Anger And Expectations--Part II
This is the second part of a two-part series of articles
on anger management and its relations to expectations. Pleas
read the previous article before reading this one.
Expectations occur everywhere. Without them we would be
without guidelines, rules, norms and values, judgments, even
culture. For example, in my office, I talk with clients all
day. We sit on a chair or couch, discuss experiences, feelings
and what transpires in their worlds, mentally and otherwise.
Much of what is discussed is against a backdrop of the greater
system of expectations most of us carry. Conflicts happen when
our expectations are “violated.” While we are talking we behave
as would be expected in a professional office, but this requires
some “interpretation,” which means understanding greater contexts
and having some self-control. For example, it is the norm to sit
as adults, talking for forty-five minutes, face-to-face. What if,
suddenly, I stood on my head? That might be funny to some, but
it certainly would not be professional, unless the client was very
young, and then we might both be standing on our heads. (Kids
have different expectations and reactions to novelty, especially
very young children.) Here’s a more prosaic example.
What about table manners? Remember being taught first to
use the “outer” fork when eating? We eat the salad before the
meal, according to norms; therefore we use the salad fork, which
is the wider one with shorter tines. Right? Then, we pick up
the fork next to it, which is closer to the dinner plate and eat
the rest of the meal. This fork has longer and thinner tines.
“Don’t put your elbows on the table during dinner,” is something
most parents say to their children. “Don’t chew with your mouth
open.” “Don’t talk while chewing.” These are very commonly
communicated expectations. (In the culture of teenagers I observe
in my office, these behaviors are seldom seen, or even learned.
Most kids I talk with don’t know about etiquette at the table,
even though, I’m sure, many do outside of my office.)
Expectations are everywhere and we need them to manage our
experiences. They are also about needing to be in control. In
more benign circumstances, this helps up get along, to manage how
we interact. For example, if I am standing in line, waiting for
my turn to check out of the supermarket, I don’t expect someone to
cut in line. Common expectations are that we each wait our turn;
hence get along.
The dark side of over-controlling, or having too rigid
expectations is anger. We would not be angry when one of our
expectations was violated if we did not have an investment in
having our expectations met. We want things the way we want things.
This comes out because we have expectations of how things “should” be.
This could be straightforward, as when the boss promised us that raise
that was later rescinded. Or, it could be physical, like when we
don’t expect others to step on our toe when we are food shopping.
Regarding the latter, we obviously would likely not see this coming,
and if someone crashed into one of my appendages, it would hurt.
I may howl for a short time while hopping around on one foot, holding
the other one. After the pain wears off, anger is likely to be my
next experience. Why? The physical expectation is, “others should
stay away from my feet.” (Normally, we don’t wander around the
supermarket, saying to everyone we pass, “don’t step on my foot,”
but it certainly is one of those expectations we all silently carry,
like not cutting in line, mentioned above.) In these two cases, we
control our own space by observing the territory of others and
expecting others to observe ours. We control our own physical space
by exerting psychological expectations of what that space ought to be.