A man is about as big as the thing that makes him angry
— Winston Churchill
Anger is considered a ' negative' emotion. But when channelised for a higher or greater cause, anger can be used for transformation, as shown by Irom Sharmila, Subhas Chandra Bose or Raja Ram Mohan Roy. However, most often, anger is counterproductive and self-destructive.
Parveen came to us with a problem of angry outbursts. The following are snatches of conversation from the first of few sessions.
Client: Doctor, I cannot control my anger.
Therapist: Okay… can you please elaborate? C: Small things irritate me, and then I explode. I become abusive and I cannot control myself.
T: Okay… so, little things keep irritating you. They pile up and then you burst out.
T: What do you do when these little things irritate you?
C: I don't do anything!
T: Can you give me an example when an outburst occurred recently?
C: For example, last Sunday I took my daughter for an outing. I was anyway a little irritated due to my office work. My daughter started being very stubborn — she wanted a very expensive doll. I suddenly lost my temper and just thrashed her, said things I would normally never have said. I feel very ashamed of myself.
T: I see… what happened in office?
C: They are just small regular things… I was irritated with my team as I had told them to do something, explained it to them… they said they understood and then produced something absolutely crappy…
T: So, what were you irritated at?
C: They said that they had understood and yet they did not deliver…
T: So, if they don't deliver, what happens?
C: It's not just about the delivery of the product. It's their attitude which irritates me.
T: What about the attitude?
C: That they take their work for granted… that they cannot function maturely…. T: So you don't share a similar attitude towards work, and let's assume they behave immaturely.
What about it irritates you?
C: I feel taken for granted. I feel helpless.
T: What did you do?
C: I shouted at them and then made sure that they corrected the mistakes.
T: So, the shouting reduced your irritation?
C: Well, not really. I just pushed my irritation aside for the time being to make sure that the work got done. But I was still very irritated. So, when my daughter was being stubborn, I snapped…
T: What happened when your daughter was being stubborn?
C: I just felt so taken for granted and just didn't know what to do…
Anger can be of various types. Here are some that may resonate with you.
Anger as a coping strategy:
Here, Parveen finds it difficult to cope with situations, she feels helpless and this triggers her anger. If she acknowledges her helplessness at the onset of an outburst, she can devise an effective strategy to deal with the situation. What Parveen thought of as small incidents in office were actually triggers for her anger. If she dealt with the irritation at the time she experienced it, she may have been more successful at preventing the outburst later.
Solution: When you feel " helpless", don't be ashamed of the feeling.
Acknowledge it and then find a strategy to deal with the situation that is making you feel helpless. In Parveen's case, it might be that she needs to communicate more effectively, or when she delegates, she needs to assess the work progress more closely. When you plan your strategy, also think of alternative strategies. A strategy might not give an instant solution. It is important to stay focused on the solution.
Anger as a grudge:
When we hold on to anger towards a person or a situation long after the event has happened.
For example: " I can never forgive my sister- in- law for what she did to me immediately after I got married." It may not matter that the person has minimal contact with her sister- inlaw now. This grudge creates bitterness within and hampers one's ability to enjoy life fully. We feel " right" and " justified" in holding on to this kind of an anger even though we may be the only ones who are affected by it.
Solution: Is to forgive the person and let go of the internal pain.
Often when we say, "I can't forgive", we actually mean to say that, " I won't forgive". We can always choose to forgive and let go. It might take some time.
Anger to defend ourselves:
When we feel personally attacked, we respond aggressively with anger. 'I am being attacked' is often a perception than a reality. A lot of times, criticism or others' behaviour makes us feel vulnerable, and we use anger to deal with this feeling.
Solution: Acknowledge your vulnerability. Understand the things in your environment which are making you feel attacked or intimidated. You can make a list to identify and recognise them in real time, and find another strategy to deal with the situation. Detach your selfworth from " others' response". Try to accept other people's behaviour as their problem.
Anger is only an emotion.
Though on the one hand it can lead people to do shocking things, actually it is an indication that something is bothering us. If we can go beyond this emotion and try to find a solution to either change or effectively deal with the situation, we would have used it constructively. Ultimately, it is our choice how we use it and deal with it.
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com