Chapter 1: Interpersonal challenges

The angry family member

The grief expert says
Dr. Chris MacKinnon puts into context what is happening when someone lashes out. (3:22)Video transcript

You won’t always know what will trigger someone’s anger. Often people express anger when they’re also feeling:

  • Powerless
  • Misunderstood
  • Unheard

An angry family member may:

  • Disrupt efforts to create a calm and quiet atmosphere for the patient.

  • Demand more of your attention.

 Responding to anger

  • Help the person to focus by asking them to identify the problem.

  • Set limits with family members who are having an emotional outburst. Families should not be allowed to harass, insult or assault you or anyone else in the home. Police involvement may be necessary; raising this possibility may be sufficient to diffuse the situation. 
  • Try not to take things personally. People in highly charged situations are seldom their “best selves.” Keep in mind that if a family member’s comments “get to you,” this may have more to do with you and your own family history than with the person themselves. You can reflect on this later but in the moment, it's important that you remain calmly assertive.

Conversation Prompts

Can you tell me what’s most frustrating for you about what’s happening right now?

I know you’re very angry, but I can’t help you when you’re yelling at me. Once things have calmed down I can help you. 

I don’t want to call the police, but if you continue to behave this way you’ll leave me with no choice. Right now, whether the police are called or not is up to you.

After the call

Most paramedics have been on the receiving end of a patient’s or family member’s anger. Afterwards, these experiences can weigh heavily on you psychologically. It may help to reflect on:

  • How anger was expressed in your family growing up.

  • How you and other family members reacted.

  • The messages you’ve received in your life about other people’s anger.
  • Your default ways of reacting to and coping with anger.