A Minimalist Step-by-step Guide to Reacting in Tough Situations

You know these moments when someone makes you so angry that you want to scream or even punch him in the face. When someone says something so offensive that you can’t help yourself and burst into tears. When the one you’re talking to is so annoying that you lose control and say things you regret later.

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No matter how strong and well-balanced we are, we’ve all been there at some point. And we’ve all said and done something inappropriate that was far from how we usually react and behave.

What we usually do (but shouldn’t)?

You speak with someone on the phone and he annoys you so much that you can’t stand him anymore and start shouting at him, hang up or throw your phone against the wall.
A direct and open person tells you what he thinks about you/your boss isn’t happy with your performance and explains to you why you failed/an acquaintance of yours shares what he doesn’t like about your appearance/etc. In these cases, and many more similar situations, you show your weakness by bursting into tears, start whining and making excuses.

You get an adrenaline rush and act without thinking. Your whole being is full of anger, rage or another strong and unwanted emotion, and you react in the easiest way – by letting it out – which is also the most reckless one.

Every situation like that finishes bad for both sides, you leave the room weaker than before, being offended or having hurt the other person, with a reason to regret, most probably blaming everyone else but you. All that brings stress, unhappiness and disappointment in your life. And that is exactly what you’re trying to avoid. And as it usually happens in life, the solution to that is much simpler that we expect it to be.

So in a nutshell, what you shouldn’t do is lose control, make a fool of yourself, put the blame on everyone else but you, react without thinking and do and say things you’ll regret.

In order to respond differently to someone that doesn’t behave the way you expect him to, you’ll need a different approach.

What to do then?

As with every other behavior we’re trying to change, here you will need to give it time and effort and use all your willpower. You’ll need a good understanding of your own behavior and a realization of what causes it and how it can be prevented.
First of all be positive and promise to give your best. If you follow the next steps precisely (and try again after having failed), you will make a huge improvement in your personality and will see changes in other aspects of your life too.

Just imagine how proud you will feel about yourself when you manage to hold your temper and control your emotions in a situation where everyone else would flare up.

Here is a step-by-step guide to learning exactly what to do when things can easily get out of control:

How to React in Tough Situations

1. Prepare.

Preparation is often the most important step of a plan.
Maybe here not to such an extent, but still being prepared will help you a lot.

2. When you feel like bursting into rage or tears, simply don’t do it.

3. Breathe deeply – it always helps.

Also do the good old trick and count to 10.
That will relax you, clear your head a bit and give yourself time to become aware of what’s going on.

4. Try to see the big picture of things.

Is what you’re doing now important and meaningful compared to the things in your life that really matter? How will you feel in a few hours/days if you let your emotions out now?

What if you’re wrong? Try to put yourself in the place of the person in front of you. You have no idea what he’s been through, and maybe he has a reason to be like that. Be kind, understanding, sympathetic.

If not else, these things will keep your mind occupied for some time and before you know it your anger/frustration will be gone. This way you will be able to handle things and respond appropriately.

5. Accept the situation as it is.

You are here, now, with that person. Make the most of it! Your reaction will either make things worse for you and the other one, or will be an experience and a lesson for you that will make you stronger.

6. Let go and move on for now.

You’ll be happy you did it later. Sometimes, when the situation is really out of control, it is better to just ignore what’s going on and leave without responding.

7. Use that energy for something better.

At the moment right after someone has spoken the fateful words and when you’re on the verge of reacting in the worst way possible, there is an enormous amount of energy in you. The best you can do with it is to make use of it later and invest it in some other activity.

Use all the power, emotions,feelings and adrenaline inside of you and dedicate it to something meaningful. Go to the gym, concentrate on your working projects, write, run, create something new. But don’t indulge in overeating, drinking, getting depressed or complaining.

The possibilities are countless so turn that situation into something beautiful.

8. On the next day, or later, go back to that occurrence and try to analyze it.

Try to figure out what caused it in the first place. There is always an explanation. Think of the stimulus and why you let yourself come to a situation where your adrenaline increased to a point where you can’t control your behavior.

By doing so you’ll be able to prevent it from happening again.

If you practice that and do it consciously, you can soon understand your reactions, beat all your weaknesses and control your mind and body.

Managing to let go, relax, accept, draw a lesson and transfer your energy to another thing, will be the turning point in your development, in which you will no longer depend on the current situation, people’s behavior and your emotions.

Go beyond the materialistic human nature and aggressive manners and thank for the current state you’re in. Be grateful for what you are experiencing now even if it seems bad at the moment. It has a lesson you’ll learn later. It made you stronger and wise even if you don’t realize it yet. You did the right thing.

 PS, I really want to thank the fellow student of mine that upset me so much with one sentence (because the situation was ridiculous and I didn’t expect her at all to reply like that) that I felt like crying for a moment but instead of saying something (although I didn’t know what) I decided to write this post and let go.

Have you had such incidents lately? How did you react?

