Anger and Expectations

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Why Expectations Make Us Angry

For those who struggle with anger, the world seems to be packed with triggers. One moment things seem calm and normal and the next moment, we explode. If this sounds familiar, consider the trigger effect of expectations. From our earliest awareness, our parents and teachers ask us

"Did you" questions:

  • Did you put your toys away?
  • Did you do your homework?
  • Did you walk the dog?

These questions are loaded with the hope and expectation that we, in fact, did, and they can feel uncomfortably pressured, especially if we didn't.

As we get older, the questions may sound more like demands:

  • "Did you…yet?"
  • "When are you going to …?"
  • "Why haven't you…?"

Enough pressure and we might lash out with verbal or even physical anger.

Another kind of expectation that can provoke anger is someone's response to a change in our behavior. If our parents, friends or spouse expect us to always look and act the same way, their words may make us feel like they're boxing us in or trying to control us. The change can be small – a new hairstyle, a different route home – or not so small – expressing a political opinion or talking about moving or changing jobs.

Perhaps we're just "testing" these new thoughts, but if the person we tell responds with, "You can't…you aren't…you've always…you never," we may feel our intelligence and creativity squashed, our feelings devalued and our anger rising. The people close to us feel safer if we don't change; if we change, they may have to change in some way as well. While our relationships work best with a measure of compromise (on both sides), anger is not the best way to enlist support. It can undermine relationships and contribute to our own unhappiness.

Our anger, even if it seems justified, is a signal that communication is breaking down. When our communication skills improve, we are slower to respond with anger and more able to understand and empathize with the concerns and needs of our friends and loved ones. Most importantly, we are better able to give expression to our own needs and ask for support and compassion.

A skilled therapist can help us identify the triggers for our anger and develop better ways of understanding, validating and expressing our feelings.

For a free phone consult, call Dr. Fibus at 818.395.2831.