4 Keys to Loving Someone When They Get Angry
- Joël Malm Author
- 2020 2 Oct
Anger seems to be everywhere right now. Dealing with your own frustration and anger is one challenge. But, how do you love someone who is angry? Whether it’s our kids, our spouse, or co-workers, we all come face to face with angry people in life. Their anger can lead to all sorts of fear and uncertainty inside us. But all hope is not lost.
Here are four tips to help you understand how to better love the angry people in your life – and hopefully, be an instrument of peace that helps them find their own peace.
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1. Understand the Source
Anger is a secondary emotion. It comes after another emotion. In my book, Love Slows Down, I explain that anger is always a response to feeling threatened in one of three areas:
1. Security – physical, emotional, financial
2. Connection – feeling valued, esteemed, seen and heard
3. Control – having options, choices, and freedom to decide
We were created by God to need those things. Of course, he wants to be the source of getting those needs met. Those three things are the source of our biggest hopes and dreams and the source of our greatest needs. The retirement savings, the relationship with your family, the ability to provide for yourself and your family. It’s all about those three things.
Whenever you get angry at something happening around you, it’s always a result of something happening inside you. An angry person is someone who feels a threat (or feels hurt) to their sense of security, connection, or control for themselves or their family. When something threatens us, the fear kicks in. We don’t just sit around and take it. We respond with whatever responses make us feel safe, connected, or in control. Typically, the emotion that promises the most power is anger. But anger is the symptom of feeling hurt, afraid, or threatened. The angry person you love is really just a hurt and afraid person.
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2. Don’t React with Your Own Anger
When someone is really angry or violent, it’s not the time to address the issue with them. When we get really angry our brain activity shifts away from the rational thinking part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) and goes to the more primal part. In fact, you actually use IQ points when you get angry. We get tunnel vision and laser focused on eliminating the threat—so don’t react to an angry person with your own anger. It will only escalate the situation as the person is already in a state of hyper-vigilance. In fact, it’s usually wise to just give the angry person some space, unless they are about to do something dangerous to themselves or harm someone.
Trying to reason with an angry person also won’t work. Especially, if you are dealing with a child who has learned to be in tune with their emotions. Remember, their brain is literally in an impaired state. They can’t think clearly. Give them space to calm down (as long as they aren’t endangering themselves or others). Then, once they have, approach them calmly and gently. Address the real issue – fear and hurt.
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3. Focus on the Fear or Hurt
The angry person you love is afraid or hurt because they feel threatened. Anger is a symptom of feeling threatened, hurt, or afraid. Love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). So show them love by communicating with them in terms of their fear. Ask open-ended questions that help them process whether they felt a threat to their security, connection, or control. You’ll begin to see that there’s a consistent pattern to what makes the person angry – it’s nearly always the same kinds of situations that lead to their anger. Expressing what they felt just before anger is challenging, so here are some words that might help you help them to process.
“I got angry because I felt ________.”
Security emotions: Abandoned, Vulnerable, Threatened, In danger, Belittled, Alone, Ganged up on
Connection emotions: Like I was being compared, Not good enough, Invalidated, Unloved, Rejected
Control emotions: Embarrassed, Humiliated, Ignored, Helpless, Powerless, Overwhelmed, Weak, Belittled
Communicating in terms of the primary emotions—what they felt before they got angry—may require some patience on your behalf. Often, anger has become such a default response that many people really think anger was their first emotion. It may require some thought on their part and guidance from you for them to get in touch with the primary emotion. But we only resolve the deeper, ongoing issues, by understanding and helping the person we love to recognize the source of their anger.
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4. Help Them Process and Prepare
When my wife and I are about to drive in rush-hour traffic, she will regularly pull me aside before we get into the car and say, “Joël, we are about to hit heavy traffic. Prepare yourself. It’s going to be ok.” It sounds silly, but that little reminder helps me not get quite so angry at traffic. In Love Slows Down, I share proven techniques like breathing deeply, stepping away from the threat, and physical exercise to help reset your body and calm down when you get angry. But that’s just the first step. I’d encourage you to help the person you love recognize that their anger is coming from something inside them. Since it’s inside them, they can control it if they know their patterns and develop a plan.
Help them process their anger through the three-part framework of security, connection, and control. Help them recognize the patterns of what leads to their anger so they can prepare mentally and emotionally before they get into the situation. Certain times of the day, certain seasons, certain people, and certain situations (like traffic!) all tend to lead to anger. When they process what particular need feels threatened in those situations, it’s much easier to develop a plan for how to deal with those situations that trigger them. And, we help the person we love gain greater insight into who they are.
When we understand the connection between fear and anger, we’re better able to process our own anger and help others do the same. Anger is just a sign that something deep inside has been threatened. When we get past the anger and address the fear, we can help those we love reach their full potential and experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control rather than fear and anger.
“Love is patient, love is kind… it is not easily angered…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/fizkes