Saturday, March 03, 2007

Listening to Anger

Have you ever suffered from severe anxiety, road rage and hyper behavior all rolled into one and wondered, "what the heck is wrong with me?" If so, then you have to read Brian Frazer's new book Hyper-chondriac: One Man's Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down that just came out this week. I saw the cover of the book, complete with a big colored pill (I assume it is supposed to be Zoloft) between two fingers, and was intrigued enough to read the inside cover: "Chronicling his relentless search for inner peace, Frazer takes readers on a hilarious guided tour of his dysfunctional childhood, marked by an extaordinary ability to contract a new disease almost every month, a disturbing obsession with bodybuilding anda veritable sample platter of disorders of every conceivable type..... As an adult, Frazer proves even more high maintenance. His forays into analysis, Kabbalah, yoga, anger management, psychopharmacology, and puppy rearing are all attempts to achieve some sort of lasting happiness and inner peace. He discovers that almost everything works. For about five minutes."

After reading this mess, I thought to myself, "Another narcissistic tale of an over-achieving yuppie type who is going to bore us with the details of his path to fullfillment." But the book is much more complex than that and rather than narcissism, Frazer's anxiety and rage disorder seemed fueled by early psychological experiences that lead him to strive for perfection and hyper behavior to gain the love of his mother who is very sick. Frazer's mother is struck with Multiple Sclerosis when he is very young and he feels helpless to help her. However, he finds that a surefire way to please her is to adopt hyper behavior--her chief complaint in life seemed to be that nothing ever gets done fast enough. "Her theory was that there was no use in putting things off because you'd eventually have to do them anyway." At 11, Frazer became very task-oriented and pushed himself to do everything immediately, with an urgency that leads to rage, stomach problems, depression and a lifetime of striving to find a way to calm down.

My favorite parts of the book are where he describes his feelings of rage when he is flipped off by a guy in a Honda Accord and tailgates him and then chases him across a soccer field, and another section where he goes to an anger management class and learns a bunch of hooey about how to deal with anger. By the end of the book, he seems to understand more about where his anger is coming from and says that the myth in his family had been that anger can control things. As a psychologist, I think that anger has a limited place in interpersonal interactions with family members--it is better to use other methods to deal with the people that we love. But this does not mean that angry feelings are "wrong," for they are only wrong if used in unproductive or destructive ways. Some anger is good, such as anger against injustice, totalitarianism or communism, and can give rise to problem solving in constructive ways that make people more free and not less.

Anger is often a signal, to tell us that something is wrong, that we have been unfairly treated. But it can be a helpless rage that makes us feel that we are cannot change our circumstances. Effective problem solving and figuring out the source of the anger is paramount, as is giving yourself back the sense that you can control the circumstances that lead to the anger in the first place. Each person's personal journey with anger is different and needs to be explored in the context of their own life, but anger is universal in the way it can lead to change, sometimes in a positive direction. If you have interests in anger, hypochondria, or stress, you should read this book.



Blogger Shannon Love said...

My grandfather was a long lanky cowboy who never lost his temper. He could master almost any circumstance by refusing to show anger. He taught me by example that calmness controls.

I think we have developed a cultural idea in the last few decades that we convey sincerity only by losing control and acting in an extreme manner. People seem to feel that their lives lack reality unless they continuously emote like characters on a TV show. We tell ourselves our lives are stressful and dramatic and that belief makes it so.

I think this cultural expectation really aggravates the pathologies of people with real emotional problems.

12:14 PM, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I view every angry driver as a chance to achieve inner peace. I view them as simple inanimate objects that have to be avoided to safely arrive at your destination. Once in a while one will get to me; but usually I treat them just like fog or ant other road hazard. I have never been angry at fog. Who knows, maybe it is angry malicious fog, but it's my reaction to it that I can control, not the fog.

At this very moment, there are probably a million drivers being jerks on the road. I am not angry at any of them.

All of this goes back to the entitlement mentality in our society, everything that happens to us is someone elses fault.

1:12 PM, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have a real flair for fisking these products of the "self help media" industry. More, please.

1:17 PM, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually the "angry malicious fog" thing came from a Carlos Castaneda book I read in high school, except it was an attacking bear or some other dangerous animal. It is something I have always remembered.

I went through a self-help period in my mid 20's, but unlike Bill Clinton, I never invited Tony Robbins to my office.

1:42 PM, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always had a calm nature. It's hard for me to get angry, and I've never had road rage even though I've seen my share of idiot drivers. I could never live with a Perpetually Angry Person, and I know quite a few of them.

2:52 PM, March 03, 2007  
Blogger DRJ said...

Anger is a choice but I think some people are more hard-wired for anger issues than others.

