When we find ourselves angry with someone, my uncle once told me, we should ask ourselves, “What rule of mine was broken?” This question helps to shed light on the reason we became angry in the first place. Our rules can be about anything: how we believe we should be treated or spoken to; how people should drive; how people should behave, etc. For example, if someone were to say, “He should have known better than to bring up that topic!” their unspoken rule is, “No one may bring up this topic in my presence.”
Determine What Rule Was Broken
Once we identify which rule was broken, we can then ask, “Is this rule reasonable?” If the answer is “no,” then the rule needs to be adjusted or abandoned. If the answer is “yes,” then we would discern to the best of our ability whether the person we are angry with knew about this rule. Regardless of the answer to this question, we may need to have a conversation with that person.
If the person did not know our rule existed, then the likelihood that they broke it with malicious intent is greatly diminished, if not eliminated. It is harder to be angry with someone when we acknowledge that they did not intend to break a rule. It may just be the case that “Great-aunt Betsy had no way of knowing that I felt backstabbed by Karen, therefore she probably did not mean to start a fight by saying what she did.”
Ask yourself these questions:
- “What rule was broken?”
- “Is this rule reasonable?”
- “Did so-and-so know this rule existed?”
Part of managing anger is managing expectations. Asking ourselves these questions after becoming upset with someone can be a good method of managing expectations. The conclusions you arrive at will help you to appropriately adjust your expectations for your next encounter with that person.