People should always do the right thing. When they behave obnoxiously, unfairly or selfishly, they must be blamed and punished.
Wanting people to behave in certain ways is not a problem. But believing that they ‘should’ or ‘must’ can be harmful to your well-being. Demandingness is the primary course of hostile, dysfunctional anger.
Anger is not necessarily bad. If it is directed toward changing things we dislike, then it can be functional. But it becomes self-defeating when we either seethe inwardly but do nothing, or let it out in ways that are destructive to ourselves or others – which is what happens when our anger arises from demands.
It is commonly thought that people get angry because they are frustrated. It is true that people usually feel frustrated when they do not get what they want. But not everyone who feels frustrated reacts the same way. Some react with disappointment (a rational response). Some even see it as a challenge. Unfortunately, though, many engage in self-pity, put themselves down – or get angry.
Frustration by itself does not cause anger – but the way you view frustration does. Extreme anger results when things do not happen as you want and you believe that (a) because you want things to be a certain way, they must and should be that way; (b) it’s awful and you cannot stand it when they are not; so © you must find someone to blame and punish.
In other words, people get hostile not because they have been frustrated – but rather because they believe that they should not be frustrated. They impose fixed, absolute, and indisputable rules on the world and the people in it, and see it as catastrophic and unbearable for these rules to be broken. They also believe that rule-breakers are not just people who do bad things, but are themselves bad people – who need punishing and putting right.
Uncovering the beliefs which cause hostility
Why would anyone hold such unrealistic demands? They mainly arise from two types of fear. The first is fear about discomfort. This comes from the idea that you can only be happy when your world is secure, safe, and predictable. The second type is fear about self-devaluation. This results, partly, from believing that you can only feel good about yourself if other people recognise, accept, and like you.
Beliefs like these will make you overreact when you think others are breaking the rules. Why? Because you perceive their behaviour as a threat to either your sense of security, your self-image – or both.
Your comfort feels threatened
Hostile anger is, foremost, the result of a frustrated demand. One of your ‘rules-for-living’ has been broken. Something is happening other than how you think it should or must happen. Demands like the following will be involved in anger that arises from discomfort anxiety:
I should be able to have the things I want, and act and live my life as I want to.
Other people should not do anything to frustrate me or deprive me of the things I want or believe that I need.
They must not disrupt the orderliness and security of my life.
When other people behave badly, I must get angry and let them know how I feel – otherwise they will keep doing it and things will get worse.
Demands like the above are often linked with awfulising. Often, what we react to are self-created illusions of disaster. Anger may be a bellow of outrage against an interruption to our ordered and predictable world. Underlying this ‘low frustration-tolerance’ are beliefs like: ‘Because life should always be predictable and safe, it’s awful and I cannot stand it when things go wrong.’
Your self-image feels threatened
If you believe, as many do, that you have to see yourself as ‘worthwhile’, then you will be over-sensitive to any real or imagined slight from others. You will interpret their behaviour as belittling or discounting you. The self-rating which may follow will usually be combined with demands like the following:
Other people should not criticise me, put me down, or behave in any way that threatens my sense of self-worth.
They must always treat me fairly and justly and give me the love, approval and recognition that I need.
Do you think that if people act unfairly toward you this reflects on your worth as a person? What you are saying is that you cannot feel OK about yourself unless other people give you recognition, acceptance and love – and never reject or behave badly toward you. When someone does something you dislike, you then tell yourself: ‘The way they are behaving shows they think I am nothing. If that is true, then it makes me nothing.’ Your anger (which is a defence against feeling bad about yourself) results from the additional thought: ‘They should not make me feel that way and they are swine for doing so.’