4:25 PM, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny that people can see the "self help" industry's interests and motivations, but can't see the "road rage" and "anger management" industries as the same thing.

And it sort of seems like pathologizing anger has become part of the "male-bashing" movement. Some anger is healthy. And bottling up anger can be unhealthy. And some people are rightly the objects of anger. Someone that is angry is not necessarily wrong.

5:42 PM, March 03, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

I've got two stories for this subject on exhibiting anger.

The first, I'm an amateur playwright and last week I was having one of my plays read by a group of actors. In this play nobody raises their voice yet the characters definitely have a defining moment. The actors complained that my stage directions did not allow them to yell or get angry, therefore, to them, nothing of importance was happening. I can only assume from this our culture requires raised voices for one to have impact on another.

The second, my driver's side automatic window broke years ago. I've decided that it is going to stay broke. I feel that my inability to place my outstretched fist outside my car is probably good for my health.

6:48 PM, March 03, 2007  
Blogger Oligonicella said...

Cham -- "I can only assume from this our culture requires raised voices for one to have impact on another."

You could also assume that they are too shallow of actors to be able to bring across anger that is held in check. Think, Clint Eastwood.

7:26 PM, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently participated in a course where I met a woman that was very angry about something all the time. If anyone in the class would give their opinion about any subject, she would mow it down with her "better and bigger" opinions and view points of life. Everyone in the class was afraid of her (or at least did not want to deal with her). I had the good fortune of sitting next to her for months. Her anger was truly poisonous and I had to pull myself away from her.

I admire this man for recognizing his own anger and wanting to do something about it. Writing this book was part of that, I'm certain.

5:43 AM, March 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In this play nobody raises their voice yet the characters definitely have a defining moment."

Sounds our two most recent SuperBowl coaches.

3:00 PM, March 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I can only assume from this our culture requires raised voices for one to have impact on another.

The old "I don't raise my voice therefore I am right" argument. Wrong - doesn't follow. There are morons that don't raise there voice.

There are dunderheads in our society that would commit crimes against humanity before you got their attention if you didn't raise your voice. Heck, they might be so stupid even that may not be enough.

The second, my driver's side automatic window broke years ago. I've decided that it is going to stay broke. I feel that my inability to place my outstretched fist outside my car is probably good for my health.

Marvelous logic here too. This is sort of like the recovering alcoholics that think because they couldn't handle alcohol no one should be able to enjoy it.

4:18 PM, March 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DRj wrote: "Anger is a choice but I think some people are more hard-wired for anger issues than others."

I am not sure if I agree that the experience of anger is a choice, but I completely agree that we then choose whether and how to express our anger. And I think each choice matters as angry acting out has a kindling effect and strengthens neural pathways, thus making acting out more likely next time.


6:44 PM, March 04, 2007  
Blogger BabyonBored said...

I would just like to add that I read this book and it's one of my all time favorites! I fucking loved it and laughed my ass off so many times I lost count. I highly recommend it!

8:28 PM, March 04, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Speaking of reviews, we saw Zodiac yesterday. I highly recommend it.

2:54 PM, March 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you ever seen the Kurosawa version of King Lear, called Ran? It came out about 20 years ago. The hinge of the story comes when the elder brother and his wife are left alone on the dias, after she has engineered a break between her husband and father-in-law. She comes out and explains what she has just doen and why. Her husband just turns and looks at her. The dias creaks under him as he turns. From then on the story winds down to destruction, and that is the turning point. Wordless.

The difference is cultural. Some cultures in America value understatement and some value explicit, loud and dramatic statements. Both systems work, but they are incompatible in the same conversation.

4:12 PM, March 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in college, I was a member of a fraternity.One of the members in the frat was a very large, Korean-American guy, with a bad attitude, who woudl get"angry" at the drop of a hat, yell, scream, smash stuff, and essentially intimidate everyone around him.
he was bully, essentailly, who knew he could get by, by putting in t his act. One night, after a party, a couple of us were drunk, and had lost our fear,when this guy came in and started threatning us - he said he would anally rape each one of us. Instead of getting frightened, we ganged up and beat him with anything we could get our hands on, until he was almost unconscious.
His parents later on, tried to make a complaint of racism, ethnic intimidation etc, but that guy withdrew from our school, and went back to LA's Koreatown. I wonder if he still is a bully. wonder if he still is "angry" all the time.

4:24 PM, March 05, 2007  
Blogger AlvaroF said...

Helen, what a great post.

Many times stress and anxiety predispose us to over-react in angry ways.

Even if we are exposed to difficult situations, we can choose how we respond. We usually define this as "training our muscle of emotional self-regulation", which is surprising for many people.

In my workshop on stress management yesterday,, some people in the audience said that being stressed and "prone to anger" was due to their genes!

8:40 PM, March 09, 2007  
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