Few things on planet earth are more frustrating than someone dismissing your emotions. This is particularly irritating for women, for whom being called "crazy" or "irrational" has long felt like an effort to discredit us on the basis of gender. The word "hysterical" is specifically sourced from female anatomy, after all. So how should you respond when someone tells you to calm down, other than dissolving into a puddle of rage?
The most important thing to remember in this situation is that your feelings are valid, regardless of whether they're "rational." Telling someone to calm down rarely works. People who experience anxiety, for instance, can't just turn their chemical response to triggers on a dime, and, if anything, demanding they chill out can actually cause that reaction to spike. Even if you don't have anxiety, reacting strongly to something can be a sign that something really is amiss — that infamous "gut feeling" is often your brain recognizing patterns before you can consciously reason them, then releasing dopamine that sends a queasy feeling down your spine.
Never mind that telling someone to "calm down" or "relax" or that they're taking things "too personally," or that they're being "too emotional" is a surefire way to relay to them that their opinions aren't valid, something women are far more likely to experience than men. Here are some tips on how to handle this particularly grating saying.
Though you may be tempted to get even angrier, your best recourse here is to pretend the offender never insinuated you were "acting crazy" in the first place. Take a breath, try to talk a little more slowly or quietly, and make it clear that your opinion will not be swayed, that you're not "overreacting."
2Tell Them They've Crossed A Line
It's so, so important to speak up when someone steps over the line, no matter how little it may seem. It's insulting to be told to calm down, and it's okay to let the perpetrator know that. Tell them, "Please do not tell me to calm down. It is dismissive and suggests my opinions and feelings are invalid." The other person may not listen, but at the very least, you can exit the argument or discussion knowing you stood up for yourself.
I was once in an argument with someone in which they told me, point blank, that I was "acting crazy" and that I should "relax." I strongly considered Hulk-ing out at them, but instead, I turned on my heel and walked away. It didn't exactly end the argument, of course, but it gave me a minute to take a breath, and it gave the other person the hint that I was angry with them without further escalating the confrontation.
4Explain Why They're In The Wrong
Telling women to "calm down" is so ingrained in our patriarchal society that plenty of men probably don't even know why it's so darn infuriating. Next time someone lobs that insult in your face, feel free to explain to them that policing someone's tone in that matter dismisses marginalized people's lived experiences — just because your tone-policer doesn't think whatever you're discussing warrants an elevated emotional response, doesn't mean you need to keep your feelings and opinions locked up for the sake of their comfort.
You're probably not overreacting, but to make that absolutely clear, make the switch from fire to ice. Stare the accuser down, speak v-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-r-y slowly, and repeat your point. This is not to validate the person who's telling you to calm down, but to make it clear that you stand by your opinion, and you're not just letting some "emotions" drive your rage.
6Channel Walter Sobchak.
The Big Lebowski offers endless life lessons. Rugs really tie the room together, for instance; it's totally acceptable to pay for milk by check; most problems can be solved by bowling; and it's never a good idea to fight a stranger in the Alps. And the Coen brothers' finest cinematic offering doesn't skimp on providing a great comeback to "calm down." Tell your offender, "I'm perfectly calm, Dude," and if that doesn't suffice, add, "Calmer than you are, Dude." If it doesn't get them off your back, at least they'll probably laugh.