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“Anger as a shield”- 28 May 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 21:50

He was very intelligent but miserably poor. Since he was a merit holder he got admitted into an elite and prestigious engineering college in a city. He came from a far flung village and had only two sets of clothes to wear-two shirts and two pyjamas. He did not own a well tailored trouser. He knew he was going to be ragged and teased and bullied like hell for his poverty and rustic behaviour and mannerisms. But he did not care. He developed a fierce exterior and decided he would bark off people. He was a keen student and his future lay in hard work and higher studies. So he was determined to make his career and would not care for people and their views. That became the hallmark of his personality- his aggressive stance with people who ridiculed or bullied him. Aggression became his chief tool in handling his hurt and humiliation, he knew no other way. Those who loved and respected him knew him as a kind and warm person who was ready to help and understand while the others feared and hated him.

A young girl in final year college showed an amazing sense of awareness and analysis of her trait of anger and aggressiveness. She came for help in tackling her anger which was becoming an emotional and social burden for her to handle as her reputation was at stake she said. But she described her journey eloquently and how she developed this emotion as her primary one. In her words ‘I developed anger as a shield against my insecurity. Both my parents were working and after school I had to stay in someone’s house for many hours till I was picked up by parents. I was quite fearful being in that house even though they were caring and hence never comfortable or at ease. I developed a tough exterior -by showing anger so that they left me alone. Anger made me feel protected and safe within myself. It gave me power over myself. But now it has become a bane. This habit has become too deep and I unnecessarily behave in an aggressive manner with all my peers. I need to change it soon.’ Never have I heard such a beautiful tracing of the origins of anger in a simple way! If only all people showed such insight into their minds and moods, self handling would be a lovely journey.

Another young girl developed an angry posture in social situations after she experienced sexual abuse multiple times. This happened once at her home with a visiting relative, it happened in a running train, a bus and on the road while she was walking and talking on her phone. After the initial shock and horror she learnt aggressive expressions and used them effectively. Converting her pain and shame into a protective form of anger improved her confidence but that was not her true nature she said. She hated men after her bad experiences and gave angry responses with all men. Make a difference between a defensive reaction and a conscious protective reaction. A defensive response needs awareness of the causes and a correction in behaviour.

Most parents might remember shouting and having fights with their teenagers for coming home late and teenagers shouting back in retaliation. What lies behind their minds are fears and anxieties for the safety of their children primarily, but what comes across is disapproval and control in an angry manner. It would be simpler if a parent just said ‘thank God you are back, I was worried sick’. The message the teen gets is ‘my mother was not worried but angry and for what I don’t know!’. ‘I had informed her that it would be late’. Anger is also used for blocking off communication and intimacy. Again if there is a fear or anxiety about communicating something or about getting intimate, people can get into fights to avoid each other totally. Among marriages, you will realise most arguments begin after dark, before going to sleep, so that they can turn their backs at each other and find peace!

Anger is known to be a secondary emotion and not a primary one. Anger comes as a defensive response to another initial emotion that goes unnoticed in most cases and gets converted instead into anger. For example, if a person is afraid, nervous, hurt, humiliated, frustrated, disappointed and so on, these emotions can get converted into anger and get expressed as anger. All negative emotions are part of our survival kit given by God and help us defend and protect ourselves. But tracing the origin of the emotion is very important for self awareness and self improvement. It is important to identify the underlying emotions which are buried under the anger response and in tackling them thoughtfully. There is a tremendous release in gaining insight into deeper layers of thought and emotions that actually hamper our future development.

 

Anger is a destructive emotion that destroys the person as also relationships and matured functioning. Continued anger harms the body as well as the mind. It obstructs in the development of better responses to difficult situations. Healthier and effective functioning requires effective methods and positive coping skills. If things can be handled in a positive manner without anger then we should explore those alternative methods. Instead of shielding ourselves with anger, we could become stronger by exposing ourselves to our vulnerabilities and our fragile humanness.

