An Ode to Dr. Gabor Maté’s Insights on Healthy and Unhealthy Anger

Healthy and unhealthy anger
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Recently, I came across a video that provided an interesting perspective on anger. It featured Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, providing key insights on healthy and unhealthy anger. The doctor himself had experienced a transformation that changed his outlook toward rage, and he uses this knowledge to help us understand the differences between constructive and destructive anger.

To quote him:

“If I were to infringe on your boundaries, either physically or emotionally, the healthy response for you is to mount an anger response,” No, get out, stay away.” That’s healthy. Healthy anger is in the moment. It protects your boundaries, and then it’s gone. It’s not necessary anymore. However, if you could not express it, it doesn’t disappear. It gets suppressed.”

In other words, he says healthy anger helps draw boundaries. Once you express your anger constructively or healthily, you step back. The incident ends there. It does no harm to the other but protects you from damage. However, this type is often misconstrued. People who go through this type of anger are often subjected to dialogues like “you are too sensitive” and “you are overthinking.” A form of gaslighting takes place to downplay the situation. When you are unable to express your anger constructively, or you were discouraged from doing so in your childhood, your feelings can become suppressed, potentially leading to you expressing your anger in a destructive manner later in life.

Here’s another interesting anecdote that he shared in his video, which goes against the typical “punch the pillow when you’re angry” technique:

“Just as healthy anger expresses itself, does its job, and then it’s gone, rage the more it explodes, the bigger it gets. That’s what happens to me. It doesn’t pass through me. Sorry no. I’ve worked with certain therapists who’ve said punch a pillow, express the rage, let it just pass through you like the wind. But that isn’t, in fact, what happens with me. And I know I’m not the only one. It actually magnifies and intensifies and extends this feeling because it recruits more brain circuits into its service.”

In short, he states that the more you indulge your anger without regulation, the more unmanageable it can become, unlike constructive anger.

The unhealthy kind is volatile. A person who goes through it cannot control himself or his words and expects us to sail through it. I have heard family members of people with unpredictable temperaments say with conviction, “That’s his only flaw. His partner will have to adjust to his anger.” “When she’s angry, step away.” This type of anger, which causes the most harm, is justified by the person and their family. Volatile people often blame the other person involved in the argument for “provoking” their anger. They use the same defense time and again to validate their own misdeeds. The worst thing I have heard such people say is, “But I cool down soon after I get angry, so it is not that bad.” This means they have no intention of correcting themselves, and it is a problem the people around them have to deal with. I am of the thought that unhealthy anger is the reason for most bad marriages. Even if only one partner struggles with anger management issues, it can still damage the relationship’s progression.

The ode here goes to “healthy anger.” Being nice all the time can earn you a lot of friends. However, it does not serve you well. Healthy anger helps you get out of a harmful situation, end bad marriages, friendships, or relationships, and confront anyone mistreating you. It enables you to take a stand. When you take this defense mechanism out of your life, you risk being treated as a doormat.

My anger nowadays is mostly healthy, and it comes up when I am pushed around or disrespected. I used to feel unhealthy anger in my younger days. But that behavior taught me it only harms the household and relationships.

I have also been subjected to unhealthy anger from some of my ex-partners. That was when I realized the destructive power of anger. It can affect someone’s mental and emotional well-being to the point of no return. I believe those exposed to rage regularly should seek therapy to help them feel balanced again.

Dr. Gabor Maté goes on to discuss why experiencing rage, which does not imply acting it out, is the way to process the harmful emotion. You sit with yourself, understand why you feel the way you do, and work effectively towards resolving it constructively instead of letting it out on the other person. He admits that he faced challenges in his marriage and with his kids due to his rage. I found his honesty refreshing because I believe the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Most hate to admit their imperfections and get defensive about them.

Anger management is something we must all learn and practice. Knowing when to be angry, how to express it, and how to calm ourselves down before it gets out of hand is vital to successfully taking control of our anger. If you are someone with destructive anger issues, work on improving yourself with the help of a therapist for the happiness of your family, friends, and people around you. Do not indulge those inner demons thinking they are untameable. They can very much be brought under control. But it requires your active participation.

An Ode to My Failed Love Stories

An ode to my failed love stories
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh

Love, for me, has always been complicated. As a youngster, I always thought my first love would be for keeps. That the first kiss meant the deal was sealed forever, and the relationship was locked in for life. But real life is not a movie. It is definitely not a fairy tale. Different plans were charted out by forces beyond my control. Plans that would, at times, suck the soul out of me.

I have had the privilege of experiencing intense, passionate, illogical romance. The type that makes you forget the world around you and causes you to stutter and act foolish in your partner’s presence. It nudges you to write cheesy poems and bestow embarrassing gifts. You go to great lengths for the person to ensure they understand the value you bring to their life. The type of love where the self merges with the other and all boundaries and individualities diminish. On the flip side, the sort of young, inexperienced affection that cajoles you into tolerating mistreatment or disrespect and threatens you to compromise on your values just so you would stay confined to that perpetual dark zone. Your mind conveniently wants you to romanticize your forgiveness. “These things happen in love,” it protests, and you continue to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

These love stories of mine never (thankfully) lasted.

