Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 15, Tuesday April 17 , 2007



Interpreter Of Maladies

Dear Madam,

You will perhaps agree with me that if there is anything that claims the top rank in the hierarchy of negative emotions, it is probably anger. We find angry people everywhere around us - in the family, in the office, in shops, in banks, etc. It seems to be an endemic in this country. My experience suggests that anger blocks the communication process and consequently brilliant ideas remain unexpressed. My question to you is: why are the people of Bangladesh so angry in comparison to those of other countries? Do you have any psychoanalytic explanation about this negative behaviour? How can this unhealthy mental condition be alleviated?

Dr. Syed Naquib Muslim

This is an interesting question and I believe it is worth having a national debate over. I totally agree that anger is at the ranks above all negative emotions. However, anger is not a primary emotion. Underneath anger there are other unexpressed emotions that find their release as anger as a secondary emotion. Anger is a message from our inner self that tells us various things such as- we are being hurt, our rights are being violated, our needs and wants are not being met, we are not addressing an important life issue, our beliefs and values are being compromised, we are giving more than we can comfortably give, someone is cramping our growth by blocking us, etc.

Two common sources of anger are- feelings of threat (stemming from a sense of powerlessness, loss, lack of knowledge etc.); or feelings of frustration (stemming from a sense of unmet needs, unmet expectations, etc.). In the present socio-economic perspective, we probably have every reason to feel angry when life situations randomly put us under such a provocative environment. I guess we will all agree that most of the reasons that can cause anger are highly prevalent in our society. And it is contributing a lot to this pervasive anger problem among the population. Although most of the time anger is logical, I guess the way people express it in our society is mostly inappropriate and hence unacceptable to a civilized society. Having anger is very natural but being ANGRY is something different (because angry people don't have it, they are it! They become totally consumed by anger).

Anger needs to be expressed appropriately in an acceptable fashion if we want to gain anything out of it. Otherwise it blocks our communication system (as you have already mentioned) and steals all our opportunities. According to psychoanalytical theory (Freudian), Eros (life instinct which is love) and Thanatos (death instinct which is aggression and hatred) are two main components of psychic force. Both are important for our survival. According to Freud, all human behaviours are the result of complex interplay of these two instinctive forces. When aggression/hatred underlies anger, it is either directed outwardly to destroy others (assault, violence, war etc.) or inwardly to cause self-destruction (depression, suicide and deliberate self-harm).

Moreover, research shows that, stimulation of certain areas of the brain (e.g. amygdale of temporal lobe) can produce typical facial expressions that mimic anger (such as rolling eyes and grinding teeth). In fact, anger is one of the most primitive emotions that also helps organisms to survive. However, a maturely developed frontal lobe of the human brain and its complicated connections with limbic system (another part of the brain) gives humans the privilege to have better control over their emotions and expression of those emotions.

Communication and social skill (function of the upper rational part of brain, mostly frontal lobe) fails when anger (function of the lower brain, limbic system) gets the upper hand and works like a wall between people. When emotion overrides intellect, it is difficult to think and talk clearly. Most of the time we end up saying what we didn't intend to say or lose focus on the topic. This generates hostility among people. Again, unexpressed anger can lead to many psychosomatic symptoms and can eventually lead to interpersonal relationship problems. Displaced anger (e.g. husband had a bad day at work, comes home and displaces it on wife, wife displaces it on maid or children etc.) is another cause of a communication breakdown. Repressed anger can come out at the wrong time, at the wrong place when one is totally unprepared and can get overtly out of control. On the contrary, the incentive of expressing anger in a healthy way is getting our needs met without generating unwanted hostility or animosity.

To answer your question, why are the people of Bangladesh so angry in comparison to those of other countries- I would suggest that probably the people of Bangladesh are facing more provocative situations than those in developed countries where there are more social systems to address the anger in a productive way (e.g. if you are angry at the bus driver, you call the transport agency and lodge a complaint, you know that the bus driver is accounted for it). In general there is more order and predictability in life. In most offices, for conflict resolution they have a grievance policy to follow and they can expect justice to take place. People's basic rights and needs are met (do you expect our hungry, oppressed, slum dwellers to be nice and sweet when all their needs are to be compromised? I'm rather surprised to see how tolerant and respectful they are despite their deprived living conditions!).

I'm assuming that you are pointing more at people who have a relatively advantageous lifestyles and still don't take responsibility for their (angry) behaviour. The developed world has made tremendous progress in bringing more order and peace in the society by making every individual (not just politicians or bureaucrats) accountable for their actions by implementing laws. In Canada, if there is any evidence that children are being abused or neglected (angry people are often abusive or passively aggressive in nature) by their parents, children get apprehended by the Children's Aid Society. People who have anger issues very easily get involved with law and are then mandated by court to take anger management courses (depending on the nature of their offence). People with repeated explosive anger problems are often sent to correction centres where they get specialised help to deal with their behaviour. Besides, anger can also be a symptom of a wide range of mental illnesses (e.g. Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, Personality Disorder, Agitated Depression etc.) for which they must get adequate help from a professional.

