What happens within you when someone directs their anger at you—attacking or blaming you?
I grew up with parents who often took their frustrations out on me. My father would occasionally yell at me, but my mother's anger, blame, or irritation was a daily occurrence. As a very sensitive little girl, I was terrified of her. When she was irritated with me, I would start to shake and then freeze, as children often do when they’re being traumatized. They feel helpless.
It took many years for me to learn to stop freezing and lovingly manage another's anger at me. Here are the five coping mechanisms I use now:
1. Remain silent and disengage.
I've learned that there is no point in arguing, explaining, or defending. When someone is angry, their higher functioning mind—what I call their loving adult—is offline. Rooted in fear, this behavior comes from a lower part of the brain. Their logical brain can't hear you. Whatever you say only serves to exacerbate the situation. So, the first step in managing another's anger is to lovingly disengage. This means to not verbally respond and instead to quietly walk away or, if you are in a car, get very quiet and retreat to an internal happy place.
2. Comfort yourself.
Shower kindness, caring, and compassion on your inner child, who may have been triggered into fear. Breathe deeply, mindfully focusing on the exhale, which facilitates relaxation. If you feel like shaking, let yourself shake. Shaking is one of the body’s natural mechanisms for releasing trauma. Open up to your Higher Power, and ask for help in bringing love and comfort to yourself.
3. Reorient yourself in the present moment and take appropriate action.
Look around you. Become as present as possible to avoid acting instinctually with learned responses from wounds you received when you were helpless. Remember that you are now an adult—not a trapped child. If there is actual danger, then remove yourself from it. Leave the house, get out of the car at a stop sign, call the police. To feel safe, it's very important that you learn to take action on your own behalf—action that you couldn't take as a child.
4. Take other actions to re-center.
What re-centers you? Every person needs to discover their own unique ways of centering. Perhaps you need to go out in nature, reconnecting with yourself. Perhaps you need to attend a 12-Step meeting, call a friend or relative, or schedule an appointment with a therapist, coach, or facilitator. Maybe listening to music, reading, or doing something creative re-centers you. Often, holding a pet brings calmness. It's up to you, as a healthy adult, to take loving action on behalf of your inner child to bring about equilibrium.
5. Speak with the other person.
The time to speak about the situation is later, when you have dealt with your own fear and the other person is open and available. If the other person never opens, then there is no point in trying to talk about it. You can't get anywhere in terms of learning and resolution unless both of you are ready to listen and take constructive action.
If you are able to speak about it, do so with an openness to learning about both of you. Learning can bring about healing and change.
It takes much practice of these five steps to heal old trauma. If you find you can't manage to do this yourself, then I encourage you to reach out for trauma therapy, such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), TRE (Trauma Release Exercises), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and/or SE (Somatic Experiencing). If you don't know what these are, you can easily look them up on the Internet. They are very helpful in releasing old trauma from the body so that you can stay centered in the face of another's anger.
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