“Displacing Anger”- 14 May 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 21:48

The atmosphere was all charged up. Allegations and counter allegations were being fired at each other. The group divided into itself into three apparent alliances where emotions ruled supreme rather than reason and objectivity. Arguments were like ‘sloganeering’ and owing allegiance to the group rather than discussing the point in question. Nobody was in a mood to relent and admit one’s mistake. One member of the group was in dock due to serious problems arising out of negligence and administrative lapses. The member concerned too seemed unapologetic and unrelenting. Even if he did not want to admit his negligence, he could have apologised to the company and its members for creating the mess they all were in. But ‘NO’, he kept defending himself with all to see through the flawed arguments. He kept defending himself with the lame ‘conspiracy theory’, that hidden elements were out to malign him for no fault of his. All he had to do was to say ‘sorry’ at one level to all members for the mess and then plead not guilty. Instead he went tangent and ‘displaced’ all his frustrations, anger and guilt on the ‘so-called unknown elements’.

The General Manager of the department of Business development drafted and framed the new project proposal to be sent to another company of repute. He did it all by himself for it was an important one for their organisation. He did not allocate it to his team and his juniors but worked on it himself alone. After completing the proposal he packed it and asked his Senior Manager to deliver it soon. The reality was that there was a significant error in the proposal which went unnoticed by the GM. When the negative response of rejection came from the other company the GM lost his cool and fired his staff specially the Senior Manager. He blamed him for negligence and asked him why he did not look into the proposal carefully before he sent it. The SM was aghast and dumbfounded. He tried defending himself but could not in front of the rage of the GM who refused to see reason. The mistake was clearly done by the GM but he was only ‘displacing his anger’ onto the SM and making a scapegoat out of him.

A lady M was doing well on her job. She was being praised by her seniors and recommended for raise in salary and promotion too. In the last few years she had jumped two positions much to the anger of her colleagues. They were feeling frustrated, angry and jealous of her promotions. The responses a few of them gave her reeked of negativity. They alleged that ‘she was close to the boss’ who favoured her. They assassinated her character and her morals by making snide remarks behind her. Besides these ‘loose and baseless comments’, she was watched closely by jealous eyes for mistakes and errors made by her. The moment she made one, the mistake was highlighted and touted as a grave one. They enjoyed the feeling that she was not infallible! Her pride in herself was a source of distress to the ‘green horns’ as they delighted in making her embarrassed. Humiliating her was a game they played for self satisfaction as they regularly ‘displaced their anger and frustration’ at her.

‘Displacement’ is a defence mechanism mentioned by Sigmund Freud as a protective strategy used by the ego/self. When the self feels threatened by an object or a situation or a person, it gets into a protective mode of ‘pushing the blame on the other’. Doing this the self/ego absolves itself of the burden of negative emotions generated within the psyche for its own inherent weaknesses. Blaming it on the other seems the simplest solution to the problem without realising the truth which hurts badly the self image and self esteem of the person.

Politicians and lawyers use this strategy extensively to argue their point and plead not guilty which is a conscious process done thoughtfully. Politics is not about truth but creating a truth/reality for all to agree upon. We are all familiar with such political and legal games played by such people for meeting their own ends. That is not our subject matter however.

We are not talking about this conscious strategy but are mentioning an unconscious mechanism of self denial of the truth. Seeking the truth is a process of knowing about oneself. It’s a difficult process for it entails accepting one’s weaknesses, faults and bad deeds. It’s involves an awareness of one’s strengths and failings and a sincere acceptance of what is. The awareness becomes meaningful only when there is a desire for change for the better. Therefore, to evolve as a good and morally upright human being has to be a spiritual goal of moral uplift which has to be pursued throughout one’s life.

 

If a person says ‘I am like this and I will always be like this’, ‘I will not change, accept me or reject me’ speaks of an attitude of ‘stubbornness arising out of arrogance of the self’. Unjustified aggressive behaviour displaced on another is rampant in society more so in males. Such people are a nuisance to society, a burden, who spread disharmony and unrest. They are instrumental in creating stress and mental health problems in their personal homes, relations and in society by hurting others and setting bad examples of bad behaviour.

