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Ask Ellie: To manage anger, look inward and heal old wounds

There are lessons to be learned from Will Smith's violent reaction to anger at the Oscars

Dear Readers: Can anger ever be positive? Simple answer: Yes, when we learn to own and conquer it within ourselves.

None of us are strangers to reacting negatively, whether it happened when feeling our parents didn’t understand us, or as adults having “a bad day.”

We witnessed that reality in the televised violent incident of actor Will Smith whacking comedian Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Academy Awards, on March 27.

“Stuff was already going on inside him and untethered,” says Canadian clinical psychologist Dr. Monica Vermani.

Author of her latest book, A Deeper Wellness, Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas, Vermani says that anger can take many forms, including an explosive reaction, like Smith’s.

Besides manifesting aggressively and directly, anger can also be passive, even silent.

Despite the two-years-plus of anger endured when our lives were upended by lockdowns, homeschooling, and social barriers, I found a recent chat with Dr. Vermani enlightening and hopeful.

It takes learning to handle our own bad days, accepting those situations within our control and those outside of it, plus recognizing signs of rage and responding appropriately.

Psychologist/wellness coach and public speaker, Vermani has a “dynamic range of techniques” that can help deal with relationship anger (the most common disorder), using psychotherapy/cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), mindful meditation and more.

She believes that good mental health deserves the same time, attention, and effort also needed for our physical well-being.

So how do we manage our own anger within relationships? By being responsive to what triggers us for example, when our partner says certain words. Or when, growing up, our parents expected too much from us, and we felt we’d failed then, and can now.

Siblings also affect our anger reactions if, while young, we always felt the eldest child was treated as special, or the middle child acted out to get more notice, or the youngest child felt resentment, believing they can never catch up to the others.

We can all learn from an approach which starts with encouragement to “work on our own wounds.”

Even with long friendships, we sometimes need to re-assess and take charge of negative energy around us, especially if your life phase has shifted from the previous links.

The psychologist/author learned this the hard way, when her father suffered a severe workplace accident. By age 15, she was working full-time in a department store after school, and had to adapt to her own life phases and intense studies in her field.

After years of learning to read people’s inner triggers, the incident at the Oscars was no surprise for this psychologist.

Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was sitting in front, her hair shaved due to alopecia, an autoimmune disease that results in hair loss.

When Chris Rock referred to her jokingly, Smith laughed momentarily, then saw his wife make a face. “Something got brewed up in him, a need to step up, his insecurities wrong but triggered,” and coming up like “old boulders” within.

During the incident, the slap temporarily shut down the sound of the American broadcast. But later, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in King Richard.

Anger is a “blanket word, as the stuff going on inside you, gets untethered.” Says Vermani, “You hurt others, but also hurt yourself.”

Her message of self-empowerment: It’s possible to change.

It only requires that you pause and reflect about what’s making you become reactive to others, and to ongoing situations.

Dear Ellie: I don’t understand why my sister won’t speak to me. I was hit by a bus so I needed a car. My parents were going to help me but my sister found out and hasn’t spoken to me since.

I think the secrecy refers to when her ex-husband told his kids to keep his affair secret. I’ve been off work, have two adult children with autism, and a spouse with chronic pain.

I’m still trying to reach her, but no response. Do I just let her make the first move?

She’s been under heavy stress herself and keeps things bottled up.

Silent Sister

Both of you are suffering great stress, so don’t add more by seeking answers. Have empathy for her but focus on your own needs for now.

If an opportunity arises, tell her you sincerely wish her well. Meanwhile, deal with the priority of trying to handle immediate needs.

Ellie’s tip of the day

We can be our own change-makers from angry reactors to past hurts to learning to heal our own wounds from the past.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.