Anger is a natural warning signal of clear (but maybe not present) danger. If your mind thinks there is a problem, your body responds as if there is one.
Anger is your defense against boundary violations
The warning signal usually goes off after the fact — after the boundary violation. After the burglar enters the house. After the hikers get to close to baby bear. After your best friend lies to you. After your classmate doesn’t pay you that lunch money back.
Boundary violations can be unexpected
Sometimes there’s no way to avoid the boundary violation. You can’t help it if a criminal targets your home. Momma bear doesn’t know what hikers lurk off the main trail. You can’t predict when your best friend has a dirty secret. And you can’t make your classmate give you what they owe you.
But it’s only some of the time that you can’t foresee a boundary violation.
Boundary violations can be expected
Much of the time, you get hints early on. You can sniff out when someone is prone to violate you in some painful way, that will trigger the anger response.
Or if you can’t sniff it out before the violation — you can at least learn from the violation and then be better prepared to deal with it (and its kind) in the future.
An example of an expected boundary violation
Say you’re meeting an old friend from high school for lunch one week from today. You suggest this Mexican place right by your office.
It’s ideal for you because you have a meeting scheduled fifteen minutes after your lunch date. You can’t be late to this second meeting because it’s really important. After hearing your reasoning, your friend agrees to the location.
Now, ten minutes before your lunch date, your friend calls you up. He wants Thai now instead. And the closest Thai place is on the other side of town — you’d be late to that second meeting.
So in that moment you have clear warning of a potential boundary violation.
If you go ahead thinking it will all be okay…
Let’s say you agree to Thai. Your reason being that you can end the lunch date ten or fifteen minutes early and have enough time to make it to your second meeting.
Well, if your friend doesn’t like it when you try to cut him off before he’s done telling his story about how Uncle Jerrod made him eat green peas all summer — you’re going to get ticked off. And you’re going to have some socially inappropriate anger at hand. Because after all, it was assumed you would have lunch with your friend for a full hour.
If you go ahead and get lucky — at first…
Or let’s say that you get away from the lunch a whopping twenty minutes early. But you forgot that traffic is near impossible coming from that direction during lunch hour. You’re going to be upset about the situation.
Spotting out a potential boundary violation
So back to that ten minutes before your lunch date when your friend calls you up…
In that moment you have clear warning to establish a boundary instead of allowing for things to happen that will likely make you upset. The boundary that you establish protects you from being late to the second meeting.
You can tell your friend that you planned out lunch to give you enough time to make it to your next meeting. So no, Thai won’t work for you.
Or you can go even deeper and remind your friend that you planned it out to give yourself enough time to get to that second meeting. And that it bothers you that he tried to change the plan without asking what you thought about it first.
Your friend will have their own reaction, and it may or may not be nice. He could get defensive, brush it aside, show disapproval, or say “Oh well, I just really had a taste for Thai.” No matter, you can deal with that as it comes up.
Establishing your boundaries get easier with practice
The important thing is that when you catch your anger early and establish your boundary, you prevent yourself from getting really upset later on.
If you work with your anger enough, and are comfortable acknowledging and expressing it in a safe and appropriate manner (which may mean, in private), you’ll be hyper-vigilant when any hint of irritation starts to stir.
You’ll let yourself feel irked when your friend tells-you-he-now-wants-Thai instead of politely-asking-you-if-you’d-be-able-and-even-interested-in-changing-the-plan.
When you’re comfortable enough with listening to what your anger signals, you have no problem saying to yourself, “Who does this friend think he is? He’s not showing me any respect at all!” And then you’ll listen to that anger signal and swiftly establish your boundary so that your friend won’t be able to violate you by indirectly making you late to your second meeting.
This is the quickest, most effective way to make anger socially acceptable. Catch it early and establish healthy boundaries so you won’t needlessly get upset about something that’s harms you — that you can prevent from happening in the first place.
Catching anger early can be tricky
It’s hard to acknowledge anger — let alone catch it early before it escalates — if you don’t think you should take things so personally.
It’s healthy to take things personally, and then find out why you’re upset.