Keep Calm & Carry On

Simple Technique to Control Anger When Being Provoked

Who among us ladies doesn’t suffer from an unsightly rage every now and then? (After all, many of us have to live with men.) So it’s helpful to know that a new study shows that using a simple technique, called “self-distancing,” can be very effective at controlling how angry and aggressive you get when provoked by others. 

Self-distancing involves pretending to view the situation you’re in as an observer at a removed distance, instead of a participant in the tense interaction. So basically act like you’re a fly on the wall watching everything go down, and then process your feelings from this more distant perspective. 

The worst thing you can do in an argument or angry situation is to get immersed in your own anger. Focusing on your hurt or angry feelings can often backfire, explains the study’s co-author Brad Bushman, as it keeps those negative feelings active in your mind, making you more likely to act aggressively. You know, “Hurt people hurt people” (thanks, Greenberg). 

To prove the effectiveness of self-distancing during an angry confrontation, scientists used a couple of different approaches to provoke a group of college student test subjects. One of the experiments involved subjects who had been yelled at by a rude study partner, and were then given the opportunity to retaliate against the rude partner (by blasting music in their headphones). The subjects who were instructed to approach the situation using self-distancing showed lower levels of aggression toward their partner, very shortly after having been provoked. 

Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, this is the first study to demonstrate that self-distancing can be effective during the heat of an angry moment, when you’re most likely to act aggressively. It’s hard to distance yourself from an intense situation…but it’s probably something to start practicing if you’ve got in-laws—or at least ever plan on getting them.

Source: Ohio State University (2012). ‘Self-distancing’ can help people calm aggressive reactions, study finds. EurekaAlert.  Retrieved from
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