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This Psychology Professor Explained How To Deal With People When They’re Angry With You, And It’s Something That Everyone Should Know

He reveals everything from what to do if their anger isn't justified to how to deal with angry texters.

You’re staring at a text on your phone. Or you’re shocked by an in-person confrontation. We’ve all been there. Someone’s angry at you, and you have to decide how to react. Maybe you get defensive and snap back? Or do you apologize immediately, then feel resentful afterward (probably in the shower)?

Disney / Pixar / Via giphy.com

Because this is such a common situation, anger researcher Dr. Ryan Martin — who has a Master's degree and doctorate in counseling psychology — posted a video to TikTok on how to deal with angry people, and it’s received over 110 thousand likes and hundreds of comments. In it, Ryan explains that you should consider two things first: whether their anger is valid, and whether they’re handling it in a healthy, appropriate way or a dysfunctional way that's more harmful than helpful. Then, you can decide on how to respond.

@angerprofessor

Dealing with Angry People: Part 1. Ask yourself questions #anger #emotion #selfhelp #angermanagement #psychology

♬ original sound - Ryan Martin

“The first thing you should do is ask yourself if the anger is justified,” He says in the video, “An emotionally wise thing to do is ask yourself if you did something wrong. Maybe they are right to be angry with you. At the same time, keep in mind that their anger may be justified, but they’re still expressing it in a maladaptive and problematic way.”

He continues, “So maybe they’re right to be mad but not right to express it the way they are. I tease these apart because we can address our own mistakes even when someone else is being cruel. We can say, ‘I made a mistake, and I’ll fix it, but you shouldn’t treat me that way.’”

In responding to comments and offering more advice, Ryan has created a series around dealing with angry people. So BuzzFeed spoke to Ryan about anger and the questions he commonly receives in response to his videos — the first being, who gets to decide if anger is justified or valid (and what to do if you don’t think it is)?

Comments ask Ryan on TikTok what to do if the anger is not justified or why that person gets to decide if it is justified, and what to do if you don't think you did anything wrong
@angerprofessor / Via tiktok.com

“I've actually been struggling with the answer to this one on a broader scale because I think there's a difference between being objectively wronged by someone, and thinking that you've been objectively wronged by someone,” Ryan answered. Anger is subjective. Therefore, determining if the anger is justified can be a conclusion both parties reach over the course of a conversation — rather than an objective determination made by one person or singular method. However, reaching that conclusion requires a level of honesty and emotional maturity.

Because of this, in another video in the series, Ryan advises people to disengage when the current interaction is not likely to reach a positive resolution, “When people get really angry, they are sometimes not thinking very clearly, so you might need to stop just because this isn’t productive anymore.”

@angerprofessor

dealing with angry people. Part five. Know when to disengage. #anger #selfhelp #psychology #selfhelp #emotionless

♬ original sound - Ryan Martin

“That shouldn’t mean you’re done with this discussion for good,” Ryan caveats, “In fact, you can say, ‘Hey, let’s come back to this later when we’re calm.’"

But maybe you, like some commenters, have found yourself in situations where disengaging only further incites the angry person because they're not getting a rise out of you. According to Ryan, this is all the more reason to disengage. "If [disengaging] doesn't work, it's probably because the person really does want to fight — either physically or, more likely, verbally — in which case, it makes sense to just recognize no good is going to come from this."

A screenshot of the TikTok, with Ryan saying, "So when you're dealing with an angry person, there are a lot of reasons to disengage"
@angerprofessor / Via tiktok.com

"It was really interesting to me how many people responded with, ‘That doesn't work,’" Ryan revealed to BuzzFeed, noting that people were oftentimes referring to their spouses.

One reason for that dynamic may be when the anger isn't directed at you, Ryan acknowledged. For example, one person (or spouse or coworker) may be upset about a situation they're relaying to you, and if you don't get outraged with them or on their behalf, their frustration increases and they get angrier.   

Basically, in situations where you recognize there will likely be no positive resolution, Ryan encourages offering to revisit the topic when things calm down.

Conversely, you may have no need to disengage if the angry person refuses to communicate with you at all. In another video, Ryan recognizes that someone who is angry may not confront you and instead will socially withdraw, “This is hard because, on the one hand, they deserve that space if they need it. But on the other hand, you want to acknowledge to them that you want to repair that relationship."

@angerprofessor

Reply to @vesuvius.rose dealing with angry people: part three. What if they won’t talk to me. #anger #emotion #selfhelp #angermanagement #psychology

♬ original sound - Ryan Martin

So he suggests finding a way to communicate with them that serves your relationship. “Text, phone, in-person — whatever. Say something to the effect of the following, 'I believe you are angry with me. It seems you don’t want to talk about it. That’s okay, but when you are, I am ready.' And then know that you can’t control them and you’ve done what you can," he says in the video.

"You’re really just sort of putting the ball in their court," Ryan elaborated to BuzzFeed. This plays into the nuance of human relationships. And to have a healthy relationship requires three things: an understanding of each other's needs during conflict; the ability to address those needs; and having matching needs, or being comfortable enough with each other's needs to make the relationship work.

