Anger As A Developmental Arrest
by Anne Rawley Saldich, PhD, LMFC
Unwillingness to control anger is a major reason for job loss. More so than incompetence. More so than downsizing or reorganization, though they may be the reasons given for easing you out the door.
Notice, I say "unwillingness," not "inability". Most of us are able to control our anger. We do it all the time. But in familiar surroundings, at the office or at home, we often throw courtesy to the winds and treat people like trash.
For example, Heather is playing golf with important clients. Things are not going well. She's well over par, definitely off her game. With as much grace as she can summon she keeps a lid on her anger, even at the 19th hole, but her internal dialogue is a raging storm. In the unseen world of her mind she is going at it, blaming Sam: "That jerk! He started jabbering just as I set up my putt. He did it deliberately, again and again."
Heather's outward appearance is calm, easygoing, even friendly, especially towards Sam because she wants to be seen as a good sport. However, that night she is like a dog with a bone, gnawing away at her "failure," wondering if she lost company status because she played poorly. She doesn't distract herself by kissing it off - "You win some; you lose some." Instead, her self-doubt simmers.
At the office the next day she is irritated for "no reason". In the context of familiar surroundings, she blows up at a
meeting and lets Jeff have it, no holds barred. Her boss Jan
makes a mental note: That's Heather, shedding more heat
than light, as usual. The group had almost reached
consensus until Heather got petty, crossing T's, dotting I's
until she lost her temper. Immediately, team members were
back in an adversarial instead of a collaborative mode.
When Heather's department was reorganized and budgets were cut, guess who was at the top of the list for a pink slip? Her boss decided that talent is easy to find, to develop, or even to do without, but she is finished working with Heathers who have a knack for pouring salt instead of balm on an open wound.
What's going on here? It's the same behavior that Heather used as a kid. In her family she discovered that she could get what she wanted by asking endless questions, wearing her parents down; or, by losing her temper, big time, so that even the threat of a tantrum brought concessions. Her behavior in the family system was extended to behavior in the work system.
As a child, no one taught Heather that society does not accept outbursts, or a consistently adversarial stance. She simply got older and brought with her a bratty little girl of five who now dictated self-defeating behaviors to her thirty-three year old self.
This is known as a developmental arrest.
Heather grew into a woman who was respected for her expertise in marketing. She developed intellectually and professionally but not emotionally. What she needs is a neutral coach to help her learn that temper outbursts and wearing people down with abrasive questions are not serving her well as an adult.
Little Heather needs to be congratulated for defending herself from unkindness and overly high expectations when she was a child. But it was time for that controlling five year old to leave the scene.
There are many ways to channel anger, and until Heather starts using them she will continue to find herself "downsized" and "reorganized" out of jobs, even though her talent is recognized and appreciated.
Anne Saldich PhD, MFCC
2585 Park Blvd., Z-100
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Telephone: (650) 327-8620
Page last modified or reviewed on January 13, 2010