I'm a very calm person. You can insult or harass me a long time before I actually react.

But when I react, I tend to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds (think, from looking visibly displeased to heavy physical altercation). I'm not one to look for trouble and my initial reaction to harassement is to try to remove myself from the equation, as there is often no point in trying to debate with someone who just wants to ruin your day. But as you know, it isn't always so simple.

Today, I was in such a situation. I couldn't just walk away. I was at boiling point, so I gave out a last warning but, under my anger, I feel like I wasn't very good at explaining the situation clearly.

It sounded something like :

"Look, go away now or you wont like what's coming."

Luckily, in this particular instance, the situation resolved itself by the intervention of an external force (a passing cop). Without this intervention, I feel like it would have escalated as the offender didn't really understand my meaning.

My question is: How should I phrase a last warning (or threat) so that it can hopefully make the situation deescalate ? (or that I can at least say "I warned you")

To give a bit of context, let's say the person I'm talking to is a relative stranger and we are in a public setting (on the street, in the park or at a bus stop.)

EDIT : I don't ever get in such a situation with people I like, people who bring me to this level of anger can't possibly be my friends. So I'm not looking to "be nice and friendly" with my interlocutor. I'm trying to give them a last chance to back off before I smash their head in, because I really don't like hitting people (nor do they like that.) but I'll do it if they are looking for it.

  • 34
    What sorts of things does a stranger do that it so frequently brings you to this point?
    – David K
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 13:25
  • 5
    @DavidK When people are harrassing me constantly. Or when people harrasses other and I step in. Its mostly in the second case that I can't really leave the person I'm trying to protect alone, or the offenders would just resume the abuse. I must say, I do not frenquently run in that situation.
    – Dastardly
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 13:28
  • 42
    "I couldn't just walk away" Why not? Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 17:52
  • 11
    Can you post a small example of what you consider "harass" and "insult". After reading your question, I still don't understand what bothers you. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 22:12
  • 5
    Comments are not for extended discussion, answering, expressing opinions or making diagnoses. Please use them only to request clarification or suggest improvements.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 17:12

12 Answers 12


The critical thing here is that neither of you feel blamed for the tension between you. If the person you're talking to feels like you're saying, "This is your fault," likely, you won't end with a resolution, it'll just make them feel angrier than they already are. On the other hand, if you take the responsibility for the tension, it will likely make you feel that much closer to your boiling point. That's what I don't like about phrasing like:

I'm sorry, but you've pushed me too far.


I can't take this anymore, just stop.

That said, the technique I have used a couple times is something along the lines of:

Look, this has gone beyond a healthy discussion, so I'm ending this conversation right now. We can talk later.

If you have to continue the conversation with them, you can do a slightly altered approach:

Look, this has gone beyond a healthy conversation; I'm terminating this discussion right now. Let's talk about something else.

And then simply don't reply to anything they say. If there is any possible way that you can walk away from the person (use any excuse, going to the bathroom or otherwise), a couple minutes just to cool down will likely do a load of good.


I am a borderline sociopath with severe anger issues and in desperate need of counseling. I would prefer not to be arrested for assault and battery after severely beating you but, if you persist in continuing this line of conversation, that will not stop me from doing so.

That might receive a half-hearted laugh, but will likely also result in the other party carefully backing away.

Prior to another such a situation, you might consider finding a counselor for therapy and/or anger management. That kind of rage response may indicate an underlying issue that should be addressed.


An important skill might be to learn how to spot the time frame at around 50

But when I react, I tend to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds

At that point you will have more control. You must know that what the person is saying/doing is displeasing you, even if you aren't angry yet.

Don't wait until you are angry.

Now, for the stock phrases section, any of the others suggested really, but as you aren't angry yet, they will sound less threatening as you will still have control over your voice, face etc.

But how about:

I don't think we will agree on this so how about a conversation change

If you see a conversation coming up that you know will be triggering for you, an example for me would be Brexit.
Once it is established the person is not on the same side of the debate as yourself, as soon as you realise they are not an eloquent debater who may raise interesting alternative points that will encourage you to think, then is the time to step in. Before they state the killer line that you know is coming and that there is no returning from.


