3 Ways to Effectively De-Escalate Negative Behaviors and Improve Your Relationships

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“Beneath every behavior, there is a feeling. And beneath each feeling is a need. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.”

Have your feelings ever been hurt by a parent, spouse, coworker, friend or someone else in your life? The answer is obviously yes. You might lash out at that person or withdraw because you are feeling sad. Your aggressive behavior may trigger the other person and now you find yourself in an argument or conflict. The argument or conflict creates more sadness for you leading to more aggressive behavior. When people are experiencing a strong feeling, they may not immediately be able to identify what that feeling is. As a result, they aren’t able to communicate effectively with others what it is they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. Rather, they may act out aggressively or become withdrawn. This makes it challenging for the other person to fully understand what is going on which is why the situation typically leads to a conflict or argument. This can happen often in marriages, relationships, and especially with children and adolescents. Since the part of the brain that controls emotion regulation does not fully develop until your mid to late twenties, children and adolescents have a difficult time expressing what they are feeling which makes it difficult for parents to navigate through.

3 STRATEGIES That will help de-escalate negative behaviors


If a child or partner is acting out aggressively or is withdrawing, you may be inclined to get angry and frustrated as well. Take a deep breath and remember that beneath the surface of the behavior is an emotional need. Offer support (a hug, being present, going for a walk together, etc.) and show compassion. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes so you have a better understanding of what it is they are experiencing. Did they transition back to school and may be overwhelmed and anxious? Maybe your coworker just lost a friend or relative and are grieving. Whatever the case is, if you show compassion and empathy rather than anger and frustration, you will help de-escalate negative behaviors. It is also more likely that the other person will begin talking about whatever it is they are experiencing and feeling rather than getting more aggressive and defensive.


When a person is showing aggression or withdrawing, it is challenging to maintain your composure. You may be confused why they are being aggressive or withdrawing and may even take their behavior personally. After all, their behavior is communicating with you that they are angry, not that they are feeling sad or something else. You may feel the urge to defend yourself, but make sure to resist from doing so as this will only escalate the situation. Rather, try to understand what is going on from the other’s perspective. Begin to ask questions to help you learn more about what the emotional need is. The more open ended questions you ask, the more the other person will continue to open up. Keep in mind, the goal is to show the person that you genuinely want to understand more about what is going on beneath the surface. If your questions are genuine and reflect compassion and empathy, the other person will let you in more. Otherwise, their walls will remain shut. Once you learn more about what the emotional need is, you can determine what you are able to do within your control to help.


Once you are able to identify what is going on from the other person’s perspective, make sure to acknowledge and validate what was said and what they are feeling. Whether you agree or disagree with the perspective, acknowledging another’s point of view and validating their emotions will help de-escalate negative behaviors. It will also help to build trust as you will become a safe place for the person to become vulnerable with. The more often you are able to implement these strategies, the more likely it is that the other person will open up more to you in the future as opposed to acting aggressively or withdrawing.

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