When that seething anger builds up inside humans, in which form it manifests itself is anybody’s guess. Most often the violent outcome is far too bitter for anyone’s liking. From road rage to domestic violence, anger plays a defeating role in human lives. Here are the stories of a few expatriates in the UAE who overcame their anger issues and mellowed down to a calm existence.
These are their stories of triumph and how they managed anger.
Torn shirt, swelling knuckles and bloody chest…my anger management story
By Seyyed de Llata, Senior Designer
‘I am covered in blood, don’t be alarmed, it’s mostly not mine.’
I said that to my then-wife before she opened the door around 3 am, after a road rage incident with somebody, somewhere in northern Mexico, when I was twenty-something. You see, anger shuts down your senses and the capability to be aware of your surroundings. When you are angry, everything is blurry, and from my early teens until my mid-30s, I was always angry and my memory fails about some incidents.
My then-wife opened the door and the dim yellowish light of the street revealed me: torn shirt, swelling knuckles and bloody chest and my lower lip split into two. Her face was an image of horror, disbelief and shame.
‘I am ok, I just got into a fight. It wasn’t my fault, the guy punched me,’ I justified.
As she checked the lump that my lip became, I said the most stupid thing I could: ‘You should have seen the other guy’. Then I saw her teary eyes, I knew right there that I was not being funny.
She drove me to a clinic and it took seven painful stitches to put back my lip in its original place. I have not been able to whistle since, but that isn’t important.
On the way back, she poured out the burning questions that still torture me until this day:
Was the other man hurt?
What would have happened if you killed him?
‘I don’t know’.
You could have ended up in jail, or worse, got yourself killed, what would have happened to our kids, to me, to your mother?
'He was insulting me! He punched me first!' - I muttered, while my mind sank on that last question: ‘What would have happened?’
The truth, I lost control and hurt another person for nothing, I could have walked away, but I didn’t.
Instead of being here, in the best place in the world, Dubai, and my children safe and well-taken care of, I could be thinking about this in a dirty, overpopulated, hyper-violent jail in northern Mexico.
And my kids? Only God knows what would have happened to them. I got lucky and that was the worst and the very last incident of such violence, but it was not the first.
As I write this, my memories take me to places that I am deeply ashamed of. Truth be told, it is a place in my mind and heart that is excruciatingly painful to go to. Being angry becomes a form of addiction, in my case I justified it in many ways such as the classic ‘I won’t start a fight, but I know how to finish it’, or the ‘I am surrounded by ----- (insert your favourite cuss word here)’.
I thought that my fury was some sort of a superpower, it fueled me into extreme deeds, such as finishing massive projects in one night, just to get back to a colleague who had ‘insulted me’.
But, it took a toll on my life: my health deteriorated to the point of having physical reactions like sleeping disorders, stomach issues, burnouts, chronic tiredness, and probably other ailments I am not aware of.
The damage to my health was not the only consequence: I had plenty of good opportunities that ended nowhere because I was too stiff, and didn’t know how to negotiate or be part of a healthy debate. I didn’t know how to compromise. It was always ‘my way or the highway’.
I reached places professionally, but it took me three times more work than necessary, and I was (guess what) angry about it. I deemed it unfair, blamed others and I got even angrier, resentful, and my finances didn’t flourish, depriving my kids of a better life.
If all of that wasn’t enough, here comes the worst part: I struggled to get along with people. I had trust issues, very few friends. Eventually, I lacked a support group, I was alone against the world, that too, I deemed unfair, and yes that made me angrier.
At home, I was that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, between a loving father and husband and an ogre that must be avoided. My kids were afraid, so was my then-wife. It was tiresome to keep my anger in check when I was at home, everybody was aware of my condition, except me.
Where did that monster in me come from?
I come from a culture that glorifies violence, we literally have odes about acts of rage and revenge. From a very young age, you are pushed to it, being fast on aggression was received with praise. But that wasn’t the main source, no, the source was my old man.
I don’t mean to put him in a bad spot. I love him deeply and I know he does love me more than that, but he was an angry man. Life was a history of suffering for him and he never had anyone close to a father figure. He only knew a world where he was not loved, combined with poverty and military education.
Unknowingly, he poured all that anger at home, I was terrified of him, mistakes could not be made, and he had a very strict way of education and discipline. I wasn’t brutally beaten, but I was physically punished constantly and shouted at.
Every time I got scolded or punished, sadness and anger built in me. I would find a place to take that anger out. And unknowingly I repeated the pattern of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, not as bad, but bad enough.
When and how I changed?
