Removing Self from the Anger Equation

A few weeks ago I called in to Evolving Your Spirit radio where host Debbie Mackall was interviewing her guest, Maggie Wilkins, who was speaking from Thailand. One of the many things she said that spoke to my heart was:

“The Thai people believe that when you lose your temper, you lose face. They believe that if they engage with someone who’s lost their temper they not only disrespect that person, but themselves as well, so they simply walk away—remove themselves from the equation—a position of respect for self and others.”

I contacted Maggie to confirm I’d accurately captured the spirit of what she’d said before posting it on my Facebook wall. Later she wrote:

“It is amazing to witness the first time you see it. When you know what is happening, it is to witness grace at work.”

How do you respond to anger in others?

Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
— Laurie Buchanan

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© 2012 Laurie Buchanan– All Rights Reserved

53 thoughts on “Removing Self from the Anger Equation

  1. It’s hard to feel the anger in others. It’s so challenging. I shrink deep inside, trying to get away from the pain. Yet, when I’m able to be present and stay WITH the anger of others, sometimes the edges soften and the heart opens. (Not quite there yet all the time. It’s easier to shrink away and feel the pain.) Funny, when we get the personal out of the equation it often just becomes “what it is”. Easier to handle.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! There is the physical moving away, leaving the room, I think that action is the first one we learn to take. Yet many times one could be pursued by the anger and/or the angry person.

    Than there is the breathing through the process, allowing the person’s anger to be, knowing it is not about your, even when directed. Allowing for the person to know that they are heard, yet allowing the energy go around and dissipate.

    Of course this all about the other person and one reaction. How about our own reacting from anger.

    I could go on here, there could be a sense of entitlement, resentment, rightousness in walking away. That would cause more anger…

  3. Something about this principle attracts me, but I’d like to know more. I’m sure that in certain situations walking away can be the only way to deal with anger, but I’m not so sure it’s the best way. It sounds noble, but my question would be, how do you ultimately resolve issues? What happens when you walk away? Do you meet up again and deal with the issues, or are they just left? To what extent is respect given by not walking away but graciously struggling with the anger of another, and your own, there and then. I’m a bit hesitant about just walking away, unless there’s something else that follows that I’m unaware of. Are there cultural issues involved here? From my perspective, and I confess that it probably does have everything to do with my own conditioning, is this a constructive way to deal with anger. Maybe it is. It would be good to explore this deeper.

    • Don – Thank you for the gift of your reflection today. You’ve brought up many excellent questions. I think that Maggie Wilkins will visit this post and hopefully she’ll share further observations she’s made about anger during her sojourn in Thailand.

  4. Being non-confrontational has me walking away most of the time. There are times I leave with a comment like “I’m sending you love” .

  5. Spot on! In personal, face to face situations you are awarded the opportunity to look into the other persons eyes … To gauge the gravity of the shared anger. In our detached online lives we don’t get this chance although I like to use the “10 Minute” rule: Step away and detach yourself from the email or whatever angered you for ten minutes. Come back after you have thought it out … Sometimes 10 minutes is simply not enough time 😉

  6. OK, here is my secret….walking away for sure is the best and dowsing them with LOVE, but when it takes an extra boost to make yourself leave the area, I just fake a little “oops, I forgot the pizza in the oven” and run out of the room. Works every time!

  7. Unfortunately the walking away doesn’t work when you are around a conference table of people in the work setting. I learned in mediation training that when people are angry you need to validate their emotions. Underneath the anger are interests, feelings or fears that haven’t been met. It’s a long process sometimes but can be very healthy.

    • Becwillmylife – You bring up an excellent point…one of the most basic human needs is to be validated and when that need has not been met, we can experience emotions that don’t serve us (or those in our sphere of influence) well. Thank you for sharing your from-the-trenches observation with us.

  8. I have a host of responses to anger and they vary depending on the situation but the underlying position is one of respect. I think the walking away works well if someone is caught by surprise by their own emotion. It gives them time to process, assess and understand where their response has come from. Usually, if a respectful space has been created in the relationship, they will come back to the situation more calmly and able to articulate their fears, needs and frustrations. Like Becwillmylife, I have been in situation where walking away is not an option and the uncomfortable space needs to be acknowledged, held and resolved. I do this best when there are a clear set of guiding principles for how we intend to communicate with each other. Again, this creates a safe kind of container for me to work within.