“Frustrated Aggressive males”- 30 April 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 09 May 2017 22:53

A woman M complained that her neighbour in her residential building, Mr. PC, harassed and bullied her whenever he could get a chance. If she ever attempted to say ‘hello’, he would bark at her and say ‘how dare you say so’! If she tried to give some suggestions in the maintenance of the building it was misconstrued and she was told ‘not to dare to advise him as he knew everything’. If she stood her ground she was threatened with ‘dire consequences’ and statements such as ‘see what I do to you’, ‘you will not know where to run’, ‘madam mind your business’, ‘get your IQ checked’, ‘are you mentally sick’, and all such intimidating statements had become common place. She was victimised no doubt, for reasons best known to him. Even if she was polite and matter of fact she was sure to get a nasty response. This was a classic case of a ‘frustrated aggressive male” (FAM).

Witness another interesting scene. A couple was travelling in a train. In that compartment there were all males and she was the only female. Incidentally, almost all men were gazing at her for whatever reasons known only to them. The fall-out was ridiculous and absurd to say the least. The husband of the woman began to get angry with his wife and began to blame her for the attention that the males were giving her!! It was not her fault at all! It sounded comic to us but for the woman it was tragic and traumatic. She defended herself but he was adamant. This is another case of the frustrated aggressive male (FAM), where he blamed her for his rising anger within against the other men. As he could not direct his anger against them he targeted his wife instead. He was also unaware of his real source of anger.

In psychology it is called a defence mechanism named ‘displacement’. We tend to ‘displace’ our inner hostilities and suppressed anger against the perceived weaker person and commit unjustified aggression. It is a mental health issue as it is an unconscious process of aggression routed through the repression and suppression of emotions related to other issues of childhood. Thus innocent people become ‘scapegoats’ of such frustrated aggressive males.  Anger and violence are not the same. Anger is a normal and justified emotion which is felt when one gets insulted, humiliated or bullied with no provocation, whatsoever. Every person with angry feelings, may not engage in violent acts, which may be verbal or physical. Aggression which is retaliatory and defensive is understandable but aggression which is unprovoked is mostly unconscious. Besides ‘displacement’ it could also spring from strong negative cultural and social prejudices and belief systems against specific groups, such as, women, low caste groups, poor people and children too.

A glaring example from history may explain the point. When Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out from the train in South Africa, in spite of him holding a valid ticket, it was a case of white supremacy, called racism. Gandhi spent the entire night on the cold chilly platform, full of anger, trying to understand his deep sense of anguish and how he should manage his emotions and what should he do with it. He resolved the anguish in a creative way by launching the ‘Quit India movement’ on his return to India. He had had enough of the racist aggression he realised. He vowed to take recourse to a non-violent resistance and curb explicit violence. But everyone is not Gandhi and hence not as enlightened as he to use civilised responses and behaviour.

Just like Gandhi’s experience of racism, as women, most of us experience ‘chauvinism and misogyny’. We experience ‘male supremacy and patriarchy’. We experience ‘discrimination and sexism’. These violent acts are based on social cultural beliefs of male superiority which is perpetrated by faulty parental training and upbringing which does not teach control and discipline. Although times are changing and men are being groomed differently, where overt violence is being looked down upon and curbed through pro-woman acts of law, the fact remains that a significant percentage of ‘FAM’s’ do exist.

When men take recourse to violence the first thing that goes out is the sense of ‘human dignity’. The dignity of the aggressor is also damaged as he appears to others as an irrational and uncouth person who cannot control his impulses. He is under-socialised as he thinks of himself in superior terms but actually behaves in an inferior manner. He thinks with false sense of pride that he can prove his superiority with his might of shouting down and dominating the other. His attacks are aimed at the dignity of the other person whom he considers inferior to himself. Thus his attitudes towards his own self, attitudes towards the others, his perceptions about the world and life in general are skewed up and many times beyond rational discussions. This forms the basis of his psychological personality and mental condition, which he reflects in his behaviour at home and in society.

Men may justify aggression as part of natural instincts. But as part of the process of evolution the refinement of the mind and spirit has to go on in a conscious way. Efforts have to be made to get better as a human being where we can uphold good values of equality, justice, dignity and good living. There is no justification for aggressive behaviour if directed against women, children and the weak – it is a weakness of self, a remnant of animalism within us.

