Friday, September 19, 2008

Angry Much?

What does it mean to get angry? Here are some definitions of anger:

  • A strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire. Unabridged (v 1.1)
  • A strong emotion; a feeling that is oriented toward some real or supposed grievance. WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University
  • An over-reaction caused by an event that does not meet one's perceived expectations. An unconsummated "Should." The Sarcasticynic

One rainy day, two men, Joe and Larry, are sitting in a traffic jam outside a major metropolitan area. Joe is mumbling under his breath about how late he'll be for a meeting. Larry is listening to music on the radio.

Suddenly, a vehicle tries to dart into a small opening in front of each man's car.

Joe's reaction was to lurch his car forward so as to block the merging driver, lay on the horn, shout obscenities and offer a rather rude hand gesture to the driver. He then spent the next twelve minutes cursing the driver, the city, the traffic reporters on the radio, the weatherman, his boss, and everyone else he could think of.

Larry's reaction? First he stepped briskly on the brakes in order not to run into the merging driver, then he smiled and waved the driver into the newly provided space. Afterwards he resumed listening to his music.

In this scenario, the event, stimulus, or trigger if you will, is the same for both men. A vehicle trying to enter their lane. But the reactions were quite different. Whereas Larry's reaction was rather mild, Joe virtually went through the sunroof.

Analyze any anger situation and you will always find these three points:

  1. An event, stimulus, or trigger.
  2. A expectation based on a perceived ideal, (a "should.")
  3. An over-reaction.

Numbers 1 and 3 are pretty self explanatory. The "should," on the other hand, deserves closer examination.

Joe's over-reaction stemmed from his idea on how the roadway "should" be - a free-flowing line of cars all traveling in a manner that allows everyone to get to their destination in a quick, efficient manner. Should anything depart from that "should," Joe gets angry. When he gets angry, he reacts in ways that are extreme and that have little effect on the outcome of events.

So why didn't Larry react the same? Perhaps he doesn't hold the world to the unattainable standard as does Joe.

Consider these other examples:

  • A child throws a temper tantrum after he doesn't get a toy to which he feels he should be entitled.
  • A woman gets mad at herself after breaking a dish with which she should have been more careful.
  • A man becomes perturbed with his boss for giving him more work he feels he shouldn't be saddled with.
  • A teen is upset with her boyfriend for not calling her as he should know he should do. (A double should.)

In each of these cases, the angered party feels the circumstances should be different than they are. I challenge anyone to come up with an anger situation that fails to contain a "should." But must anger follow in each of these cases? I should think not.

When analyzing an anger situation, try to determine the unconsummated "should" and you'll be that much closer to understanding what brought on the anger. You'll probably find that in many cases, the perception is based on unrealistic or impossible goals. If you are in the position of having to assist those in anger, the better you understand that "should" situation, the better you'll be prepared to deal with those who are angered.

A further note. The event that precedes the outburst does not always have to be the cause of the outburst. Take for example the man who cannot iron his pants because he doesn't know where his wife, who is out of town, keeps the iron. He gets angry knowing he will be late - not because he cannot locate the iron, but because he feels his wife "should" stay at home to care for him instead of visiting her sister - a perception not based in reality.