An ex once told me it’s better to be in a relationship with someone who loves you more than you love them. It acts as an effective self-preservation mechanism. When you are neck-deep in love, you kind of understand this theory. Minor disagreements tend to hurt, even if your partner is not at fault. Too much love can suffocate you. What else would explain us becoming overwhelmed by our own emotions to the point of no return? But how much is too much love? That’s subjective.

Deep love can often hurt because the level of emotional involvement is more. To step back and think logically is implausible, especially when all you want to do is cling to the person for dear life and unabashedly consume any space that exists between the two of you. It may be why many of us hang on to toxic love because, in a way, we are addicted to the person. Our love-struck system cannot tolerate being apart from the one we adore, even if we know the person is detrimental to our health. We longingly look out for our next “dose.”

Experience teaches you that some level of detachment is required to preserve your self-respect. You cannot merge yourself with your partner so fully that you lose your common sense along the way. “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you” is the new mantra. If you ignore this life hack, you lose.

Love has the power to keep you in a chokehold. All the chemicals in your body work harmoniously to prevent you from escaping this sea of love that, at times, is more adamant about drowning you than keeping you afloat. “You need them,” your mind justifies. “You won’t be able to survive without them.” Sometimes, you wonder why your own system is working against you. Why can’t it produce fewer chemicals and give your brain a chance to defog at least twice a day so you get some leeway to make rational decisions?

Often, some intensity imbalance is required to balance a relationship. Ironical, isn’t it? It’s never 50-50. Fighting for that 50-50 is when the balance goes haywire. Your whole focus is on whether equality is being maintained. A 40-60 is good enough, where each partner is mature enough to take the lower percentage of the deal, depending on the situation. But maturity is scarce, often leading to one partner compromising more than the other, accumulating bitterness in the long run.

I am in a proper healthy relationship at the moment, which feels different. Does he love me more than I love him? I am not sure. It feels equal. But less intense than any of the previous ones. It feels more mature, where things are discussed rationally, and no disrespect or insults are thrown generously into the air. We talk like proper adults with our negative emotions in check. For someone so used to an overflow of feelings, war of words, and flurry of insults, this silent, peaceful lull feels refreshing.

I can’t help but wonder if age and experience have a role to play in how he and I feel. He confided in me that he used to have no control over his words or emotions in his 20s. He used to be an angry young man, possessive, and naive. This contrasts with his current version, a wise man humbled by his own life experiences. It may be why “first love” is unique. Our emotions are intense in our formative years, and age has a way of watering them down. It is not that the love we experience later in life isn’t true. It becomes more guarded because you subconsciously filter your emotions through the lenses of your previous relationships. You learn your lessons, and you get better. But some of the dreamy rawness gets lost in the process.

If you are happily married to your first love, you might not relate to this post. But those who have had some failed passionate relationships would understand this feeling of being “in love” but also knowing the person isn’t right for you. The agony ends up changing you and even your future relationships because nothing molds you more intricately than experience. We are a sum of all the experiences we have been through, and each of us has a different journey that we have carved out on our own. It is understandable, then, why the concept of the “ideal relationship” may vary from person to person and may evolve over time. What I feel about love now is drastically different from my 20s. Earlier, I used to prioritize PDA and gifts. Nowadays, I prefer the subdued kind.

Do I miss the passion and cheesiness of my earlier relationships? Sure. But they have also taught me to step back and feel gratitude for the security and peace that comes with a healthy, respectful one.

An Ode to Nonviolent Communication

Holding Hands - Nonviolent Communication

Happy to announce I am now 100% nonviolent after reading Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg.

I am also 100% lying.

Because, like all good things in life, NVC takes effort. And practice. Having just finished the book, I only have an idea of what to say but no practical experience.

Conflict resolution is an interesting topic to me since we have to deal with conflicts in every aspect of our lives. How can we be stern and kind at the same time? How can we get the best out of any situation? Being able to communicate effectively is an art in itself.

I have always taken away something, if not everything, from every book I’ve read – a new kind of awareness. What I took away from this one was to take a moment to step back and focus on needs instead of the more apparent negatives during an argument. It helps with forgiveness. It keeps you calm. So it’s a win-win overall.

What is NVC?

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a practice that must be consciously ingrained in our daily interactions to see results. It includes letting go of your judgments and interacting with the other person to focus on each other’s needs instead of playing the blame game. We attribute violence to physical and mental abuse. But here, the author talks about negative communication as violence too. Things like incessant blaming, judging, silent treatment, and mocking all form a part of violent communication.

