Anger And Expectations--Part I
As a general psychological rule, and this is true for most people,
anger is set up by unmet expectations. Expectations are mental,
physical or emotional and may be rational, or irrational.
They can be situational, chronic, last a long time or not long at
all, and be big or small. Expectations can be internal or external,
subtle or gross, material or spiritual, value-based or attitudinal,
and on and on. When our expectations are not met, other feelings
can come to us as well, such as sadness or fear, depending upon our
personalities, state of intoxication, maturity, mental or physical
illnesses, state of overload, family-of-origin or other training.
Recall that anger is a survival impulse. It is designed
to “power us up,” to give us “umph” to overcome obstacles. Imagine
you are told that you are going to get a raise in salary at work,
and then two days later your boss says, “Never mind.” Your
expectation was to receive more money. You probably figured “I’m
worth it” and already were planning on spending some of that extra
cash. Then, BOOM--there is a total reversal--no raise and no future
extra goodies. The natural reaction is disappointment (which is
actually on the “sad” and a little bit on the “disgusted” spectrum),
but also there likely is anger (frustration, irritation, annoyance,
impatience or any variation on this theme).
You have choices at this point, and this point is key.
How mature are you? A younger person or one less in control of strong
impulses may react very quickly with a predictable outburst. The verbal
part of that response might include some “volume,” and later there may
follow some physical reactions. What if you were already anxious about
money? That would play into your reaction. Or, what if you are
anxious a lot, as in suffering from an anxiety disorder? What if you
had an extra beer when you found out the news? Did that loosen some
of your controls? Then, how would you react?
These “conditions” affect your response. Ideally, you don’t already
have money sensitivities or an anxiety disorder. Ideally, you have not
been drinking, so your “sensorium” is intact. Ideally, you will
approach your boss and tell him or her that his or her behavior was not
to your liking. You will do this assertively, right? (If you are not
clear on just what assertiveness is, see The Five Steps of Assertiveness
by this same author.) Otherwise, be mindful that this is the boss you
are talking to….
We all carry a million expectations around in our heads. We don’t
usually think about them, or even have an ongoing, conscious awareness
of what they are. They function automatically, lurking somewhere in
the back of our minds, only to sabotage our feelings when one of them is
violated. They exist because we absorbed them into our brains
automatically when we were young, then more or less routinely as we
matured. Here are some more common examples.
I’m driving and approach a stoplight, which has just turned red.
I stop. Why? Because the cross traffic drivers have a green light
and they go, knowing (expecting) I will stop so they can go through the
intersection. In this case, the cross traffic drivers and I are
following the law, which is a form of encoded expectations. Drivers
need these expectations to avoid crashes.
“Norms,” are the larger category of expectations, in this case
having to do with the usual driving behaviors (stopping at lights that
are red, driving at the speed limit, etc.). “Values,” in this case,
assigns a sense of importance to each behavior that conforms to or
violates the law. In other words, I think it is important to follow
traffic laws so there are no accidents. “Judgments,” in this case are
an additional level, characterized by a sense of right and wrong, better
or worse, less or more “appropriate,” often rendered by drivers who think
other drivers didn’t live up to their expectations. This last category
is based upon the previous categories’ functioning, and sets up very
critical reactions to violations of expectations. Usually, this last
category functions as a kind of psychological tinderbox, a flashpoint
from which anger is launched, and then later amplified. Unchecked,
anger, at this juncture is very likely to erupt, to cause you to act
badly. In this case, acting badly while driving is dangerous.