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When “No ” Makes you Mad!

May 15, 2009

When “No” makes you Mad!

Dealing with disappointment can be disheartening to say the least. No one likes to be confronted with the revelation of “NO”. No one likes to be told what they wanted is not available, that their needs will not be honored or what they expected is not likely to occur.

However, how you handle yourself in these situations can determine just how far your level of disappointment goes, whether it stops at a healthy level of frustration, or whether it escalates to more intense levels of anger and hostility.

When we are frustrated or angry it is because we are facing an obstacle.  This obstacle can be apparent or perceived.  There is something, someone and/or a set up circumstances standing in our way.  We are angry because we see this as unfair!

Instrumental aggression is the behavior that occurs when we are feeling mild to moderate frustration.  This can be described as “means to an end” type of behavior.  In these situations we feel frustration in response to the obstacle, but it ignites us to get our act in gear and work harder.  We consider alternative ways to get our needs met or ways to work around the obstacle.  We avoid behavior that is unnecessary and counterproductive to our goal. Some examples include aggressively negotiating the sale of your home, a football player defensively tackling an opposing team member, or a lawyer presenting an opposing argument in a court of law.

On the other hand, hostile aggression occurs when we are expressing negative emotions such as anger or disgust. During these times we are less goal oriented and therefore less likely to reduce our disappointment by coming up with a viable solution. Instead we are more likely to do something to instigate the problem as well as your hostile mood. Some examples include a fist fight between opponents on a rival team, a hostile customer yelling at the service representative assigned to assist them; or a name calling screaming match between two lovers feeling insecure.

The path from frustration to aggression is a complex one based on our physiological make up, prior learning and our attributions (see my post on Attribution and Blame). With insight and practice we can learn to control this path so that we more likely to behave in ways more consistent with instrumental aggression and avoid emotional, impulsive, reactions that we usually come to regret.

What to do: Start by

  1. Calm down- Time- outs work because they give you time to gain the psychological distance needed to see things from a more rational position.  It also gives our body a chance to calm down. Remember there’s a mind-body connection, so if you are feeling hot, you are likely to behave hotheadedly! Start slow diaphragmatic breathing (See my post on breathing), go for a walk or tell the person who need to call them back. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for a few minutes. Most people will respect your ability to be more Zen, admire your strength and  thank you for it later :-).
  2. Minimize the apologizing-  Sorry is nice and often expressing sorrow is necessary to make things “right”, but despite who is at fault sometimes sorry just does not cut it or can be too soon. If someone is hounding you to “feel better” right away this is probably because they feel bad, however this may make you feel as though you are being foolish for feeling disappointed.  Don’t rush to say its okay right away.  Feeling forced is partially what triggered you to be upset to begin with. Instead acknowledge your disappointment, and let them know how they can help you with the problem.
  3. Set a time frame. Don’t catastrophize things by thinking as though it’s endless. Let others & yourself know your feelings won’t last forever. Give yourself a time frame to keep the perspective.
  4. Understand & Identify the components: Identify what you are disappointed about.  It could be something concrete like a material possession or something more abstract such as support from a mentor or support from a spouse.  Next, try to identify the barriers you face and what is triggering your frustration. NOTE THESE ARE NOT ALWAYS THE SAME THING!

Ask yourself how significant those barriers really are or are you wasting your time, energy and attention on something that is not that important? Would you be better off investing those resources somewhere else?

5. Accept the loss- People who are successful are successful because they don’t accept failure rather they measure opportunity loss in dollars and cents. Go back to No 4 and acknowledge what you have lost.  Set some real limits on the value.  Be as objective as possible.

6.Visualize Pro-Social Behaviors- Imagine how you aspire to perform in these situations. Often people who lose their cool feel embarrassed after how they behaved, although they might defend their actions publicly.  Instead of mentally agonizing over aggressiveness or tuning it out to avoid feeling bad, spend time thinking and visualizing who you want to be the next time you are told “no”.

7. Choice- Take control of the situation by generating or reminding yourself of available choices.  Frustration is also a good opportunity to brain storm and work around your obstacles in a productive way. Working around your obstacles can be seen as an opportunity to be more creative and aspire to set greater goals than just settling for statuesque. However if you are too busy being hostile you may miss those opportunities frustrating you further.

Please post comments or questions on the blog.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Jayme

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2009 9:14 am

    Great piece! i was thinking more about the no in a sales setting. This opened my eyes no other relationships! Thanks, ian

    • May 16, 2009 9:37 am

      Glad you got something different from it than you originally thought..that’s what it is all about 🙂

      • December 17, 2011 2:53 am

        This is a really intelilgnet way to answer the question.

  2. Jennifer permalink
    May 16, 2009 11:44 am

    This is really, really helpful. I have health issues and realize I experience the same disappointment and frustration as if I’m being told “no” by my body (and maybe society). I’m going to use your advice now. It has opened my eyes to why I’m feeling frustration build so much. Your performance anxiety article has been very helpful as well!

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