    Where I don’t do well with anger is when I am caught off guard and someone explodes with an expression of their outrage. I freeze first. Then I look for a place to duck and run. If none are available, I come out fighting and will match or exceed their expression – usually to the absolute shock of the person who is loosing it, particularly if they know me. This is an unrehearsed, unedited, visceral response to anger or a perceived threat. It is not a response I am particularly happy with but experience tells me it is there and that I am quite capable of slamming my hand on the table and saying in the most convincing voice “there will be no violence in this house!” The body language and tone is clear – the next move is yours and you better make it good because I will have your a– for grass before your eyes can blink! The opponent in this case was a 6’2″ muscular male. I am a 5′ 3.5″ mild mannered woman. He took one look at me and quieted right down. He told me later it wasn’t my might but my seriousness and courage that were able to reach him.

    Great post as always Laurie! 🙂

    • Terrill – I love (and can clearly see) the word picture you painted here! Like you, I am normally sweet, loving, kind, and thoughtful…but if push comes to shove, more than one person has been surprised when my zen-like composure transforms into something quite formidable.

  9. Great post and comments here. My thoughts, there is a difference in losing one’s temper like the post describes, and in expressing anger. When someone has lost it, they are no longer able to communicate or receive new information, so walking away for a bit is best. But if someone is expressing anger without rage or aggression, than I feel it is best to stay, listen, validate, and at least attempt to resolve.

    • Rootstoblossom – “But if someone is expressing anger without rage or aggression, than I feel it is best to stay, listen, validate, and at least attempt to resolve.”

      Amen siSTAR!

  10. Laurie, since not all people are the same and situations differ, I can’t say that I have a tried and true rule to follow when someone is being confrontational. They may have a valid reason for the anger or they may be in a wretched state of mind and simply blowing smoke. Reason doesn’t always work and some of the solutions here sound really good, but not if the angry person doesn’t have the skill sets already in place. They might be the type to get loud and belligerent and bring the hammer down on the first available head. If you remember…not too long ago I had a run in with an angry man, a co-worker. I listened to his tirade with what I hoped was a non-committal attitude, then turned and left. I left hoping to save us from bitter words that might ruin our relationship. Some hours later this man called and apologized for going off on me, I told him ” No problem. I knew this wasn’t like you, that it wasn’t about me, so I’ve been praying for your peace of mind and that everything be resolved.” I also told him the next time he came at me like that I would find the nearest available 2X4 and wear him out with it. We laughed and things are good between us.

  11. Hi Laurie

    I’m with Terrill & Sandi here.

    There is no single way to respond to anger that is appropriate.
    Sometimes leaving is the very worst thing to do, because it can be read by the angry person as a sign of disrespect, and it just makes a bad situation worse.
    Sometimes walking away isn’t enough, and one needs to run – fast – particularly if the drug P or any of its derivatives are involved (I knew 2 people who died in such situations). In one case I saw the person who would an hour later kill Terry, and it was clear just from the look of him that P had taken everything away except the anger – he was just anger on legs.

    Anger seems to be a very early evolutionary adaptation, that in very dangerous situations allows us to respond with an all or nothing response. It is entirely inappropriate to social situations (too dangerous). In order for social groups to survive, anger must be controlled in all normal contexts.

    I know my mind can get very angry. It does so very easily when it i hungry. Hunger is something I need to avoid, or if hungry I need to be very focussed.

    • Hey, Ted! People who have taken something to alter their state of conscience and rationality should be avoided at all costs in my way of thinking. You’ve made a great point here. Anger on Legs. I am not familiar with the substance P. Can you tell me what it is? Thanks.

    • Ted – I assume that when you refer to “P” it’s not PCP we’re talking about as that would be “the hulk” on legs as opposed to “anger on legs.” My at-a-dead-stop-vehicle was hit at 60mph by a teenager on PCP. It was only after he did an Olympian multi-mile run (on foot) that he was finally taken down, but it took several police officers and a stun-gun to do it.

      The situation you described that resulted in two deaths sounds simply awful…a tragic waste of humanity.

  12. I work with special people who often express anger and frustration through physical means. If I am familiar with the person, I can often diffuse the situation, but if it comes to full blows, I guide them somewhere they will be safe (and won’t be able to break anything or hurt anyone else) and walk away. When the anger comes from someone with the verbal skills to express themselves with abusive language, I often walk away. I don’t need to hear curse words and I don’t want to get involved with that kind of conflict – unless it’s directed at a child and looks like the situation is getting out-of-hand. I’d like to think I would get involved and protect the child. If it’s someone I love, like Hubby on the rare occasion something makes him really mad, I give him the space he needs to calm down. Then we can talk about it reasonably. 🙂

    • Mywithersins – There are three abuses that put me over the edge: child abuse, elder abuse, and animal abuse.

