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Handling Hostility, Sarcasm and Cynicism

Chapter 4: Handling Hostility, Sarcasm

and Cynicism

Tools for Anger Work-Out

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is hostility?

When I am hostile I am:

  • sarcastic, filled with bitter humor.
  • biting and acerbic in my criticism of others.
  • cynical and unmoved.
  • suspicious and often unlikable.
  • defensive, paranoid, and self-protective.
  • untrusting and disbelieving in others.
  • self-focused rather than other focused.
  • lacking in tolerance for the behaviors of others.
  • turned off to others concern, caring, or nurturing.
  • blinded by my own self-absorption.
  • bitter over real or imagined negative treatment I've received from others, past or current.
  • sour on life.
  • quick to attack others for their real or imagined faults and failings.
  • inwardly outraged over the unfairness of life.
  • quick to believe that nothing good is happening in my life.
  • unable to see the redeeming graces or features in people, places, or things.
  • hiding behind a wall or shield, unwilling to allow others into my life.
  • disagreeable, filled with the yes… but attitude.
  • ready for a fight or argument.
  • antagonistic in my attitude towards others.
  • a bomb ready to be detonated.
  • setting myself up to be abused, rejected, disapproved, or unloved.
  • fulfilling the prophecy that others do not care about me by turning them off without giving them a chance.


How does hostility affect me physically? Emotionally?

Hostility can result in physical experiences of:

  • tightness in my chest.
  • throbbing in my heart.
  • warm blush in my face.
  • profusive sweating.
  • high blood pressure.
  • tightness in my jaw.
  • churning in my stomach.
  • constipation or diarrhea.
  • coldness in my hands and/or feet.
  • tenseness in my forehead.
  • tension headaches.
  • pounding in my temples.
  • profound exhaustion.


Hostility can result in emotional experiences of:

  • fear and confusion regarding the reactions and opinions of others.
  • disinterest in the feelings of others.
  • wanting to have attention drawn to me.
  • wanting to be given sympathy.
  • Self-pity.
  • being lost and unclear about the direction my life is taking.
  • feeling cheated in life.
  • feeling betrayed, unsupported, and uncared for.
  • desiring revenge or personal vindication.
  • being unable to forgive or forget the real or imagined hurts.
  • lacking generosity or goodwill for others.
  • needing to protect myself at any price.
  • wanting to attack before I am attacked.
  • lacking enthusiasm for personal growth activities.
  • bitterness about the status of my life, both emotionally and materially.
  • the futility of life.
  • submitting to negative beliefs, like life's a bitch and then you die.
  • hopelessness and a bleak outlook for the future.
Why am I hostile?
Hostility is aroused in me when I:
  • consider all the inequities of life.
  • realize the perversity of people, business, or politics.
  • consider the offensive treatment I received in my family of origin.
  • review all the real or imagined failures in my life.
  • see wicked people get ahead in life.
  • perceive that I am being or have been treated unfairly.
  • find that my efforts toward self-improvement have reached a plateau.
  • realize that I will need to exert increased efforts to attain my goal.
  • blame others for keeping me from success in life.
  • recognize that things over which I have no control prevent me from experiencing the good things in life.
  • feel coerced, forced, or cajoled into doing something I really don't want to do.
  • feel like I am being backed into a corner.
  • realize that I am the target of someone else's efforts to change or alter my behavior.
  • am reminded of things I've said or asked for in the past, which I no longer believe in or want to pursue.
  • realize that what others are telling me is correct, but I stubbornly hold onto my negative beliefs because they allow me my self-pity.
  • am being interrupted in the midst of my pity party.
  • someone challenges my negative or critical viewpoint.
  • someone offers a more promising, optimistic point of view.
  • recognize that as a human being I am subject to making mistakes and experiencing failure.
  • recognize that the human condition brings with it pain, suffering, and death.
  • realize that I am an imperfect mortal.
  • can't get others to share my high expectations for work or community performance.
  • made aware of the tragedy, travails, and hardship we are confronted with daily.
  • fear that I will never be able to accomplish my lifelong dreams because of things out of my control.
  • feel cheated because after a life of hard work, honest, and clean living I am suffering a major setback in my life.
  • recognize that coming from a dysfunctional family got me off on the wrong foot.
  • am confronted about my backsliding or relapsing by those who care about and support me.
  • when my personal problems are outlined for me in a behavioral intervention by the people who love me.
  • experience chronic rejection, disapproval, or disinterest at the hands of those with whom I desire a closer relationship.
  • see my dreams slipping more and more out of my reach.
  • realize how unfulfilled and unaccomplished I really am.
  • see how much more work, energy, and effort I need to exert to attain even a slight degree of personal growth.
  • am confronted with the need to give up my addictive behavior, i.e., alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling, shopping, smoking, etc.
  • feel lost or out of focus in my life.
  • feel the song, Is That All There Is, applies to my life.

What irrational beliefs arouse my hostility?

