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Why We React Strongly When People Fail To Live Up To Our Expectations?

With age, the brain becomes less flexible. It is then difficult for it to modify a pattern or frame even if it is wrongly created or is out of use at the present time. There is a tendency in the brain to react negatively whenever it has to confront an input that is a mismatch for its related frames. For instance, a person who is accustomed to seeing the young behave obediently towards seniors gets scandalized when such behavior is not forthcoming.

This tendency of the brain explains why we react strongly when we come across people who fail to live up to our ‘framed’ expectations. Most of us value honesty and try to be honest in our dealings.
So, when we find our pockets picked in a crowded place, or shoes lifted from a temple premises, we
feel very sad. This sadness is not so much for the loss, but for the ill-fitting detail of cheating in the
existing frame of expectations in our brain. In the same way, people expect their children to be truthful, honest, and well-behaved. But when children fail to live up to these expectations, parents tend to react violently, particularly when they are faced with such situations for the first time.

The problem does not lie with the incidents of life, but with our own frames of expectation from
the world. Every time we are assailed with negative emotions like sadness, anger, depression, or
spite, we can analyze the situation and see how the inputs from the world failed to fit in the frames of our brain. We might be surprised to learn that the external world is not responsible for our pain, but it is our own frames that are responsible. Finding a defective frame and trying to change it generally demands tremendous effort and may initially create a kind of aversion, especially if the defective frame is well established in our brain. But in the long run this change helps us to adjust better to different circumstances, which results in a more balanced life and less painful reactions.

For example, if we tell a lie, assuming that we are normally truthful persons, our conscience pricks.
Depending on the nature of the lie, we may feel bad and become mentally restless. If we have a strong commitment to the frame of truthfulness, we may even lose sleep or attempt extreme actions of self-punishment. The best antidote for such a situation is not to change the frame of truthfulness, but to modify the frame of false pride in a way that allows us to confess the guilt to the right person, or if this is not possible, to perform some kind of non-violent expiation. Therefore, first we are to identify the wrongly built frames, or their incorrect fillings, without altering the correct ones. Then comes the process of modification or total replacement, which needs energy and time.

Source – Prabhuddha Bharata Magazine October 2008 issue – article titled Frames and Their Fills
by Swami Samarpanananda.