@angerprofessor / Via tiktok.com

While you can check in with the person after letting them know you're willing to talk, you may have to recognize that your efforts might be written off — depending on what happened and how angry the person in question is.

But how do you deal when you receive an angry text from someone? Ryan also created a video to address this, noting that you have the benefit of responding in your own time, so you can consider your options. One of those options? Responding with kindness, but only if it’s authentic. “You don’t want to leave the situation feeling bullied and resentful,” Ryan points out.

@angerprofessor

dealing with angry people. Part six. what about text anger. #anger #selfhelp #psychology #emotion #feeling

♬ original sound - Ryan Martin

In the video, he suggests asking nonjudgmental questions instead to understand the other person’s perspective — why they’re mad, and how they would like to resolve the issue. “Those questions have a way of diffusing the situation on their own,” he says.

Of course, there are differences in (angrily) communicating over text. There’s the ability to type out a rant before the other person has the opportunity to respond. Tone can be misunderstood. Without being able to see facial expressions, it’s difficult to gauge the impact of what’s being said. "Electronic communication lends itself for all sorts of reasons to angry and aggressive interactions," Ryan explained, so attempting to resolve conflict over text “lends itself to a microcosm of a much bigger problem."

In a screenshot, Ryan saying, "Instead, I like to ask questions, nonjudgmental, I-want-to-understand-your-perspective questions"
@angerprofessor / Via tiktok.com

“It’s simply harder to look a person in the eye and say something hurtful than it is to write it to someone on the other side of the screen,” Ryan explained. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t communicate over text if that’s what works for you, but be mindful of the fact that there can be miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Currently, Ryan is a psychology professor and an Associate Dean for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He's written a book, hosts a podcast, and given TedTalks. However, Ryan was driven to pursue his doctorate in counseling psychology in part due to his work at a youth shelter with “at-risk” kids. “I went to graduate school really because I was interested in studying anger and thinking more from a therapeutic perspective,” he told BuzzFeed.

Ultimately, it’s too basic of a perspective to think about anger as a problem that one needs to learn to manage. Instead, Ryan realized that anger, in many cases, is good and not always a problem. This led him to begin thinking about anger more holistically — what it is and what it isn’t — and how human beings can learn to effectively express anger.

At a Ted Talk, Ryan says, "Just as your fear alerts you to danger, your anger alerts you to injustice. It’s one of the ways your brain communicates to you that you have had enough. What’s more, it energizes you to confront that injustice."
TED / Via youtube.com

“These were kids who were understandably mad at terrible life circumstances,” Ryan explained, “In their case, we're honestly better off trying to solve those life circumstances than we are trying to solve their anger problems. So I think we can do both.”

Consequently, effectively expressing anger sometimes includes making changes to our environment, actively choosing who we choose to spend time with, considering how we interact with people, and looking at how we choose to take care of ourselves.

While many people believe anger management entails some combination of breathwork, meditation, and relaxation, that’s a small aspect of it. Ryan explained that anger management could be thinking about provocations you may intentionally or unintentionally invite into your life, recognizing the thoughts you’re having at a particular moment and how they may exacerbate your frustration, or identifying your mood states that tend to lead to anger — similar to how we think about fear.

At a Ted Talk, Ryan says, "We know what we’re doing and feeling at the moment of that provocation matters. We call this the pre-anger state. Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you anxious about something? Are you running late?"
TED / Via youtube.com

Realistically, there are numerous and complicated reasons for anger. Because anger has many sources, there are many places to intervene.

For example, some people are more likely to snap when they’re feeling stressed. If that’s the case, to better manage anger, people can become aware of that, recognize when they’re feeling stressed, and understand that they may be less patient as a result.

“It's so interesting to me,” Ryan added, “because when it comes to fear, you see people willing to avoid things that scare them all the time. They think about the threats. They’ll say, ‘I don't like to see scary movies,’ or, ‘I don't like to go on amusement park rides,’ because they're scared of those things.”

At a Ted Talk, Ryan says, "Think about the last time you got mad. Your heart rate increased. Your breathing increased, you started to sweat. That’s your sympathetic nervous system."
TED / Via youtube.com

He continued, “At the same time, people are very willing to invite provocations into their lives. They watch the evening news, or they go check the Facebook feed of the person who has a different political orientation than them. 

"They actively invite these things into their lives, even when there's no real benefit to doing so. Sometimes, it makes sense. I’m not saying we should always avoid anger, far from it, but we should think about whether or not it's necessary to do so.” 

Overall, Ryan told BuzzFeed that he hopes his videos can teach people to think about how they're experiencing and expressing emotions. He aims to have a positive impact on people's lives, whether his videos alone make a difference in someone's life or encourage someone to seek out other resources. He concluded, "And that's really what I'm trying to do — just help people see that there might be other ways of dealing."

For more of Ryan, you can check out his website and his book, "Why We Get Mad: How To Use Your Anger For Positive Change" (it's available here for 15% off with use code WHYMAD15)! You can also watch more on TikTok @angerprofessor or his Ted Talk — and you can listen to him on his podcast Psychology and Stuff.

If you choose to purchase his book using the discount from Watkins Publishing, rest assured, they ship to the US!

Did a lot of Ryan's advice resonate with you? How do you usually deal with angry people? Let us know in the comments below!