  • No matter how hard I try, I'll not reach my goals of success and happiness.
  • Why should I always be the one who is giving, caring, and forgiving, in my life?
  • I should be rewarded for my good deeds, hard work, and sense of fair play.
  • I shouldn't have to suffer all this disappointment, pain, and suffering.
  • The good should always win out over the bad in life.
  • I should be treated fairly by others in my life.
  • There isn't anything that I should be unable to overcome in my life.
  • If I had education, good looks, and money things would come easily for me.
  • Evil, rotten, and unfair people should have to suffer in life, not me!
  • There should come a time when I no longer need to exert all this effort and energy to get ahead.
  • I should be rewarded for all of the suffering, turmoil, tragedy, and misfortune I have experienced.
  • Others should be supportive of my desire for self-improvement.
  • I shouldn't have to suffer confrontation when I am backsliding or relapsing. I deserve a break!
  • Others should treat me gently when they are giving me their support, caring, and nurturing.
  • There should be no injustice, suffering, or tragedy in life.
  • I should be able to live the way I want for as long as I can with no pestering from others to change or reform.
  • No one is going to tell me how to live and enjoy life.
  • People should do what I say, not what I do.
  • People should give me what I want, not what I ask for.
  • Why can't things go my way?
  • No matter how hard I work and try, I never seem to get ahead.
  • Life's a bitch and then you die.
  • Evil always wins out in the end. The good guy finishes last!
  • No one would like me the way I really am, so I'll reject them before they reject me.
  • I should be able to live forever.
  • I should be able to be successful, rich, and healthy with little or no effort on my part.
  • I shouldn't have to make sacrifices or experience self-deprivation in order to achieve the things I want.
  • My parents should have given me a better start in life.

What are the negative effects of my hostility?

Because of my hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism, I find that:

  • people seek me out infrequently.
  • it is hard to sustain friendships and close, lasting relationships.
  • there is less enjoyment in my work, play, and life in general.
  • I am not sought out to be a support person in someone elses' life.
  • my philosophy of life is open to criticism and attack.
  • I am a ready target for personal attacks.
  • I am often misunderstood.
  • I often feel ignored, invisible.
  • I lack motivation in my desire for personal growth, recovery, and wellness.
  • I feel cheated by life and feel a need to get revenge.
  • I hurt others' feelings, then can't understand why they feel hurt.
  • I become an open target for abuse, negative confrontation, and criticism from the others in my life.
  • I tend to seek out others who are at least equally hostile, sarcastic, and cynical to feel good about myself.
  • I look down on those who are making an honest, concerted effort toward their own self-improvement.
  • I am caught up in a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies of self-failure, self-defeat, rejection, disapproval, and lack of personal success.


How can I overcome my hostility?

In order to overcome my hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism, I need to:

  • rethink my philosophy of life.
  • make an honest inventory of my behavior toward others.
  • analyze the effects of my hostile behavior on me and on others.
  • develop a set of rational beliefs about the realities of being a mortal being in the human condition.
  • become less cause oriented in my view of life.
  • recognize that the underdog can be successful if that person takes control of his own life and stop wasting energy blaming others or engaging in self-pity.
  • give permission to the support people in my life to give me honest feedback and confrontation when I am being unfaithful to my program of recovery.
  • recognize that I can control only myself and my reactions.
  • abandon the struggle to control things and people out of my control.
  • recognize that most of my hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism is a control-related problem, namely my being unwilling to let go of the need to control.

Steps to handling hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism:


Step 1: To overcome my hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism, I must admit that this is a problem for me. To do this, I need to review the following questions in my journal:

  • Which of the characteristics of hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism listed in the first section of this chapter apply directly to my behavior?
  • What side-effects do I experience when I am hostile?
  • What are the emotional effects of my hostility?
  • What are the negative consequences of my hostility?
  • What irrational beliefs lead to my hostility?
  • What are the causes of my hostility?
  • What keeps me from accepting my hostility as a problem?
  • What further proof will convince me that hostility is a problem for me?
  • What does the fact of admitting that my hostility is a problem mean about my ability to be honest in my self-assessment?


How big a problem is my current hostility:
  • on the job?
  • at home?
  • in my marriage?
  • in my friendships?
  • with my health?
  • with my ability to gain full personal recovery?


Step 2: Once I have admitted that hostility is a problem for me, I need to inventory my philosophy of life.
Personal Philosophy of Life

My philosophy of life is based on:

  • Are these beliefs irrational? If they are, what rational beliefs could replace them? My current beliefs:      My replacement beliefs:
  • What causes in the world, the nation and my community do I feel strongly? How do these causes influence my attitude about life? What new strategies could I develop to address these causes? How can I be less hostile, sarcastic, or cynical about life?
  • How can I promote the underdog without feeling the need to take control?
  • What beliefs about controlling the uncontrollable elements of life do I need to develop?
  • Once I've analyzed this philosophy of life I'll record my new philosophy in my journal.


Step 3:  With a new, less hostile, less sarcastic, and less cynical philosophy of life, I need to integrate the new rational beliefs into my emotional responses:

  • How open am I to changing the way I view inequities of life?
  • Am I ready to hand over the responsibility of control to others? How detached from others can I be?
  • What emotional responses would be healthy for me when I see suffering, hurt, pain, and failure in others?
  • When I experience a set back, failure, or loss, what emotional response do I need to evoke in myself to keep from relapsing into my old hostility, sarcasm and cynicism?
  • What other emotional responses could I develop to handle my hostile, sarcastic, or cynical behavior?


Step 4: Once I have integrated the new emotional responses into my belief system I need to change my behavior to reduce my hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism:

  • What new behavior patterns could I develop to reflect my amiable, approving, and confident self?
  • How can I give to my network of supporters permission to confront me when I slip into my old behavior patterns?
  • How can I reinforce the increase and sustaining of these new behaviors? What cues would catch my attention?
  • How can I reflect my new found belief that I must accept that I am unable to control the uncontrollables in life and that this fact is OK with me?
  • How can I measure my success in achieving a change in my hostile behavior?
  • Will people always give me the chance to change from my old, hostile ways? How will patience and understanding help to keep me on track?
  • My amiable, approving, confident behavior will include:


Step 5: Now that I have (a) realized the need for a less hostile philosophy of life and (b) integrated my new emotional responses to reality, and (c) identified a set of new behavior traits to overcome this hostility.


I will assess the status of my hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism. If I still feel the negative effects of hostility, I will return to Step 1, and begin again.