anger and confrontation

Reader A. L. writes:

I have a friend who gets angry for absolutely no reason. Or if there is a reason, it’s something small and he blows it out of proportion. Instead of confronting my other friends and me about his grievances, he just won’t talk to us for weeks, and none of us will know what the problem is. As far as I can tell, it is impossible not to piss him off. I’d much rather have a confrontation and get it out of the way than deal with three or four weeks of him ignoring me. I get that he’s not a confrontational guy, but this is ridiculous. Should I make the move to bust things open?

Dear A. L.:

As a non-confrontational person myself, I have to say it can be mighty cathartic when someone else broaches a subject I’m afraid to tackle. It’s quite a relief when someone just says, “Okay, what’s up, let’s fix this.” I hate when I get mad at someone, because it means that my emotions have control over an aspect of me, and I’m much more into the rational side of life, because that’s controllable. But emotions are real, just like rationality is real, and if you ignore emotions, or try to box them and put them away, they get worse.

eeesh angry people

Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I also hate when someone gets mad at me, and I tend to have a response quite similar to that of your friend (but from the other side of the anger coin). Instead of confronting the person who is mad at me, I avoid them. Or at least this was the case in the past. I’m learning to be much more up front about how I feel, what I want, and what I need. It’s much more authentic. And it sounds like your friend needs a chance to be authentic, too.

Your friend may be embarrassed that he’s angry, just like me. He may not even know why he’s angry. And it sounds like he doesn’t have much practice vocalizing what’s going on in his emotional world.

So yes, I think confronting him about it is a good idea, even if it flusters him at first. He’s already in the habit of treating you and your other friends a certain way, and the longer you let it go on, the harder it’s going to be to sort it all out and get everyone acting like real people again. Stand up now and make sure he understands why.

Of course, you’re angry, too, and you may have to use that to get up the nerve to say anything. It’s hard to confront someone, even if you’re the confrontational type. Use your own anger at the situation to help you get the momentum you need to tell your friend how you feel. Just don’t let the emotion overtake the rational discussion. The trick is not blowing up too much. Try to be calm and restrained when you talk with him about his apparently random anger outbreaks.

Remember to use “I feel” statements that don’t couch the other person’s actions in your own feelings. “I feel angry.” That’s it. That’s all you need. Or, “I feel helpless.” These are all true. It should not be: “I feel that you are crazy.” That is not constructive, even if it is true. Try writing down “I feel” statements right now. It’s harder than it sounds to come up with how you feel and not include someone else’s actions in those feelings.

When you’re calm and ready, it’s time to actually confront him. Do this in person. Ask your friend what’s wrong and tell him it hurts your feelings when he treats you this way, or treats your other friends this way. Tell him you don’t feel it’s constructive and, because you value him so much, you’d prefer to change things than to just let him go as a friend.

Then again, if he gets mad all the time for apparently no reason, he may be exhibiting signs of narcissistic personality disorder (particularly the “compensatory narcissist”), in which case everything you do that isn’t exactly what he wants is going to be a major slight to him, and since he’s the most important person in the world,… you’re screwed, friendship-wise. If he responds in a particularly nasty way to your confrontation, and doesn’t come back a few days later with an apology, this may very well be exactly what you’re dealing with. And my best advice for this situation is: run.


1 Response to “anger and confrontation”

  1. 1 damfino
    July 20, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    It’s bad enough when someone gets angry and doesn’t clue you in on what’s pissing them off. How are you to know what you’re “doing wrong” that’s causing it? But if this friend exhibits the signs of narcissism (are they always a victim? Does no one understand how wonderful they are?) I ditto Kat – RUN. Run far away. Been there, done that! It’s hard to dance to someone else’s tune when they keep changing the music on you.

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