Attachment, Expectations and Anger Management--Part II
From previous articles, we have been talking about expectations and
anger. I've been using small examples to illustrate a big psychological
“orientation.” Here’s a bigger example, which might “drive”
home the point. Next time you are operating your car, notice
that when you approach a stoplight that has just turned red,
you stop. Why? Because you know that cross traffic has just
gotten a green light and is about to traverse the intersection.
Obviously, if you don’t stop, likely there will be a collision.
Conversely, why did they “go” when they had a green light?
Because cross-traffic knows you are looking at a red light and
they expect you to stop. These are all collective expectations,
which in this example are encoded into traffic laws. Drivers
hopefully obey these laws for safety. The point is that we don’t
even think about these things, but once learned, in the back of
our minds, they operate automatically as expectations, in this
case in the form of law, which govern our group driving behaviors.
We don’t think of these things until one or more of our expectations
are violated, and we react especially negatively when we have strong
attachments to having those expectations met.
In this example, if I go through the intersection when I have a
red light, chances are there will be an accident, which will likely
be quite a shock to the person I hit. There will be damage to the
vehicles or even loss of life. These are really big expectations,
and our attachment to them is great because the consequences of
violating these particular expectations are potentially life changing.
On a smaller scale, say in the case of causing a smaller accident
(“fender-bender”), the consequences will be inconvenience and monetary,
but still big enough to engender attachment.
While these examples are larger than more ordinary daily
experiences, they illustrate the principles underlying the emotional
reactions we all have to even lesser events. For example, suppose your
partner (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend…) constantly does something you
do not like. This could be nagging, leaving clothing around or being
late for appointments. By themselves, these are not huge events, but
your reactions, qualitatively, are the same. You have expectations,
in these cases less articulated or perhaps less obvious, and those
expectations are being violated, one time, two times, chronically.
Sooner or later, you are going to be frustrated in proportion to the
amount your expectations are violated and even more so precisely to the
point you hold onto them (attachment). If the frustrations are chronic,
tension will build and if not expressed, will result in some sort of
outburst. This is what I call the “Shut Up, Shut Up, Blow Up” model.
Normally, we talk about what bugs us, and to do this effectively, we
need to be assertive, preferably without much attachment. However,
assuming this is not the case, we still need to talk to vent. If we
are healthy, we might have expectations to not have many expectations,
or expectations to not have much attachment to our expectations.
These are healthy adaptations to the human condition.
However, you might argue, “We all have expectations” and that it
is impossible to not have them. I agree. To illustrate just how
many expectations we have and just how much we are attached to them,
try the following experiment. Try going just one minute without
having any expectations. Try not to expect anything. In this next
minute, you don’t expect the phone to ring, that you will not float
off your chair and bump into the ceiling, that your shoes laces will
stay tied, that your heart will continue beating, that the world will
continue turning. If you really get into this, you will quickly
realize that having no expectations is impossible. Try it and you’ll
see. I’m not advocating having no expectations because that is silly.
Trying to bury expectations and calling them non-attachment is also not
what I’m talking about. This would be detachment, which also is not
healthy. I’m advocating reducing expectations with cognitive
technique and ultimately suspending as much attachment to those
expectations by changing your thoughts and awareness. As mentioned
above, you can’t do this without some forethought and practice.
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