What To Do When You Live with Angry People: 7 Gentle Tips

This is the last part of a 5-part series on anger where I share my history with anger, how to let go of anger, and how to deal with angry people.

Mother preparing food in kitchen

Last year, I wrote about being brought up in an angry household in my how to overcome anger series. While I have addressed much of my anger on a personal level, I continue to live in that same angry household today, comprising my mom, dad, and my brother.

My mother used to be the most volatile of the family; it has since switched to my brother with the mellowing of my parents following old age. Just last Sunday, he went into a rage because I had mistakenly threw out his protein powder (I thought it was my raw protein powder which is due to expire next month). When I tried to remedy the situation by offering to pay, he refused to respond and fumed in silence, leaving me with nothing to do but to exit the situation.

It’s not easy living with angry people. Every other day, my family members can be heard shouting at or arguing with one another in our living room. My boyfriend (now-husband) got a taste of the angry environment I have been living in when my mom and brother erupted in anger at me over the protein powder issue. He was in my room with me when it unfolded; my mom violently knocked on my bedroom door and demanded that I get out right away to clarify on the issue while my brother shouted at me irately upon seeing me, his face filled with absolute rage. While I did not ask my boyfriend how he felt, he was definitely taken aback by how volatile and abrasive my family can be.

I’m turning 29 in a week’s time, which means that I’ve been living with angry people for almost three decades. I’ll be honest — there have been times when I wished that I was not living with my family. I mean, who enjoys returning to a home where people are shouting all the time? I know I don’t. I know I prefer being in a harmonious environment where people are happy and showing love to each other all the time.

(Update in 2015: I’m now 31 and I’m glad to share that over the years, my relationship with my family has improved so much that all of us now communicate openly and are able to have normal conversations, even having family “outings” in the form of get-together dinners. If you’ve read my series on my relationship with my parents before, you’d know that this was something simply unthinkable in the past.

I’d say this is a collective effort by everyone in the family. I guess when you grow older, it becomes obvious that family and relationships are important, and if you don’t treasure your loved ones today, you may never have the chance to do so in the future. I’m sure we don’t want to wait till our loved ones’ funerals before we mourn and start declaring how much we love them and how we wish we appreciated them more when they were alive, do we? More on improving relationship with your parents: How to Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents (series))

However, the fact is my parents and my brother are my family and they will always be. Over the years, I have learned to handle their anger; in fact, lately I have been successfully furthering our relationships in spite of our anger issues.

If you are living with angry family members — be it your dad, mom, brother, sister, in-laws, or even children — here are 7 helpful tips to handle them. Note these tips will apply to dealing with angry people in general too, not just family members.

1. Pick your battles

Perhaps your family members pick a fight over the littlest of things. Perhaps they are overwhelmingly rude even when you have done nothing wrong.

Pick your battles — choose the disputes you want to engage in. You don’t want to spend your days embroiled in anger with your family members because it will be a waste of your time and energy. Also, by picking your battles, they will take you more seriously when you do make yourself heard in an argument.

For example, I don’t engage in fights with my dad/mom/brother normally. My parents like to nip at me for not closing my bedroom windows or not locking the metal gate of my home before I leave the house, and I stay out of these arguments because they are trivialities. I merely make a mental note to do these acts next time so that they would stop nagging at me.

However, I do take a stance when the topic of contestation is about something I’m passionate about. There was a period, several years in fact, when my brother insulted my diet choice (at that time I was a vegetarian). After years of turning a deaf ear to his insults, I finally told him off one day because he crossed the line in his insults. I told him that he was being incredibly disrespectful and pointed out that just like I had never imposed my dietary beliefs onto him nor criticized his diet, I would expect the same courtesy to be extended to me too. Surprised by my response because I rarely lose my top in the household, he never broached the topic surrounding my diet again.

Read: How to Choose Your Battles and Win the Big War

2. Pick opportune times to talk to them

Catch your family members at the right moment when they are not irritable or pre-occupied. People tend to be short-tempered when they are busy with other things. By avoiding them during these moments, you can avoid unnecessary conflicts. On the other hand, identify times when they are receptive, and then catch them during these times so you can elicit the best responses.

For example, I have learned not to approach my mom when she gets back home from work every day. Why? Because that is when she is busy with household chores (like cooking and laundry) and is highly irritable. To speak to her during this time would mean having my head bitten off.

On the other hand, my mom becomes much calmer after she completes her to-dos and winds down for the day, since she is not weighed down by the pressure of having to complete housework by a certain time. This makes it the most opportune time to speak with her. Whenever I speak to her during this time, she is much more responsive, positive, and even helpful.

