Author Topic: Remaining calm with an angry person  (Read 3287 times)

DarkNightOfNoSoul

  • Member
  • Lots of sharp rocks on this here path
    • Sayagyi U Ba Khin/Goenka, Mahasi Sayadaw
    • Slow learner
Remaining calm with an angry person
« on: September 03, 2012, 02:43:26 AM »
Hi all, just hoping someone might offer some advice on the following situation. Sorry, there's a bit of a long background story - my question is in the last paragraph!

My sister is a psychotherapist, in the psychodynamic tradition (based on Freudian psychoanalysis). Psychodynamic therapists have to undergo in-depth therapy themselves on a regular basis, which she has been doing for many years. Nevertheless, since she started in her career over a decade ago, I've witnessed her changing from a fun-loving, warm, and caring individual into an apparently very miserable, definitely very angry person.

Under therapy, she claims to have recovered childhood memories of abuse and has embarked on a witch-hunt in my family, alienating most family members in the process and driving our frail elderly parents to despair.

Although her and I always got on well, recently at the few family gatherings we have had, she tends to get very angry with me and sometimes yells and swears. The main issue seems to be that she feels none of the family respects her training, status amongst her peers, and expertise in human psychology. I study scientific psychology and as such I'm aware that the vast majority of scientists reject psychodynamic theory as pseudoscience at best; nonsense at worst. But because of her absolute belief in her work, I've refused to allow her to engage me in discussions on the topic, pointing out that we will never agree on the merits of this therapy so it's pointless getting into arguments about it and creating bad blood.

But this is apparently not good enough for her. At a recent family meal she launched into a half-hour screaming tirade at me about disrespecting her and her qualifications, etc. My parents are very sensitive, and witnessing this sort of thing makes them very miserable. My brother asked my sister to agree to stop, on the condition that us three siblings talk about this at another agreed time, so as not to upset our parents. Despite initially agreeing, her anger wouldn't subside (it was further fuelled by alcohol) and she continued for another 20 minutes, appearing close to physical violence at times.

I've now agreed to meet with her alone to "clear the air and discuss things". But these days I unfortunately carry a lot of anger for her myself - for her treatment of my parents in their twilight years, and for her unprovoked attacks on me. I'm worried I'm going to say hurtful things and possibly destroy our relationship for good. She is often my object of concentration for metta bhavana, but I'm finding it difficult to feel compassion toward her.

Finally to my point - can anyone recommend a good technique for remaining calm when you're in a situation with an angry person, particularly when one seems to have "justified" reasons for getting angry oneself? Most of my life I've avoided conflict with people, tending rather to shut difficult people out of my life, so I have little experience with these situations.

Thank you.

CameronJ

  • Member
    • Sitting meditation, Hatha Yoga, also involved with Shambhala Meditation Community
Re: Remaining calm with an angry person
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2012, 05:24:59 AM »
Hey DN, I think that's the challenge of family...it's not always feasible to avoid them when they're being difficult. I've been on both ends of that.

Have you ever asked your sister why the idea of not getting due respect angers her so much? After all, misjudgments, preconceived notions, different values from others is a fact of life, so why not accept it?

On your end, maybe there's some preference or expectation that's causing you suffering. Of course, we're not entitled to anything, even from family members.

DarkNightOfNoSoul

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  • Lots of sharp rocks on this here path
    • Sayagyi U Ba Khin/Goenka, Mahasi Sayadaw
    • Slow learner
Re: Remaining calm with an angry person
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2012, 09:58:56 AM »
Thanks CameronJ, yeah it's hard to avoid family, though she's certainly on the way to "estranging" herself from all of us. If it wasn't for my parents, I would feel inclined to sever all contact with her.

Yes I am tempted to ask her why she gets so angry that I don't agree with her on the therapy stuff. I could try pointing out to her that, try as she might, she cannot force other people to agree with her. So she can either continue to get angry and frustrated, or cut me out of her life (hooray!) - or just accept that people will always have differences of opinion, but this doesn't mean they can't have a positive, close relationship.

Regarding my own expectations, yes maybe I can't change her anger toward me, maybe this is who she is now. It would be easier to live with her outbursts if it wasn't for my parents. I feel that she is attacking someone weaker than herself (it's almost elder abuse), so I should try and defend them. Doing so with compassion rather than anger is a challenge.