Lidiya K

Lidiya K

Author, blogger and podcaster in the fields of self-improvement and life hacking. Creator of Let's Reach Success.
Full-time freelance writer. Lifestyle designer.
Lidiya K

49 Comments

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  1. Hey Lidiya,
    Funny how people can sometimes precipitate something totally unexpected…

    When this happens to me, and it does sometimes, I learnt not to “punch them out” or the verbal equivalent… However, it’s good to remember the definition of stress here, to put the situation in perspective.
    “Stress is the desire to choke the heck out of someone who so desperately needs it, but you resist the temptation to do it!”

    Instead, I use a strategy I teach and is part of the Life Change 90 program, simple, so simple that many people miss it, profound and effective…

    “How can we sort this out?”
    When you ask a question, in specifically THIS format, the mind MUST flick from the animal area of the brain where it is incapable of reason or rationale, up to the reasoning and thinking area of the brain. It has the inbuilt urge to process when stimulated. The HOW does that.

    WE changes us from adversaries to a team and puts the issue out there as the adversary, separate from US.
    And keep asking the question, or variations of it… Works when someone is angry with us, and works when we are angry with others.

    However, more importantly, if you learn to put this into your everyday language, it actually prevents so many of these situations ever happening! I noticed a HUGE change in people’s behaviour around me when I learnt to do this, and now I make sure it is part of every program I deliver – conflict resolution, the world needs it!

    Best wishes,

    Ray at http://www.lifechange90.com

    1. Thanks for the great comment, Ray! The technique is really worth trying. I’ll definitely give it a go next time I encounter something like this.
      Best wishes to you too. Keep up the good work with your program and continue to change people’s lives.

  2. Your article has many good points. I’d like to expound on the idea…

    I ask you to consider the difference between “react” and “act.” Here are definitions for each from “The Free Dictionary:

    React
    1. To return an impulse or impression; to resist the action of another body by an opposite force; as, every body reacts on the body that impels it from its natural state.
    2. To act upon each other; to exercise a reciprocal or a reverse effect, as two or more chemical agents; to act in opposition.

    Act
    1. To perform actions; to fulfill functions; to put forth energy; to move, as opposed to remaining at rest; to carry into effect a determination of the will.

    As you may glean, a reaction is to “resist the action of another body by an opposite force” whereas to act is to “to carry into effect a determination of the will.”

    Essentially, a reaction is energy exerted without self-control, while an action is a premeditated exertion of will.

    When we react, we submit to the will of another; by reacting we inadvertently give the antagonist our power. When we react we do not use our critical thinking skills; instead we succumb to an animalistic survival instinct. In addition, not only do we willing incur disrespect by the antagonist, but we open ourselves to further injury by exposing our vulnerability in allowing the antagonist to witness the fruits of their labor-which is our emotional pain.

    I’d like to point out that it is our choice to either react or act as it is our choice to feel emotional injury. It is not the antagonizer who causes us emotional pain. I used to tell my clients that no one could reach into their minds to manipulate their emotions. Our emotional distress comes from our train of thought. At some time, someone is going to disrespect our existence and although we have an unalienable right to be respected, it is unrealistic to believe it will be. In these times of disrespect we have three choices, which are:

    1.) Flee from the situation
    2.) Combat disrespect (as you identified)
    3.) Refuse to allow disrespect to alienate our peace and self-confidence

    The following are outcomes for each, respectively:

    1.) Your right to validation is unfulfilled, which can cause resentment and a breakdown of self-esteem. Resentment and fear of having our self-esteem injured can lead to future combative behavior and a communication barrier

    2.) Your right to be respected is invalidated, because the antagonist will most likely “react” with additional disrespect, a conflict cycle emerges, and no resolution is achieved. Both parties learn that it is acceptable to respond to disrespect with disrespect…which is a fallacy.

    3.) Ideally, you will not internalize the disrespect-this is called detachment. What is helpful is to see the antagonist as having an emotional problem. When a person acts with disrespect it is because they are experiencing emotional distress-which can be active or residual. Most often people are taught-during early childhood and by their parents-that disrespect is an acceptable form of communication…this is a fallacy.

    If we can look at the confrontation with objectivity, if we can realize that the antagonist is exhibiting a maladaptive coping skill-which is a negative learned behavior-then we have the peace of knowing that the problem is not us, but “them.” Perhaps with practice we can eventually view another person’s dysfunction with compassion.

    What to say when disrespected?
    “I don’t accept your disrespect. If you would like to have a respectful conversation at some future point, let me know.” Then walk away.

    The first hurdle will be to understand that the aggregate of society is non-compliant in regard to respect for others; in fact, disrespect toward others is an indicator of self-disrespect.

    The second hurdle will be not choosing to let your insecurity and sense of entitlement to override logic. To do this will take much practice, analysis (as you stated), failure, and the choice to “act.”

    I hope this will be helpful supplementation.

    1. Thank you so much for the musings and facts. You did expound the idea in a great way.
      I agree it’s important to differentiate reaction from action. The ‘reaction’ I use in my post is more like the behaviour you use to answer someone else’s one.
      I like what you said: ” disrespect toward others is an indicator of self-disrespect.” So true!
      Thanks again for reading my post and leaving such a meaningful comment. Take care!