3. Shield yourself from their anger

Blow bubble

Shielding is a simple technique to protect you from negative energy; I use it whenever I want to protect myself from low-consciousness and negative individuals. I have used it before when with my family members and the shield keeps me safe from their volatile outbursts.

Here are two exercises to create a shield; either exercise will work perfectly.

Method #1: Energy Ball

  1. Close your eyes and meditate for a few minutes. This will help you clear your mind as you create your shield. Read: How to Meditate In 5 Simple Steps
  2. Visualize a small energy ball forming inside of your chest. This energy ball is filled with extremely powerful essence that has the ability to ward off and protect you from any negative or abrasive entity.
  3. Now, visualize this energy ball expanding to envelope you. First it grows to the size of the fist. Then, it expands to the size of a basketball. And then, it expands to twice of that size. As it grows in size, its outer layer becomes thicker and harder, as if its an inpenetrable shield.
  4. Within a few minutes, the bubble has now expanded to surround your entire body. It now circles you as a powerful defense tool. Your shield formation is now complete.

Method #2: Drawing

  1. Close your eyes and meditate for a few minutes. Read: How to Meditate In 5 Simple Steps
  2. Concentrate on your finger tip. Imagine there is an incredibly powerful essence oozing from finger tip. This essence has the ability to repel any negative energy.
  3. Now, with the essence from your finger tip, draw a large circle around your entire physical body. Visualize the essence locking into position around your body as your shield.
  4. Once you are done, bask in the fortitude of your newly-minted shield. Your shield formation is now complete.

With your shield, you are safe from any negative energy. In the event someone hurls anger at you, visualize this anger bouncing off the surface of your shield and right back at the sender.

Your shield can last for a day or several days if you have generated a strong shield. Simply repeat any of the two shield-creation exercises above if you feel your shield strength is waning.

4. Understand why they are angry

No matter how irate your father/mother/sibling/in-law/child may be, there is a reason behind his/her anger. This reason may or may not have anything to do with you. Either way it doesn’t matter as the intention of knowing the reason is not to finger point or to fault the person. By knowing why your family member is angry, it will help you understand him/her better, which will help you (a) avoid similar conflicts in the future and even (b) cultivate a better relationship with him/her.

For example, when I reflected on why my mom would be so irritable whenever she gets back home from work, I realized that it is because she is trying to get housework done by a certain timeline. In her mind, she associates housework with being a good wife/mom. By not completing housework within her desired time, she probably links it to her failing in her role as a wife/mom. This would explain why she would be so irate when I spoke to her after her work in the past — she probably felt I was getting in her way of being a good wife/mom.

Another example — when I reflected on why my brother was so pissed at me for throwing out his protein powder, I realized it was because the protein powder probably represents many things to him — living healthier, being fitter, and looking good. Me throwing the powder out sent a huge jolt in his consciousness; in his mind, he probably felt that someone was threatening his goal of wanting to be healthier/fitter/more physically attractive, which then sent him in a huge rage. Factoring in the fact that both of us used to be mired with twisted relationships with food due to the way our parents raise us around food, I can absolutely understand why he got so angry.

Understanding the source of their anger has helped me to manage our relationships better. For example, now that I know my mom values her role as a wife/mom, I give her the space to live up to her responsibilities in that domain. I eat in where possible so she gets to cook for me (something she enjoys). I honor her position as a mom by being more respectful to her vs. snapping or ignoring her whenever she nags at me. As for my brother, now I know better than to throw things out in the house without checking with my parents/brother, even if I may think that they are mine.

5. Show them love; Speak in their language of love

In part two of my parent series, I mentioned that my parents was resistant to my early attempts to improve our relationship. In the one time I tried to hug my mom a few years ago, she asked me what the heck I was doing and pushed me away. When I tried to further my communication with my dad and mom, my mom would snap back while my dad would give lackluster responses.

Seeing my actions unrequited disheartened me and made me hold back from improving our relationship. I subsequently continued to communicate with them in the same abrasive manner as in the past, since I felt that it didn’t matter whether I tried to be nice to them or not.

However, lately I have been observing my boyfriend’s interactions with my family. He is incredibly respectful to my mom and dad; in return they take to him very kindly. Having him around is like wedging a thick rubber cushion between knives; the knives are me and my family members, while he is the rubber ball. His presence has introduced a layer of softness in my family for sure.