 

“Unlock your mind though travelling”- 16 April 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 09 May 2017 22:51

Veena’s fear of heights and nervous excitement was contagious when she held her breath as the gondola at Langkawi islands slowly climbed up the thick rain forest mountains at a gradient of 45 degrees- the world’s second steepest ride, to the peaks at 950 meters! The green canopy was breath-taking and so were the fearful thoughts of mortality as she counted her moments! Shekhar said, it was his dream to see the bullet train of Japan which he did one year and fitted into his memory for life. On his travels he likes to take random rides on the local metro to observe the average citizens, to visit the shopping malls, to eat in the local restaurant, the local market to get a feel of the heart of the city, besides the popular tourist destinations which are a must see! He enjoys every moment like a child! Meghna overcame her fear of heights and of the deep ocean when she was pushed into a parasailing ride at a ripe age of sixty! Her mental parachute also opened as she went up and up into the air at a height of 150 meters effortlessly. Rehan advised his aunt, ‘there is no age-bar for sports and merry-go-rounds and it would be better late than never’! Thirteen year old Shriangi says with joy that ‘she loves travelling and has already visited 17 countries with her parents’. She likes to taste different foods, loves to see different types of cultures, their language, and know about people and take pictures’. She states off-hand that ‘if my career of architecture does not take off by way of not getting admission in a good school, I would take to photography and travel’! What would you say to that thought process – that she is too matured for her age or that the affects of travelling with a proper perspective speaks aloud as she makes mental calculations of her future goals and ambitions!

Clarke Quay on the sidewalks of Marina, Singapore, was bustling with people. The streets were packed with rows of restaurants with facilities of sit-in and sit-outs of different countries. We choose one Mexican joint for a change and sat down on high stools. The noise from the neighbourhood was deafening but contagious. There was loud and cheery merriment in the air as if it was a ‘mela’. We enjoyed the ambience of the open air street and ate heartily. It seemed the people were venting out their suppressed emotions accumulated from the daily grind! The quiet calming boat-ride in the Marina prior to it was such a terrific contrast to this hustle bustle. The Marina Bay Gardens was a technological marvel, unthinkable and unimaginable, straight out of the fantasy of films! The Universal studio amusement park of Singapore was also a gigantic fun filled jamboree of variety of rides and 3D animated experiences that was cathartic I would say! You can shout and scream to your hearts delight and as the roller coaster rides scare the daylights out of you! You forget yourself, your ego and your identity surely.

The value of these amusement parks cannot be undermined for the kids. When the social systems are in order and people are law abiding and believe in following the rules and life is generally hard and tough, you need legitimate outlets. In a developed country, the points of catharsis are also well planned thoughtfully and well demarcated and are absolutely essential for release and de-stressing. A city that cares for its people would need to build clean open spaces for loitering, fun filled amusement parks, clean green gardens, museums show-casing heritage, sanctuaries and the lot. Absence of such spaces would destroy the mental health of citizens as they would display abnormal behaviour on the roads and other public places where they should generally be rule abiding. In the absence of sensible spaces there is all round display of nonsensical behaviour.
Besides the mental reprieve and de-stressing during travel, there is a fair amount of mental growth by way of different experiences and adjustments. Travelling is like reading a book with all your five senses. Besides it being a sensory delight it is also a psychological one. It improves your mental well being and pushes up your immunity immensely. Travel forces you to be flexible as there is a fair amount of uncertainties that come your way. A landslide in a hill station in India disrupted our journey for days and the kids burst into tears at the news. Patience follows as you wait for nature to calm down and become friendly. Travelling at regular intervals is likely to interrupt your habitual patterns of thoughts and belief systems and assumptions of life as you closely watch different populations across the world and how they manage their life. Life in the hills and mountains are tough and fraught with dangers, while the islands are a different game of life altogether.
Psychological studies on the benefits of travel state that extended travel impacts personality changes and three traits out of the ‘Big Five’ traits increase with travel experiences. They mention factors such as ‘openness to experiences’, ‘agreeableness’, and ‘emotional stability’ which are major gains. Of courses travelling with the right perspectives cannot be undermined. Travel as a learning experience and travel just for its sake are two different shades of the mental parachute. You either open it up or just safe land into your ancient habitual cocoon.

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