In my mind, I never thought of myself as an angry person. I just assumed there was something wrong with everyone else. I simply thought my occasional anger to life’s little hiccups were highly normal and simply a natural human reaction. Unfortunately, this wasn’t true at all.
About 4 years ago, I was chatting with a good friend (B) about a common friend of ours (C). C was a very dear friend of mine and like a little brother to me. There were some things he did where he utterly let me down and wasted my trust in him. I was just telling B how disappointed I was at C for his actions.
As B listened, he asked for my permission to share something which had been on his mind for a while.
“What?” I asked. He said that I tended to have very harsh expectations of others, and it could be quite tough to live up to them sometimes.
I thought for a while.
“Don’t you have expectations of other people?” I asked.
“Yeah I do,” he responded. “But I don’t get angry when people don’t live up to them.”
Ah. I thought. “Why not?” I probed. “I mean, if someone doesn’t live up to your expectation, you would naturally be angry, wouldn’t you?”
“Nope,” he said. “It would just make me feel sad.”
B’s answer was mind-opening. The issue here wasn’t that I had harsh expectations, but that I had harsh reactions to people (or situations for that matter) falling short of my expectations.
This was revealing as I had always assumed that anger is a default emotion for situations gone awry. It didn’t occur to me that my angry reaction was a reaction specific to me and not a default reaction for others.
I found it fascinating that B said that he would not react in anger, only sadness, if things fell under his expectations and/or if people failed him. And it wasn’t a baseless comment. When I thought about a time when his ex-girlfriend did him wrong by having another boyfriend for the entire duration of their relationship (some 2-3 years), and was even engaged to that guy until my friend found out from a common friend, he did react in sadness, without an ounce of anger. At that time I couldn’t fathom why. I thought he was a saint or a moron. How is it possible that someone isn’t angry with someone who cheated and wasted him of so many years of his life? If it were me, I would have exploded in anger!
After that discussion, I began to reflect on other people’s natural reactions to situations that violated their expectations. It corroborated with what my friend had tried to tell me.
While I could think of people who would react angrily to situations gone wrong, the intensity of their anger would vary. Most would never react with the same level aghast as I normally would. Some would be slightly frustrated, but even then their frustration would quickly taper thereafter.
I also observed people whose reactions to situations gone awry wouldn’t even be of anger at all. Some would be disappointed. Some would be sad. Some would be apathetic. Some would be fearful. And some wouldn’t even know what had hit them until it was already over (usually people who are spacey and oblivious).
For me to react in anger whenever things went against my expectations, it meant that my anger wasn’t caused by situations or people, even though it might seem that way at first. If those situations or people were truly the cause of my anger, then everyone should rightfully react with the same intensity of anger when put in the same circumstances. However, this isn’t the case as I have shared above.
The varying reactions of other people to situations gone awry, from varying degrees of anger to non-anger, made me realize that my anger wasn’t external – it was internal.
There was something, inside of me, creating my anger each time. Or rather, there was something in me that was constantly angry, and the situations had merely brought the anger out of me, onto the surface.
It made me realize that – wow – as much as I had thought that I was quite a loving individual, and that I had always been working on being a better person filled with kindness, respect, and appreciation of other people, I was actually very much an angry person on the inside. I was a narcissist!
By Brian Nadon
Stay tuned for part 2…