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What’s My Problem!?!?

Have you ever made a mistake and then got mad at the person who was harmed by your mistake?

Or maybe you forgot to do something important and lashed out with frustration at the person who could help you resolve the problem you created.

As weird as it sounds when you look at it objectively, I think many of us have acted this way in at least minor ways and it seems to happen pretty frequently.

Any of these scenarios sound embarrassingly familiar?

• The service/product you promised your client didn’t meet their expectations so you get frustrated at them for saying so and not just being happy with what you gave them.

• You’re late to work again and get annoyed at your supervisor who made an issue of it.

• You lost track of your deadlines and the pieces of your project so you snap at the other parties involved and act like it was their fault you didn’t pay attention to the 6 emails they sent you and the fact that you didn’t do your job.

• You tap the car in front of you when pulling up to a gas pump and when the driver of that car gives you a dirty look you snap that they didn’t leave you enough room at the other pump. (Yep – did that and I’m hanging onto the excuse I was 18 at the time.)

Lately I seem to have come across a bunch of people acting this way and it just has me wondering, why do people do this and how can we stop it in ourselves.

Psychologists call this behavior “displaced aggression”.

What’s really going on when this happens to you is basically a mix of emotions taking over and an unwelcome blow to your ego – either not wanting to admit, or being frustrated with yourself, for making a mistake.

Unfortunately the issue gets compounded because just as you start to realize what you’re doing, you get embarrassed by your behavior; but you’re already committed to the path so you double down and the result is more lashing out and more unproductive anger even as you think to yourself “what is my problem!?!?”

Because when we engage in this type of behavior it often comes up on us quickly and seemingly out of nowhere, it can be difficult to head off. It’s also a surefire way to lose a client, lose the respect of others and derail whatever you’re trying to achieve so it makes sense to spend some time preventing it from happening.

Preventing this type of unfortunate hijack of your normally completely reasonable behavior often starts with what your default thought processes are. And if these ideas aren’t natural to you – good news – with some attention they can become your new default.

• Take responsibility. Taking full responsibility for the world you’ve created around you is not for the feint of heart, but it’s actually very empowering. If your default is to take responsibility for your relationships / your actions / your behavior then the odds of being hijacked by an internal emotional blame game are greatly diminished.

• Self Esteem. Everybody makes mistakes or has things not go their way. You can’t let every external occurrence affect how you feel about yourself. Insecurity leads to all sorts of bad decisions and bad behavior.

• Slow down. Our rush rush rush to get things done, move to the next item on our to-do list and to put out the next fire causes all sorts of problems. First they cause us to make the mistakes that set off the displaced aggression in the first place, and then they create the environment for that response to happen. Being present and paying attention solves this problem on both of those fronts.

• Connect. An honest interest in connecting with others helps prevent this problem from happening. If you view other people as a means to an end or a frustration you just have to put up with you’re going to be inherently more likely to lash out at them.

There’s a big scary form of displaced aggression and it’s often involved in cases of abuse and road rage. In comparison to those situations, what I’m talking about is pretty benign. But it still causes problems and from time to time I’ve seen myself do this and never really understood why. As I’ve witnessed this in other people I admit I was relieved to see I wasn’t the only one with this really odd self-sabotaging issue that occasionally cropped up.

Note to self: slow down.

Erin Marcus is an author, speaker and communications specialist helping people to “Conquer the Conversation,” and create improvement in sales, customer service and team dynamics. To bring Erin to your event or business, visit, email or call 847-868-4464.

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