When People are (Really) Angry At Me: The Five Stages

Last night, someone was very cruel to me. This person intentionally said hurtful things in an accusatory tone in order to make me feel like I’m not doing enough of an important, care-related job.

I know this person was frustrated, lashing out, and perhaps (probably?) didn’t mean what he or she said. I know that I shouldn’t take words said in anger to heart.

But too often in these situations, my sensitivity gets the best of me, and I react in some traceable patterns. They’re much like the Kübler-Ross 5 stages of grief, only more avoidable and less compelling.

1) Obliviousness. The degree of anger doesn’t register at all. I’m usually not looking for intense rage directed at me–I’m a good person, right? In the conversation, I simply act politely and respond gently, as I would with your low-to-average levels of meanness. I’m on autopilot, but the wheels will start to turn soon somewhere under the surface.

2) Epiphany. Replaying what was said in my head, I realize, maybe a minute later, that the person I was speaking with was really, really mean to me.

3) Second Epiphany. I feign putting on their perspective–with no perspective from that perspective. Oh my God, they think this. They are right. It’s like the epiphany of cruelty makes room for a more painful epiphany: that cruelty stands on solid ground. It speaks the truth.

4) Single-Minded Self-Searching. I run through all evidence to support what they’ve said. I wail, and wallow in my failure as a human being.

5) Self-Searching from the Opposite Side. They’re human, too, I think, and I amass evidence to support how their words say more about them than about me. They’re not omniscient. There’s also so much to support the opposite of what they said about me.

And then 4 and 5 can cycle back and forth–between thinking and feeling the person is human and fallible and thinking and feeling the person is right and has a valid perspective. It’s something I need to keep working on. I know I’m not what they said I am, but then I know I really don’t know, and there’s always evidence to the contrary.

I guess this all illustrates how attached I am to sensing I am always being and doing good. Maybe I’ll try to sit with that epiphany today.

Comforting beast.



4 thoughts on “When People are (Really) Angry At Me: The Five Stages

  1. Hi Sarah, I so identify with your post today! However, I do want to add that some of us ‘sensitives’ seem to draw to us those who will later lash out in anger. Deserved or not, no one has the right to be cruel to another (human or animal!), and we need to notice when we are becoming scapegoats for those who have unresolved issues of their own and take it out on an ‘easy’ target. My response is like yours, gentle and trying to soothe, and then I just let go. I do not pursue or engage. And I am more than ever aware of the importance of setting up boundaries, a circle of light, really, a band of protection, an energy field that will keep you safe. I found an excellent one btw – if you’re interested – called the Emerald Alignment. It works! http://www.rainbowlightfoundation.net/The_Emerald_Alignment.html

    • Nancy, it’s always good to hear I’m not alone in my sensitivity! There is some sort of pull between those who’re conflict-inclined and those who’re conflict-avoiding. It’s as if we should learn the best from each other’s tendencies–there are times that I wish I spoke out and a bit of outrage could’ve helped!

      However, I will try to “let go” the next time I’m caught in this unhealthy situation. I like the sound of the Emerald Alignment; it’d be useful for me to acknowledge my own need for self-protection and self-care, and I often find meditative practices like this are useful for keeping me calm and not getting so caught up in my own reactions.

      Thanks so much for this comment. 🙂

  2. I’ve discovered that “sensitives” take longer to return to an emotional base-line than others. Sensitives have less insulation from the outside world and have to develop (sometimes elaborate) coping techniques. The tension that everyone experiences is a reconciliation between the inner reality and the outer reality. I think most people experience emotions at a similar intensity but the duration of the experience defines how someone copes.

    For someone with more emotional insulation, what you experienced might be a flash in the pan. She hasn’t had similar experiences from other outside sources and doesn’t have a toxic tape in her head that has worn down her insulation. Within an hour, she is back to base-line.

    For someone with less emotional insulation, what you experienced becomes a crock-pot marathon of excruciating self-examination with a veritable library of negative tapes running 5-second loops in her subconscious. Meanwhile, the insulation is being worn away further. It may take days to return to base-line.

    I am notorious for toxic self-talk. I have an impressive library of negative tapes. To keep my sanity, my coping technique is to check outside of myself. Have I had similar experiences? Are others lodging the same complaint? Are others complaining about the person who attacked me? What is the outer reality and how does it compare to my inner reality?

    I can’t answer the questions based on one experience. Neither can you.

    On another note, standing up for yourself doesn’t mean you have to lash back. Turning the other cheek doesn’t make you a door mat. Turning the other cheek means not causing more harm. Take it easy on yourself. I think you beat yourself up more than your antagonist. Grant yourself the same compassion and understanding you lavish on others.

    • Io, thank you so much for this. Your description of emotional insulation rings true to me. It’s an insightful way of talking about the differences between those like myself and others who’re able to bounce back so quickly–at least quickly to me! The crock-pot marathon is miserable in itself, but definitely does increase the likelihood I’ll stew in it again. My negative thoughts seem to create well-worn paths that encourage repeated travel. I’d like to create better habits, choose more nourishing tapes to listen to, but this is such a difficult cycle to break, as you know with your own toxic self-talk. I’m glad you have such a useful coping technique!

      For my specific situation, no one else has lodged the same complaint against me, and others have complained about the person’s hot-tempered tendencies. Even knowing this, it’s awful how I still let an insidious seed of self-doubt creep in! If the situation arises again, I’ll try to be braver in the moment; if I can feel like I defended myself adequately, and remember to look outside myself, it might be enough for a faster recovery.

      Thanks for the advice for more self-compassion, too. I never seem to hear it enough, and it always helps when I do.

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