Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Angry "Shoulds"

Angry today? Pissed off? Frustrated? Well then it must be someone else's fault.  Or is it?

We have all been conditioned to believe that when we are upset it is someone else's fault, or it is because of an external event (ie, weather, stock market, missed trains, etc).  We have been taught how to blame others when we things don't go our way.  I can't think of one person who hasn't at some point thought, "If everyone just did what I said they should do then I'd be fine."

There are [at least] 5 problems with this rationale:

1. Everyone else is thinking the same thing about you.
2. Your anger towards others does not motivate or inspire them to want to change the thing that you want them to change.
3. Even if you sincerely believe you are right about what other people "should" do, they won't be the ones to deal with the high blood pressure, insomnia, poor digestion, and muscular-skeletal aches that come from holding on to anger.
4. Anger often snowballs into physical and/or verbal violence.  These acts cannot be undone or forgotten, and can have grave consequences in your personal and professional life.
5. Anger begets more anger. Or to say it another way, it creates anger in your target, which then gets dumped onto someone else, and so on, and so on, and so on.

So what's the alternative?

1. Responsibility.  YOU are responsible for your emotional state.  Not your boss, not your employees, not your partner, not the station that killed your favorite show.  YOU.
2. Recognize the "Should." Behind every angry feeling is a "should." If you could challenge that "should," you could significantly reduce your anger.
3. Breathe. If you are not breathing, it is impossible to think rationally.
4. Eat humble pie.  It takes a humble person to say, "I don't know how things 'should' be.  I may think I know, but I am not God and I accept that sometimes things happen for reasons I do not understand."
5. Recognize the attraction to anger.  Being angry can produce feelings of intense excitement, adrenaline, and the illusion of great strength, not unlike cocaine.  If you enjoy heightened anger states, it is important to acknowledge this fact if you choose to reduce or change them. 

Ultimately it is up to you and how you are going experience your life.  If you want to blame others for your suffering, that is most certainly an option, but it is an option that will only increase your anger and frustration.  If you want to have an easier and more joyful experience of living, you will want to consider changing your "shoulds" in order to make that happen. 
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."

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