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.

Here is how the first method ‑ turning your hostility inward ‑ works. With the office situation, maybe you begin thinking, “Why am I always the first person everyone dumps on when anything goes wrong around here?  What a loser they must all think I am. Not even my boss came to my rescue and I worked so hard on that project.”

Should you choose this avenue, you’ll become depressed and begin feeling like a victim in your own life. When people become depressed enough, they become very disillusioned and may think of committing suicide. Unfortunately, there are times when people do commit suicide. While some introspection is necessary to determine your role in a problem situation, obviously, this is not a good method to use when dealing with anger.

Depression is the result of holding a lot of angry feelings inside. Not only is this unhealthy, it is also dangerous. Young people who turn out to be serial killers are described by friends and neighbors as such “nice, quiet boys”.  It is only then, after the killing spree, that we realize how much anger those kids must have been holding inside.

Co‑workers who go postal are said to have just snapped. Well, all this hostility and acting out didn’t just happen out of the blue. You can bet that the situation had been building up for a long time. Then, when the person’s internal pressure cooker couldn’t hold any more, he or she acted out their anger (rage) by coming to work with a gun and killing people.

Therefore, the next time you are feeling down about some situation, ask yourself, “What am I so angry about?” because that’s what’s really going on with you.  Then, when you get to the answer, ask yourself another question – an action question such as, “What am I going to do about this situation?”

The second method is grit-your-teeth-and-bear- it. Do nothing at the moment but look for an opportunity to even the score later on.  In the work setting, this is the most popular method of conflict management.  My first blog explained this method which is known as passive aggressive behavior

For example, an employee may be very angry at his boss because the boss did not recommend him for promotion. The employee, then, limits his work output, dedication and productivity as a way of getting even. The employee may feel it is too risky to confront the boss about his dissatisfaction. In reality, however, talking to the boss is the only way to deal effectively with the situation.

Here is another common don’t-get-mad-get-even situation.  Mother comes home from the hospital with a new baby.  Although she makes many speeches to her five year old that she is still number one in the household, the five year old can plainly see that all the parents’ attention is squarely focused on the baby and not on her at all.  So, the older child who had long ago stopped wetting the bed, starts to wet the bed again.

In the parking space situation, the grit-your‑teeth‑and‑get‑even‑later response might look like this. You park your car in such a way as to block the fellow who stole your space and disappear for several hours. Perhaps you let the air out of his tires. With the criticizing co‑worker, maybe you forget to give them some important information or you give them incorrect information.

The third method, being-cynical-and-sarcastic is beautifully illustrated by the humor of Don Rickles. Watching him, we sense what an angry person he is because there is always such a cruel edge to his jokes. Contrast that with someone like Jay Leno. His jokes are all in good fun. Remember the TV program MASH where the actors spent lots of time and energy playing tricks on one another?  As observers, we recognized how very angry they were that the US Army had them patching up solders only to have those solders go right back into harm’s way. So, to unload their anger, they played cruel jokes on one another.

If you wanted to take the cynical‑and‑sarcastic approach with the criticizing co‑worker, you might tell him or her, “That’s a nice dress/suit you’re wearing. Too bad they didn’t have it in your size.”  A relative who is jealous of you, at a family gathering and in a loud voice, he or she might say,  “Did you say you were looking forward to your thirtieth birthday?  Well, sister, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”  These people are always quick to say, “Oh, I was just joking.”  But their so called joke hurts nevertheless.  Cruel jokes and sharp-edged nasty comments mask a lot of hostility.

Method four is project‑your‑anger‑onto‑someone‑or‑something‑else might look like this. When you get back to your office after the meeting where your co‑worker criticized you, you scream at your administrative person over some minor oversight. In the parking lot situation, you might go over to the Mall Information Desk and give that poor clerk a piece of your mind regarding nervy people who go around stealing other people’s parking spaces.

Let’s look in on what happens when Joe Husband uses his wife for project-and-deflect after really bad day at work.  Joe has had a series of really unpleasant occurrences happen to him today. The company canceled the project on which he’s been working for the past several months. His boss gave him an unsatisfactory performance appraisal. On his way home from work, he got a traffic ticket. He walks into the house bellowing, “You know what happened to me today?”

Wife:   Why are you yelling at me?  What did I do?

Joe:     Don’t start with me. I’ve had a really miserable day.

Wife:   So why take it out on me?  If you’re going to come home in a lousy mood, maybe you shouldn’t come home at all.

Many people use sports for deflecting and projecting their anger. Think of the guy on vacation playing golf. As he’s teeing off, he has a major heart attack. Obviously he was thinking of the golf ball as his adversary and kaboom, he blew out his aorta.  If you have runners in your office, recall what they are like during a stretch of bad weather when they cannot get out for their daily run. They’re wild; the least little thing sets them off.

So, you ask, if I ‘m not supposed to….

●turn my anger inward against myself;

            ●grit my teeth and bear it now but look for an opportunity to get even later;

●be cynical and sarcastic; or

            ●project my anger onto someone or something else

What should I do?

The answer is use the fifth method. Direct your anger directly at the person or situation that generated your hostility in the first place.  For example, you might say to your co‑worker, right at the moment of the criticism, “Ben, if you have something negative to say about me or my work, I would prefer that you say it to me in private.”

With the parking spot incident, you might put your car in park, walk over to the offending person and say, “Excuse me. Perhaps you didn’t notice but I had been waiting for that parking space. My directional signals were flashing my intention. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you would vacate the space so that I might have it.”  Directing your anger at the person or situation that generated your anger in the first place is the only way to prevent that internal pressure cooker build-up of hostility.

