You are the target of someone’s anger: Part 2 of 3

This is the second of 3 posts which discuss what you can do when someone gets angry with you.   Put another way, I am suggesting that you learn to master the anger of another person and use your knowledge to make the most out of the situation in which you find yourself.

There are 6 steps involved in dealing with the anger of another person. In my last post, I discussed step 1 and step 2 and the sub-steps of each.

Steps 1 and 2 were all about you, preparing yourself to engage the other person and insuring your own safety.

In this post, I will discuss steps 3 and step 4 and their sub-steps.

Steps 3 and 4 are also preparing to engage the other person but the emphasis in these steps shifts from you to them.

For review, here are the 6 steps and sub-steps.

Here is an overview:

Step 1:  Prepare to engage.                                                                                     Sub-steps:  a. Calm yourself   b. Take a physical step back

Step 2: Insure your safety.                                                                                      Sub-steps: a. assess personal threat level   b. Assess need for immediate action.

Step 3: Validate their anger.                                                                                    Sub-steps: a. Assume their anger is valid.  b. Calm them down.

Step 4: Forgiveness.                                                                                                  Sub-steps: a. understand what forgiveness is. b. Don’t take their anger personally.

Step 5: Empathize with and attempt to understand the other person’s anger.   Sub-steps: a. Seek first to understand. b. Address 7 general issues.

Step 6: Decide how to respond.                                                                               Sub-steps: a. If you did something.  b. The issue is in their head.

Again, let me set the stage (from the first post):

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.

Step 3 involves validating their anger and has two sub-steps.  Sub-step (a) reminds you of the assumption you need to make regarding their anger and Sub-step (b) reminds you that your goal here is to calm them down by defusing their anger as much as you can.

When I suggest validating the anger of another person, the response that I get usually involves two separate focal points: the anger and the person who is angry.  My audience will raise two issues.   On the one hand, they do not like the implication that validating the anger is acknowledging the anger as both appropriate and acceptable (when is probably is not). Secondly, they do not like the implication that validating the person’s anger is rewarding this individual for both his inappropriate anger and, possibly his inappropriate behavior.

I am not suggesting that you either accept his anger as appropriate nor that you reward his behavior although I do acknowledge that he may think this is what you are doing.

Indeed, while it is true that the definition of “to validate” is to authenticate the authenticity of”, when you validate his (or her) anger, you are only saying that the anger is valid for him and that you agree he has a right to be angry based on how he perceives the situation.  Your focus is totally on the other person and the perceptions which have elicited his anger not on the anger, per se.

This is an important distinction.

To put it another way, if his perceptions of what is going on are completely correct, then his anger both makes total sense and is valid. This is the underlying logic for validating his anger.

As you do not yet know what his perceptions are, you cannot say whether that the anger directed at you is either valid or correct for the situation.

Two points to keep in mind here:

  1. Our emotions are always valid (appropriate) for us in that they are elicited by how we see the world.
  2. The message of his anger is that he perceives a threat or a challenge to his values, goals, beliefs, ego, sense of self, identity and so forth.

In light of these two points, if you immediately question or challenge him or his anger, you may increase his perception of you as a threat and he will escalate his anger. Acknowledging that he is angry and that you would like to understand what he is angry about communicates to him that you want to work with him and that you may not be as much of a threat as he originally thought.

To the extent that you are successful in validating his anger, you move on to Sub-step 2 as he will begin to calm down.

Once you have validated the other person’s anger as authentic and appropriate for them given their perception of the situation, you can move on to step #4 which is forgiveness.

This is tough one for many people especially if the other person, fueled by their anger has said or done things that have hurt you.

So, let me explain how I am conceptualizing forgiveness.

When I suggested to the young women I worked with in the California Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division that they forgive the men who abused them (often their fathers) or the women who abandoned them (or worse), they often refused stating that these men (women) did not deserve to be forgiven for what they did.

Most people think that forgiveness means letting the person off the hook for what they did or absolving them of blame and responsiblity.  This is what happens when your past debts are “forgiven”.  They are erased. Or, when in the Bible (Disclaimer: I am not a biblical expert.) when Christ forgave someone’s sins and that person was “born again”.

As I am using the word, forgiveness means “letting go”. When you forgive another person for what they have done to you, you are choosing to disengage emotionally from that person and their actions.  This letting go frees you up to decide the best way for you to deal with this individual and their behavior in your current context.

Forgiveness is all about you not about them.

Forgiveness allows you to be more objective about the interaction between you and the other person.  In being objective, you have the opportunity to use the energy of your feelings about the situation to both choose and implement your best option to resolve the issues you are facing.

So, now that you have taken steps to insure your safety (Steps 1 and 2) and to initiate the process of lowering the energy level of the interaction (Steps 3 and 4), you are now ready to move toward and choose a response (Steps 5 and 6).

I will discuss these Steps in the next post.

I welcome your comments.

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