knee-jerk anger management
March 30, 2013 2:36 PM   Subscribe

I need some help managing a knee-jerk reaction I have when confronted with people experiencing a particular emotion. I have had the reaction a few times, but haven't tried to explain it before, so bear with me.

When I see someone (so far it has only been with people much younger/ lower status than me, who are strangers) who is projecting intense god status on me, like a mixture of terror and adoration, it makes me feel suddenly extremely exhausted, then I feel a surge of anger towards them. I try to hide it and be the grown up, but they can pick up on the anger current and it only fuels their terror. This hasn't happened for a very long time, so I think it is only triggered under specific circumstances. I'm writing about it here, because now I am in a situation where I will be training a person who makes me feel this way. It will only be for a couple of days, but I would like advice on how to better manage the interaction for both of our sakes. Thank you!
posted by rabbitfufu to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you explain what "projects an intense god status" on you means?
posted by tristeza at 2:53 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you mean they have some kind of hero worship moment with you or that they are improperly putting you on a pedestal?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:59 PM on March 30, 2013

You'd probably do well to set the tone of your interaction from the friendly, ask them about themselves, crack some jokes, etc. It sounds like you get this irrational anger from people who are acting like they're subordinate to you, and you can cut that off at the pass pretty easily.
posted by xingcat at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you a celebrity, or world renowned in your field? That's the only scenario I can imagine for this. You might get better answers if you explain what is actually going on here.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:04 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you want to (a) change your reaction, and/or (b) change the circumstances, since they trigger this reaction. Suggestions:

(a) Start by dispassionately exploring your own attitude. Where does it come from? Are you remembering times you've projected godlike status on others? When others have projected it on you, and you've let them down?

(b) Xingcat's advice is good. Also, my 'Bill the Cat' impersonation is said to have cured at least one person (now Mrs. Goldfish) of this misguided attitude.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:32 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

i think it might help to realize that someone showing you a bit of respect is not "projecting intense god status" on you. they are merely feeling respectful and/or admiring something about you. that's all.
posted by wildflower at 4:47 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can empathise a bit with your problem - I've had similar internal reactions, mine were closer to being suffocated, aggrieved, and made me feel like I generally wanted to run away and be shod of it all. Mostly, this happened when I found myself in teaching situations, or when when I found myself put in a teacher's position by other.

For me, I think these negative reactions are due to feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility. I remember being an adolescent and a young adult, and deeply longing for a sort of "guru" figure, throwing a lot of my hopes in someone's lap whom status, perceived wisdom, position seemed to qualify for the role. So whenever someone is doing it to me, I feel like I am being pelleted with the full force of the respective person's desires and inchoate hopes... it's too much, and it can freeze me up or make me angry (though, in truth, it is one of the more unreasonable angers I experience).

What works for me is to go in fully aware of what I can and cannot do, what is within my remit, and how much I want to take on. If I have those boundaries firmly in my head, it is easier to draw them for the other person, and to do so gently, and then go on with the interaction with the hero-worship reigned in, if not totally out of the way.

For another possible reasons, you could watch All about Eve.
posted by miorita at 5:01 PM on March 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Make sure the trainee calls you by your first name. Get colleagues of intermediate status to talk up how laid back you are. Treat the trainee's scheduling needs and other preferences on par with your own. During the training mention things you initially struggled with or still have to think through carefully.
posted by ecsh at 5:43 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

It might be helpful to think that people are reacting to the role you inhabit. When I put on a tux and go to the local theatre to play with the community orchestra, it can seem weird that so many people want to talk to me, nod, smile, say something about the concert to me, as I'm trying to find my wife after the show. But the thing is, those people often can't talk to the maestro, the soloists, etc., so they're expressing appreciation to the one member of the orchestra they may have been able to see. It's really not about the phenomenal job I did on second clarinet.

I taught music lessons when I was myself still in high school. I found the hardest part was trying to present myself as an authority to kids who were about my age. My band director put me up to it; it was excrutiating. It was 100% easier when I got into my late 20s, and it little to do with technique.

When I became a manager at work, I was in my early 30s and had never done it before. It was strange to do hiring interviews, supervise people, etc. It makes for a different kind of human interaction than I was used to, and again, it amounts to embodying a role.

I think the emotion you're experiencing may well be nervous tension. I'd agree that practicing being down-to-earth may help lessen that strain both for you and the people you interact with. Another part of the antidote may be practicing empathy. Surely you've had a boss, teacher, etc. who intimidated you a bit. Unfortunately, as I've learned the hard way, maintaining a bit of that managerial stance, not being too silly, etc. is necessary to maintaining morale, so there's a balance when it comes to work. But I will always err on the side of being human.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:42 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmm. I really do mean this one seriously. It would be great if you could totally manage your feelings and defuse the hero worship. There are some good suggestions above.

But if not--and you feel a snide remark, eye roll, etc. coming on, just a moment of workday stress, not directed at the supplicant--then don't hide a moment of mild bad temper from the person who's on the worshipper trip. I am not saying be an asshole of the first order (though I can suggest some role models if you want an idol of your own). Just be human enough to disabuse them of their wrong ideas.

In other words--don't be on bad behavior, but no need to be on your best behavior.
posted by skbw at 8:01 PM on March 30, 2013

Work on taking yourself a little less seriously.
posted by flabdablet at 8:49 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel this way when people look to me for social guidance. I didn't get much when I was younger so my unfair gut reaction is to turn on my own kind and say, "Figure it out your goddamned self because nobody helped me." It brings me uncomfortably close to pain I felt in the past.

I have yet to implement it in my own life, but I know the right answer is to give them the help I wished desperately for when I was younger but did not get.
posted by My Famous Mistake at 11:18 AM on March 31, 2013

Thank you for asking such an interesting question.

I think some, if not most of us have an impulse amounting almost to a reflex to attack people who display a certain kind of vulnerability to us, perhaps as a way of achieving an unbreakable and permanent dominant ascendancy over them.

I think you can see this in everything from medical internships, to fraternity hazings, to boot camps, to elementary school playgrounds, to job interviews, to rites of passage among traditional peoples, to CIA torture chambers, and so endlessly on.

The anger comes, I believe, from our need to have emotions which match what we're doing, and might be preferable to the sadistic sexual excitement which appears to be one of its alternatives.

But the exhaustion puzzles me.

I'd tentatively guess it could serve to prevent you from instantly hitting them in the face, or some such thing.

The remedy could be something like what My Famous Mistake said as I was painfully typing this out: cultivate empathy by imagining yourself in their position and feeling how grateful you would be for a show of kindness and concern rather than menacing and angry hauteur.
posted by jamjam at 11:33 AM on March 31, 2013

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