How To Keep Calm When Someone WANTS You To Be Enraged

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How to Keep Calm When Someone Wants You To Be Enraged

What can you do when someone is trying to get you to flip out?

My first husband was abusive. I see that now. I can say that now, only with the benefit of hindsight.

When I was in that relationship, fight after fight, I’d end up doing things and saying things that were pretty horrible. And then I’d find myself apologizing to him, despite the fact that he was incredibly cruel to me in the first place.

The next morning, I’d feel mortified, ashamed of myself and very, very confused. How had I sunk so low? Why had I fallen into that trap again?

This isn’t just about abusive relationships, either. I’m willing to bet we’ve all been there. You know, those low moments when we wished we could take it back, do it over, or avoid something altogether?

All relationships (even healthy ones) have the occasional bump in the road, especially those with people who know us well, like a sister, a childhood friend, or a boyfriend.

Arguments, disagreements, and miscommunications are sometimes unavoidable, of course. So what can you do when someone is attempting to piss you off and find yourself taking the bait, hook, line, and sinker?

First of all, you have to recognize that all of us, as humans, have button issues. Your "buttons" are ideas or subjects that make you react a certain way (often poorly) because they trigger something deep down inside of you. 

When someone is pushing your buttons, you may lash out or shut down (or any number of reactions) but chances are, you are reacting based on your pure unfiltered emotions and that in turn, elicits a not-so-helpful response from you.

You must learn to override the natural, primal response we are hardwired with (reacting with your emotions/heart) and instead, tap into your intellect/brain to size up the situation. 

Here are ways on how to keep calm when someone wants to pick a fight with you:

1. Know your buttons.

When things are calm, take some time to reflect on what things people have said or done in the past that set you off. What did they say? Why did it bother you? What is at the heart of it? 

The more you know about which topics are troubling for you and why, the more you can see it in a heated moment and recognize what’s happening before you react impulsively.

2. Stop. Just stop. 

If you find yourself screaming back at him or texting back insults, halt. Immediately. Now imagine you are a fly on the wall observing all of this. What would you see? What would a stranger say about the way you are behaving? 

Check in with yourself: are you behaving this way because your emotions are in the driver’s seat? Or are you in control and thinking about how you will respond to his attempt to push your buttons? 

3. Walk away and write it. 

There is no denying when someone is attempting to poke at you until you fly off the handle. It’s hurtful; maddening at best and enraging at worst. I’m not telling you that you can’t be emotional; I’m telling you not to let those emotions do your talking for you. 

Instead, walk away. Find a place to calm down and write out what you are thinking and feeling. Get the negativity out of your system in a healthy way. 

(Side note, do not give that paper to anyone to read. This is for you and you only. Promptly rip it up into shreds.)

4. Stop drinking the poison.

Recognize that by sinking to their level, it’s a lot like drinking the poison and expecting your enemy to die. You are only hurting you. You want to be able to get up tomorrow and look at yourself in the mirror and know that you rose above the pettiness, the negativity, and the games. 

5. Nix the texting. 

Whatever you do, don’t get into a back and forth in text messages. It’s impossible to gauge tone in a text and we often inject our own  — and that’s dangerous when we are being provoked. 

If someone attempts to drag you into an argument over text, refuse to participate. Make it your policy that if that starts happening, you’ll shut it down until the two of you can speak in person when emotions are not running so high.

Here’s the deal. You have the power here, even though it doesn't feel like it. Step around the trap, override the impulse to let your heart (which is ill equipped) deal with the situation and instead, let your head take over.

Understand the buttons the other person is trying to push and shut it down. Walk away, hang up, take a breath, and think it through. If you can’t say or do anything productive right now, then don’t do anything at all until you are in a better head-space.

With some practice (OK, a lot of practice,) you’ll find that you will start to default to letting your head assess situations like this and you'll be able to react in healthier and more helpful ways.

Divorce Coach Kimberly Mishkin is a Cofounder of SAS For Women. SAS is dedicated to all of the unexpected challenges women face while considering or navigating divorce. Contact SAS if you'd like some help getting your plan together or if you aren't quite ready, sign up for six free months of coaching support in your inbox. 

Watch this TED Talk with neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on how to stay calm: