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Dealing with an angry episode

As well as going through an anger management course with young people I have also had a lot of experience in dealing with students who come to me in the middle of a full blown anger outburst. This can be a very stressful situation to deal with and will take a lot of patience to help them through it.

In an angry episode I would advise not to ask any questions at first. To ask what they are upset about, or to calm down, does not help the situation and may make it worse. My first priority is to slow down the physiological processes going on in the body. I achieve this by saying something like, “Simon I want you to breathe for me as your heart is pounding and you may pass out”. I then get them to breathe from the diaphragm, deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth. This has two advantageous effects, it slows down the heart rate and gives the person the time needed for the thinking part of the brain to come on line.

When this has been achieved (this may take several minutes) I sit the person down and ask why they are so upset. The person will then relate their story, it is important to listen carefully and let them finish, looking out for instances in the story that need to be clarified. If you do not listen intently you can make the situation worse by being accused of not listening when you ask a follow up question.

The talking part of the intervention is to try and establish if the other person or situation could have another meaning to the one the angry person has given to it. An example of the type of question I would ask is, “Do you think that he/she may not have known how you felt about what they said or did”. If the upset is about being treated unfairly I may ask “Is it possible that the teacher did not see what the other person did”. The reason behind this is to try and get the young person to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, this is to try and establish some empathy, which is a great diffuser of anger.

When the young person is calmer you may be in a position to ask the most difficult question, “What do you think you did wrong in this situation”. This may seem a wrong thing to do, but it will take away some of the blame aspect from the situation. When angry the blaming of the other person/event has the effect of keeping the angry feelings alive.

When the young person is in a calm state there may be a chance to repair some of the harm. I would normally if appropriate do some mediation work if another person is involved, and both parties are agreeable to it. This gives me the chance to repair the harm and to make sure that the situation does not escalate, when they next see each other.

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