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Published on: 12/1/05 6:32 AM

Feature: The Art of Anger Management

Let off steam but in controlled doses

Anger management is vital for good health.

Aggression and shouting are emotions that are always denigrated, never rewarded. `Shrieking like fishwives’, `squabbling like monkeys’, `fighting like demons’… these adages that describe the release of anger make it clear that anger is a negative emotion.

Actually, anger is a double-edged sword. Listen to what Dr. Vijay Nagaswami, psychotherapist and relationships consultant, has to say on the subject: “Unbridled anger can be destructive to individual and society alike. The angrier we get — and do nothing about — the more likely we are to hasten the ageing process, damage the circulatory system and eventually, reduce our longevity.”

Think about it. Boiling silently, repressing our rage and swallowing our chagrin just cannot be good for us. We become more vulnerable to anxiety, headaches and stomach troubles and worse, to depression. Explosive anger is linked with high levels of LDL (the bad) cholesterol, suppressed rage with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, both signs of impending heart disease.

Controlled release

Instead, we need to learn anger management. This, in Dr. Nagaswami’s words, is harnessing our anger to enhance performance, by a controlled release of anger. Just as the steam in an overheated pressure cooker has to be slowly released, we, too, must work out ways and means of expressing our anger in non-destructive ways.

What the experts call “good anger” makes us healthy. People who can control their anger invariably have more control over their smoking, drinking, and weight.

Once we learn anger management, we can study the causes of our anger and how often it raises its head. This can help us get a clearer picture of our nature, our vulnerabilities, and help us make smart decisions in life. Our anger also spurs us on to take action, preventive or pro-active. The person who can control his/her anger is a well-respected person; people gravitate more towards those who are seen to be stable personalities.

The experts recommend physical exercise as a way of letting off steam. Then, we need to configure our relationships in such a way that we are able to express our anger in small doses and not allow it to build up to unmanageable proportions. We need to learn a new vocabulary with which to express our anger; to learn to say `No’; to understand the limits of our tolerance and not stretch it such an extent that we feel exploited.

Before we lose our temper, we need to tell ourselves that we are angry and figure out the reason. If our anger is directed at a person, we need to tell him/her so, clearly and calmly. Then, we must follow up this statement with why we are angry, keeping our voices down, keeping the tone even and maintaining eye contact. We have to make it clear that we have a grievance and mean to be taken seriously. Just as we will not be heeded if we speak in a low, uncertain voice, we will be shunned if we shout needlessly. Getting one’s point across doesn’t call for a loud voice, it calls for the right tone.

Displaced anger

Dr. Nagaswami points out that relationships are often clouded by displaced anger: We are angry with the boss, we yell at the spouse; we are angry with the domestic help, we take it out on the children. When provoked, we behaviour irrationally, which makes us angrier. We need to remember that anger is another avatar of fear. When we feel extremely vulnerable and fearful, we experience maximum anger.

The next time you are in an argument, stick to the point and remember that the person arguing with you may push your buttons and get you ranting in no time. Be determined not to do so. Consider the reasons for your argument and reiterate them with clarity and determination. Be specific so your hearer is left in doubt where he/she erred. Do not descend into an exchange of personal attacks. That only muddies the waters.

So, whether it is the computer repair man who arrives many days after our call, or a demanding child/ spouse/ parent; someone who is rude to you at the grocers, don’t fume in silence. But don’t start to yell, either. Take the happy, healthy medium. Express your anger in a controlled and effective manner. State why you are upset and what you see as the solution to the problem. Then leave the place.

Cool tips

* Remember that anger is the other side of fear, so do some introspection.

* Divert your anger into physical exercise.

* Learn to say `No’ firmly but politely.

* Express anger in small, controlled doses.

* Clarify your anger in your own mind before getting into an argument.

* Have full control over your words.

* Be dispassionate when stating your grievance, don’t let a `victim’ note creep in.

* Speak up in a clear voice.

* Keep your voice down, don’t shout.

* Always maintain eye contact, a shifty eye dilutes your stand.

* Don’t ever descend into an exchange of insults.

* If you find the situation going out of control, excuse yourself from the scene immediately.

This ran in THE HINDU of 1 Dec 2005.

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angeranger managementDr. Vijay Nagaswami

Sheila Kumar • December 1, 2005

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