What to Say to an Angry Person Instead of 'Calm Down'
Anger is an ironic state, and in a fit of frustration or anger, the last thing anyone wants to hear is "calm down." If someone is seething, that's the worst advice, even if it's what they need to do to handle things better.
A sneer like "calm down" often makes the frustrated person feel like they are being hysterical or that their feelings are exaggerated. And while all parties usually need to remain calm to reach a resolution, there are much more productive ways to tell someone that their anger is not helping.
It's hard for someone to calm down when they are told
Anger clouds your ability to think and judge rationally. This is an unfortunate fact of psychology because a feeling of personal aggravation tends to overwhelm your brain as it releases a flurry of hormones, such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. The phrase "calm down" is an emotional trigger rather than a compassionate way to resolve conflict. In a blog on her website, psychologist Susan Bernstein explains how "calm down" can feel like emotional kindling for someone who has a fire in their chest:
- When someone is experiencing a lot of emotions, they can't stay purely rational. During emotionally triggering events, the emotional centers of the brain dominate. So until the emotion subsides, it is almost impossible to access the reasoning centers of the brain to have a logical conversation.
- Saying to an emotionally distraught, visibly upset employee, colleague or customer, "Calm down," only adds more fuel - in the form of shame - to that person's emotional state.
It is not only rude, but also a subtle form of gaslighting. It can feel like you're insinuating that the aggrieved person can flip a switch and become calm if they wanted to, when you know full well that's not the case.
Try to affirm feelings without being judgmental
The phrases "calm down," "relax," or "chill" acknowledge someone's feelings but deny them at the same time. Part of reaching a solution involves a difficult division: On the one hand, a person must filter out his own annoyance in order to communicate clearly, while stating why he is angry.
Since "calm down" often makes the other person feel more like he or she is being riled up, it is better to try to make it clear that you understand why the person may be angry. Many relationship experts agree that validating your partner - whether in everyday conversations about their day or in larger, existential dilemmas they may face - can be vital to longevity and happiness.
This also applies to conflict resolution. The beauty is that you can acknowledge that someone is angry and support them at the same time. Instead of using combative words like "calm down" or "relax," take a more understanding approach by saying, "I can see you're angry. I'm sorry you feel that way. Can we take a few deep breaths and try to resolve this together?" Or, "You have every right to be angry, but let's try to talk this out when we are both clearer in our minds."
Basically, you can say whatever you want, as long as you acknowledge two things: the other person's feelings, and the fact that you want to resolve the conflict peacefully.
It's especially annoying for women
Women have long been looked down upon by men who like to fall back on an old and sexist fable, namely that any woman in the middle of an emotional breakup must be crazy. It's an old, convenient stereotype that dismisses women's emotions and portrays men as naturally rational. In fact, the term "hysteria" itself comes from a culture of blatantly sexist medical practices from the 18th century, and it's a sad fact that it has persisted, at least in some form, to this day.
There are many ways to calm someone down without uttering the words "calm down." So while it may be a bit ironic, there are plenty of reasons why you should eliminate that phrase from your vocabulary.
Was this article helpful?23 Posted by: 👨 Becky C. McGhee