1. Recognize, identify, and embrace your own feelings.
You can’t expect someone else to understand and accept how you feel if you haven’t sorted it out for yourself. This takes some introspection which can make a lot of people uncomfortable, but the more you practice, the better you get at it. Sometimes it helps to write it down to organize your thoughts. Objectively look at what is upsetting you. And don’t feel guilty about how you feel! Society teaches us at a very young age that certain emotions are bad. How many children have been told, “Oh sweetie, don’t cry.” (or even been punished for crying)? What that child hears is that it isn’t okay to cry. But it is okay to cry. It is okay to feel sad or mad or upset. These are your feelings. Own them. They are a natural part of being a human, and we have them for a reason. If people didn’t get angry, then things would never change. If people didn’t feel love, no one would give out hugs or kisses (or get laid). So, feel how you feel.
2. Consider the way you’re viewing the other person’s behavior.
How you view someone else’s behavior will influence the effect it has on you. If you believe that someone is deliberately trying to upset, reject, or hurt you, then you are bound to end up infuriated. Try to view that person as who they are, which is probably just someone who is trying to figure out life like the rest of us. They may have absolutely no idea that their words or actions have effected another person in a negative way. And if you feel that someone is being deliberately cruel or hateful, ask yourself what they are trying to achieve from their behavior. They might be fishing for a response that feeds right into their drama.
3. Give yourself time to calm down.
Anger and hurt are very powerful emotions. In fact, the emotional center of our brain is so influential that it can override logical thought in our cortex and even the functioning of our brain stem (which controls our vital functions). This was necessary for survival, but not so great for keeping the peace or helping us stay calm and coolheaded.
So, recognize early warning signs that you are getting upset, like feeling shaky, tension in your body, racing heart, etc.
Displace your anger with another activity like running, cleaning, singing, or reading. I don’t recommend doing things like punching a pillow or listening to angry music. Those are likely to just make you angrier because they are aggressive acts which tend to increase our aggressive tendencies.
Meditation is a great way to center yourself. Practicing it regularly can help not only your mental health, but also your physical health. (And I’m not talking about sitting on the floor with your legs crossed while you hum out a mantra.) Just a few simple minutes of relaxing your body and focusing on nothing but your breathing is a great way to meditate.
And speaking of relaxing your body, one of the best ways to do this is by clenching your muscles first and then releasing them. (It helps with your body’s fight or flight response.)
Take a time out if you have to. Turn off your phone. Go to another room. If you have kids, I recommend locking yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes (if they’re old enough to be left alone). Mental time outs can include reading a book or putting on headphones if you can’t actually be by yourself.
4. Express your feelings.
This is where it gets hard. When we’re angry, we want people to know that we’re angry. And they should know that we’re angry, but it’s how we express that anger that’s so important.
a. Be direct, honest, open, and brief. (No long rants. People only hear and pay attention to the first few words when they feel as though they are being lectured to.)
b. Keep your tone polite and calm, but firm (which I recognize is difficult online). If they are being intentionally hurtful or hateful, it may feel like they don’t deserve respect. But when you treat others with respect it says something about you, not them. An assertive person always tries to respect others and gives the lead on how they want to be treated.
c. Which leads to my next one. Avoid sarcasm, name-calling, cursing, or shaming. If your true goal is to resolve a conflict, then those behaviors are not going to help you achieve that goal.
d. Express your feelings at the time of the hurt rather than allowing your feelings to mushroom over time. If my husband leaves his socks on the floor, and I angrily pick them up and put them in the hamper without saying anything, he’s likely to leave his socks on the floor again and again because I keep putting them in the dirty clothes for him. Every time I have to pick up those dirty socks, my anger grows until one day I yell at him for it. He’s confused because it’s just a pair of dirty socks and it hasn’t been an issue before, but he doesn’t know that my anger has been building and building over time, so I end up looking like I’m overreacting. He doesn’t see the repeated acts that have built up that anger. If I expressed my dislike about his dirty socks the first time I saw them, we could resolve the problem then. (By the way, my husband always puts his laundry in the hamper.)
e. Use “I statements”. Every sentence that starts with “You” can be rephrased to start with an”I”. The moment you start a statement with “You” the other person becomes defensive (which means they are no longer listening). They feel as though they’re being attacked. So instead of saying, “You are an asshole.”, you might try saying, “I feel very hurt/angry.” Or instead of, “You just don’t understand,” try, “I feel very misunderstood.”
f. Express what you think, how you feel, and how you see the situation. And then…ask them to do the same. Exploring your differences does not mean you have to compromise. It just means you’re willing to communicate clearly and openly.
g. If the conversation becomes heated, take another time out. You want to be able to state your feelings without attacking, and that’s hard to do when you’re riled up.
5. Let the other person know what you need from them.
Part of this is recognizing what you need. Is it just an apology? Is it just knowing that the other person understands now? Is there some action that needs to take place?
Now from the other side…
When someone has built up the courage to let you know that something you have said or done has hurt or angered them, you’re first response should always be, “I’m so sorry.” Always. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean to. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand why they feel that way. The reality of the situation is that they do feel that way. It doesn’t mean you’re accepting fault or admitting any wrongdoing. It just means that you’re honoring their feelings and showing some empathy. You will get the opportunity to explain yourself, and so will they.
7. Don’t get defensive.
Criticism can shatter someone’s self-concept, so people tend to be very protective of themselves, to a fault sometimes. But as long as criticism is constructive and respectful, it can truly help us grow and evolve as a person (or a writer, or a community, etc.). Keep an open-mind and appreciate the fact that you don’t know everything. You miss a lot of opportunities to learn about other people and life when you always have your defenses up.
8. Use receptive listening.
When someone else is talking, we have the tendency to spend that time thinking of how we’re going to respond rather then truly trying to understand their message. So look them in the eye (or read every word they’ve written), and then repeat back what you’ve heard. “I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying, and please let me know if I’ve misunderstood…”
8. Ask questions.
Don’t make assumptions. They get you in trouble. “She’s just mad because…” You know nothing about another person’s experience until you’ve taken the time to listen. If the other person is truly invested in resolving your conflict, they will welcome questions (within reason).
9. Stay on topic.
Focus on one thing at a time. When people feel overwhelmed, they tend to get frustrated and give up. Don’t try to address multiple problems at one time.
10. Take responsibility for your actions and choices.
Fix your mistakes rather than trying to cover them up. Admit when you’re wrong, and make every effort to do better. And if you aren’t willing to make changes, that’s okay. We don’t always have to change. We can’t make everyone happy, but you’d better be willing to own whatever choices you’re making and whatever actions you’re taking because the consequences are yours and yours alone.
Recognize that some conflicts may take many discussions before they’re resolved, and some may never be resolved. Oftentimes, letting someone know how you feel just ends with pain, but it’s still important to express yourself (in a way that shows respect for others and for yourself). Allowing those angry feelings to fester will ultimately cause you more pain than any rejection ever could.
If someone isn’t willing to respect your feelings, then do not include them in your life until they are willing to do so. You can’t make them care. You can’t make them change. You can say that they should or shouldn’t do things, but what’s the reality of the situation? They are doing those things. The only thing in this entire world that you have control over is you, so take that control and use it.
Oh. And happy reading!
Note: And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t write in my own voice. I recognize that I probably make a lot of mistakes, and I always welcome respectful dialogue and discussion.