them can be seen across human cultures and in some subhuman species. If you have kids, you have learned to recognize these emotions in your kid’s faces when they were too young to think about, or subjectively configure what they were feeling.

With the exception of glad and surprise, all of the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors the evolutionary function of which is to alert us to the presence of a threat and subconsciously prepare our bodies to deal with the threat. You can think of emotions as tools. I have written about this emotional process in my book entitled Emotions As Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings which is available on Amazon. You can download the first chapter of this book from my blog for free with no opt-in.

When a person is subconsciously alerted to a threat through the Amygdala and the Thalamus and experiences anger, he or she is “set up” to REACT to the anger. When we were living in caves, this was a good thing and helped insure our survival.

Sunsets (subjectively)

If you stop the car to “take in” the sunset, your “breath is taken away” by its beauty, or you “stand in awe” of this magnificent display, you get the subjective “definition” of a sunset.

Anger (subjectively)


Today, we have a choice about how we want to RESPOND to a perceived threat because our nervous system alerts our cerebral cortex (thinking part of the brain) about the situation we are facing.

It this tendency to react to one’s anger and go to war without really assessing the nature of the threat that has both given anger a bad reputation and has negatively impacted lives and relationships.

While our brain automatically sets us up to react, it also, by a different pathway, allows us to assess our situation and choose how we want to adaptively respond to what is going on.

This response to anger is anger subjectively defined.

If you choose to go with the anger rather than learn to master it, you may get in trouble and blame your anger for you inappropriate behavior.  You may believe the anger controls you but this is still your choice. This is one subjective response.

Other people choose to master their anger as I discuss in my current book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool which is available on Amazon. By the way, you can download the first chapter of this book for free with no opt-in on my blog Here is the download page.

This is another subjective response.

My goal has been to give you another way to look at and understand your anger.  I hope this article has helped.

I welcome your comments.