Relationships

Arguments: do you tend to lash out when you’re angry? Here’s how to tell someone you need space to calm down

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Lauren Geall
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An expert explains how to set boundaries when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

In the heat of an argument, it’s easy to say things you don’t really mean. When our feelings are hurt and we’re feeling attacked, throwing random insults can often feel like the only option available.

But just because you don’t really mean what you’re saying, doesn’t mean those words won’t make an impact. Not only can they hurt the person at the receiving end, but they can also cause long-term damage to your relationships.

So, while the emotional intensity of an argument can make it hard to stay in control, it’s important to set boundaries and take a step back where necessary. And that’s where a brilliant new post from the life coach, boundaries expert and author Michelle Elman comes in. 

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In the post, Elman outlines a response you can send when you’re feeling hurt and are no longer able to engage with the other person in a productive way.

The message in question? “I don’t know where this conversation went wrong and I want to resolve this, but I’m feeling too hurt to have a productive conversation right now.”

While it may sound simple, Elman says a response like this is an effective way to avoid hurting other people while also making it clear how you’re feeling – and giving yourself space to explore those emotions in a less intense atmosphere. 

“When we feel attacked, it can be really easy to attack back or ignore the message and disappear completely,” Elman explains. 

“This text prevents both from happening and gives you time to actually let yourself feel your anger or your hurt and assess how much of the emotions you are feeling are to do with your past wounding and how much is to do with the situation in front of you.”

She continues: “Once you take time to validate how you feel, you also get clarity about what you feel, and therefore you are able to communicate it more directly.”

To give the other person reasonable expectations about what they can expect (and so they know you’re not giving them the silent treatment as ‘punishment’), Elman also recommends including a note about when you’re going to get back to them.  

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“This could be as simple as adding ‘I will message you in an hour’,” she says. “If in an hour, you still don’t feel ready, then communicate that as well by saying ‘I know I said I would be ready in an hour but I still feel hurt, I am trying to focus on work right now, can we have this conversation this evening? What time works for you?’”

While the idea of stepping back might be the last thing on your mind when you’re in the middle of a heated confrontation, it’s clear that doing so can make a real difference.

Not only can taking time away from the situation stop you from saying something you can’t take back, but it can also help you to work through your emotions in a healthy way.

For more text templates and responses to help you set boundaries, you can check out Elman’s book The Joy Of Being Selfish: Why You Need Boundaries And How To Set Them, which is available now. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.