Anger, like heat, is easier to hold when it is not contained.
How To Hold Someone Who Is Angry
You may find it easier to hold someone when they’re sad, confused, or even frustrated. But when it comes to anger, it can often feel like too much to hold because there is so much intensity and blame in anger. I’ve even experienced feeling contempt when I see anger. I’m quick to judge it. After all, “Blame and impatience are bad,” is an old religion of mine.
But in reality, holding someone who is angry is no different than holding someone in any other state of mind, except for one thing—if anger triggers you. If anger does indeed trigger you, you may find it impossible to hold someone who is angry. Let’s look a little closer at this.
Angry People Need Understanding
When someone is angry, he or she is probably in need of love and support, but if it’s not given in just the right way, it will be rejected. And that anger which was focused on someone else may get turned on you. This possibility can be very scary.
So what exactly does an angry person need? In my experience, the main thing an angry person needs is to vent and just be heard. Anger arose because they didn’t get what they wanted, or because they felt invaded in some way. Anger is the reaction to this: wanting to use force and fire to expand again after being forced somehow to contract.
That fire is already activated and it may need to just be allowed to be for a while until it can start to dissipate. Anger is an outward-pushing emotion. An angry person needs to feel that the listener offers no further resistance to that outward movement. They need to feel that they are allowed to be angry. Any attempt to root out the anger or get rid of it will be met with more anger.
But Won’t This Burn Out of Control?
The fear is that anger will spread uncontrollably if it is not contained. But this is only true if there are other flammable materials around to burn. If I am trying to stop their anger, my frustration in not being able to do so will make me angry too. This is how the fire spreads.
But, if I don’t need them to stop being angry, and I’m clear that they just need to express that anger for a while, there is nothing in me to catch fire. I’m non-flammable.
How To Be Non-Flammable
Are there any ways to become less triggered by anger?
Here are some interesting options:
1. Question your desire to stop their anger. Doing The Work of Byron Katie on thoughts like, “I want him to calm down,” or “I want him to see it’s not that bad,” “He shouldn’t be angry,” etc., can open new ways of understanding. When I see how understandable it is that he is angry, then I can be truly there for him. (And it doesn’t mean I have to join him in his anger.)
2. Question your beliefs about anger. Using The Work of Byron Katie, question any beliefs that you bring about anger. For example, “Anger is toxic,” “Blaming is bad,” “Anger is contagious,” “Anger is never justified,” “If I listen to the anger, I have to agree with it,” “I will be sucked in,” “I can’t validate his anger,” “You’re not supposed to express anger.” These fears and assumptions often change dramatically when they are questioned.
3. Question your own angry thoughts. If you are triggered by anger, write your angry thoughts about the angry person on a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. This is your anger work. And notice other times when you’re angry (even a little) in any situation. Doing The Work on any situation that causes you anger will not only give you compassion for those who get angry, but it may also make you less triggered by anger in general.
If It’s Too Much
Working on anger can be a process. If you are called to hold someone with their anger and it is too much for you, there is nothing wrong is simply stating that truth and giving them space without you there. That is the time to exit and do some work on the stressful thoughts coming up for you instead.
Whose Business Is Their Anger?
Another person’s anger is not my business. I especially try to stay in my business around someone who is angry. They are going to be very sensitive to that.
Sure, they could work through their anger quicker if they questioned their stressful thoughts about the situation. Doing The Work would be great. But only if and when they decide to do it from their side. Suggesting that they do The Work may also be taken as a desire to control or change them. The same goes for sharing any wisdom tips.
Who would I be without any need to change their anger? I would be free, available, kind, patient, and understanding. These are all the qualities necessary to hold someone who is angry.
Ready To Write Some Worksheets?
If you want to see what anger can teach you (your own anger or someone else’s), join me for The Work 101, my in-depth online course for going deeply into self-inquiry. We go meditatively through several Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheets in the course and anger is a favourite topic. Bring your situations and let’s explore together.
Have a great week,
“To take it a step further, can you really know that you feel hurt because Paul is angry? Is Paul’s anger actually causing your hurt? Might it be possible for you, in another frame of mind, to stand there in the full blast of Paul’s anger and not experience it personally at all? What if you could simply listen, calmly and lovingly receiving whatever he says? After inquiry, that was my experience.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is
Further reading: I Want To Eradicate My Anger