John R Rifkin, Ph.D.
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Helpful Articles on Anger

Living with Aggressively Angry People

Living with Aggressively Angry People The most important consideration in living with someone who is aggressively angry is safety. You need to be able to feel safe in your home. If the person you are living with has a tendency to be aggressive in ways that are threatening, you need to set clear boundaries about these behaviors. If those boundaries are broken, you need to call the police. It is important to note that calling the police is a significant intervention. I do NOT recommend doing this as a threat, doing it to have the upper hand, doing it to embarrass the person or doing it as payback. If you call the police, it will have serious consequences. It is likely someone will be arrested and go to jail. There will likely be significant financial and legal complications. It is frequently the beginning of the end (or the end of the end) of a relationship. However, if your safety is truly in jeopardy, do not hesitate!

Living with angry people is difficult. Since all of us are angry in some way, this means that relationships are usually difficult. The reason I mention this here is to emphasize the importance of getting away from blaming the person who is aggressively angry. The reality is that they are in a great deal of pain, and need help to deal with their pain and their anger as well.

One of the standard interventions I recommend for people dealing with a partner who is angry is to try saying the following six words: "What do you need right now?" In order to be able to do this, you have to be able to not be overwhelmed with your own injury. That's not always easy to do.

This question is especially effective because, in addressing the needs of the person who is aggressively angry, it goes underneath the anger. When this question works, you are saying, in effect, "I know that you are angry, and that is ok. I know that there is a reason that you are angry, and I know that it is because something is hurting you. I am concerned about your injury, and I would like to help attend to it." Isn't it amazing that you can condense all of that into just six words?

Now, sometimes an aggressively angry person will try and hold on to their anger for a while. They may have learned that they are safe when they are angry. It may take two or three times of repeating the question. If the anger doesn't start to get diffused when this is happening, then something else is going on. It may be using anger as manipulation, or they may just be unavailable.

Either way, this would be a good time to call time-out. In order to be effective, time-outs need to be time-limited and honored. Honored means that the time-ins happen as well.

Living with someone who suffers from aggressive anger isn't easy, but if you don't blame them, eventually that anger should dissipate. If it doesn't, seek professional help.

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