Quardamon

  • Member
    • Teachers were: P.K.K. Mettavihari, Frits Koster, Nel Kliphuis. (In the line of Mahasi Sayadaw)
Re: Remaining calm with an angry person
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2012, 12:20:24 PM »
Dear DarkNightOfNoSoul,

I will give you a reaction, a few thoughts. And it will be for you to decide what to do with them. OK?

I will start indicating where I stand with the heavy stuff of recovered memories. A few facts:
Two friends of mine were convinced that they had recovered memories of child abuse. One of them now sees them as false memories, the other doubts whether the memories are true or false, but still takes them very serious.
In meditation on the cushion, there were moments that I had some pseudo-physical feeling of being abused as a baby. Just like there were moments that I had such a feeling of being tortured to death as a grown up. In this life-time I was not tortured to death  :o, and I have very good reason to believe that I was not abused as an infant. I simply see it as a cleaning up of sankhara's. Sometimes I use the picture, that some thoughts and experiences simply hang around. People can think them or can experience them, but they are not to be taken too serious.  8) (In themselves they may be horrible, but still it is not wise to take them very serious.)
A friend of mine is a psychiatrist and a client of hers sewed her brother for rape, based on memories recovered in the therapy with my friend. Around that time, here in Holland a book came out by H.F.M. Grombag and Merckelbach, called "Recovered Memories and Other Misunderstandings". For me, it was a healthy confrontation to read that.

My idea is that some recovered memories are true. And I have the impression that recovered memories tend to be taken very serious by the people who have them (and by their therapists). They seem to be very impressive - both true and false memories.

Now your point is: how to stay calm.

I am sorry to say so, but if she is convinced that her memories are true, than she probably grows convinced that you are covering things up. She might feel, that you should also remember things. In that case, the tone becomes like the tone of a fight over religion - very unpleasant.

What I would recommend, is that you use a technique to take an inner distance from her. So: not only taking distance form her anger, but also from her. That might take some grieving. But it will take you to calmer water.

I am reminded of the Gestalt Prayer:
        I do my thing and you do your thing.
        I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
        And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
        You are you, and I am I,
        and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
        If not, it can't be helped.
(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)

At times that is a beautiful "prayer".

Cordially,

Quardamon

P.S.: If you need to regard what I wrote here as nonsense, that is all-right with me. I only would feel offended if you regarded it as dishonest.  But still, you can do that.  ;)

Falkov

  • Guest
Re: Remaining calm with an angry person
« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2012, 05:12:44 PM »
Is attachment "not" a cause of suffering- mentally and spiritually?   If you can go on living your normal life- w/ out being attached to anything- approval of your parents or trying to make peace w/ your sister while protecting your loved ones from her, will you be in this situation?    Although, being part of family, there's certain love/hate(strong emotions ) , certain concerns for loved ones -somewhere, somehow.   But, at what price will you allow it to consume you completely?

Sometimes, you can't help everyone- even for a lifeguard.  It's even impossible trying to help someone who doesn't want to help oneself.    But, what you can do is to be who you are (a peaceful person, hopefully) and let the actions of kindness and peace be  the example for everyone including your sister.   But, first you need to "not" have anger, hatred, fear, negativity in your mind.   Can't fight fire /w fire, anger w/ anger.    Your sister can get mad, simply because you smile at her - but don't get into any entanglement.   Don't judge her or take it personally, for what she may have done to you;  because if you get mad ,where will your anger lead you to?   So, instead of Metta meditation, perhaps, you should try Vipassana (insight) meditation more and be aware of all your actions/emotions- w/ out letting your mind and feeling dictate what you should do. 

I know it's not easy.  But change must come from w/in. 

DarkNightOfNoSoul

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  • Lots of sharp rocks on this here path
    • Sayagyi U Ba Khin/Goenka, Mahasi Sayadaw
    • Slow learner
Re: Remaining calm with an angry person
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2012, 08:08:56 AM »
My idea is that some recovered memories are true. And I have the impression that recovered memories tend to be taken very serious by the people who have them (and by their therapists). They seem to be very impressive - both true and false memories.

Now your point is: how to stay calm.

I am sorry to say so, but if she is convinced that her memories are true, than she probably grows convinced that you are covering things up. She might feel, that you should also remember things. In that case, the tone becomes like the tone of a fight over religion - very unpleasant.

What I would recommend, is that you use a technique to take an inner distance from her. So: not only taking distance form her anger, but also from her. That might take some grieving. But it will take you to calmer water.

