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Anger at a friend’s inappropriate behavior could be triggered by past events

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 05/08/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’ve belonged to a women’s guild for over eight years and both the work we do and the members themselves are very dear to me. Deidre has been a member for more than three years and when I first met her we were teamed up to work closely together. It was really fun because she had high energy, appeared intelligent, we worked well together, and I was initially very open-minded toward her. Unfortunately, our relationship has aggressively deteriorated.    
  
Deirdre often has to be the center of attention, will sidle up to whoever is in charge (or has social presence at the time), and compliment that person incessantly. Deidre is also inappropriate with her sexual comments. Once in a while, I understand but, to be honest, I really don’t want to hear about a 68-year-old’s vibrator or that she thinks the young waiter is sexy. I’m not a prude but she overdoes it and it’s just not that funny. 

What concerns me most is that she’s a troublemaker. She’ll listen to someone’s conversation, take what that person is saying out of context, twist it, tell others and start problems. It makes me so angry that she is manipulative and an agitator, but no one else in our club seems to be aware of it but me. They are blinded by her humor, high energy and charm.

I’m writing to you because I know I’m overreacting and giving her way too much power. My husband can’t understand why she’s so important to me and he’s right, because I get angry enough at her that I’m thinking of leaving our group and volunteering elsewhere. He and my daughter can’t believe I’d let myself be chased away from all my dear friends just because of Deidre. I know they’re correct, but this anger consumes me and I know that’s not healthy, either. I’d appreciate your feedback.

— Georgia

Dear Georgia,
I’m glad that you’re conscious of your anger. Even though Deidre’s actions might easily evoke resentment to anyone in your situation, it’s positive that you’re reflecting on your feelings and asking yourself whether or not your anger toward Deidre is stronger than you’d expect and, therefore, causing your social life emotional havoc.

Imagine you’re driving and get dangerously cut off by another driver. If you immediately get enraged and fantasize pushing the driver off the road, pulling him out of his seat and slamming his head repeatedly with the door, you’d probably agree that would be an extreme expression of anger for what happened. Extreme anger reactions are often due to an accumulation of feelings of past similar events. If you’ve been cut off and pushed aside by many people in your life, this most recent occurrence could trigger an explosion of built-up rage.

I appreciate your family pointing out that your anger is over-the-top and that you’re allowing Deidre to become too important. In order to change your feelings at a core level, however, you sometimes need to ask yourself, “Why?” I’m not trying to take away the fact that her behavior is truly offensive to you, but could she be triggering similar events in your past? If so, this is an opportunity to heal all of it. Anger is resentment at being hurt. Was there someone in your life that frequently had to be the center of attention and would push you aside? Have you been hurt in the past by friends’ gossip, splitting, or manipulation? Have you had to endure others who expressed themselves without a filter and said whatever they thought, whether it be inappropriate sexually or socially? 

If asking yourself these questions conjures memories of past people and hurtful circumstances, it might be a good idea to write down your full memory of each situation. If you start to feel angry, it’s clear that old, unfinished feelings are bothering you as well. As you experience and process these feelings, there’s a very good possibility that Deidre’s conduct will become less important and anger-provoking.

With the lessening of anger, you might consider spending time with Deidre alone to reinforce what you originally liked about her. More importantly, reach out to other members of your group and spend time with them individually to reestablish and strengthen the relationships that have meant so much to you all these years.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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