You might be interested to learn just how effective these five strategies are in terms of unloading hostility.  Turning your anger inward against yourself will leave your anger at 90%.  Gritting your teeth and looking for an opportunity to get even will leave your hostility at 75%.  Making cynical, cruel jokes and nasty comments will leave your hostility at 50%.  Using project and deflect, especially sports or physical effort of some kind will bring your hostility down to 25%.  However in order to completely reduce your hostility to 0% you need to speak directly to the person whose action generated your hostility in the first place.

When you direct your anger, you do not have to do so in a screaming, hostile, out of control manner. You can speak calmly and in a straightforward manner. This allows the other person to really hear your words, not just the hostility.

In the parking lot situation, the other driver may not relinquish the space.  In fact, they might give you the finger.  Nevertheless, you will feel good because you stood up for yourself.  Moreover, you will not be left feeling as if you are deficient in some way, telling the next twenty people you meet about what happened to you in the parking lot.

Ever think about why you do that?  There isn’t a person on the planet to whom this has not happened. Why should you feel compelled to tell and retell the story? It is because you are trying to rationalize your non-response to the situation. Deep down you believe you should have done something to take back control of the situation. Somehow you should have made it work out so that you did not come off feeling like such a deficient human being. You have, however, no idea of what that might be.

From personal experience, I must tell you that speaking directly to the person who stole my parking space actually got good results about 50% of the time – they relinquished the space with a verbal apology.  The other 50% of the time, I got nasty responses.

There was a woman with two teenaged daughters. Everyday there would be a screaming argument between Mother and daughters about the girls cleaning up their rooms.

Mother:           I want you to clean up your rooms right now!

Girls:               Just close the door and you won’t have to look at it.

Mother:           That’s not the point. Your room is in my house. Get up there and take your clothes off the bed and the floor, hang them up, throw away those paper plates from pizza and those empty coke cans and get it done before dinner.

Girls:               If our mess doesn’t bother us why should it bother you?

Mother:           Because my hard work paid for those expensive clothes which are now on the floor.

And so it continued day after day after day. Then one day, probably because the Mother was simply too tired to fight, instead of screaming at them to clean their rooms, she made her request in a normal voice. Both girls looked at one another and said, “OK Mom”. They immediately went back upstairs and cleaned up their rooms. The Mother was astounded. After dinner she asked her daughters what had made today so different from the months and months of arguments which had produced no cleaning-up results.  One of the girls explained, “Well, Mom, I guess we never really heard you before. We got that you were angry.  Your anger made us want to leave the house as quickly as possible. Today you didn’t sound so upset.”

Anger and hostility are commonplace. Everyone, however, needs some way to discharge or unload their hostility.  There is nothing positive or negative about this process.  As human beings, we each have only a limited amount of psychological space for holding our anger and hostility inside.  When we reach our own critical mass, we simply explode into rage. The essential question is, what method will you choose to unload your hostility?

When you think about  those nice, quiet people who abruptly go ballistic, killing others.  You can understand how, after literally eating their anger for some period of time, the person had reached a breaking point and like a pressure cooker, the lid blew off. These nice, quiet people were living lives of quiet desperation feeling trapped in their situation.

Take the famous story of the wife who was continually being beaten up by her husband.  This meek and mild woman lit a fire to the mattress on which her abusive, drunken husband was sleeping and burned him to death. She felt she had no other way out.

Remember the young man who killed so many at Virginia Tech?  He was a child of war and had been brought up in fear and scarcity.  Now he was surrounded by young people who had been brought up in freedom and plenty. He became envious of all those around him who had so much while he was living on a shoe string.  He believed he too should be living an affluent life and that that life was not available to him. The more he believed such a life was unattainable for him, the angrier he became.  (Recall:  The other person’s perception of the issue is their reality.)

After so long at grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it, this boy’s sanity ruptured and all people could say was

“He was such a nice, quiet boy.  So polite. I simply can’t believe…”

“He kept to himself most of the time.  A bit of a loner, you know….”

“He was withdrawn, distant and non-communicative ….”

“He seemed depressed most of the time….”

“He didn’t have any friends…”   or “He only had this one friend….”

“He didn’t belong to any particular group; he was an outcast…..”

We need to watch our children and monitor ourselves remembering that it is not healthy to hold anger inside.  Make it legitimate to express, discuss and communicate anger before it becomes rage.  Then, make it possible for people to unload their anger in appropriate ways.

In my next blog, I will discuss how to help really young children deal with their hostility.

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  • Elbise Modelleri  On May 25, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Hi; Cool informations for me. Your post has valuable infos. I wish to has good posts like yours in my blog. How do you find these posts? And you have a problem about your template.You should fix your problem about your template … I recently came across your blog and have been visitingalong. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Great blog. I will keep visiting this site often.Good day…

    • deannerosenberg  On May 31, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      Thank you for the feedback. My posts come from my knowledge and experience in working with people who have faced uncomfortable anger situations both at home and at work. Anger infects so much of our lives only because we feel we cannot control it and are victimized by it – both our own anger and the anger of others. I felt we all could use better tools to deal with irage and hostility. That’s why I wrote the book.

  • betonmma  On June 10, 2011 at 9:01 am is amazing, bookmarked!

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    • deannerosenberg  On June 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      Thank you for the positive feedback. Are there topics you would like me to address that concern anger?

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