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June 14, 2019
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The GOOD in getting MAD

Black Lives Matter demonstrators

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

A relative predicted that I would not pass the Common Entrance, the exam before the Secondary Entrance Assessment. I was an average student. Maybe they were just brutally honest but I felt hurt and anger. There was a resolve—I’ll show him! I did not pass for a ‘prestige school’ but did not fail either.

Anger can motivate individuals. Swedish student Greta Ernman Thunberg was the lone protester outside the Swedish Parliament last August calling for action on climate change. Her determination has inspired youth internationally.

Anger spurred collective advocacy as we have seen with the Black Lives Matter, Me Too movement and  Extinction Rebellion Movement. Social injustices galvanised the civil rights movement in the US, and Black Power locally.

“Anger has gotten a very bad rep; it is seen as negative,” said Reycine Mc Kenzie, clinical psychologist. She added, “Some countries see it as so wrong it is taboo: you can’t be angry, and there tends to be a lot of mental health issues coming up. People tend to have physiological manifestations.”

Mc Kenzie referred to ‘Hwa Byung’, a syndrome seen in Korean women manifested by indigestion, tightness in the chest and headaches.

She said, “These are all physical symptoms related to their suppression of emotions such as anger. Korean women are socialised from young to not outwardly express emotions like anger which then has a negative impact on their psyche and physiology.”

Supressing and repressing anger

Mc Kenzie explained that suppression is temporarily putting something out of the conscious mind but it remained until brought to the forefront.

“…if you hold it there, whether for the day or week, it is going to bother you. It is something you have not forgotten. It is sitting there right below the surface and the only way you are going to get rid of that is, of course, do what you need to do, use the coping skills to let go.”

‘Repression’ is when anger is buried in the unconscious psyche. This can happen in cases of trauma such as rape and kidnapping. Pushing things below the surface enables the individual to “get past” or overcome the emotions associated with the event.

Mc Kenzie continued, “the emotions associated with it are so overwhelming, they bury it so deeply, that some people will forget that event even happened.” The anger appears to be repressed but the impact on the unconscious mind can “fuel a lot of what we do”.

“When you have repressed anger it is going to come out in different ways. You might lash out at your boss one day and you are like ‘where did that come from?’ or you might be talking to your friend and your friend says something to you and you get vex and upset for the rest of the day and you don’t understand why what they said triggered you so much. That is what happens when you repress anger,” Mc Kenzie said.

As humans, the emotion called anger will influence our behaviour; it does not always have to be negative. What can we learn from our anger?

  1. Helps us assert our needs with others.

Mc Kenzie said, “It tells you something is wrong, maybe I have lost a certain position of power, maybe I am unhappy in a particular relationship. All those things are indicating to you that you need to speak up, you need to say something, you need to assert yourself in some way.” She explained, “Ask people for what you want; tell people what you need. It helps you negotiate certain terms with other people so that you both get what you want or need out of the situation. That is the main constructive use of anger.”

  1. Highlights the need to address injustice—social etc.

“Certain things happen in our society and we get really angry about it, some get upset and do nothing, sit on the anger, suppress it in a way. Other people may think ‘we can do something about this’.”

  1. Motivate us to solve problems.

Mc Kenzie said, “[it] fuels you to solve a problem in your life … because if you are uncomfortable in a particular situation or environment and you find yourself getting angry quite a bit, it tells you —‘It’s time to make a change’; ‘It’s time for me to make a move’; ‘It’s time for me to embrace something different’.”

  1. Inspires us to work towards goals.

“Obviously when we are working towards a goal nothing ever goes as smoothly as it should because life tends to get in the way. Whether other people, unforeseen events, there will always be things we can’t control so when these things happen typically our first response is anger—‘This thing did not go as I expected’ …but what that anger does, it fuels you to do what you need to do to overcome those obstacles,” Mc Kenzie said.