Some of us in our teens are ‘cool under pressure’, ‘cool as a cucumber’ or ‘chilled out’. Some of us are hot-tempered, short-tempered or easily angered. If you are one of those who identify with the second set of descriptors, life could get a tad bit difficult. Losing one’s cool is never a pleasant feeling. You may get persistently described as short-tempered, stubborn and argumentative. Moreover, over a period of time, others almost stop bothering to find out why you are angry and what has hurt you. Its almost like, ‘this chap/girl is forever angry so forget it.’ At such a time it may start to feel like people are just mocking you or they just don’t care….and wait, its not over yet.
The most detrimental effect of anger is on the self. Think about this for a minute. How do you feel when you are angry? Do you feel like you are in control of the situation? Like you know what is happening? Like things are working out fine? No, you sure don’t. In fact, it’s pretty much the reverse. You may feel like life is just NOT good, God alone knows WHY this is happening. The apt word I think, is ‘out of control’. Anger can lead you to feel like your life and your feelings aren’t in your hands anymore. It’s like bus conductors, traffic on the roads, teachers, friends, parents….just about anybody can get you to be really angry and irritated. This is surely not a pleasant feeling. I’d like to pop a question here – is it worth it? All the emotional distress you undergo multiple times a day….is it really worth it? Think hard. What happens to your efficiency, concentration and happiness quotient when you’re angry? Surely it doesn’t help any of these. At the same time, managing anger is a difficult. Anger is a difficult feeling to deal with and overcome. I know this because as a psychologist, I do psychotherapy with adolescents who feel very angry. So come, let’s figure out how we can manage anger.
Why do we have difficulty controlling anger?
Anger is linked to ‘frustration tolerance’, or, simply, one’s ability to tolerate frustration. Most people who have difficulty controlling anger are also easily frustrated, even by minor irritants. What I mean is, if there’s something you want to do (a goal), and if anything interferes with it (a barrier); you’ve lost your cool. If you want to laze around after school (your goal) and your mom wants you to help in cleaning up (a barrier), you’re frustrated. ‘Why does mom have to do this?? I’m tired and I want to rest!!’…end result, you’re angry and ready to argue with mom.
Another example, you’re out playing. You see your friend slyly cheating. You ask him what he’s up to. He denies having cheated. You think ‘how dare he deny it?? Cheat!! I must teach him a lesson’. End result….you’re charged up, ready to grab his collar.
You may think, ‘isn’t this a natural way of reacting? What am I to change?’ The answer is this – it is the intensity of the anger we need to change, or control. And this will happen when we can tolerate these minor frustrations better. Life is full of such little irritants. The more we think these frustrations shouldn’t exist, the more and more we are angered and genuinely irritated. If, on the other hand, we accept that minor hassles are a part of life and importantly, that they do not majorly disrupt our lives, our temper would automatically cool off, we would be able to manage anger much better. For example, helping mom with kitchen work would only mean you laze around or play that video game 15 minutes later. It doesn’t mean you won’t get to rest. When we react with anger, it’s because we think, ‘damn, now I can’t rest”…isn’t this inaccurate? If you substitute this thought with, ‘Hmmm…ok, I’ll probably have to be with mom for a while, but not too bad, I’ll rest after 10 minutes’ you wouldn’t be angry. You’d be able to bear this little obstacle much better and manage your emotions too.
In the second example; well, yes, all of us prefer that people played fair…However, we cannot make others play fair. Even if we grab the other guy’s collar or hit him, he may or may not confess. Moreover, it’ll become a messy affair. Either you’ll end up in a brawl or he’ll go complain to his parents and then to yours. Ultimately, you’ll be pulled up even though he cheated. Is all the anger worth the while? A better approach would be, ‘hmmm…don’t think this guy’s going to give in…but that’s his problem. Even if today my team loses because of this, I can’t help him out of his ways if he doesn’t want to be helped.’
In such situations, you could also allow yourself to verbally know that you are angry. Tell yourself, ‘I’m obviously going to feel angry if he does that’. That gives you a vent to your emotions. Later it is easier for you to see that you cannot change another person’s behaviour even if it directly affects you.
Friends, remember that anger is not an easy emotion to experience. Your body and mind are all charged up when you are angry, and repetitive anger leads to a lot of internal wear and tear. Invest your anger carefully. Assess if the situation really deserves all the emotional investment before you react. Like I often tell those in therapy, keep the ‘remote control’ of your feelings in your hands, don’t give it all that easily to friends who cheat, crowd in the bus, or teachers or parents who irk us a bit.
Post contributed by: Malini Krishnan
Malini is a Clinical Psychologist and she worked with adolescents and young adults at Inner Space, from 2010 to 2015.