  3. Yes I had one such reaction lately unfortunately- two actually now that I think about it.
    I really need to work on #6; some issues just aren’t worth the confrontation or guilt trip.
    It is fundamental for me to recognize, and this article reminds me, that my emotions stem from within me and are not dependent on others.

  4. I’ve learned to keep my cool in aggravating situations. Nowadays I can usually find an upside or alternative solution to an argument or problem. Not replying also helps me keep my cool. I let the other person keep going until there is a good opening to suggest a solution or they get angry and tell them we need to go over this later and walk away. Sometimes people are unreasonable and there is absolutely no way I can respond so I let it go, but I don’t forget it.

      1. I agree that ignoring some remarks or leaving certain situations is not childish, but takes a learned effort. Even though it’s been a while since I learned that trick, it still amazes me when not reacting to someone can take away their power/anger.

        1. Well said. I’ve also noticed how when being ignored, people can become vulnerable in an instant.
          But you also said you let it go, but don’t forget. Doesn’t letting go and moving on include forgetting to the point when you’ve forgiven the person about his behaviour and don’t go back to that situation again?

          1. I remember because I like to pay attention to patterns in people. From what I learned in emotional self defense, if someone continues to be over reactive, angry, or cruel it is important to notice those patterns.
            Some people like coworkers or students are not so easily removed from our lives so we need to be aware of those who have a pattern of abuse or negativity.

          2. Unfortunately I have such people in my life. But when I start analyzing their behaviour, and mine when I respond to them, I see how far I’ve gone thanks to them. I still have a lot to work on but have definitely become more patient, calm and balanced.

          3. Isn’t that a great feeling to look back at how far you have come? In uncomfortable situations still have to remind myself to be calm. It takes being conscious of my actions every day.

  5. Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for writing this article, and thank you to the people who have replied and shared their thoughts. I wish I’d had this to read a couple of years ago, but it’s still kind of relevant to me now. Great reading.

  6. Very nice I recently had a similar experience, actually a few. Breathing deeply works because it gives plenty of oxygen to your brain which in turn helps you think clearly.

    When angry one tends to breathe in a shallow manner which creates the opposite of the above.

    Journaling is of great help too. I have written letters never to be sent full of passionate expressions. 🙂

  7. I happened to read this on the right day. Today was a day of heated debates and I feel down. Your suggestions are really useful and have helped me cool down a bit. Thank you!

    1. It means a lot to me that the post helped you. That’s what makes it useful and meaningful.
      Thanks for the comment and I hope you never feel down again.

  8. Only just yesterday I could have cried, but I hold myself together and I am proud to say I more or less followed your steps. Great advise and I will need it most likely for a while! Thank you!

  9. hi! I am sure that this post is helpful for many people, but I find it rather provoking, actually. The reason is that I held my anger back more than ten years, and that made me a victim time and time again. My view is that anger is NOT a wrong, shaming emotion; sometimes it’s very useful to show that anger to draw the line, and put up personal boundaries, even if it makes you feel stupid afterwards. I am not saying that we should all just scream at each other, but to find a balance.

    1. Thanks for commenting!
      What I want to say it not that we should keep anger in us, but that we should understand its origin first, analyze it and thus accept it. Then use the energy in something more meaningful.

    2. Anger is part of the process sometimes of getting well. Its energetic and screaming or stomping is better than turning the upsetting notions into sadness and inwards against self. The article is excellent. However, it takes some time when recovering from abuse to see that the lessons of upsets point toward an examination of self. Abuse victims can find help by searching for abuse victim help. There are lots of online sources. Many are right here on wordpress blogs. There are community organizations and there are emergency interventions too if a living situation is dangerous,

      1. Well said! I can’t speak about abuse and situations like that. I simply wrote about anger and strong emotions in daily situations but I believe they are the origin of everything else. So the strategy I’ve described may apply to everyone.

  10. So helpful and more imortantly, obvious and simple – which often make finding the answers to our problems that much harder, because we think the solution must be complex and unatainable. Thank you for the sage words!

  11. Great article Lidiya. What we practice is what we are. Aside from acceptance there are some actions that are necessary. I certainly recall when anger was an issue in my life. I practiced the sort of routines that you’ve described and I got better in time. Over the years, I learned to look inward at my assumptions, my expectations, my preconceived notions, my habits, my attitudes, and so on to clear myself of the inner burdens of my childhood and adult life. It began in therapy many decades ago and I continue now with practices of self-examination and there is always progress to reach toward. I have four basic rules now. 1) take nothing personal, 2) remain always free of speculation, assumptions and expectations, 3) be honest or walk away, 4) seek making self-improvements and never allow harsh judgments to linger. These originate with my mentor and he points to many sources including Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements (see: http://thecosmicpilgrim.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/the-four-agreements-miguel-angel-ruiz-audiobook-full/ or Google: four agreements miguel ruiz). Its on youtube but that seems crashed just now from my location. Its probably available in PDF too.

    1. Thanks for sharing that. You seem to have gone a long way in your personal development process. I agree with these 4 rules. They are useful for everyone, even for those who think they don’t have any hardships in communicating.

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