From time to time, we all find ourselves in the presence of someone who has become just too angry to be safe. Calming down a nearly out-of-control person is part style, part art and part learnable techniques. Here are a few of the most commonly helpful techniques.
All people have anger but as everyone is aware, some people are able to manage it better than others. Some people manage their own anger by using coping skills they have learned to calm themselves down; Some pass it along to the next weakest person around while others swallow it down to only have it resurface later as disproportionate over-reactions or depression.
Finally, there are those who simply explode and let it all out. The last group is probably the most dangerous and the hardest to manage when you encounter such a person after their anger has taken them into their own personal “Red Zone.” It is as though their better judgment has been hijacked by their anger.
The following techniques can be helpful in de-escalating a person who is on the verge of losing control as a consequence of having had their own higher functioning overtaken and overpowered by their own anger.
For some people, having anger take over the control of their beings actually feels good. There are folks who suffer from a type of Bipolar Disorder, for example, who thrive on the rush of adrenaline that can often accompany an episode of rage.
For most people, however, the situation of having anger in the driver’s seat of one’s own life is not a welcome or comfortable one. But it happens sometimes none-the-less.
Anger, especially in its more extreme manifestations, affects not only the person themselves, but those around them. It may be helpful to have a few tools to go to when in the company of someone whose anger seems to have taken over.
Here are some often (but not always) useful tips: Some not to do’s and some to do’s. In all instances, it is important to remember that anger distorts perception. A very angry person will not likely take things said or done as they are intended or meant. Anger is a perception-distorting experience.
Some Important to Do’s:
1. Listen respectfully to what the person is saying. Accept the person’s feelings and take them seriously. Do not take what feels like bait to engage in an argument. Be understanding, not challenging.
2. Speak quietly and briefly. Give the person plenty of time to take account of your presence, consider what you have said and decide whether or not and in what way they may want to respond.
3. Maintain a respectful and safe physical distance from the person. You don’t want them to feel crowded or threatened by you.
4. If whatever you are doing seems to be working (the person is de-escalating and calming down,) keep doing it! Changing tactics when you are succeeding is, generally, a bad idea.
5. If there seems to be a risk of physical danger (to the person or to anyone else) immediately leave the area and call for professional help. 911 is usually the best and quickest way to secure help. Many First Responders (Police and Fire Fighters), mental health professionals, Probation Officers and community volunteers have experienced and been certified in what is called CIT (Crisis Intervention Team training.)
Some Important Not to Do’s:
1. Resist the temptation to confront the person with words, though well intentioned, like “Oh, calm down” or “Your anger is really getting the best of you right now.” People in a high state of agitated anger are apt to hear these helpfully intended comments as attacks which will serve only to heighten their anger.
2. Avoid direct eye contact with an enraged person. S/he is apt to experience the direct looking into their eyes as a confrontation rather than as the connection that was probably intended.
3. Do not respond to the anger with high intensity emotion of your own. This can be very difficult as anger often evokes strong feelings in those around it, but if you become observably angry or upset yourself, the net/net can be like throwing fuel on the fire, leading to further escalation.
4. Avoid the understandable but usually ineffective urge to physically comfort the person into a state of calm. With the distortions that accompany anger, even the most loving and benign physical contact may be reacted to as an attack.
Because we are all human, we all have moments where we ARE the angry person and moments when we are the person experiencing someone else’s anger. When the anger is ours, our ability to see what is going on around us with accuracy is greatly compromised.
When we are the ‘˜other’ person, we are the one with the ability to access our consciousness more readily and to make deliberate and helpful choices.
When we are the crisis, we often need someone to respond. When we are with someone in crisis, we are well advised to give some thought about how to respond in a helpful way.