I have a son, and I saw him growing into an angry, cold and lonely young man. I could not help but think: ‘So many reasons to be happy, to be loved, to be successful and he is wasting it, wasting it by being angry.’ It was a mirror to my young self. Painfully I had to look at myself, dig into all that pile and search for inner peace.
I forgave my father years back, but then I realised that I was also angry at myself. I started taking responsibility for my actions. I believe it was not too late. I admitted to him that I have an anger management problem. I did all I could to explain and dissect my behaviour, I asked for forgiveness, and also forgave myself.
Years have passed since then. My children are at peace when I am around, growing well, especially my second son who is 15-years younger than the eldest. The younger one doesn’t know that older self of mine, and I am thankful that I jammed the break on time.
Anger is a poison, don’t wait until you lose control and hurt others, accept it is a problem and seek help. The sooner the better.
Anger is an addiction and how I managed to get over it
By Ajay Abraham de Melo, Night Editor
Anger is more than an emotion; it’s an addiction. It first came to me – a shy and timid child mercilessly bullied through school and junior college – as a saviour in my teens, driving me to act against my oppressors. It then gave me a false sense of confidence, slowly taking over my life as I grew into adulthood until I became a toxic presence among friends and family.
It became a saga of road rage, minor incidents in public places leading to fisticuffs, things being smashed at home and social gatherings ruined by my temper outbursts.
The turning point came in 2017. I was home in Goa on my annual vacation. Those days the joke was that there would be trouble if I stayed longer than two weeks. I had a heated argument with my brother. It was a trivial issue, but one complicated by inflated egos and past resentment. He had enough of being talked down to and insulted, while I felt disrespected. So we came to blows.
Raising three boys, my mother was used to games ending with blows being exchanged and lips split, but it was the first time that two of her adult sons were determined to kill each other. My mother is just about 5 feet tall, while I’m just an inch or two shy of my brother’s 6-plus feet. She managed to get between us, deliver a resounding slap to each and push me into a nearby room and lock the door. How she did it, I do not know, but I am grateful. We as a family never talk about that dark day.
My brother and I did not speak to each other for over a year. I am now 40 and he is 38. Our wives and the birth of his daughter bridged the chasm a great deal. I am also godfather to my niece.
On a lighter note, I recall him saying that he would ‘annihilate’ me. He could. He was trained in taekwondo and krav maga. But I was pleased that I was worth being annihilated, not squashed.
The key to anger management is self-awareness. Today, I anticipate ‘trigger situations’ and think logically when I feel the blood rushing to my head. Self-deprecating jokes, breathing exercises and weight training have also helped a great deal. Above all, I have learned to forgive and forget, but the Count of Monte Christo remains my favourite book.
Why do people get angry?
People do get angry for many reasons. The most common behaviour problems behind anger outbursts are impulse control disorder, borderline personality, mood disorders and substance abuse. Maladaptive coping with stress, faulty parenting, poor assertive skills and defective problem solving, conflict resolution and social skills are the other reasons, explained Dr Shaju George, Specialist Psychiatrist, NMC Royal Hospital Sharjah.
Why do some people get angry fast and some don’t?
Personality traits, faulty parenting, chauvinistic nature and identifying the victim as weak and vulnerable, instead of being respectful, said Dr Shaju George.
While anger is a normal emotional response to certain situations, in other circumstances, it can be maladaptive or an indication of an underlying medical, substance-related, or psychosocial condition, explained Dr Sriram Raghavendran, Specialist Psychiatrist, NMC Royal Hospital, DIP Dubai.
Giving anger the silent treatment
By Manoj Nair, Business Editor
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things around, including the rules on social niceties. Coughs and sneezes were potent enough to break face-to-face chats, especially in those distant pre-vaccine days. Fist bumps were something I had to learn, but never with the finesse that a firm handshake could deliver.
All of which would still have been fine, if my weight – a quite substantial one, I confess – had not become a starting point in these conversations. Post-COVID, any conversation – be it with a stranger or someone I have known through the ages – would somehow linger around my kilos. (Here I will only say I have quite forgotten when was the last time I was at the 80kg mark.)
There have been interactions – and I kid you not – where the first words would be about whether I had put on more during 2020. And without any invitation on my part, the individual would break into how fitness has become a way of life during the COVID months. The other favourite chat starter would be along the lines of how COVID symptoms can have a deleterious effect on anyone with excess weight. Yes, I get that.