You really shouldn't be looking to make your last warning as effective as possible. You should be looking to develop warnings which you can give before that to deflect the situation.

The lifestyle you describe of being someone who is almost always calm, but then ramps rapidly seems desirable. In fact, in many ways it is desirable. However, it has a fatal flaw, which is the knife's edge. There's a point where you flip the switch from 0 to 100, and everyone has to see what that means. This means everyone around you needs to be aware of exactly where this point is ahead of time.

The tricky thing with signs like "last warnings" is that they don't have just one interpretation. Consider this situation: you pick some "last warning." Just for fun, I'm going to choose Bruce Banner's "You won't like me when I'm angry." Now you use that just once around my toddler. My toddler will see how we responded and immediately commit that phrase to memory. Whenever she wants a yogurt or her favorite doll, she'll immediately spout "You won't like me when I'm angry," trying to get the same reaction out of us as you got out of us with the same phrase. Needless to say, after she uses it a few times (and the cuteness runs out), that phrase will lose meaning with us. When you use it, it won't be as big of a deal... which is a problem. Now you have to come up with a new phrase. My toddler has taken the steam out of your last warning. (toddlers take the steam out of a lot of things...)

So society never really gives you a good closed-form "last warning." They just don't exist. What you should focus on is what WendyG mentioned: don't focus on the last warning before you flip to 100, focus on what you might say and do at 50. Practice things which can be done without going to 100, and from which you can return. More importantly, practice things which you can return from even if they don't immediately comply with your wishes. There is no guarantee in life that you can get what you want. That's just how it works.

If you really want a good "last warning," it has to be personal. Not just personal to you, personal to them. A last warning needs to be something that strikes them deep in their soul, and that is always a personal thing. It can't be something that someone gave you on the internet. We can't even really point you in the right direction, because the right direction is 100% specific to the particular person you are warning. It needs to be something personal enough that they can translate whatever you say and do as "Up to this point, I have treated you as a person, as shown by the fact that I can connect with you at this personal level right now. I cannot guarantee that you will continue to be treated as a person after this point." That warning cannot be given unless they have a confidence that you see them as they are, right now.

So I would highly recommend sticking to the 50, rather than the 0 and the 100. It's the place where you can find warnings that are valuable and repeatable, rather than having to come up with something unique to each individual.

Now, if I may make a personal suggestion (is that fair on IPS?), if you are interested in not losing control like this, find a really good martial arts teacher. It doesn't matter what they teach, find a good teacher and learn what they do. I find martial arts teachers are some of the most effective that I know of for teaching you how to safely reach out from 0 to 99 and come back without doing anything you regret (often without hurting or harming anyone). If you want to be able to operate in a "last warning" mode hovering at 99, completely under control and choosing whether to creep up to 100 or not, they teach that skill.

But do give them time. The good teachers know that if you are someone who ramps from 0 to 100 in a few second flat, it isn't 99 that you need to worry about, it's 1, because as you described yourself, 1 leads to 2 leads to 3, inexorably to 100. The good teachers will help you keep your head at 1, giving you the choice to ramp up to 100 or back down to zero. Then they'll teach you to keep your head at 2, then 3. It's a far harder approach than simply having a "last warning," but it is tremendously effective at solving a lot of the issues you wish to solve, from the content of your question.

  • 3
    As a comical but perhaps on point counterexample, Neil Stephenson's book Snowcrash had an individual who got away with having just a "last warning" that he used with everyone. In that book Raven, was the "the baddest motherf------ in the world" (a quote from the book). He had the words "Poor Impulse Control" tattooed on his forehead and drove around in a motorcycle with an atomic bomb in the side car rigged to go off if his heartbeat stopped. I'm rather confident this is not the sort of solution you are interested in for your life, but one has to admit that it was effective.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 18:15
  • 2
    Best answer, although I worry the "find a good martial arts teacher" is not really actionable without more pointers on how to identify whether a teacher would be good at this particular skill (going in-depth on it might be outside the scope of the question, which is why I said "pointers to" rather than "elaboration on").
    – mtraceur
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 22:23
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    @CortAmmon Presumably that sort of approach would be unnecessary if only more people were willing to listen to Reason.
    – Ray
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 23:44
  • @mtraceur I agree. I chose not to include how to identify them not just because it's out of scope, but because I do not feel I am qualified to do so. I do, however, feel my last two paragraphs do say something about that: if a teacher is not helping you start at 1, then progress to 2, and instead tries to show you how to be 99 immediately, I would consider that to be a substantial red flag that indicates that the teacher is not a good one.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 23:49
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    @Ray I've spent a lot of time playing with Reason, and logic in particular. It has more quirks than we are lead to believe. What I find is that when we say things like "If only they would listen to reason," we are actually saying "If only they would listen to my reason," and presuming that there exists only one reason, and we have it and they don't. When one digs into reason further, we find that it is rarely so simple.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 23:52

