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Mastering Anger/upset over small matter


i walked into a restaurant to be seated. along the way, i saw a young waitress walking fast toward the area i needed to cross. she was headed for a table full of people. i was walking in a horizontal direction and she vertical. i'm pretty sure she could see me coming from the side. i thought she would stop or at least slow down after seeing me, especially since i am a fair size guy with a long beard. she was young, smaller framed, and slim. her fast walking forced me to walk faster, so i could avoid her blocking my way or having to walk around her. i hate the fact that i didn't come across as even a little intimidating to her. although i beat her to the crossing point, i feel that she won, because i think she was trying to make me walk faster so that i could hurry out of her way. i hope i am wrong. i feel owned by her. i'm just looking at this from my point of view. if i were in her shoes i would have absolutely stopped after seeing someone like me coming in this distance. i run into situations like this all of the time. i would love helpful feedback on coping with this situation in a healthy matter.

Hi, Greg,

What an interesting question! Congratulations on noticing what transpired and being curious about what is underneath your experience.

The most outstanding issue in your description is how you come to the conclusion that the waitress' actions were in any way related to you.

I appreciate that you realize you're looking at this from your own point of view. I think, however, (and you're free to disagree), that the main issue in this question is that you DO come primarily from your point of view. It IS possible that the waitress was not aware of you at all. Had you not altered your pace, she might have run into you and been surprised you were there.

Here are some questions you could ask yourself, as you work to unravel this:
What in me leads me to believe that others notice and react to me, whenever I come around them?
What goes on in me that I believe other people look at things, and react to things, the way I do?
What in me causes me to "hate the fact that I didn't come across as even a little intimidating to her"?
Why is walking through a restaurant a contest, in which one person is the winner and another the loser?
Just because another person does not notice, and make way for me, what makes me feel I am "owned" by that person?

Getting answers to these questions will be very helpful to you.

The truth is that no matter what happens in life, other people involved ALWAYS have their point of view, ALWAYS have something going on with them that is helpful if we but see or know it.

Here's an exercise you can do to help yourself get more of an idea of what this young waitress' point of view might be.  Imagine yourself BEING the waitress.  (I'm a waitress. I about ___ tall, about ___ old, with hair that is _____ color. I work at _______ restaurant. Describe what you think it might be like to be that waitress at that restaurant (for example, there are a lot of patrons who expect quick service, or the cook is really grouchy, or the table in the corner is very demanding today). Use the first person and talk out loud. Now have the waitress describe what is happening when a bigger man wearing a beard comes into the restaurant and is walking a path that will cross hers.  Say this out loud, too.

When you're finished, notice if you learned anything--about yourself or about the point of view of the waitress.  This exercise is a good one for you to use on at least a daily basis. Not only does it get us out of seeing things exclusively from our own point of view, it also helps us have empathy for others, AND it widens our understanding of people and events on the earth.

The issue about feeling "owned" by this waitress, given the experience, leads me to believe that you have not developed a good sense of personal boundaries. This means clearly experiencing where you begin and end, and where others begin and end, particularly on a level of energy. For us to truly be able to join with others (as in marriage), it's best if we first develop a sense of our personal boundaries. The healing for that can come from the following exercise.

When you're confronted with such a situation again (or even when you're sitting with friends), practice telling yourself (in your own head):  "That's you over there in that body, walking fast. This is me, with my beard and tallness, going to be seated for a meal." "That's you, not seeing or paying attention to me; this is me, paying LOTS of attention to you."  "That's you, appearing to be offering me a contest for space; this is me in this body, unable to resist a contest."  Just spend some time practicing being in your own separate body and noticing how others are separate from you.

Finally, this part is a guess from me, but one that comes up strongly when I read your question. I have the idea that you have been the center of someone's attention most of your life (like a mother, for example). Because of that, you have grown accustomed to thinking that that other person (and now, other people in general) are aware of you and of what you need and want, because your experience of being the center of that person's attention has led you to believe that others "attend" to your presence, and are aware of you whenever you are in their presence. IF this is so, it would be a great idea for you to work to develop empathy (the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes), so your own adult relationships can work out well for you. The exercise I've given you can help with that. You'll just need to choose to develop empathy, and then apply your efforts to that end.

If you're feeling angry about this incident (which you don't really say), then you will also hold a "should" inside of you (about how the world is supposed to be). It might sound like this, for example:  "Whenever I'm walking in your direction, because of my size and appearance, you should notice I'm there and make way for me."  Or, "Other people should feel somewhat intimidated by me, because of my size. Especially, people much smaller than me should feel intimidated and make way for me."  Or, "If somebody doesn't notice our trajectories are about to cross, they're deliberately trying to send a message to me. They should not do that."  Note that none of these "shoulds" is really accurate. If they were, you would have had a different experience. Most of our "shoulds" are not accurate. In fact, anger is attempting to point out to us that ideas we have of how things in our world "should" or "should not" happen are not correct and need to be updated or changed. Whenever you feel anger arise, check to see what your "should" is and then, if you don't want to get angry over that particular thing again, find a way to change/update your "should". Do this by identifying the truth of the situation, as you've been attempting to do with this one.

I hope this is helpful, Greg.  Keep asking those questions! It's a great way to grow and evolve.

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Ilene L. Dillon, M.S.W.


As a "Recovering Angry Person" and psychotherapist, I have thoroughly explored Anger and its related emotions, hurt, fear, depression and guilt. I'll give a free half-hour of coaching to anyone who can ask me a question I cannot address!


36 years as a family, individual and group psychotherapist. 15 years of teaching for California Probation Officers and Psychotherapists. Author of "Exploring Anger with Your Child" (now "The ABCs of Anger in its updated version). Personal, clinical and group work with anger, including in the parenting arena.

C.A.M.F.T. (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) N.S.A. (National Speakers Association) Professional Member since 1984

Magazines: Woman's Day, Personal Excellence, Care Notes Newspapers: Marin Independent Journal, The FAX, San Francisco Chronicle, in-house publications for therapy organizations Books and CDs: Total of 17 published works (

M.S.W. from University of California in Berkeley Two California Licenses: Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker Lifetime Jr. College Instructor License in California Host of Internet radio program (since 2004)Full Power Living, focused on "awakening the world to the power and importance of human emotions"

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