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How to defuse anger coming at us when we are innocent

The photo shows the face of a young woman whose eyes are innocent, calm and kind while hearing a hurt and angry person. .

We all know how it feels when someone is angry with us.

It feels awful!

Sometimes we are innocent. Sometimes not.

If we aren’t innocent, the person has good cause to be angry.

Best to admit what we did wrong and apologize. The sooner the better.

But what about when we are innocent?

Someone is very angry with us over something that may be very unfortunate
but is not our fault.

What do we do then?

This is a painful situation, with the potential to blow up into a huge conflict.

But it is possible to defuse and resolve the situation before it does.

Let me show you how.

Are you up for it?

Let’s DO this!

An unfortunate fiasco

This happened to friends of mine last night.

A guy and a girl just got married.

He owns a small house in a rough neighborhood
and she owns an old house she loves, 30 miles away.

They just started living together in his house,
because she just got a major new job not far from there.

It’s a long, tiring job and she gets home after dark.

The other night, when she got home exhausted to his house,
she couldn’t get in.

Couldn’t get her key to work, couldn’t even see in the dark
whether it was the right one among the many on her key chain.

She got scared. Began pounding on the door.

He had headphones on listening to music, and didn’t hear her.

She got so upset she forgot she had her cell phone in her purse.

He keeps his cell phone in his pocket and would have felt the ringer.

She kept banging, and began shouting out to him. Still no answer.

She became enraged, gave up, and drove 30 miles to her own house.

When she finally reached him, she vented all her rage upon him,
blaming him for the entire situation.

He emailed me this morning laying out all the reasons he believed he was innocent.

They made perfect sense.

But he knew he was facing a terrible time attempting to refute her angry accusations.

He emailed me asking what he could possibly do.

It’s not about reason

I wrote him:

“You are looking through the lens of logic and reason.

Through that lens, you are entirely correct.

I agree with you that you did nothing wrong
and have nothing to apologize for.

However, now that we both recognize that that is the fact…
you must let go of your need for your wife to back down and agree with that fact.

You do not need her to do that.

She CAN’T and she WON’T.

No matter how long you debate or fight with with her.

Why? Because this situation is not about the facts.

Trying to force her to face the facts of this experience is a recipe for disaster.

Why embark on a path that is doomed to fail???”

It’s about emotion

“Let me offer you a better path.

This path requires you to recognize that your wife’s reaction
to this situation is driven by emotion, not fact.

You must get inside your wife’s emotion.

Imagine you are her, coming home exhausted after a long day at work,
arriving in the dark in a strange neighborhood.

You want to come in but can’t get in!

You get scared.

You start to bang on the door and yell.

No answer.

O my God I can’t get IN, you realize.

You feel abandoned.

Your fear turns to rage.

You storm back to your car and drive 30 miles in the dark to your house.

You then call and vent your rage upon the one who (you feel) abandoned you.”

The key is compassion

“OK,” I said.

“The key to defusing this whole thing is to show compassion
for how painful and scary it felt for her
to be a new bride standing outside your shared home in the dark
and be unable to get in.

To cry out to her husband and not be heard.

You must understand that her rage with you
is coming from her FEELING that YOU ABANDONED HER.

That you were not there for her when she needed you.

She may have a deep fear of abandonment.

Many of us humans do.

She may have been abandoned in the past
and is projecting her past abandonment on you.”

Go straight to the pain beneath the anger

“This situation likely sparked fear,
not only of abandonment but of physical danger.

She panicked, and lost all ability to reason her way through it.

Her fear turned to rage.

You were (automatically and unjustly) blamed.

Instead of making a futile attempt to logically prove to her
that you are not to blame and she IS…
you must go straight to the original pain she experienced.

You must go straight to her heart
and comfort the PAIN and FEAR she felt outside that door in the dark.

You could say something like this:

O sweet darling that must have felt awful.

You were so tired after your long day at work.

All you wanted was to get inside! But you couldn’t get in!!!

And when you called out to me, I didn’t hear you!

So you banged on the door and did everything you could think of
but it just went on and on
and nothing you tried worked.

You must have felt so alone, and so angry.

I can imagine how awful that felt.

I am so sorry you had such a terrible experience.

Please note:

You are not taking blame here.

You are expressing compassion.

You are recognizing her pain.

Your compassion is what will defuse her anger!

When you RECOGNIZE and COMFORT the PAIN itself.

She suffered greatly.

The more you show that you UNDERSTAND
her feelings of desperation and abandonment,
the more you LISTEN to her pour out those feelings
the sooner she will begin to get over it.

Yes her feelings will be mixed with blaming you.

Just ignore the blaming.

Don’t affirm any of it.

It will subside as she feels heard and comforted.

Tell her: I am just so sorry you went through this, darling.

That is not taking blame.

That is showing genuine compassion.

That is meeting her emotional needs.

Prevent a recurrence

Let me hold you, you say to her. Take her in your arms.

Look her in the eyes.

We are going to make sure this never ever happens again, you tell her.

We will set things up so it can’t.

Give some thought beforehand to what will ensure this. And be open to her ideas.

Together, you SOLVE the problem, a problem that you simply did not foresee

You say I’m sorry we didn’t foresee this possibility, but now we have dealt with it.

We have MADE SURE you will ALWAYS get in to our home!

Where I will ALWAYS be so glad to see you and hold you and welcome you.

Stay calm when you are innocent

The situation I have described may seem different from those you are dealing with.

But the same principles apply.

They apply whether you are a dealing with a guy or a girl who is angry with you.

Do imagine yourself in this guy’s innocent position, facing that anger.

Get into the spirit of loving compassion it takes to resist the impulse to defend.

Recognize how futile and self defeating it actually is to attempt to refute accusations
that are coming from emotional pain not from fact.

Decide you need to heal the pain more than you need to win.

You will feel very calm once you realize this.

When you are wrongly accused for emotional reasons

there IS no debate, there IS no fight–
as long as you stay calm and simply listen.

Listening is not agreeing nor is it accepting blame.

Saying “I hear you” is not surrender,
it is opening the path out.

The hurting and angry person needs to be heard.

They are expressing their pain to you.

Simply ignore the blame part.

Do not be provoked into refuting/defending/fighting.

Let your knowledge that you innocent hold you strong and calm,
with no need of defense.

This will provide them with assurance that you ARE a person
who will never abandon them.

Thus you have turned a painful situation
into an experience that has strengthened your relationship.


Have you ever shown compassion to someone who was angry with you

(when you knew you were innocent)?

I hope you will write and tell me about it!

Dr. Hall