I'm more concerned about the inappropriate expression of anger (e.g. abusive language, aggressive gestures etc.) by people who are supposed to be role models for others (e.g. parents, bosses, teachers, politicians etc.). It is unfortunate, when people use it to intimidate others or to influence others wrongfully and get away with it. According to social learning theory, people acquire aggressive responses through past experiences and they receive or anticipate some reward from continuing this behaviour.

Widespread psycho education, facing an appropriate consequence for the wrong choice of behaviour, offering extra help to people who are failing to cope with life situations, bringing social order and justice in to place (long way to go, right?), creating a system that allows a healthy outlet for anger etc. are possible solutions to this problem.

I believe, every nation has to face similar kinds of challenges at one phase or another and come up with their own solutions by making use of their internal resources (e.g. team work between social service agencies, law enforcement agencies, mental health workers) to contain this social nuisance.

By The Way

Make a good habit of cleaning out all your drawers every once in a while. Take out all the items and wipe with a dry piece of cloth. Discard all that is unnecessary, and those, which are not: arrange them by frequency of use. Those items that you use frequently, keep them at the front of the drawer so that they are within easy reach. Before you put them back in, line the bottom with old newspapers. And yes, do not forget to line the inner edges of the drawers with magic chalk to prevent cockroach infestation.

Under A Different Sky

By Iffat Nawaz

Full Bloom

Right before sunset he was hanging in between a main street connected by a bridge. On top of a park, a creek ran down, hundreds of feet below…in an early spring day, out of place he was standing, trying to blend in. But it's hard to blend in between the blooming trees and leafless ones, with a blue sky painted in orange, pink and red patches. He was standing wearing his black suit, thinking- and I saw him and I knew spring was here. When a man dressed in perfect business attire, blackberry attached to hip, spreading the smell of a hard, work day stands still in the middle of a bridge, just to look at the sky or the end of winter flowers, you know spring is coming.

So I met many of them today in another place. The tidal basin where cherry blossom attracted the whole world, from what it seemed like. I walked in the early afternoon hoping to catch a glimpse of the new blossoming trees making D.C. look more magical than we want to believe. And I walked along the water in a circle, a couple of miles: sitting, talking, waiting, thinking…with the rest of them. Them who were really us…

And I wanted to define cherry blossom as a tradition. It's an old habit- trying to find tradition everywhere- the habit of coming from a land so full of traditions. I once looked down upon others from the lands where traditions just mean limits. And I remember trying to figure out American traditions and being disappointed or rather feeling proud of my Bangladeshi heritage. Even more so because it really seemed so much richer than the new Americans with apple pie and fourth of July fireworks. A cultureless society I always thought, nothing to define them, distinguish them, no belonging, no guidance…how does one know then…just how?

As I sat there, being me, someone who has learnt it the hard way not to look down standing from my 5 feet 2 inches of height; someone who is slowly learning not to generalise a whole country, a whole community according to faults of a few or history and past, I wanted to correct myself. I wanted to confess, that it does feel good, to sit here, in the middle of tradition or not, in the middle of culture or not. Looking at faces of the passerbys, no one looking like the last person- a few nuns in saris, a Chinese couple in wedding attire taking a walk in the park after just getting married, a Caucasian family with a daughter named Fiona and a group of school children, teenagers in love, photographers in the early 20s, runners in their late 40s, and a 10-year-old African American boy taking a good bite of his ice cream sandwich- I confessed, I was wrong.

Because now, I appreciate the lack of tradition in America; because I know what culture it is that this country believes in. The culture that allows me to sit and criticize others if I want to or glorify them; the culture that allows me to run freely outside early in the morning or late at night; which allows divorced older women to dream again of marriage, or independence, of beauty or brain; a culture where we can rally and shout and call the president an imbecile without any consequences; where the protocols were never written vividly for anything, because you write you own protocols here and you live by them…a culture called freedom.

I would be embarrassed a few years ago to write all this down; to show my loyalty towards this country, when the love for my homeland is still strong, when I know the anti-American movement is prominent everywhere else in the world. But somehow I don't feel so bad expressing my gratitude to freedom, the lack of tradition, because it makes me and all my imperfections tell my own true story, with my own colours or in black and white or soaked in the colours of cherry blossom in their full bloom…no longer in between, but standing sturdy...


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