I am reminded of the Gestalt Prayer:
        I do my thing and you do your thing.
        I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
        And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
        You are you, and I am I,
        and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
        If not, it can't be helped.
(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)

Quardamon, thanks so much for your thoughtful and caring response. One thing I should have made clear is that her recovered memories do not involve me as a perpetrator; I was much younger than her and my other siblings, so I am not being accused of anything. Her anger toward me seems to be more due to her perception that I disrespect her because I disagree with the theory she subscribes to.

Your comments are very insightful and helpful. It is indeed like a fight over religious belief in many ways. It's very hard when one person believes they hold the absolute truth. My science background makes me question everything, and never accept that anything is "proven". It's likely I come across as arrogant to her.

I agree I may need to put some distance between us; I do already grieve for the loss of our good relationship, but it's probably time to let that go and lower the importance of it in my mind. It feels like the more I cling to it and to my assertion that "she messed it up", the more likely I am to react in anger to her. The "prayer" hits the nail on the head. Thanks again.

DarkNightOfNoSoul

  • Member
  • Lots of sharp rocks on this here path
    • Sayagyi U Ba Khin/Goenka, Mahasi Sayadaw
    • Slow learner
Re: Remaining calm with an angry person
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2012, 08:28:22 AM »
Is attachment "not" a cause of suffering- mentally and spiritually?   If you can go on living your normal life- w/ out being attached to anything- approval of your parents or trying to make peace w/ your sister while protecting your loved ones from her, will you be in this situation?    Although, being part of family, there's certain love/hate(strong emotions ) , certain concerns for loved ones -somewhere, somehow.   But, at what price will you allow it to consume you completely?

Sometimes, you can't help everyone- even for a lifeguard.  It's even impossible trying to help someone who doesn't want to help oneself.    But, what you can do is to be who you are (a peaceful person, hopefully) and let the actions of kindness and peace be  the example for everyone including your sister.   But, first you need to "not" have anger, hatred, fear, negativity in your mind.   Can't fight fire /w fire, anger w/ anger.    Your sister can get mad, simply because you smile at her - but don't get into any entanglement.   Don't judge her or take it personally, for what she may have done to you;  because if you get mad ,where will your anger lead you to?   So, instead of Metta meditation, perhaps, you should try Vipassana (insight) meditation more and be aware of all your actions/emotions- w/ out letting your mind and feeling dictate what you should do. 

I know it's not easy.  But change must come from w/in.

Falkov, awesome, thanks for this. Earlier in the week I was thinking I needed to "put her right" on a few things. My mind was going over and over the events of the other night and what I would say to her tomorrow, and I was getting more and more uptight, almost making myself physically ill. But you're right, anger is totally counter-productive. By confronting her on these sensitive issues, it will only create more anger in her and more agitation to spin around in my head, distracting me from my meditation and the demanding work I'm supposed to be doing in my everyday life. I still dread tomorrow's meeting with her, but I'll do my best to not be drawn into argument. She seems to need to hear that I respect her, and perhaps I can try and show that I do because of things other than her qualifications and career - such as the fact that she's always been my big sister who took care of me a lot when I was young, etc.

If she simply can't disentangle her self-respect from the theory she's devoted to, then that's a problem that she must deal with. When I meet her tomorrow, if things don't go well even with my efforts to act out of compassion (perhaps she'll see me as aloof, or patronising), then I need to simply go on with my life without taking this on as a burden - perhaps having to distance myself from her if necessary. As per your advice, I'll try vipassana again - I've been working mainly with anapana for the last year as some on this forum suggested I had been experiencing a little too much insight combined with too little peace, but perhaps it's time I reintroduced other techniques.

Thanks again.

DarkNightOfNoSoul

  • Member
  • Lots of sharp rocks on this here path
    • Sayagyi U Ba Khin/Goenka, Mahasi Sayadaw
    • Slow learner
Re: Remaining calm with an angry person
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2012, 08:53:42 AM »
Just a brief update on this, in case anyone is interested. I surprised myself by remaining calm with my sister when I met with her, while also being quite firm about some difficult topics when they came up. I did feel genuine compassion for her when I realised how she has been suffering through all this too. It was most helpful going into it with the resolve to just allow her to be, and to have her views, without feeling I have to be argumentative or "set her right". Also to see my own failings in my relationship with her. Things are far from resolved within our family (and probably never will be), but the immediate crisis is averted. Anyway, thanks for the suggestions.

 

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