This is where I feel the first ripples of anger that seems to course up from the depths I never ever explored. Since it’s my health – based on observations of the weight - that is being discussed, I try to keep my face blank from all that’s surging under the surface, with an occasional nod to assure the other person that I am absorbing all of it. (And pray that the grinding of the teeth is out of the other person’s earshot.)
Anger to me is about bottling it all in. Loudness is something I dread. Putting an ALL-CAP in my emails is about the loudest I can be. At least, I think so. The best option then would be to keep all of those fleeting bouts of anger close to the chest, so to speak. Never let the other person know about the intensely uncharitable thoughts I have going on at that moment. The mind wanders to far better things, like the riff from a cherished album. (Or thoughts of some delicious cuisine.)
For me, my weight is a burden I have to bear – stoically. That is now becoming a point of discussion, enough to make me start thinking of shedding a few kilos. Or seethe in silent anger.
‘That feeling of righteous anger flowing through my veins along with adrenaline; it was a high’
As told to Karishma Nandkeolyar, Parenting Editor
At 36 years, Karan is the very definition of an angry young man. He’s spent his life railing against authority, agitated against the world. He calls it a righteous rage but admits he’s stoked those embers over time. This is his account of anger over the years and how its expression has evolved.
“I’m not really sure where my anger comes from, but I do know it has changed shape over time. When I was a student, for example, when I was 15, a guy tried to trip me while I was walking. I pushed him into a wall so hard that he needed stitches. Then there was the time I was hungry and my food came late, I broke a wall clock.
“As a young person, my rage was like the cloak of the night: the darkness that sometimes wouldn’t even let memory through. And it was addictive – that feeling of righteous anger flowing through my veins along with adrenaline; it was a high. I used to feel the throbbing of my heart – thump, thump, thump - as the rage built up and exploded. Often, I would find I had punched through a wall or broken down a door without realizing it. As for a trigger – well, just look around, you don’t really need to go looking for reasons to be angry. One could say I’ve mellowed as I’ve aged, but that just isn’t true. It’s more like the texture of my anger has changed – it’s gone from a volatile burst to a cold, vindictive type of heat. I noticed it around the time I turned 30 – I had slowed down, my body had too; it wouldn’t allow me the type of energy I needed to be destructive; instead, irritants ignited thoughts. Now, I may shout as rage takes hold of me but I will walk away instead of physically lashing out and plot my revenge. I look calm from afar, but I’m smouldering within.
How to tackle anger among children
Anger is the first negative emotion a child develops. At first, it is harmless or funny, but later it starts to have an impact on the child’s life, cautioned Dr Laila Mohamadien, Specialist Psychiatrist, Medcare Hospital, Sharjah.
Children’s response to anger may mimic their surroundings, they imitate their parents and people around them, through learning by what they see and experience. However, the content and inner feeling of anger and the triggers are totally different, said Dr Laila Mohamadien.
There can be short-term and long-term effects of aggression on children: anger can lead to temper tantrums, hitting, kicking or biting, bullying other children, attempt to control others through threats or violence, said Arfa Banu Khan, Clinical Psychologist, Aster Jubilee Medical Complex AJMC, Dubai.
Genetics and environmental factors both play a role in developing anger in children.
Dealing with the inner volcano: Angry young man learns to tame ego
By Jay Hilotin, Senior Assistant Editor
I was an angry young man. Ready to maim or kill. Must have been an overdose of Jacky Chan and Filipino gangster movies, plus an unforgiving ego. Fisticuffs were a regular feature of my grade school years. My G2 teacher, Ms Lee, caught me in a fight once. She made us punch the concrete wall. My knuckles were swollen. To avoid a repeat, I only fought outside. There was no year I was not involved in several fights. The anger levelled up. By the time I hit my late teens, anger turned social. I had been tear-gassed twice. The thing chokes you until you pass out. It was a coming-of-age, rude awakening. It happened during protests against the US military presence in the Philippines.
My first taste of tear gas: in front of the US embassy, on Kalaw Road, in Manila. The second: in front of Clark Air Base, near the “Salakot”, at the entrance of what was then the biggest American military facility outside US soil.
On both occasions, the anti-riot squads responded the way they knew best. I don’t blame them but harboured deep resentment. It was prime time for a social volcano.
My aggressive streak kept piling up. I thought there was no greater honour than to push and die for radical decolonisation. Neither Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence, a required reading during my college freshman year, nor the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” / “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” lessons the Bible taught made no impression on me. It was Machiavelli’s ideas (“the end justifies the means”) that appealed the most.
