How to cope when a loved one has anger issues

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By psychologist Jane Dodding

In today's stressful world, it is useful to know how to deal with loved ones when they struggle to manage their emotions and get angry. Below are some tips to help you defuse their anger and calm them down.

1. Calm yourself

Our natural tendency when someone is angry is to get defensive or angry ourselves, which is understandable when we feel attacked. Unfortunately, this is usually not productive. Instead, try to detach yourself emotionally from the situation, take a few slow breaths and calm yourself down. If you think it will help, request that you both take time out to calm yourselves down before addressing the issue. Maybe go for a walk. It can help to consider how you are thinking about the other person's anger and re-frame your thoughts (for example, you could say to yourself “Bill misunderstood what I was saying, and getting angry is his way of coping”) and try to step back and just observe rather than getting caught up in their anger.

2. Set limits

You might want to set limits on their behaviour, for example, by saying “I am willing to listen to you and will try to help, but not when you shout at me”. If they do not respect your boundaries, you could repeat this again and if they continue to overstep your limits, you might want to end the conversation. Of course, if at any time you do not feel safe, leave and consider enlisting support from others.

3. Listen

Don’t interrupt, let them talk before summarising and reflecting back on what you understand they are saying. Focus on their emotion, behaviour and the issue – not their character, and let them know you understand they are upset. Be specific, for example, “I understand you are angry right now because I was late picking you up”.

4. Ask questions

This will help you to gain clarity and greater understanding about the issue fueling their anger. When responding, always talk calmly – talk slowly and softly in a lower gentle voice.

5. Learn what they want

Ask them how you can help and decide what you can do. For example, just listen, provide empathy or do something to correct the problem. If you need some time to consider how you are able and willing to help, let them know you want time to think about it and set a time to get back to them with your response. Offer what you can and state clearly what you can’t. If warranted, consider offering an apology.

6. Encourage them to seek help

If they have frequent angry outbursts, let them know how you feel when they are angry, and encourage them to get anger management counselling or talk to their doctor.

And finally, check out this website for an extensive list of resources about anger management: www.mindhealthconnect.org.au/anger-management 


To read other columns written by our psychologists, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career.

All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.


Jane Dodding is a psychologist and director with MindsPlus, a group of psychologists and other mental health workers who came together in 2007 to provide support to people living and working in rural and remote regions of Australia. For further information about MindsPlus, contact 1300 312 202 or visit www.mindsplus.com.au