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Why People Hate and Buck Authority


Observing public reactions to rules and policies during the COVID-19 pandemic got me thinking about exactly why people would ignore and defy safeguards instituted to prevent them from getting sick and dying. This rebellion is similar to dysregulated eaters insisting that they don’t like people telling them what to do even when they know it’s in their best interest. Here are some of the reasons this happens in both situations. 

  1. Low frustration tolerance. Through temperament, upbringing or both, some people get frustrated more easily than others. Not everyone has learned how to ease frustration by practicing optimism, pacing themselves and self-soothing when life gets tough. To their detriment, many people lack skills to manage frustration.
  1. Confusing care and control. Children raised by controlling, critical, demanding, and domineering parents often cannot tell the very real difference between being cared for and being controlled. As adults they’re convinced that others want to wrest power and autonomy from them, even when people are offering heartfelt concern and care. With their guard constantly up, they may interpret being told to eat in certain ways that “are good for them” as people trying to insist they eat that way.
  1. Rebellion. Growing up with authoritarian, my-way-or-the-highway parents, children must squelch their own anger in order to survive and often vow that in adulthood they’ll never let anyone boss them around. Later in life, still fighting childhood authority demons, they may react without considering whether their actions are helpful or hurtful to themselves or others. The fact that an authority figure wants them to do something is enough to make them take an opposing stance.
  1. Victimhood. Children who had their rights trampled on by parents, teachers, community or our culture may carry around wounds of victimhood as adults and see slights, insults, and unfairness where none are intended. When adults keep shouting “I have rights,” it often means they had too few of them growing up. As adults, they have the right to say what they want, but act as if they are still fighting to be heard and validated. 
  1. Poor self-care. Neglect and abuse in childhood may lead people to believe that they deserve poor treatment and aren’t worthy of health and happiness. Their major and minor personal choices are often self-destructive, repeatedly boomeranging back to convince them of their worthlessness. They believe it doesn’t matter if they take care of themselves, so they don’t. 
  1. Entitlement. If children are regularly allowed to break rules without suffering consequences, they grow up to believe there aren’t any and that they can do whatever they want and nothing bad will ever befall them. They live in a fantasy world assuring themselves that whatever happens to others will never happen to them and that no matter what they do, they and theirs are so special and unique that they will be untouched by negative consequences. This also happens when parents model this kind of rule-breaking behavior and are viewed as successes. This makes children believe they are untouchable and that the rules—eating and otherwise—don’t apply to them.