Anyone who’s watched old Disney cartoons knows that Donald Duck is all-too-easily provoked to fits of temper. And Huey, Dewey, and Louie—his mischievous triplet nephews—are especially likely to try his patience. But perhaps what stands out most about Donald’s squawking tantrums is how ludicrous they make him appear. In fact, the angrier he gets, the more impossible it is to take him seriously.
Frankly, it’s been so long since I first read about how, indirectly, Donald Duck’s fury can be employed to assist you in certain angry situations that I don’t know to whom I should give credit for the advice I’ll be offering here. But I can say that I’ve proposed this novel “Donald Duck Solution” to many clients over the years and they’ve frequently found this most unlikely of remedies to be of considerable practical use. It can be helpful both in (1) becoming less upset by another’s unreasonable flare-ups, and (2) being better able to control your own (typically reactive) anger toward a person whose hot-headed words feel blatantly unjust. In what follows, I’ll briefly explain the technique and just why—in selected scenarios—it can be surprisingly effective.
As already implied, Donald Duck’s blowing his stack makes him look foolish—a semi-crazed, farcical figure of fun. When, totally at the effect of some external provocation, he’s emotionally spiraling out of control, his over-the-top reactions make him seem—and sound!—silly, laughable, preposterous. In such a distraught state, whatever barely decipherable words he so vehemently vocalizes carry absolutely no weight. Completely overtaken by his feelings, his barely coherent verbiage lacks all authority.
Now, consider yourself in a circumstance where the other person (whether your child, parent, partner, or, say, a “Mr. Dithers” rageaholic boss) has for the moment simply “lost it.” What if, while this individual was irrationally screaming at you, you were able to transcend your usual upset reaction of feeling abused, antagonized, inflamed, or intimidated? What if, instead, you’d already rehearsed for the possibility of such an occurrence by visualizing—and hearing—them as Donald Duck having one of his raucous temper tantrums? That is, in your imagination you’d taught yourself beforehand to transform this individual’s demeanor and speech to that of Donald Duck’s?
Can you see that by so distancing yourself from the immediate situation—through picturing the rageful person as, well, an expert Donald Duck impersonator—your reaction to them would be far more temperate? That your creative visualization would render you far less likely to be “set off” by them? Doubtless, performing such inward behavioral rehearsal may be challenging for you. But, nonetheless, it has the potential to yield significant dividends.
The main thing is that when you employ this cartoonish “distancing act” effectively, you’ll reduce the other person’s former power to induce you (reactively) to lose your cool. So you’ll be able to maintain your emotional equilibrium in a way that might not otherwise be possible. Not feeling such an urgent need to defend yourself against them—or counter-attack them—or leave the scene altogether—you’ll be much more capable of simply “taking in” what’s so disturbed them, and then prudently (or strategically) respond to them. Having allowed them, uninterrupted, to have their say, they may well have begun to calm down and be more willing to listen to your own viewpoint on the matter—and in a way that might not have been possible for them earlier.
I’m not recommending here that you don’t take their complaints seriously, or that you adopt a mocking attitude toward them. Certainly not if the relationship is important to you. For given their faulty interpretation of whatever it was that so provoked them, their anger is unquestionably very real for them (assuming, of course, that it’s not simply manipulative). Rather, what I’m suggesting is that you not take their words, however vitriolic, personally. Aware that they’re overreacting, that their anger represents a response not logically linked to your words or actions, you’re not getting “hooked” by them such that you, too, take leave of your better judgment.
Virtually all the literature ever written on the subject of anger indicates that one of the worst things to do when another is spewing verbal venom at you is to react in kind. But admittedly, avoiding the temptation to do so can be an almost Herculean task—especially when at a primal level their words and physical stance betray a powerful (though unconscious) impulse to rearrange your face. Still, if you can contrive to keep yourself calm and identify with the probable hurt or disappointment underlying their eruption, you’ll be in a far better position to settle them down . . . and then work together to find a mutually acceptable solution to whatever so badly ruffled their feathers.
Note 1: If you found this post useful (or at least provocative!) and think others might as well, please consider sharing its link with them. Moreover, if you’d like to check out other posts—on a broad range of topics—that I’ve written for Psychology Today, click here.
Note 2: Because anger management is a clinical specialty of mine, I’ve written many other posts on this thorny subject for PT. Here are their titles and links:
“The Rarely Recognized Upside of Anger,”
“The Anger Thermostat—What’s the Temperature of Your Upset?”,
“Anger Always Makes Sense,”
“Anger—How We Transfer Feelings of Guilt, Hurt, and Fear,”
“A Powerful Two-Step Process to Get Rid of Unwanted Anger,"
“What Your Anger May Be Hiding,”
“Mad =Angry + Crazy + Dumb” (Parts 1 & 2),
“The Paradox of Anger: Strength or Weakness?”, and
"Afraid to Rage: The Origins of Passive-Aggressive Behavior."
© 2014 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
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