      I appreciate you giving your husband space when he’s in that certain place. I’m grateful that my husband gives me a wide berth when I need to cool down as well 🙂

  13. I think there is a difference between being angry and losing one’s temper. Anger, when channelled constructively, can lead to change. Anger, like all of our other emotions, is a signal that we need to pay attention to. Being angry at a child being beaten or mistreated is appropriate. The question is: what is the appropriate response for that anger? Getting a little angry on a tennis court helps me focus. Not dealing with one’s anger in an adult manner can lead to losing one’s temper (shades of John McEnroe). I agree that someone who is out of control of their anger and pitching a temper tantrum cannot be reasonable and often walking away is the only recourse.

    • Barbara – You are oh-so-correct that there’s a difference between being angry and losing one’s temper. There have been a number of occasions where anger has given me leverage to help an “underdog” out of a non-positive situation.

      And if someone’s pitching a hissy fit, I don’t bother to dignify it with a response – I simply walk away.

  14. When I was younger I didn’t deal well with the anger of others. I don’t know that I’ve done much better in recent years but I do know I’ve become more comfortable with my own anger. Thailand is also know as the land of smiles. It’s amazing how much a simple smile helps diffuse anger. I love Thailand. Sara kept an apartment in Bangkok for a couple of years after the 2004 tsunami. I’ve long wanted to return–even to live. I love the Thai people.

  15. how do i handle other people’s anger/ it depends upon who is angry. if someone is angry at me, i try to find a quiet time with the person to discuss; sometimes the angry person is irrational, and that’s not possible; i say prayers for them (to myself) and if I can resolve the situation, i will, otherwise I leave them be.

  16. Saving face has its good points, but it has its negative as well. It has an element of untruth to it that I’m trying to eliminate from my life. Saving face invokes a lot of saying what the other person wants to hear. It can be a frustrating thing. Sometimes we have to be honest and confrontation has to have a place in it.

  17. Excellent post and sharing Laurie. I am just about to leave the house to have a cyst removed from the middle of my back between the shoulder blades. It is holding all the anger I have been attempting to hold in from the last few years of my life.
    Sometimes I rage, unusually I just stuff it and hold it in…I have been trained with religious fervor to not express my huge spectrum of emotions – especially not anger…
    Today I feel quite ready to explode…
    My mother’s phrase of “you brought this on yourself” flashes across my mind…
    I am not skilled at anger (emotions ) at all…though I think I have a PhD in research about how to use them well.

    Lots of ways to run away from expressing…I like Nonviolent communications or Compassionate Communications by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg – most useful to me

    • Patricia – I’m so glad you’re having the cyst removed from your back. If it’s a visual representation of anger, it’s removal should prove to be a tremendous relief. Here’s hoping for a swift recovery 🙂

      • Wow I am loving the pain relief today Laurie…Why did they keep putting me off about having this done…The Dr. was amazed at how deep it was and how inflamed… I feel like I have an ouchie this morning not a whole shoulders ablaze….stitches out next week and the pup pulling on his leash a bit hard to take…but wow I feel so much better….I think this worked for anger relief too…I was so assertive…even made them follow up on my lab work…at an $800 co-pay I was determined to get my money’s worth 🙂

        Thought I should report in…since I put it out there 🙂

  18. Laurie, sad to say I have a pretty potent Italian-American temper when provoked, though I wouldn’t quite go as far as to perceive it as an anger management issue, especially since a row is always followed almost immediately by a period of emotional over-compensation. Your blackboard equation frames this psychological malignancy superbly, and the Thai people seem to have this one figured perfectly.

  19. I love what SuZen said above about “I’m sending you love”. What a wonderful way to experience anger in others. I’m a non-confrontational person myself, but occasionally I find that anger in others causes anger to boil inside of me, too. Taking myself out of the equation seems like the adult and most respectful way to handle the situation. 🙂

  20. I tend to be non-confrontational, but when someone has lost her temper I find it best, as becwillmylife said above, to validate her emotions. Simply by calmly telling her that I can understand why she is feeling the way she does, it usually takes the wind right out of her sails.

  21. Pingback: The Wire, The Dark Night Rises, and Film Forum’s Universal 100th Anniversary Festival on Monday Morning Diary (September 23) « Wonders in the Dark

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