Rein in the rage

Rein in the rage

* 28 December: A software professional in Rohini shot after he accidentally knocked down a plate of chicken tikka

*10 January: A 17-year-old stabbed to death by four men when they were denied a screwdriver at a shop in north Delhi

* 11 January: Man dies in a suspected incident of road rage in Khan Market

For a city whose residents appear to value a plate of chicken tikka or a screwdriver more than a human life, the writing on the wall is clear. Delhi needs help. Road Rage, a study conducted by Sameer Malhotra, head of psychiatry and psychotherapy at Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, and released earlier this month has all of its 500 participants claiming they have witnessed incidents of road rage at some point or the other. It is perhaps time the Capital woke up to its pent-up anger.

In fact, mental health professionals say incidents of road rage and arguments that lead to killings are no more than triggers for a population battling the travails of a fast life, materialism, high-stress jobs, poor infrastructure and extreme weather conditions, among others.

This results in “displacement", which is “pent-up anger that you haven’t been able to deal with and you displace it on to somebody else", says professor Ashum Gupta, head of department, psychology, the University of Delhi.

Perpetrators of such crimes do not know how to deal with their anger. “Whilst all cities are facing similar problems because of increased urbanization, Delhi has a lower threshold of tolerance," explains Varkha Chulani, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Lilavati Hospital. She believes that such instances of aggression are more prevalent in Delhi than in other metros because of the “inherent brashness and brusqueness in north India".

Understanding anger

Anger is an emotion that is used to mask deeper feelings of hurt, grief or sadness. “While anger itself is a perfectly sane and normal human emotion, which needs to be expressed in a regulated manner, its manifestation in a violent manner, or rage, is the problem," says Dr Malhotra.

“Studies prove that cramped quarters, insufficient resources, increased competition, etc., manifest into aggression. These are known as ‘stressers’ and are certainly more prevalent in urban than rural environments," adds Mumbai-based psychologist Sonya Mehta.

Pent-up anger can have two extreme manifestations: passive, which is when the person bottles up emotion, sometimes for years; and active, which is what leads to violent outbursts. “Cases of passive anger typically cause self-harm, with people suppressing their feelings and this, over time, can cause various health problems such as cardiovascular (heart attacks, high blood pressure), respiratory (asthma, suffocation, stuffiness) and digestive (constipation, diarrhoea) and brain (stroke) and of course, depression, among others," says Prof. Gupta, whose research has found a direct relationship between cardiovascular disorders and hostile behaviour. “People who are prone to aggression and violence are also prone to high blood pressure and heart problems," she adds.

At the other extreme are “active" manifestations of (excessive) anger that can lead to violent outbursts that may harm the person concerned, or others around.

“The solution is knowing how to regulate your anger," says Prof. Gupta. This, of course, is where anger management and external intervention comes in.

Acknowledge the problem

A majority of people might respond to anger management with an “I don’t need it" shrug (see Do you need help?), but this is the biggest mistake, say experts. Issues of “fast life, work, stress and time management" are affecting almost everyone today, says Dr Malhotra. Yet the state of denial continues even when the crime has been committed because people find ways of “rationalizing" the act.

“For instance, seeing the car as an extension of your own self (this is again where the growing materialism in society comes in) then leads to violent outbursts when somebody accidentally scratches your car, and then if you physically harm him, you justify it in your head by the fact that he caused you physical harm too," says Dr Malhotra. “People don’t feel repentant," he says.

The first step towards anger management is acknowledging that the problem exists. Also, it helps if you can recognize whether you are more prone to violence and aggression than others. “People with impulsive personalities, who lack patience, who react very easily, are essentially those who haven’t learnt to manage their emotions. This is a personality character that builds up partly because of your genes, partly because of your environment (when you are used to seeing people shout)," says Prof. Gupta. “If you have these issues, until and unless you are trained otherwise, you will not be able to cope with anger," she says.

Managing outbursts

There are essentially two parts of the problem: before the outburst, and after the outburst. Some of these “before" techniques are identifying the physical symptoms before you blow up (sweating, temples hurting, quickening heart rate, which differs from person to person), and progressive muscular relaxation (which teaches you to keep your tense muscles loose).

The “after" ways of dealing with an anger outburst are, first, to leave the scene. “Walk out, start doing something, preferably high-energy (because anger releases a lot of energy and it is important to release that energy as bottling up would lead to other problems), and if that’s not possible, talk to a friend about it," says Prof. Gupta.

Chulani suggests that you look for a way to distract yourself—imagine a pleasant scene, think of yourself with a special person, anything that is an intensely powerful distraction tactic.

You could also count to 10, or do some deep-breathing exercises. “Once you have cooled down, examine the reasons for your outburst, and then try to solve it. When you are angry, there is no rationality and both parties screaming will only escalate the problem," says Prof. Gupta.

Psychological intervention focuses mainly on helping people identify the deeper feelings behind anger. “Therapy will, firstly, teach you to watch out for those warning signs before you have a violent outburst, and secondly, once you have had such an outburst, how to deal with the situation from then on," says Nandita Nayer, a New Delhi-based psychologist. “Often anger can be diffused when one recognizes other feelings driving it. The main aim of therapy is to make people ‘stop, think and then do’. Therapy helps make people aware of the change in their emotional state and prevents them spiralling out of control," she adds.

Ideally, habits of self-control should be inculcated right from childhood. “This has to be initiated at an early age, right from when the child grows, especially during the difficult period of adolescence, through effective parenting and curriculum at school. At the moment the only skills we are teaching our children are how to do math, and how to compete, that is, survival instinct. Their ego (that acts as a balancing force) and superego (that makes you think of others) are not being developed. These need to be instilled, as they help build coping mechanisms," adds Dr Malhotra.

“The ultimate question to ask yourself is— is your anger something that is affecting all your relationships, your occupational, and social functioning?" adds Nayer. If it is, you have your answer.


This is not an exhaustive list but if you answer ‘yes’ to several of these, then you might want to get yourself anger management sessions

• Are you having lots of arguments with friends or your partner?

• Are you having a lot of conflict at work?

• Do you lose control easily?

• Do you find it difficult to go past previous episodes of anger?

• Do you hold on to people’s faults?

• Do you get really upset and angry at incompetence? Your own, and of others?

• Do you get frustrated a lot and get angry when things don’t go your way?

• Do you get angry to a point where you experience physical symptoms such as aching temples, sweating, etc.?

• Do you use substances, such as alcohol or drugs, when you’re angry?

• Do people you interact with stay away from you when you get angry?

• (In a fit of rage) do you say things you later regret, or can’t remember saying?

• Has your anger got you into legal trouble?

• Have you damaged property, or people?

• Do feelings of revenge haunt you?

• Do you have thoughts of killing yourself or others?

Source: Nandita Nayer, Delhi-based psychologist.