Dear Captain Awkward,
One of my friends gets angry a lot. To be more specific: one of my friends gets angry at things that are not me, and vents to me a lot. I don’t mind being available to vent to in the general case, but.
Bruce, let’s call him, gets especially angry when anxious. When he gets angry, it generally takes the form of explosive swearing. Even though I know where he’s coming from, there’s only so much tirade I can handle before getting anxious (in-person anger scares the crap out of me, online anger not directed at me takes a while longer to do that) or exasperated. I don’t feel this is something I want to abandon this friendship over, but I also am pretty sure that I do not need to let him expound on how enraged he is over some mishap with something he’s nervous about for extended lengths of time.
My question is one of diplomacy: How can I ask him to calm down without pissing him off more? I just want a little less freakout time here. (I think he would benefit too, but that’s really not within my control.)
(For the record: This is an online friendship, so I am not getting any of this in person, and I do not feel threatened or unsafe; no threats are even being made, just a lot of directionless swearing. I’m just not especially comfortable with it past a certain point.)
–Frets in the face of Frustration
Keeping your hilarious subject line, thnx.
“How can I ask him to calm down without pissing him off more?”
You can’t. If he’s in #$%@!@#$%-mode, being challenged on his behavior probably isn’t going to make him feel or react better. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask him to calm down, or better yet, since “calm down!” has never induced greater calm in any situation, validate the feelings, ask him to knock it off, and if he won’t, de-escalate the situation by leaving it.
- “Bruce, I can see that you are really upset about x, and I’m sorry about that. But can you save this rant for later? I want to keep talking with you, but I’m not here for being All Caps Screamed At.“
- “BUT I’M NOT SCREAMING AT YOU.” “Cool, but you’re still doing the equivalent of screaming, and it’s making me wicked uncomfortable. I’m gonna go, let’s talk tomorrow.”
- “Bruce, I can see that you are angry, but I don’t have the energy for a rant right now. I’m gonna log off, hopefully we can catch up later.“
- When in doubt, ask: “Bruce, I don’t like leaving you when you are feeling this upset, but I’m also not here for a full Hulk-rant right now. What can we do so that you get what you need, without the swears, etc.?” His answer might be: LISTEN TO RANT and yours might be: SORRY, BRO, I CAN’T and that’s okay, but giving him a choice and some responsibility in what happens gives him the chance to surprise you.
If he does calm down, yayyyyy! If he doesn’t, you can say “Sorry, friend, I’m really not able to hang out for this right now” and then go *poof* out of whatever chat program you are using (or set your settings to invisible) and try another day. Don’t ask permission or negotiate, by the way, just, “I am going” + GO.
If you do this a few times and nothing really changes, and you are close enough friends that you feel like you can say “Hey, are you managing your anxiety okay? Is it time to see someone/adjust some dosages? Because lately you seemed maybe to not be okay,” then throw that out there during a calm, non-ranty period. Getting him to seek help isn’t your responsibility, and managing the behaviors that come with his unhappy feelings isn’t your responsibility, but a good friend can sometimes offer an outside perspective along the lines of “Do you realize how often you do this thing? This thing that annoys and troubles me and also doesn’t seem to improve your mood any?”
One reaction he may have is embarrassment and shame, which may come out as a question to you along the lines of “If this is how you felt, why did you ‘let’ it go on so long?” Like “calm down,” that question can really make a person feel defensive, so one thing you can do to de-escalate is to try not get defensive. “I don’t know, Bruce. I never loved that aspect of our conversations, but I knew it was just you harmlessly blowing off steam, and I hoped that once you finished a rant you’d feel better. After a while, I felt like I needed to say something, because it was making me uncomfortable and I’d like you to stop.”
Bottom line: Don’t try to fix him or his behavior, release yourself from responsibility to not accidentally piss off a person who is ALREADY INTERNET SCREAMING AT YOU, take care of yourself when it gets to be too much for you, come back another time with an open mind. Just because it’s happening through a screen doesn’t make it okay and doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you. You are absolutely correct that you don’t have to hang out all the time every time listening to this stuff.
It seems like a good time to remind everyone of the art of HULK-KU, which are haiku written in the voice of the Incredible Hulk.
HULK SMASH BAD GUITAR PLAYER
DANCEABLE POP SONG
MAKE HULK SING INTO HAIRBRUSH
HULK FEEL EMPOWERED
CHECKOUT LINE TOO LONG
GOOD THING HULK WORE PURPLE SHORTS
UNDER PANTS TODAY
HULK LEAVES PURPLE SHORTS AT HOME
PANTSLESS RAMPAGE, SHAME
HULK RESUME SAY
HATE TEAMWORK, SMASH ALL MEETINGS
ALWAYS BE SMASHING
Channel your rage and write your own! Also, if this image of a little girl dressed as the Hulk for Halloween in a purple tutu doesn’t bring you joy, you might be dead inside, so get that looked at.