Why You Can’t Fight Anger with Anger, or It’s Not about You


Or, more precisely, you can.
But you won’t win.

We all have that special someone in our lives. That someone who challenges and unsettles us in ways we’d rather not be challenged.

My very own special someone exudes hostility and anger into the atmosphere. And hostility and generalized anger are my Achilles’ heel–socially. I don’t know how to approach them. I don’t know how to adequately protect myself from them. And unfortunately I am very susceptible to whatever emotional contagions are floating around me.

My preference is to withdraw from such people and never see them again.

But that’s not usually how the world works. I guess I just haven’t found the right invisibility cloak yet.

So in the meantime, I have to deal with a few angry, hostile people. Here are the three steps I have found that keep me sane, but I’d love to hear your own tips on difficult people.

1. Detach myself.
A big part of the problem is my own gut reaction. I assume the other person’s behavior has something to do with me. When I held a door for a new acquaintance and we entered a room together stripped of our mutual friends, her smile dropped like a hot potato. My first instinct was to panic at her abruptly cold manner. What had I done wrong?

But on second thought, you’ve got to be kidding me if the sudden icy chill was because I had done something unspeakably offensive in the last five minutes. Whether she’s nuts or just preoccupied, it’s unlikely that it’s about me.

2. Let the special someone be his or her special self.
It logically follows that if it has nothing to do with me, there’s likely nothing I can do about it. Hostility and anger come from somewhere. Chances that I’ll be able to identify the source–without the misanthrope’s cooperation–are slim. If the person packing rampant ill will isn’t upset at me and is keeping mum about the motive to his madness, then there is absolutely nothing I can do. So let it go. Sit back and enjoy. Hell, I’m a writer. It’s a rich opportunity to observe a toxic person at the peak of his game. Take notes.

3. Try some compassion.
If you’ve made it this far, your mind skills are pretty advanced. But you are not a Jedi yet. To level-up, try on some compassion for size.

This is where we arrive at the inutility of anger with these folks. If someone is this edgy or suspicious or cold or truly hostile, they’re in a pretty dark place. And let’s be honest: We’ve all been there. When we’re grieving or humiliated, we’ve all lashed out at loved ones and associates whom we never meant to hurt. If someone is adding tension and strain to their social interactions for no apparent reason, chances are they’re suffering. A lot.

It may be tempting to put this person in her place. And of course there are abusive behaviors that should never be tolerated. But unless it gets bad, just sit with the discomfort this person brings into your life and try to extend some compassion. Anger only contributes more emotional hurt to the world. Which fuels more anger.

Instead, acknowledge that other people’s behaviors reflect their own worldview and their own coping mechanisms. You’re not on this earth to change any of that. But maybe, just maybe, once you’ve set some healthy boundaries to protect yourself, you can feel some compassion for the crank inside us all.

Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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