4 Empathetic Responses to Antisocial Behaviors Intended to Reduce Frustration in the Moment

Interacting with people who behave antisocially can be frustrating. Antisocial behaviors do not refer to a person who is shy, distant, or who tries to avoid social situations.  Instead, it refers to people who behave in ways that are reckless, careless, and without regard to another person.  At times, they may not seem to care about anything, including another person’s feelings, perspectives, boundaries or physical and emotional safety. 

Responding to someone who behaves antisocially can be difficult because their behavior often provokes anger and frustration.  Interactions with people behaving in this manner can occur randomly with strangers at social events, with co-workers in work environments, or with people you know in your family or friend group.  

How can we understand what drives antisocial behaviors? How can we respond to reduce frustration at that moment?

There are several reasons why people may behave in ways that are reckless, careless, and without regard for others.  Here are four personality characteristics that may drive one to behave in antisocial ways. Help yourself by knowing how to respond in the moment. 

1. Verbal Impulsiveness Can be Antisocial

Individuals who are verbally impulsive often say what is on their mind, without thinking.  What they say is often antisocial because their words may hurt, anger, embarrass or insult another.  Due to the individual’s lack of insight about how insensitive, disrespectful, and disparaging their comments are, often cause conflicts to develop in the relationship.  

Empathetic Response: Respond with Silence and Assertiveness  

When you first hear the comment, respond with silence.  Stay calm, even when words are shocking and hurtful.  If you respond to them with the same tone of aggressiveness such as, “You are a real jerk for running your big mouth and saying that to me.  What the hell is wrong with you?”, you will only escalate the situation and perpetuate the cycle of exchanging insults.  After you pause, take a deep breath to calm yourself.  As you think about what was said, you can respond with an assertive statement. State your thoughts and feelings about what was said in an assertive (not aggressive) way.  Use “I” statements such as, “I feel hurt when my feelings are not considered.” 

2. Physical Impulsiveness can be Antisocial

Physical impulsiveness implies that one acts before one thinks.  This behavior is certainly antisocial when the behavior is dangerous and risks the safety of others.  Behaviors such as running into the street, jumping into water, assaulting others, speeding, reckless driving, road rage, stealing, and getting arrested for breaking the law are examples.  Physical impulsiveness that demonstrates a disregard for safety cause conflicts in many relationships.

Empathetic Response: Respond by Setting Firm Boundaries

Avoid situations where you are in harm’s way by setting firm boundaries.  Avoid traveling with them if they are driving, going out with them if they start fights, or accompanying them anywhere they tend to break the law.  You have to say no.  If the expectations of what you are willing to do are clearly defined before a situation, you will not have to make on-the-spot decisions about who will drive and where you will go. Pre-determined boundaries and expectations will decrease anxiety and frustration in the moment.  

3. Anxiety can result in Antisocial Behavior & Responses to Others

Individuals who experience significant anxiety can behave in ways that are antisocial, even if it is not their intention to be careless or reckless.  When someone feels anxious about a situation, they often want to avoid, resolve or get away from that situation quickly, to get away from the anxiety. In doing so, their behaviors and decisions are often based on emotions and not logic in an effort to stop feeling uncomfortable and anxious. 

Empathetic Response: Respond with Reflective Statements

Listen to what the person is saying and instead of responding to the content.  Respond with statements that reflect back on what they said. This will help that person gain awareness of their own comments and reconsider their emotional decision that was based on anxiety.  Reflective statements help engage an individual into a reciprocal conversation where you can discuss facts, logic, and outcomes before making a final decision.   

4. Projecting and Blaming Others (Instead of Taking Responsibility) for One’s Actions.

Some individuals fail to own up to what they have done or said to cause chaos or conflict in a situation.  Instead, they deny their actions and blame other people, places or things for problems they encounter. It is common to respond to these individuals by telling them they deserve the blame and pointing out to them the facts they tend to ignore and dismiss. However, responding to them with proof they are wrong may escalate the argument,  Instead, respond with reflective questions. 

Empathetic Response: Respond with Reflective Questions

Listen to what they are saying and respond with questions about the situation. Ask questions based on the explanations they provide. Reflective questions may not result in them admitting to wrongdoings, but it will give you more information and keep the door open for future conversation.  Questions will also indicate to them that you do not perceive the situation as they do. Try not to engage in an argument based on the “proof” you have that you are correct.  Instead, ask questions and listen so you can decrease the frustration in the moment. 

Now that you know…

Understanding why people behave in reckless and careless ways, without regard for others is helpful.  A better understanding allows us to take a step back, remain calm and respond empathetically in the moment, decreasing our own frustration.  If you continue to struggle in your relationship with how to respond to another’s antisocial behaviors, or if you notice antisocial behaviors within yourself, contact Dr. Nancy Musarra for help.  Email her at nancy@drnancymusarra.com or call 216-954-5665. 

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