So here are some of the key takeaways from the book:

Focusing on needs

The four components of NVC include: what we are observing, feeling, and needing, and what we would like to request to enrich our lives. To summarize, the two parts of NVC are 1) expressing honestly 2) receiving empathically.

Connect your feeling with your need: “I feel.. because I need..”

Something you need to keep repeating to yourself whenever you are agitated. What is it that you need? Focus on each other’s primary emotion (need) instead of lashing out at each other.

Avoiding blame and judgment

Why would people want to tell the truth, knowing they will be judged and punished for doing so?

The more people hear blame and judgment, the more defensive and aggressive they become and the less they will care about our needs in the future. So even if our present need is met in the sense that people do what we want, we will pay for it later.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Why would someone tell you the truth if they knew they would be misunderstood or shouted at? I feel the more we make someone feel uncomfortable and “dirty” for telling us the truth, the more they will hide it the next time.

Being empathic even with people who hurt you

Blaming is easy. People are used to hearing blame; sometimes they agree with it and hate themselves – which doesn’t stop them from behaving the same way – and sometimes they hate us for calling them names – which also doesn’t stop their behavior. If we sense blame entering their mind, we may need to slow down, go back, and hear their pain for a while more.

NVC stresses hearing the other person a while longer and understanding their feelings before we put forward our requests. Such a method lets the other person relax and be in a proper frame of mind to receive and reciprocate.

Conflict Resolution

The more experience I have gained in mediating conflicts over the years and the more I’ve seen what leads families to argue and nations to go to war, the more convinced I am that most schoolchildren could solve these conflicts. If we could just say, “Here are the needs of both sides. Here are the resources. What can be done to meet these needs?,” conflicts would be easily resolved. But instead, our thinking is focused on dehumanizing one another with labels and judgments until even the simplest of conflicts becomes very difficult to solve. NVC helps us avoid that trap, thereby enhancing the chances of reaching a satisfying resolution.

Why can’t warring countries adopt this methodology, sit together, and discuss resolutions in a non-confrontational way? The world would be a more peaceful place to live in.

An Ode to Rewatching Movies

A still from Wake Up Sid

It was an irregular day in my life. I had not watched any new movies or tv series in the last 4-5 days on any of the OTT platforms I had religiously subscribed to. This is huge, considering I never went a day without new content.

I realized the moment you subscribe to something, your mentality shifts in that direction of wanting to make the most out of it. You want to get your money’s worth. And once things turn into a habit, there’s no looking back. OTT platforms had become a habit. Not watching new movies or series in the last few days didn’t stop me from zealously adding new items to my watchlist, but I wasn’t tempted to start any. Was it saturation? Was I tired of the new?

Out of the blue last night, I felt like rewatching a 2009 Hindi movie – Wake Up Sid. I remember loving it the first time I watched it. I did not remember any of the dialogues. I only vaguely remembered the feeling it gave me back then – the mushy, soft, warm kind. I was curious whether I would feel the same way again. So rewatch the movie, I did.

It’s a rarity nowadays to watch a movie twice, mainly because you are subjected to many choices. Why go for the old when you can make way for the new? With the rise of OTT platforms, we have more on our platter. We add items to our watchlist, just like a shopping cart. We start multiple movies or tv shows and taste a bit of each, just like a buffet. Movie watching is no longer an immersive experience. It feels like a chore we need to finish quickly because we are already eyeing another.

There was a time when we used to watch and rewatch our favorite stories. By the time we were done, we were able to crack dialogues in the movie as effortlessly as the actors themselves. I do not remember lyrics or movie dialogues nowadays, but that’s understandable. Things stick only when there’s repetition.

I feel when we have more choices, we tend to become confused. Human nature is such that we are tempted to try everything readily available. Nowadays, surrendering yourself to one experience has become rare. There’s a mishmash of multiple experiences that you are driven to partake in simultaneously.

I couldn’t stop smiling while watching Wake Up Sid. The emotions are all contemporary, very now. It has aged like fine wine. Everything in the movie from 13 years back is still relevant today – the angst of a man who’s disinterested in regular office work, his journey to understand himself and his goals, and gradually falling in love with a passionate, ambitious woman. A woman who says with conviction that she’s not interested in him but her actions and expressions prove otherwise. Sid is very relatable, and so is Aisha. When the characters fall in love, you end up falling for them too. Their charm is such. The magic of good storytelling is such.

We don’t make such movies anymore. Is it because love stories are nowadays made with the male gaze in mind, or is the female gaze less fashionable? I doubt it’s the latter.

Would I get back to any of the movies released nowadays ten years or maybe twenty years from now? Would I sit and rewatch with a smile or cringe at the corniness of it all? Only time can tell. I think it’s about time our Hindi filmmakers resumed making feel-good movies again — so that the romantics, like me, have a decent movie to cuddle up to on a dreary, overworked weekday night.