I heard a very interesting thing the other day. I was listening to an inspirational speaker, and what she had to say bent my brain and I’ll never forget it. Let me try and encapsulate it here.
Most of us would stop and help someone who was bleeding in the street. If there was a car accident, we’d stop what we’re doing and offer whatever help we could — first aid, call 9-1-1, wrap the person in a blanket, keep traffic away from them, whatever. But when someone is angry, we don’t want anything to do with him or we feel angry right back, and we’ll even say things that add fuel to his fire. We don’t offer help, and we are not sympathetic. But that angry person is bleeding just as much as the injured one — he is emotionally gushing blood everywhere.
Why don’t we think of helping? There are lots of reasons. Firstly, we don’t see it as a first-aid situation. It doesn’t even occur to us to offer help to the angry person. We just want him to go away (usually). We want him to stop upsetting our mood, our day.
If the person is upset with us, we are too busy reacting to his anger to think of anything else. We are throwing foul words his way as fast as we can think of them. We might be unleashing all the pissed-off things we’ve thought but never said. Or we might be turning inward, just wishing the angry tirade would stop. We might be clamming up and bottling our feelings, but whether we are lashing out or collapsing in, we never think of helping.
If the anger is not about us, then we usually just want to get rid of the person. They are ruining our day! We’ll think, “this isn’t about me — go tell someone who cares.”
But what if we treated that upset person as though they were in need of first aid? I see “no tolerance” signs posted in doctor’s offices. The first one I ever saw was in huge, red letters, in all-caps, and it was NOT messing around. Police would be called. You would not see the doctor. Don’t even think about raising your voice.
But, people who just lost it are in serious trouble. They can’t contain their emotions — it’s rushing out, uncontrolled. Could we offer some sort of first aid to them? Could it be there is a serious mental health issue going on? What if most of the time it’s more than just a lack of self control?
I’ve taken a LOT of first aid over the last 7 years or so, since joining the volunteer fire department. The first step is always to make sure your own safety will not be compromised if you help. We are not taught to rush into burning buildings willy-nilly. If it can’t be done safely, we don’t do it, period. So, personal safety first.
I think the same would apply to anger first aid. If the person is so angry he/she is going to start hurting people, then leave it to the professionals (someone in riot gear)! But if he/she is strictly verbal, and there really is no danger, then what?
The second step in first aid is always to call for more help — dial 9-1-1 or have someone else do it. Same goes in anger — get some back-up if you think you’ll need it. But I would say, don’t just grab the closest person — find someone who is calm enough, or conscious of his/her own state, to help. This could be tough, because a lot of people around may not be calm at all — they might also be angry or afraid. So yes, at times, you might have to call 9-1-1.
After that, the actual first aid takes place. You assess their breathing. You check for gushing blood. In anger first aid, I suppose it would be to try to show the person you relate. Say the obvious thing to diffuse them. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to rear-end you. It was an accident.” At other times, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. My mistake.” I know that can be hard to say, but if you think of it as something to you need to say to talk the person off a ledge (as in suicide intervention), then just say it.
Anything beyond basic anger diffusing is going to take more thought and be more specific to the situation — which makes it difficult to summarize here. If you can keep your cool, you can probably think of something else thoughtful or helpful to say. Perhaps I’ll do another blog post to expand on things to say/do for specific types of anger. If you ever have a chance to take Mental Health First Aid, do it — I learned a lot when I took it. I think the basic anger diffusing and realizing the person needs help, not police, might go a long ways towards improving the situation. It could, in fact, change the way our whole society operates.
It’s so simple. See someone having an emotional outbreak as needing our help, not our judgment or condemnation. It could change the world.