Control and Anger, Part I
Control is an interesting sideline of expectations that
deserves a little digression. I have written about it
elsewhere, and will copy some of that here so the reader
knows how and what I think about control. It’s important
because it directly relates to how we handle expectations.
Here’s some of what I wrote about the experience of control
in my ebook, The Five Steps of Assertiveness (+).
“I have what I call the Three Zones of Control. The
first is from our nose backwards. In other words, we can
control what goes on in our own head or more generally, what
goes on inside our skin. And, that is actually debatable and
pretty minimal if we think of the 100 trillion or so chemical
reactions that occur in our bodies every second that we can’t
control. In this case, I’m mostly referring to our thoughts,
feelings and choices that control our behavior. It is
The second zone is between our nose and our fingertips.
Imagine stretching out your arms parallel to the ground
(perpendicular to your body). Put your hands straight out in
front of you, then make your hands part, going in opposite
directions. This radius between the nose and fingertips
represents the territory we can immediately influence and probably
control more often than not, just because we can reach it.
It’s our personal space.
The third zone is from our fingertips outwards, moving away
from our bodies. Beyond our fingertips, control drops off sharply.
Why? Because we can’t access it as easily as the first two zones.
Another reason is that this third zone is shared by all of us.
It’s the rest of the world outside of us. It is also common
territory, so we all compete for it. It’s interpersonal.
Control is another word for personal power. We are powerful
within ourselves over our own experiences. We are decreasingly
intrapersonally powerful as we move away from the first zone of
control, into zones two and three, which are increasingly,
We can pre-determine what we will react to by deciding
a priori what will and what will not “set us off.” For example, if
I come home and expect that my house will be clean, and then find
it a mess, my expectations will be unfulfilled. My reaction will
be negative, probably one of frustration. However, if I expect
nothing when I walk in the front door, I will not be so bothered
when I encounter dirt on my floor. I may not like dirt, but that
is different than being frustrated because I expected cleanliness.
I can control my reaction, and therefore, mitigate anger. From
this clearer state of mind, I later can decide to clean or not
clean the floor, without being so bothered.
Wants are more flexible than needs, so my expectations will
have more leeway with the former. I want a red sofa, not a blue
one. I can wait until a red one comes along. I may need a sofa
because my living room is bare, so if I really need a sofa, a blue
one might suffice. If the need is greater than the want, the
meeting of the need is likely to come sooner and occur with less
flexibility. In this case I sacrifice my want in the service of
meeting the need. By conscious choice, I have “adjusted” my
expectations to fit reality and so my emotional reaction changed.
So, what exactly has this to do with expectations? Expectations
play out in two ways--wants and needs. Wants and needs materialize
in our behaviors. Our reaction to not having either a want or a
need met is determined by our expectations, which we can control.
For example, we expect to be able to have an HDTV. We want one for
lots of reasons. We go to the store and find one that fits our budget,
and maybe buy it. This is different from what we need. We hardly
need any kind of TV, but TV’s are so endemic to modern society that
the idea of not having one isn’t even considered. We need a TV when
not having one compromises our experience in some major way, like
missing out on major news. Teenagers argue that we “need” a TV because
they need to watch certain programs so that they will fit in with peers.
We adults recognize how social pressure influences our kids, but we
also know that the world will continue without TV; hence we make the
distinction between a want and a need.