This page is for friends and family of someone who is experiencing problems with anger.
It can be very difficult when someone you care about is experiencing problems with anger – especially if they sometimes direct their anger towards you, others close to them, or themselves.
We are all responsible for our own actions, so ultimately it will be up to them to learn how to manage and express their anger appropriately. But there are still lots of things you can do to help support them:
- Stay calm. Although you probably have a lot of difficult feelings of your own, if you can stay calm it can help to stop anger escalating.
- Try to listen to them. If you can, allow them time to communicate their feelings without judging them. Often when someone feels that they are being listened to, they are more able to hear other people's points of view as well. And sometimes just being given permission to communicate angry feelings can be enough to help someone calm down.
- Give them space. If you notice that continuing the conversation is making it worse, give them space to calm down and think. This could be something like going into another room for a while, or spending a few days apart. It's important to give yourself space as well, so you don't find yourself getting too angry.
- Set boundaries. While there are lots of reasons why this can be difficult, it's important to set limits and boundaries. Be clear in advance about what sort of behaviour is and isn't acceptable to you, and think about what action you can take if someone crosses the line. You don't have to put up with any behaviour that makes you feel unsafe or seriously affects your own wellbeing.
- Help them identify their triggers. This is something you can try when you're both feeling calm, away from any heated situation. Identifying someone's triggers for anger can help you both think about ways you can avoid triggering situations, and plan how to handle them and how to communicate when they do arise. But try not to be judgemental, or accusatory. While it can be useful to give specific examples of when you remember them getting angry, be aware that this is probably upsetting for them to think about.
- Support them to seek professional help. For example, you could help them arrange to see their GP, or help research anger management courses. See our pages on treatments for anger and supporting someone to seek help for their mental health for more information.
- Look after your own wellbeing. It can be difficult at times to support someone else, so make sure you're looking after your own wellbeing too. (See our information on How to cope when supporting someone else for more on this.)
The worst thing is for people to tell me to calm down or say that whatever caused my anger doesn't matter. People listening and accepting my feelings (even if my anger seems unprecedented) helps the most.
What if their behaviour is abusive or violent?
Just because someone seems very angry, it doesn't necessarily mean that they will become violent or abusive. But if this does happen, the most important thing is to make sure that you are safe.
- Don't confront someone who is behaving aggressively. If you want to talk to them, wait until the situation has calmed down.
- You may want to make a safety plan. This might include:
- Making a list of phone numbers of people, organisations and services that you can call if you are scared.
- Arranging to stay at a friend’s or neighbour’s house until things are calm. Make sure you take any children or other people at risk with you.
- Having a bag prepared to leave in an emergency.
- Refuge runs safe houses for women and children escaping domestic abuse. You can contact them to find a place in a refuge.
- The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is available 24 hours day on 0808 2000 247 for women experiencing domestic violence who need advice and support.
- Women's Aid offers information, an online forum, support and information for children and young people, and a directory of local services for women and children experiencing domestic abuse.
- Men's Advice Line offers support to male victims of domestic abuse on 0808 801 0327, or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Galop offers support to lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people who've experienced domestic abuse on 0800 999 5428.
- You can call the police. If your safety is in danger – or the safety of others in your home, such as children – dial 999. You might feel worried about getting your loved one in trouble, but it's important to always put your own safety first.
I need my family to speak to me honestly but remain understanding. We have code words that we all can use when I'm either being unreasonable or when I feel like I might lash out.
What if they don't recognise they have a problem?
You might find that the person you are supporting doesn't recognise they have a problem and/or refuses to seek help.
It's understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless as a result of this. But it’s important to accept that they are an individual, and that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.
(Our pages on helping someone seek help have more information on what you can and can't do in this situation.)
This information was published in July 2018. We will revise it in 2021.