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What To Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry

Once again, I’ve come across an article by Peter Bregman that I wish I’d written myself.

If you’ve read my post on how to apologize, you might have found yourself thinking, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t mean it that way. Can’t I just explain what I was thinking?’

Bregman explains why it’s consequences, rather than intentions, that carry the day in the mind of the person who’s mad at you.

What To Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry, by Peter Bregman.

It’s a great article, but it does raise a question. What happens if it’s not clear what the consequences were?

Angry On Principle

Say your brother decides to borrow your car while you’re on vacation, and puts it back in your garage before you get home. You only know about it because he mentions it casually in passing a week later.

Why might you be angry about that? He didn’t crash the car, he didn’t use much gas, and it’s not like you might have needed it when you were in Spain.

What’s the big deal?

In this case, it’s not the consequences but the principle. Your brother crossed a line by using something of yours without your permission.

This might not upset you at all. But if he used to take your toys when you were kids, his taking your car without asking could hit a nerve.

If you express annoyance and your brother replies, “But nothing bad happened to your car. What are you mad about?,” that’s not going to fly.

It’s okay to be angry about boundary violations and other behavior that feels disrespectful to you, even if there are no visible consequences.

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting, and ReconnectionClub.com, an online support and information hub for parents. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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4 Responses to "What To Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry"

  • Peggy
    April 26, 2014 - 1:58 pm Reply

    I think the question “What to do when you make someone angry?” wasn’t answered. Mr. Bergman explained why the brother might have been angry, but It would be good to know how to fix the hurt feelings of the angry person.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      April 26, 2014 - 3:56 pm Reply

      Hi Peggy, I think Bregman tried to answer the question when he wrote this line: “When you’ve done something that upsets someone — no matter who’s right — always start the conversation by acknowledging how your actions impacted the other person.”

      That’s really it in a nutshell, but I realize it’s a little thin. You might want to have a look at my earlier post on how to apologize. Thanks for engaging!

  • multnoma
    April 26, 2014 - 4:10 pm Reply

    So what is the response to brother ? specifically
    Cause I know it’s ok to be mad
    and I can quote in advance what he would say (as you did)
    but I am too easily left speechless in the face of, well, anything.

    And I also see a lot of differences between the brother/car scenario and the making Eleanor wait scenario as far as the nature of the affront. Is parsing those differences just a way for me to dodge confronting about my anger ?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 3, 2014 - 9:50 am Reply

      Multnoma, sometimes it’s best to have a go-to phrase to use in situations where you find yourself speechless. You can pretend you’re an actor reciting a line, but at least you put it out there. Maybe something like, “This may surprise you but I found it upsetting when you…”

      The key to reciting your line, of course, is to know your position. What did they do that bothered you, and what specifically would you like them to do about it, if anything? E.g., Do you want them NOT to do it again?

      By the way, it’s easy for me to make suggestions like this, but assertiveness is something I struggle with myself. That’s why I teach it! We teach what we need to learn.

      Thanks so much for weighing in on this one.

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