Short Version : Your goal is domination. Change your goal.

My question is: How should I phrase a last warning (or threat) so that it can hopefully make the situation deescalate ? (or that I can at least say "I warned you")

The basic idea is flawed.

You can deescalate by simply walking away.

The problem is that you're not looking for a way to deescalate, you're looking for a way to win, either by wining the argument or by intimidating the other person into backing down.

That's not deescalation. It's escalation.

What else could a "threat" be other than an escalation ? Would you regard someone threatening you as a deescalation ? No. You're regard it as an escalation (and from what you say as an excuse to hit them).

You threaten, they threaten, you threaten more, they threaten more ...

The issue here is that your goal is not deescalation, it's winning.

Change goal or change the definition of winning to "recognizing this argument has no happy and useful ending and walk away is the nearest thing to a win".

To give a bit of context, let's say the person I'm talking to is a relative stranger and we are in a public setting (on the street, in the park or at a bus stop.)

Walk away. Ignore. Make no response.

What does it matter if some complete stranger doesn't agree with you or you don't agree with them ?

What's the up side of not walking away ?

What's the down side of not walking away ?

Which is better ?

EDIT : I don't ever get in such a situation with people I like, people who bring me to this level of anger can't possibly be my friends. So I'm not looking to "be nice and friendly" with my interlocutor. I'm trying to give them a last chance to back off before I smash their head in, because I really don't like hitting people (nor do they like that.) but I'll do it if they are looking for it.


This interpretation is completely self-justifying. There's no self-criticism here at all.

These are situations of your own making. You can control the outcome by walking away, by not engaging in an argument.

You are willingly engaging in the argument. You are really seeking an excuse to dominate the other person ( and that's what this is about : you wanting to dominate the other person ! ).

See this situation for what it is.

I'm trying to give them a last chance to back off before I smash their head in, because I really don't like hitting people (nor do they like that.) but I'll do it if they are looking for it.

This is terrible "logic".

It's all about "them" having to back-off. Well you cannot control what other people do (and again this seems to be about what you want to do : control other people). Recognize this as a fact.

They're not looking for anything : you are. You're looking for a way to dominate.

And very alarmingly you think that hitting someone (smashing their head in !) is a reasonable way to win an argument.

It's not. It's a reasonable way to get a life sentence for attempted murder.

Back off. Walk away. Don't try to "win" or "dominate" other people.

It's simply about what you want, not what they want at all.

  • I think you touch a few key points here, but I feel like (and I may just be assuming things here, after all some people seems to think I'm some kind of sociopath) you don't really like the type of people who engage in my behaviors as your answer seems a bit rude (to me). Maybe you could cut down repititions about how I'm looking for domination and I'm the cause of the problem and write it once in a fancy, not-outright accusing, way. I still think it is a nice answer outside that.
    – Dastardly
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 11:02

Your description sounds suspiciously like a quiet anger person (I don't know if there is a better name). While most people know that there are different type of peoples and have also heard of some specific cases like autistic people, quiet anger types are mostly unknown to the general public. They are described by e.g. Marc McYoungs "Cheap shots, Ambushes and other lessons" and I also saw the same description by another self-defense book by a SAS instructor.

Persons in general are getting louder and agitated if they get into rage. They also need time to get up into a fighting mode. This is not the case for quiet anger types.