When I reflected on why my parents have been receptive to his gestures of love but not mine, I realize it’s because I wasn’t speaking to my parents in their language of love before. Hugging and communication are my languages of love but they aren’t my parents’. On the other hand, my parents—who grew up under older Asian values—probably interpret love from a child as the child greeting his/her parents, the child inviting his/her parents to eat during meal times (a customary Asian practice), a child supporting his/her parents upon reaching adulthood (which I’m already doing), and so on.

So, I began to show love to my parents in ways they can understand. Instead of being irritable and defensive when they speak to me (which I used to do due to abrasive experiences compounded since young), I now listen to them with openness, or at least more openness than before. While I normally do not greet my parents (it’s simply not a habit in my household), now I greet them when I see them and ask them to eat during meal times.

My parents are definitely receiving this change with open arms. I can feel more positive energy in the family nowadays; my dad has been smiling more often while my mom has been more chatty than usual.

6. Use their anger to reflect on yourself

Quiet hallway

For years, I thought that my mom was a volatile character with erratic anger outbursts. Whenever she got back home from work, she would be irritable, ready to snap at anyone who gets in her way. When I tried to start a conversation with her to know her better, she would react defensively, asking me why I’m so nosy or asking so many questions. When I tried to hug her before, she pushed me away instead of returning my hug as a loving mom would to her daughter.

For a long while, I couldn’t understand what her deal was. Why is she so volatile? Why is she so unreasonable, irritable, and unapproachable? What is wrong with her? I would ask myself.

However, I know that our relationships are mirrors to our souls. As Thomas Sprat puts it, “What you dislike in another take care to correct in yourself.” As much as my mom may be erratically angry, I know that it’s a reflection of erratic anger on my part towards her.

So I reflected on my behavior towards her. I realized that just as I have been saddened by how volatile she has been to me as my mom, she is probably saddened by how volatile I have been to her as a daughter. I would often snap at her when she tries to speak to me — ironically because she catches me at the inopportune times when I’m busy with work and need to concentrate. I would also react defensively whenever she cautions me about something out of good intentions, because I feel she is being naggy. I would also raise my voice or even shout angrily at her for no reason sometimes, because that’s simply the way we have been communicating with each other all these years. 

Rather than wish that she can stop acting in anger, I realized that I need to first stop acting in anger myself. Her anger towards me is merely a mirror of my anger towards her.

So now, I think twice before losing my cool in the family. When my mom speaks to me, I respond to her as who she is at that point in time, rather than react based on compounded emotions from the past (read: anger). When she (or anyone in the family for that matter) speaks to me angrily, I think about the times when I have been unreasonable and angry towards her, which then makes it easy for me to empathize.

7. Help them work through their anger

For the most conscious of individuals–help your family members to work through their anger. Bear in mind that this isn’t easy and is only for those of you who are conscious enough to look past personal grievances and remain grounded in the face of volatile emotions.

There was once when my mom went irate when I tried to speak to her. Knowing that this anger had nothing to do with me because I was merely trying to strike up a casual conversation, I asked calmly, “Why are you so angry?” She paused, for she was not aware that she had been shouting at me. She then became calmer, probably because she realized she was being out of line for losing her temper at me when I was doing nothing wrong.

There are times when I call my mom to update her on my dinner plans for the day, only to hear her shouting on the other end of the phone for reasons unrelated to me. Whenever that happens, I simply say, “Can you please calm down? I’m not trying to attack you; I’m only trying to tell you something.” Again, my response would take her by surprise because she is totally unconscious that she was irate, after which she becomes calmer and starts listening to what I have to say.

Simple steps to help someone work through his/her anger include bringing his/her anger to his/her awareness (like what I did with my mom in the 2 examples above), taking them to anger management classes, buying anger management materials for them, talking through their issues with them, and in an indirect way–extending love to them as per tip #5.

Be sure to ground and shield yourself when being around angry people. As you open yourself up by helping them, you want to make sure that you don’t get affected by their abrasive energy.

Final Words

This is the final part of my anger series. I started by sharing my personal history with anger (parts one and two) and how I overcame anger (part three). Then, I shared a guide on how you can remove anger for life (part four). Last but not least, I wrote a guide on how to deal with angry family members, which is the article you are reading now.

I hope you have found this series helpful; I have truly written it from my heart and soul. Please pass this series along to someone who may find it helpful; nothing gratifies me more than having my work reach out to more people out there. Thank you and I look forward to reading what you have to share. :)

This is the last part of a 5-part series on anger where I share my history with anger, how to let go of anger, and how to deal with angry people.

(Image: Distant mother,  BubbleQuiet hallway)