Living With an Angry Person

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When I am on live call-in radio shows, this question is regularly asked, “How do I live with an angry person?” You can imagine, this is not a pleasant experience for anyone.

Angry people often hold on to a victim mentality. To them, the world is unfair. They are regularly offended and basically driven by what others should or should not do. Their focus in not on their own reactions, rather the actions of others. And that anger acts like a drug that stimulates adrenaline, making the person feel powerful and not a victim. And because anger is such a powerful emotion, they don’t listen to others or try to change their perspective. The result is they are difficult to be around interpersonally.

To control anger, the person needs to stop demanding people behave in ways he/she thinks is right. After all, we have no control over what other people do and say, yet reacting as if you do leads to more anger. And holding on to anger breeds resentment and bitterness, more negative emotion.

If you live with an angry person…

  1. Ask them to think about how their anger affects your relationship? In truth, anger damages feelings of trust and safety. It creates fear and distance. Anxiety results and leads to negativity towards the angry person. In other words, being angry damages intimacy and erodes relationships. Are those outcomes the person wants?
  2. There must be a recognition by the angry person that he or she is angry. This may require a difficult conversation, but one that must happen. Awareness is always a first step in change. If the person is not aware, have the courage to confront this. But how you confront is very important. You cannot be angry and reactive either. You need to bring up the subject in a gentle way with the goal of improving the relationship. Tell the person this is the goal.                                                              Choose a calm time to discuss how the persons’ anger impacts those he or she loves or cares about. Don’t do this in the middle of an outburst. Wait until the topic has been confronted and then discuss the impact of doing nothing or making change. Most people do not want to scare people away because of their anger. The motivation to change often comes from losing important people in one’s life. Ask the person if he or she wants to continue to push others away because of their anger?
  3. To change, the person needs to get at the root of their anger. They need to realize they can’t control others and demand they behave in ways suitable to them. Ask the angry person to reflect on why he or she is so easily angered. Is anger an impulsive reaction, a way to avoid vulnerability? Is it coming from a belief of victimhood or unfair treatment? Have bitterness and unforgiveness built up over the years? Does the person lack healthy coping skills, etc.? Once you  get at the root, then anger management prescriptions can be given like counting to 10 to calm down, changing a thought that prompts anger, forgiving those who have wronged you, etc.
  4. Angry people need a better understanding of the concept and application of grace. No one does the right thing all the time. We all fall short and must work at giving grace to those around us. Grace is unmerited favor, meaning it is not deserved but given anyway.
  5. Where is the angry person in their spiritual life? Are they holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness? Have they surrendered their pride and asked the Holy Spirit to give them more self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. Is the person keeping spiritually strong? Spiritual strength is what brings self-control.

Finally, what is interesting about anger is that it can be contagious. Yes, anger leads to more anger if not stopped. So the challenge is not to become angry yourself when you live with an angry person. You too need grace and compassion to encourage the path of change. However, do not allow the person to abuse you with their anger. Set boundaries. Do not match their reactivity. Stay calm in the moment. Tell the angry person you won’t engage when the anger is hot and uncontrolled. You will end a conversation or walk away until the person has managed his or her emotions. Then, you can pick up the issue again.

It is up to the angry person to learn calming techniques and build trust again. Otherwise, the cycle will simply repeat and they risk losing people they love. But the impact of their behavior is a key focus. No movement? Try couple or family therapy.

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