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5 Steps to Adjusting Your Expectations

Dateline: January 4th. Orange County Anger Management class participants review anger triggers of the week.
Jane, age 23, engaged to be married: 'My boyfriend openly flirts with other women in front of me.'

Jim, age 40, an IT professional: 'a work group back East didn't finish their project on time, which made our progress look bad 'I blew up!'

Joe, age 46, successful business owner and young grandfather: 'I get so mad at everyone that my daughter won't let me see my grandchild. Now, I'm angry at my daughter, too.'

Mary, age 38: 'I am constantly yelling at my two teenagers because they won't do what I tell them to.'

Nancy, married 28 year old successful writer who goes into period rages toward her equally successful husband: 'I can't stand that he never picks up his clothes and he doesn't do things around the house that he says he will do.'

Alex, a 50 year old salesman in class because of road rage: 'I can't stand it when people cut in front of me on the freeway' it makes me crazy.'

Different Anger, Common Cause

In all cases, the cause of the anger isn't what happened to these basically normal people; rather it is how they assessed or evaluated what happened.

Anger often results from comparing the behavior of others to your expectations. Sometimes it's a reasonable thing to do that, but more often it's not because we have unreasonably high, and sometimes just plain wrong, expectations of ourselves and those around us.

We can thus say that anger is caused by the discrepancy between what we expect and what we get. Indeed, the definition of expectation is 'eager anticipation.'

Our Goal

It's important to figure out exactly what 'reasonable' means in terms of expectations of yourself and others. If your expectations are too low, you'll feel cheated in life 'or worse 'that you are 'settling.'

On the other hand, if your expectations are too high, then reality will suffer from comparisons to expectation 'and you may experience disappointment and other anger reactions.

Adjusting Your Expectations

Step 1: Decide what is reasonable. This may be tricky because different people have different ideas of this. One way to do it is to think about it when you are calm and cool. Many things that seem 'reasonable' when you are worked up, later seem ridiculous and petty.

Step 2: Eliminate the word 'should.' None of us can control other people, try as we might. People behave the way they behave for their own reasons.

Instead of 'should-ing' others, state needs from your own perspective, i.e., 'I'd prefer if.' instead of 'They should.'

Step 3: Recognize limitations. People often behave badly toward us because of their limitations or problems, not because they are purposefully trying to make us miserable. People are fallible and may not be able to live up to our expectations, or they may have a different agenda than meeting your expectations.

Relationships have their limitations. Marital research shows that 69% of relationship issues are basically unsolvable and perpetual. Wise couples accept this and find ways to live around the issues, rather than engaging in constant conflict.

Step 4: Be tolerant of other views. Rather than convincing yourself that others are 'wrong.' Tell yourself they simply see things differently than you do. No need to get angry over this 'they may be as convinced of their 'truth' as you are of yours!

Step 5: Explore ways to get needs met. The underlying reason we often get angry at others is because our basic needs are not being met as a result of the situation or the behavior of the other.

Rather than getting angry, we need to consider two more effective ways to deal with the situation:

1. Honestly communicate your unsatisfied needs to others.
2. Explore alternative ways to satisfy your needs. Take responsibility for your own needs and find workable and acceptable ways of satisfying them.

2005 'Dr. Tony Fiore All rights reserved. Dr. Tony Fiore ( is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs, training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter "Taming The Anger Bee" at

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