Anger and Victim Thinking

He won’t see it my way

Tim had been having a rough ride, emotionally. His boss, Jeff, wasn’t acting very fairly – at least according to the story he gave me – nor was he being very approachable.

So he went off and carefully thought things through. Finally he came to a decision: “I need to get him to see it from my point of view.”

This may sound fine, at first. But what if Jeff …

  •  …doesn’t?
  • …can’t?
  • …won’t?
  • … isn’t interested?
  • … or simply thinks Tim’s view is ‘ wrong’?

The point here is that if your well-being depends on someone else being prepared to, choosing to, being able to, or wanting to do something… where does that leave you?

You’ve no control over adults – neither their behaviour nor their thinking nor their feelings. Yet they must change in some way for you to feel good…

So what if they do not change….

Now you’re into a new game:

1. They won’t change so you feel bad

2. You try harder to change them

3. They still won’t change so you feel worse

4. So you try even harder to change them

5. They recognise that you’re trying to change them – and become angry, defensive, withdraw, etc. – and still do not change

6. You feel angry with their lack of consideration of your feelings – after all “if they cared about me they’d change (rather than expect me to have to change my own responses)”

7. So now you begin thinking “I’m not assertive enough – I must be more assertive in demanding that they change so I can feel good because I don’t see why I should change because after all I’m right and they are wrong etc. etc.”

8. …and things go from bad to worse…

We do not have a right to change others

The fundamental issue here is that we have no right to change others. Nor to expect them to change. From their point of view they are doing fine. From our point of view they are wrong.

But right and wrong are not absolutes. It depends on how you view things! Okay, if they are physically harming you, or breaking the law of the land in some way, that’s a different matter. But short of this we have no right to impose our view of the world on them.

If I feel bad because of how you think or feel or react or behave that’s my problem. I must change myself otherwise I am a victim of my response to you. Any other way of viewing the situation means I remain a victim.

Yes, I agree, it may not be fair. But that’s how things are. People have all sorts of strange ways of viewing situations – and the more these ways differ from mine the stranger and more unacceptable they appear to me. But that’s life.

I have no right to change you. I can either accept you and your views or reject you and your views.

‘The Gestalt Prayer’

Fritz Perls , founder of Gestalt Therapy, had a nice way of putting it:

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations

and you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you and I am I.

And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful,

if not, it can’t be helped.

     Fritz Perls (1893-1970) Gestalt Therapy co-founder

 The optimistic side of this is that while we cannot change others we can always change ourselves – including how we respond to unfair, irascible, stupid, ‘crazy’, or plain obnoxious behaviour.

Without exception, we can always change is how we respond to them – if we want to. We usually do not want to, though. Because we have been brought up to believe in an absolute called ‘fairness’ – that the world is a fair place.

It is not. It is a wonderful world – full of people with all sorts of strange and bizarre views. But it is not a fair one.

Change yourself

There are laws to ensure that their behaviour does not physically impinge on us. And these laws sometimes work. But meanwhile people will continue to have views with which we disagree.

Instead of getting caught up in the pointless exercise of trying to change people how about recognising that the one person you can change is yourself – including how you react to unfair or unreasonable behaviour.

Because getting into a “I’ve gotta change him/her so I can feel good” loop is a waste of time…

…time which we could spend with people who share our views…


This was originally published in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter 21 August 2000


See also:

Article about the Anger Habit

Follow-up article about the Anger  Habit


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