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Do You Display Defensive Anger? Three New Strategies to Deal with Verbal Attacks!

Posted Jan 20 2012 7:56pm

Doc, the new client said, I am not an angry guy. I only get angry when people piss me off. The rest of the time I am fine

This humorous interchange occurs often in our anger management classes. We gently explain that, of course, it is much easier to stay calm and rational when nobody is attacking us, when nobody challenges us or yells at us, or when nobody accuses us of things we didn’t do. On the other hand, anger and frustration are normal human emotions to experience when we are justly or unjustly  criticized, when we feel disrespected, when people treat us with contempt or when others are raging at us for any number of reasons.

Anger management is partly the trick of not taking the bait – of not dealing with an attack with more anger or hostility on your part. This is NOT to say that we should always just be passive by smiling and taking it. To the contrary, rather than yelling back, insulting with verbal abuse, threatening things you will never do, or bringing up every sin you can think of the other has committed in the past, you can use  much more effective strategies to  defend yourself.

Strategy 1- Take a time out and cool down. This is tool # 8 in our anger management program. It means NOT dealing with it at the moment when things are so heated up. Deal with the issue later when both of you are more calm. This does not mean you should avoid the issue: quite to the contrary, it means to deal with it, but at a better time.

Strategy 2- Calmly but firmly stand-up to the angry person while setting  boundaries and limits. . This means to let them know you will no longer tolerate their abusive anger and that the relationship will be severely injured if they continue. Some angry people only calm down when they are with someone who stands up to them; this is because they secretly despise what they perceive as weakness. I have seen many husbands, for instance, morph from lions to lambs when the the hands of a woman with a stronger personality than them who simply will not put up with their verbal abuse. These raging men do not want to lose the relationship so they are willing to do almost anything to save it.

Strategy 3- Stop Being a “Peace at any price” person. A peace at any price person believes that they should keep things peaceful at any cost, even to their self-esteem, their pride, or their self-respect. These people often find themselves with very angry partners who remain angry even though they do every thing humanly possible to stay out of trouble and avoid fights. The strategy here is to be more up front about things that bother you, before resentment builds and you explode over some trivial event. Some things just have to be dealt with and not avoided. Paradoxically, dealing with the issue in the moment sometimes decreases anger in your partner. Rather than making things worse, sometimes it improves things, especially if you let them know how you feel about the issue and how it is affecting you.

These three strategies are very powerful in dealing with defensive anger either in relationships or in other life situations.  You can learn more by enrolling in our online anger course or our online marriage education program. 

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