How did I deal with it? It was not me. It was not a social volcano that kicked the US troops out; rather, it was a real one. On June 15, 1991, Mt Pinatubo volcano erupted, after being dormant for 400 years (there are 300 volcanoes in the Philippines). Pinatubo was right smack in the middle of the two US bases — at Clark (air force base, in Pampanga) and Subic (naval base, in Zambales).
Finally, on September 16, 1991, two days before my 21st birthday, 12 Filipino senators made history when they made a controversial decision to end years of US military presence in the Philippines. I felt it was my best birthday ever. The Americans left their bases, reportedly dismantling everything, including toilet bowls.
My aggression was projected inward and outward. When I felt even slightly insulted at work and I would hurl back in kind.
Later, I realised an ego-driven life leads to nowhere but peril. I did so much mischief that should cost me my own life. I learnt to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness. It is never easy. Loving your enemies, or praying for those who persecute you? It is humanly impossible. Nevertheless, I found it doable. Life is short, even if one becomes a super-centenarian. This, I realised: forgiving others, and myself, is the only way to truly live.
Why do some people take out their pent-up anger at home?
Assuming dominance, having freedom with their loved ones along with poor assertive skills and to an extent a social role model are some of the reasons, said Dr Shaju George.
A home is a place that is familiar. At home, people are more accommodative of a person's actions and behaviour and people think it is acceptable to get angry in a controlled environment, said Dr Sriram Raghavendran.
My kind of angry
By Sharmila Dhal, UAE Editor
I’d be lying if I said I do not get angry. But no, I don’t raise a clenched fist, slam the door or yell my lungs out.
My kind of angry usually manifests between passive aggression and downright avoidance. And then I do some plain speaking too.
By passive aggression, I mean denying there’s something wrong – usually under my breath -- or giving the silent or almost silent treatment.
Downright avoidance happens when I just ignore or walk away from an unpleasant situation. And when I resort to plain speaking, it is not without deliberation.
As someone who hates conflict, I try not to react to a situation immediately. Neither do I instantly respond to an email or text message that makes me angry? But yes, if the matter warrants, I will keep thinking about it, even crib endlessly with those that I can trust.
But where the source of my anger is concerned, I do believe in the power of silence. It can speak louder than words; it can also allow for the benefit of the doubt. When the dust settles, we may even see each other’s point of view, so why get into a needless confrontation?
I don’t hold grudges and the no-nonsense talk when the time is ripe usually works. So the wait is worth its while. I am quick to say sorry and just as easily forgive and forget.
But until that happens, there can be a downside. As I have realised over time, anger in any form only serves to rob me of my peace of mind.
By getting angry, I only end up punishing myself.
When I lose my cool, and there’s always a good reason
By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Why do I get angry? Most times, I lash out when my rights are denied or when my rights are violated. When I pay for service, I expect to be served well and on time. The official at any department anywhere is not doing me a favour. I pay for the service.
Now, you can imagine my fury when I was repeatedly denied prompt service at a government department in my home town in Kerala, a south Indian state.
That was around 15 years ago. I had applied for the death certificate of my father-in-law and provided all supporting documents. A week had passed after the mandatory verification, yet I wasn’t given the certificate. The clerks told me that it was ready, and all it needed was the officer’s signature.
I made several trips to the corporation office. Each time I went there, the officer wasn’t at his desk. One day, I tracked him down to another part of the office and asked him why he hadn’t signed my paper even though it was ready. He tried to stare me down and said mine was the only paper he had to sign.
All the trips in the hot and humid weather had built a reservoir of anger in me. I gave him an earful. I told him he wasn’t doing his job, and his salary comes from the money people pay. And I had paid for the service, and hence I expect prompt service.
He still didn’t sign the certificate, but I got it the next day.
To me, that officer was not doing his job by denying my right as a citizen. A right to a document for which I had a paid. If every officer in every government department refuses to serve citizens promptly, imagine the chaos.
You find such officers everywhere. They are power-drunk; they love to exert control over customers, who are at their mercy. And I hate them. People who do not do their jobs trigger anger in me.
But I wasn’t like this. Earlier, whenever I got angry, I never expressed it. I was shy. Not brave enough. I always wondered what others would think of me. That was me, a long time ago.
Now, if I say I’m an introvert, none of my colleagues will believe it. But my schoolmates and colleagues at my previous workplaces in Bengaluru and Doha will agree wholeheartedly. For them, I’m a timid and reticent person. That’s what I’ve been.
In the last two decades, I became forceful and aggressive that my younger self wouldn’t recognise. Sometimes, I wonder what happened. What changed? What’s the trigger for my transformation?
