Looking at anger
Cast off anger from heart/like an arrow from the bow, so that you may again be friends/And live together in harmony." — Atharva Veda 6, 42.1
AMONG the internal foes which constantly try to destroy a person, anger occupies prime place. It is a strong emotion, excited by a real or an imagined injury and involves a desire for retaliation. It effaces reason, making a person commit acts which cannot even be dreamt of.
Indignation, fury and resentment are different varieties of anger classified according to the degree of intensity. A good man’s anger lasts for a second, a midling’s for three hours, a base one’s for a day and a night and a great sinner’s, until death, so say the sages.
According to an
ancient story, a priest and a cobra lived near a temple in the eastern
part of India, the snake would bite people as they came to worship at
the temple. Consequently, they stopped praying. The priest was
worried. He summoned the cobra. And, by means of a spell, made the
snake promise never to bite anyone again. People restarted visiting
the temple. Since they were not fearful of the cobra now, they began
to tease the reptile. They hit and dragged the snake mercilessly. One
day the priest was aghast to see the bruised and bleeding reptile.
"How did this come to be?" enquired the priest. "I have
been abused ever since you condemned me to my promise", retorted
the cobra. "I told you not to bite", pleaded the priest,
"But I did not tell you not to hiss,"he added.
Innumerable studies have tried to verify beliefs about anger even though they hardly have any scientific support. In fact, it seems that many beliefs about anger persist in spite of the discomforting studies. They persist only because they reflect certain values of our society. As the stoic philosopher, Seneca, observed 2,000 years ago: "We make excuses for our vices because our vices excuse us." The belief that we cannot control anger, allows us to say and do things "in the heat of the moment".
Episodes in our ancient sacred literature pinpoint that our worst enemy, lurking within us, is anger. Scriptures say that an angry person opens his/her mouth but shuts his/her eyes. Anger begets injustice, rashness, persecution, jealousy, cruelty and harsh comments. All religions have suggested steps to avoid getting worked up and to maintain a balance of approach, even under provocation. They advise people to nip it in the bud and urge them to be serene and tranquil under all circumstances. Srimad Bhagavadgita says: "There are three pathways to hell which destroy a human being; lust, anger and greed. Therefore give up these things" (16.21) And, the Holy Koran says: "They are the doers of good who master their anger".
Does your health benefit from expressing anger openly or should you bottle it up and count to ten? Should temper tantrums be the preserve of toddlers or would all benefit from letting our anger out and clearing the air?
Anger is one of the first emotions a child feels. We don’t describe toddlers as going through the ‘terrible twos’ for nothing. It is their temper that is terrible. It is an age when children first find themselves able to walk, talk and grab things which were previously out of reach. When they are stopped by their parents, they show their frustration and anger by howling, screaming and stamping their feet — characteristics of a classic temper tantrum.
Psychologists have not yet agreed on a definition of anger that applies to humans. Scientists agree that anger doesn’t actually make our ‘blood boil’ or our eyes ‘see red’, but it does cause certain changes in the body. Explains P.R. Deshpande, a Mumbai-based physician: "More sugar and adrenaline pour into the bloodstream. The heart pumps faster, blood pressure rises, blood flow quickens, muscles get tense". Consequently, the body shifts into high gear, generating the energy needed for action.
So what do you do when you are hot under the collar? Do you let yourself go and shout, throw dishes, pound pillows, beat up your child, have a good cry or sulk, stay silent planning, conniving and working out a plan of retaliation?
Those in favour of giving vent to anger say there is a physiological basis for the feel-better feeling that follows emotional release. After all anger is associated with the release of ‘epinephrine’ and ‘norepinephrine’— the same hormones that are produced in the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress. These hormones quicken the pulse, increase blood pressure and blood sugar levels and constrict blood vessels to the digestive tract.
"You know what I do when I am angry? I hit a pillow. Try that", suggests the psychiatrist, played by Bill Crystal, to his New York gangster client, Robert De Niro, in the Warner Brothers' movie Analyze This. But it is bad advice, according to new research by social psychologists.
Even more disturbing are, the researchers found, books and articles that recommended ‘catharsis’ as a good method of dealing with anger. This actually may foster aggression by giving people the permission to relax their self-control.
In the study, which appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Brad Bushman, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, Iowa, US, found that angry subjects who hit a punching bag were more aggressive in blasting their rivals in a competitive task with loud, unpleasant noises than subjects who did not hit a punching bag. Aggression also increased when the subjects first read a bogus article describing research purportedly showing that hitting an inanimate object was "an effective way of venting anger".
If you are chronically angry, forgive. Sometimes life is unjust. But it is even more unfair when, eating to stifle anger, you punish yourself for others’ insensitivity, advises Williams.
A recent study conducted by Carlos Iribarren at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Programme, California, says anger and hostility as character traits may start damaging the arteries of even young adults. The 10-year study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that those who displayed high levels of anger and hostility were more likely to develop artery calcification, a hardening of the arteries that may not produce recognisable symptoms but can lead to heart disease.
People who are highly anger-prone are nearly three times more likely to have a heart attack than those who are not, according to Janice Williams, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina. The connection held true even after researchers took into account other major risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity.
A test that measures the heart’s response to anger and mental stress may help identify people who are at risk of having a heart attack. In a new study, Mark Ketterer of Michigan, US, found patients who reported higher levels of irritability/anger in response to (a metal stress test) were also more likely to display ‘ischemia’ — a reduced oxygen supply to the heart muscle. Anger has to be thought of as a risk factor for heart disease, said Ketterer.
As many as 25 per cent people feel chronically angry at work, according to a report from the Yale School of Management in the US. Results from a survey of 1,000 employees indicated that the most common sources of workplace anger included supervisors and bosses, unproductive colleagues, tight deadlines and heavy workloads. Angry employees tended to be bored on the job, had low energy and felt ‘stuck’ in their position, said the report. Workplace anger was also associated with aggression and violence.
The biggest problem we face is to learn
how to discharge anger in a manner which is acceptable to society and
healthy for the self.