Jack the Jerk?

It was early in the pandemic.

I had been living at the shelter for about a month.

The shelter had an outbreak. I didn’t want to bring it home to my immunocompromised wife.

It was 3:00 in the morning and I was in a deep sleep.

I had worked 12-18 hour days for 30 straight days.

Screaming woke me up. I could only make out a few words. Most of them I can’t repeat in polite company.

I stumbled down the hall towards the source of the noise.

Jack was “hopping mad” about something.

He was screaming at the top of his lungs and pacing around frantically.

Every few seconds another resident appeared in the hallway to find the source of the commotion.

I was SUPER annoyed.

Daytime-Ryan is a patient person.

Woken-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-Ryan is not.

I wanted Jack the Jerk to stop yelling as soon as possible so that everyone (especially me) could go back to bed.

In my exhaustion, I forgot every principle of de-escalation that I teach, particularly:

  • Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
  • Lead. Don’t follow.
  • Use a lower volume than the other person.

When I was screaming at Jack as loud as he was screaming at me, I remembered that Jack has a traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is basically a very severe and semi-permanent concussion. It can have very serious consequences on a person’s behavior.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that Jack isn’t a jerk. He has a traumatic brain injury. He struggles to control his emotions and behavior.

Within a few minutes, I had Jack calmed down and back in bed.


It is really hard to de-escalate someone else when you don’t have control of your own emotions.

When you’re in that situation, you need to control your emotions first.

My favorite method (by a wide margin) is called “reframing,” in particular “reframing” how you see the other person.

Basically, you “see” the other person’s pain.

You “see” the issues they struggle with.

You “see” the causes for their behavior.

It is much easier to stay calm with someone who struggles with cognitive issues than with someone who is “merely” a jerk.

By the way, you don’t even need to know someone’s issues for this to work. Guessing about what they are going through works too!

Next time

The next time you find yourself getting upset with someone, remind yourself of something they are (or may be) struggling with.

Oh, and take a deep breath. Breathing helps!

Do you want to learn more strategies for managing your own emotions during de-escalation?

Our monthly live training THIS THURSDAY is all about it. 

Have a great week!


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