I guess the aggression was always there, lying dormant. Maybe, I lacked the courage to vent my anger. Or, I must have internalised the frustrations for fear of being looked upon as a pesky person. As I got older, I realised that keeping quiet only makes matters worse. And somebody had to speak up when most prefer to stay quiet to avoid wrath. I decided that it had to be me. So a sense of righteousness fanned my anger.
I started to call out others when I thought they were wrong, even at the risk of earning their displeasure. I speak my mind even if it ruffles some feathers. All it mattered to me was that I should be right, or I should believe in what I say.
It’s fraught with risk, but then my quiet demeanour and laidback approach never helped. I had sat through meetings without saying a word, even when I had burning questions and new ideas. In my new avatar, I don’t hold back. I speak my mind. I still don’t ask too many questions, but I’m unafraid to ask if clarification is required.
I used to be considered a nice person, but I got pushed around. The more I kept quiet, the more I got pushed around. Until I stood my ground. I realised that no one would stick up for me. I’m on my own. Since then, I’ve been unafraid of expressing myself.
I don’t lose my temper easily. My wife and children would attest to that. But in public spaces, I don’t conceal my irritation. That anger is born out of helplessness. It’s like I have done everything asked of me, and how dare you deny me.
They say the customer is king. Righty so, since the customer pays for a service. So poor service gets my goat. I have always let my irritation known, although, on occasions, it has landed me in trouble. Several times, I was punished for being vocal by delaying the service to me. Even then, I was unperturbed. Simply because I have let the official know that he’s denying or delaying me a service despite paying good money for it. This means they are not doing their job and still get paid a salary for their inefficiency.
Friends tell me that tact works better than anger. My answer is that I don’t go anywhere to yell at anybody. I just react aggressively because I have been denied what’s rightfully mine.
I always stay on the right side of the law. At work, I make every effort to stick to deadlines. I drive carefully, never honk or flash headlights at other motorists. Every application is supported by the necessary documents and more. So why would I get into trouble if I had done everything right? Imagine if you were in my position: Won’t you get angry?
One of my pet peeves is motorists who jump the queue at right turns. When you have spent a good five minutes in a car queue, there are smart alecs who force their way through, making the rest of the law-abiding motorists look like fools. These are habitual offenders, and I’m sure they would be breaking laws in other aspects of life as well.
All kinds of people make the world. But my principle is not to allow the bad ones to get away with shoddy behaviour. They should be held to account. Or at least let them know that they are not getting away with their pathetic attitude.
Do I regret getting angry? No. Simply because I don’t lose my cool needlessly. And even when I’m angry, I don’t go overboard.
Is it worth getting angry?
By Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor
On the many mornings when I see my son off to school, I spend time talking to other fathers waiting around for the bus.
One of them is always angry. He is angry with the school, the bus driver, the supervisor, the other boys on the bus, the neighbourhood grocery and even the man who washes the car. He narrates stories of shooting off angry letters to the principal, the municipality and others on a whole range of subjects. He is an angry, young man who believes that he is always right and that others must fall in line.
Many times our display of anger is a result of what we feed on – films that glorify violence, video games that thrive on ‘killing the enemy’. Or maybe it is the result of a bitter childhood experience. We always find reasons and excuses for our anger.
But ultimately, we are responsible for our anger and what results from it.
My years in the media have taught me one important lesson – every story has another side. Be willing to listen and learn.
Unfortunately, most of us are content with our side of the story, getting angry at the slightest provocation and unwilling to get off our high horse. Our egos get the better of us and all hell breaks loose.
Listening to the other person’s perspective, or stepping into another person’s shoes will give us a good chance to find out why a person is angry. But do we want to know?
I have been influenced by what I have heard and read since childhood.
‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger.’ ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger.’ ‘Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.’ And many more.
I have found that there are ways to express one’s displeasure without getting angry – by being firm, yet courteous, conveying the point without raising one’s voice.
And when the other side refuses to see reason, it is sometimes better ‘to agree to disagree’.
There is a time and place to get angry – when injustice is meted out to others and when rights are trampled upon. But these are not the reasons many of us get angry. We are upset when we are not heard, when we do not get our way or when things do not go according to plan.
I, too, get irritated at times, but I try to reason and ask myself whether it is my ego that is hurt or whether there is a genuine reason for the simmering anger.
Often, I have found that it is just not worth getting angry.
So the next time you begin to get angry, pause for a while. Think of the other person. Present your view in the best way possible without raising your voice. And then ask yourself if it is worth losing your temper.