If a quiet anger type is threatened, they are getting unusually quiet. They visibly pale which means that their body is preparing them for a fight-or-flight response: Blood is rushing into their extremities, heart rate increases, pain sensors are shutting off. It could be mistaken for fear, but their jaw clenches and their whole body is tightening like a spring which is cockening.

If they are in this state, they often try to leave the scene because they know that happens to them and they want to get out of this state. If you ever encounter such a person (especially the paling is a giveaway), STOP IMMEDIATELY WHAT YOU ARE DOING, LET THEM RETREAT AND GO AWAY.

If a person does not follow this advice and corner/follow/further enrage the quiet anger type (yes, even trying to discuss is out of question), they will be attacked out of a sudden with ferocity and taken down until they are no longer perceived as a nuisance. The quiet anger type fights in this state with increased strength and durability.

Yes, that's bad.

Are they evil, psychopaths or mentally disturbed?
Could be, but unlikely, they come in all sizes, shapes and character alignments.

Do they have an anger management problem which could be mitigated by professional help?
Not really, while it may be able to delay the buildup, once the buildup is reached, it is too late; it is like asking an epileptic to stop his seizure.

What to do

Marc McYoung who claims to suffer from this condition preferred avoidance. Identify possible situations or setups which can develop into a hairy situation, see them beforehand and steer clear of them. As vsz explained, the danger is that sooner or later something really ugly happens and the authorities will step in and dish out prison time.

If a situation starts looking bad, try to divert attention and leave.

  • One nice maneuver is acting and saying that you are sick and need to get out/to the bushes. The aggressor can choose not to believe this and risk getting puked on (not a nice experience) or let you go.

  • Confusion tactics by acting irregularly. Someone e.g. wants to intimidate you and says "Give me your money". You look at your watch, telling the person deadpan "It is 14:15" when in reality it is 23:00 and continue walking. Some people are so prepared for the usual reaction that everything unusual throws them off and they need time to regain their composure.

As others suggested, I do not think there is a really effective "last warning". The more polite answers telling that you are getting out of the discussion and leave should be more than sufficient to tell people to get off your back, but bullies and people spoiling for a fight will ignore that.

Resist the urge to find rationalizations for fighting. Some people want to move themselves into a position where they are "forced" to fight because they would lose face or they are (subconsciously) positioning themselves so that they cannot leave anymore.

Remember that many cultures need to "save face" and if they get cold feet, they still need to a rationalization to stop fighting. Look out for signs that they retreat, but are still making noise (threatening or insulting) to look good for themselves.

If a fight seems to be unavoidable, you can trigger an attack (so that people can witness you were defending yourself) by giving him the evil eye. Either the altercation starts right now or they will back out. Staring at someone is a trigger for a fight, but the judges have heard that specific excuse "He looked wrong at me" for so many times that it has no merit.

  • Nice answer, but I wouldn't try: "Give me your money. You look at your watch, telling the person deadpan It is 14:15" Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 6:38
  • @PedroLobito I agree it's a dangerous suggestion without further guidance. It will work some of the time, though it's very important to be able to read the situation to tell when it's not working, to have other strategies for handling it if it doesn't, and most of all to understand the nuances of why it works when it does to execute it correctly (the fact that you didn't quote the "and continue walking" part in your paraphrase is a good indicator that the answer currently falls short of explaining how all the necessary components come together).
    – mtraceur
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 18:51

How to effectively give out a last warning?

This is a very interesting situation. In the past I would have tried to use humour or distraction and then make my exit.

There are though individuals who are seriously disturbed and can choose to provoke for the sake of it. Some of these situations, when knives are involved lead to fatal consequences.

So avoidance, being totally passive, and looking for ways to distance myself from the cause is the no 1 objective.

If this is impossible, a simple explanation of what I am trying to achieve would be stated. If this was to no avail and full on conflict was likely, I would ask what is their objective, and what are they looking for. I would then approach them and ask about something just behind them, while they are distracted make my exit.

Giving away too much information about what you can and cannot do does not help, because it is provocative in the first place.

You could use a mobile phone to take a call, and then excuse yourself because you have to hurry and meet someone who is just round the corner, giving your apologies for the intervention of the call.

