Strategies People Use for Unloading Their Hostility

Anger (rage) is a commonplace emotion that strikes often and un-expectantly in our daily lives.  A simple event can be the trigger. Maybe it is a person who sneaks into a parking lot space for which you have been waiting.  Perhaps it is a co‑worker criticizes you falsely in front of others.

Immediately you make a mental evaluation of that event based on whether or not you can manage it effectively. This evaluation has to do with your sense control over the situation.  If you believe the situation is within your control – that you can handle the event easily – your anger is not generated. For example, you may feel annoyed but you decide to simply go looking for another parking space.

There are folks, however, who would just go ballistic over someone taking their parking space. Such individuals experience a sensation of total loss of control over their own lives.  So, immediately feelings of fear and irrational anger or rage explode inside them.  We have what’s known as the urge to kill.

In the situation of the criticizing co‑worker, suppose this happens at a meeting where your boss and several co‑workers are present.  In such a situation you are definitely not in control.  You are presented with the problem of what to do in order to maintain the boss’s good opinion of you while looking strong in the eyes of your colleagues.  Should you try to defend yourself and deny the charges?  How about criticizing the person right back?  You feel blind‑sided, trapped and muzzled from saying anything. Your fury is almost overwhelming. Here, again, we have what’s known as the urge to kill.

Perhaps you ask yourself, “Why can’t I say something so very clever that my critic will immediately look like a fool?”  You are not only angry at the critic, you are also extremely angry with yourself for not being able to deliver a sharp retort. What you would really like to do, probably, is punch the critic right in the chops because you have been embarrassed and are seriously pissed off.

We learn early on that an outright display of hostility scares others and gives the impression that we are emotionally unstable. However, our daily lives are chock‑full of incidents that leave us feeling hostile. The truth of the matter is we all need a way to discharge that hostility.  Basically, each of us has only a limited amount of psychological space for holding aggravations inside. Eventually we must unload and vent or risk becoming psychotic.

In our society, there are five socially acceptable and typical methods we use to unload our hostility. They are:

1. Turn hostility and anger inward and blame yourself.

2. Grit your teeth and bear it; do nothing at the moment; look for an opportunity to get even at some later time.

3. Become cynical, sarcastic and humorously insulting.

4. Project your feelings onto someone or something else (like spouse, the kids or the family dog).

5. Direct your anger directly at the person or situation that generated your anger in the first place.

Over the course of the next few days, we’ll take a look at each of the methods.  I welcome your feedback, your stories and anything you would like to share.

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