It seems that rage is “in”. A driver makes a three-point turn on the street, and the car that comes up behind starts honking incessantly and pointing his middle finger. The driver tries to stay calm and refuses to respond, so the angry man gets angrier and makes an even more pronounced effort to show the driver just how stupid she really is. Does anyone win in this scenario? Did the driver do something so heinous and horrible to deserve such vitriol?
A mother is trying hard to shush her small children while the father works from home. The children are tired and cranky and the father is getting increasingly angry. He finally cannot take it anymore and hits the mother, throwing her to the ground; the children quiet down because they are scared. Does anyone win here? Did the mother deserve a physical punishment for her children’s actions, which were normal for young children?
You post a perspective on something that has happened in your life or something you care about, and you receive a litany of insults and debates from people who take issue with your perspective. You try to explain yourself, but the insults only get more heated. You wonder if you should even engage online with people whom you once considered friends. Does anyone win in this scenario? Did you post something looking for a fight, or just wanting to express an opinion?
The answer in all of these different scenarios is of course not. No one ever deserves anger, vitriol, and emotional and physical threats from others. And if you are a person in a domestic violence situation, please read no further and call your local domestic violence hotline! No one ever deserves emotional or physical violence in their lives from someone they care about. Rather than figuring out ways to calm yourself, stay calm and call someone who can help you. One national hotline number is https://www.thehotline.org and you can call in a safe manner.
If you are a victim of the rage permeating the culture right now in other ways and, like the driver in the first scenario, spend the rest of your drive shaking a bit from the hate thrown your way despite doing very little to attract it, know that you are not alone. Rage is everywhere and road rage is seemingly always on the rise.
If you are not in a domestic violence situation but are generally tired of the rage that permeates the culture right now, it might be time to take stock of the best ways to protect yourself and refuse to engage when someone is hurling anger and insults at you, whether in the form of the middle finger or a nasty retort to something you post. It can be hard to take a step back and refuse to engage, but the more drawn in you become to an angry person, the more your physical responses are negative and harmful to you. That’s the problem with such rage; it hurts the person who is full of rage and the person who might respond in an angry manner, too.
Angry responses can affect us by sending a flood of stress chemicals and metabolic changes, and can eventually wear away at our physical well-being, resulting in immediate problems, and longer-term issues when anger goes unchecked:
- digestion problems, such as abdominal pain
- increased anxiety
- high blood pressure
- skin problems, such as eczema
- heart attack
It’s important to first recognize that when someone is unnecessarily angry toward you, for some people it is a natural reaction to respond defensively and with anger right back. This sets off a cycle where you waste emotional energy being negative rather than become objective and allow the other person to churn with their anger.
The next time someone lashes out at you, take an objective and ‘interested observer’ view of their actions. Ask yourself, “What makes a person want to hurl such harmful things at another person?” “What could be happening in this person’s life to make them so angry and hateful?” If you can adopt an air of curiosity, this can help defuse the response to the angry person. It’s not that you allow for the bad behavior, and it’s not that you forgive it or ignore it; you just become more curious about it. Becoming detached and quiet as you observe can sometimes calm your own inner upset and response.
If you do think a response is required, and sometimes it is, consider the most objective and calm manner in which to respond. Sometimes, like with the crazy irate driver, it might be the healthiest thing to ignore it and let the person drive on. Other times, like with a friend who has written a hateful response to your post on social media, you might want to pen a thoughtful and calm response. Becoming detached in the face of an angry person gives you choices and helps you to determine what is best – for you.
Responding to rage with rage never serves anyone. No one wins and everyone loses. The best response is one that is delivered with a calm and thoughtful message, or sometimes with none at all. Consider what’s best for you, in each and every interaction.