Another approach is to go up to the nearest stranger and start a conversation as if you know them or go into a shop or the front door of a house, to show the provocation will have to escalate if it is going to proceed.

Playing the game that the other party has failed to provoke you, and you have just miss-understood everything they are doing confuses them, because often these people rely on intimidation and fear and are thrown if this is clearly not working.

I had two young guys trying to mug me once asking for a light. I was dressed casually so they had no way of measuring the benefit or not of progressing things. I just apologised that I did not have anything like that and just carried on. Because I ignored any implications of what they were doing, they did not know what to do.


Well, more or less you have answered yourself.

Stop, this is my last warning. I mean, seriously, it's the last. I don't like this and I want you to stop now doing [whatever is he/she doing that upset you].

This is very clear, no misunderstanding is possible about you are seriously requesting to not continue, and if the other person continue, you can say that you clearly warned him/her.

If the other person didn't really wanted to annoy you, but he did unintentionally, for sure he/she will understand. If he/she wanted to annoy you, he will stop if it wasn't his intention to escalate, but he will escalate if it was (in this case, there was not very much you could do).

EDIT: because OP edition

Even if you intend to physically attack the other person, you shouldn't say it at this point, since you are making the last attempt of solve peacefully the problem, so try not to look agressive.

If this doesn't work DON'T ATTACK HIM, better leave if you can. If you are really going to attack him (what you mustn't), verbally threat him first (this would be the last attempt to avoid a fight, but not peacefully).


Take a long deep breath.

"I'm sorry, but you're making me uncomfortable. I'd like to have some space please" Keep calm, say it loudly.

Quite simply if someone is trying to get a reaction out of you, they're not going to expect you to be polite. If they aren't they might realise. The threat of violence is entirely pointless unless you follow through. Following through would be bad.

If they keep at it, just... call for help loudly. Don't threaten, don't escalate.


Answer the following question to yourself:

Do I want to hurt him?

If the answer is YES:

Even if you're right, you'll lose any reason you may have the moment you physically invade the other. If the interlocutor is harassing you, courts exist for a reason, you just need to choose on which side of the bench you want to be.
If you cannot control this feeling, find a therapist, psychologist or counselor, just don't hurt anyone.

If the answer is NO:

Whenever you face a situation like this, look the interlocutor in the eyes* and tell him/her "let's get this straight today!", "what are you trying to achieve?!", "have I done anything wrong to you that I'm not aware of?!", "I'm trying to understand you, please explain me what's going on?".
If, at any point, you realize that you're dealing with an unreasonable person, which doesn't deal well with facts and rather "invent an alternative reality" to justify any preconceived idea about you, LEAVE, avoid this kind of folks at (almost) any cost, even you've to slightly change your daily routine, do it, don't get consumed by energy vampires, they're psychically and mentally unhealthy for you.

* Be firm, show that you're serious about your words by not looking away or blinking to much and by keeping a vocal pace, but don't show any signs of psychical aggressiveness, like closing your fists or alike movements, this will give him/her an excuse to aggress you and will void any hopes of a civilized outcome. It's a difficult balance, but you'll get the right equilibrium with time.


  1. Do not let anyone insult, harass or diminish you in any way, ever! Speak your mind whenever this happens and make sure you get the respect you deserve.
  2. This was a late answer and the OP has already accepted the correct answer, hope it helps future users.

Perhaps a simple and straightforward answer like:

This conversation needs to end. I need to leave before I become violent.

(Replace "become violent" with whatever feels appropriate, such as "lose my temper", "lose control", etc)

This effectively communicates how serious the situation is, and may also have a disarming effect since you're showing vulnerability by asking for help avoiding something you don't want to happen, rather than threatening. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on who you're talking with and whether they are going to take advantage of you for this or respect you for it.


It will depends on the situations, nature of the person. Because, some people feel very embarrassment even on 1st warning. They don't need any 2nd or last warning. But before giving last warning to someone, you just need to check the conditions, bases why couldn't the person work according to the instruction in last warnings. Might be he/she is not habitual of that work, how quickly have you reached at last warning? So, sometimes, last warning works but not often.

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