Anger Management in Action; Setting Realistic Expectations
Posted Jun 25 2013 6:35pm
How high should you set the bar for yourself or others in term of what you expect?
This was a recent discussion topic brought up by Robert in a recent fast-track anger management seminar that we held in Newport Beach, California. Set the bar too high and the gap between what you expect and what you get can cause disappointment, anger, and other undesirable emotions.
Yet, hope springs eternal, especially in regard to family members.
We can spend our whole lives hoping against hope that others will finally change, see the light, treat us better, or acknowledge us in the way we need to be acknowledged.
Yet, as Robert discovered, sometimes this is not to be, despite our best efforts and our noble intent. Robert is 65 years old, yet has almost daily angst over his relationship with his 90 year old father who lives in the Midwest. They talk to each other perhaps 3 times a year, with Robert always having to initiate the calls. His dad says “children should call parents; parents do not have to call children.”
In his dad’s mind that is just a fact, the way the world is. This rule of family interaction is written in a book somewhere, known only to parents.
Despite a lifetime of not being able to emotionally connect with each other, Robert decided enough was enough and made arrangements for him and his wife to visit his father this summer. He emailed the old man, asking if the visit dates were satisfactory. Robert had expectations that his Dad would be thrilled to get a visit (at 90 years old, one doesn’t want to wait too long). He also asked for hotel recommendations nearby.
The father’s response was two lines: “Those dates are OK. Will send you a list of hotels to your home address.” The coldness of it all made Robert’s head reel. Robert experienced immediate sadness, and frustration. These feelings “pulled up” a lifetime of memories of other similar encounters with his father that generated the same negative feelings.
This time Robert had expected (hoped)that his father would extend a warm welcome, would thank him for all the effort and expense being made for the trip, would suggest things they might do when Robert and his wife got there (The father is very mobile despite his age).
Instead Robert experienced ice in the father’s response.
The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. Finally he decided to tell the father how he was experiencing the father’s reply, namely, as not welcoming. Maybe, Robert thought, an emotional bridge could finally be built between them.
Telling the father explicitly how he felt was a huge step for Robert.
What do you predict happened?
Dad emailed back saying that Robert had “misdiagnosed” him and that “of course I want you to come.” That was it. No responsibility for coldness in communicating. It was Robert’s fault. Again.
Robert now has to work on accepting the fact that some people are just the way they are. Often this means they are incapable of emotional connection with others. His father has almost no empathy, has almost zero ability to understand other people’s emotions or motivations, and has no awareness of how his emotional distance affects people who try to get close to him.
Acceptance does not mean that we need to hate them, be upset with them, criticize them, or try to get them to change. They are what they are. Acceptance means dealing with that reality and perhaps even finding a way to love them anyhow.