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Coping With Anger After The Marathon Bombings

BOSTON — Following the Boston Marathon attack last month, many people are experiencing anger.

The latest example came in the protests in Worcester in the last week outside the funeral home that held the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the bombing suspects before the body was moved and entombed outside of the state.

To learn more about that anger and how to manage it, Morning Edition spoke with Dr. Joseph Shrand, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. His latest book is “Outsmarting Anger: 7 Strategies For Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion.”

Dr. Joseph Shrand: The anger towards this fellow — it’s perfectly understandable. We don’t want this person to have any respect at all because he didn’t show us any.

Bob Oakes: Is it a harmful emotion to have generally?

Anger itself is a perfectly normal part of being human. It’s what you do with your anger that can get you in trouble. And what we saw with the marathon bombing was an act of aggression, which is the enactment of anger. And that is something that does hurt people over and over again. So aggression is a different component. Anger itself can be very productive. It’s what you do with your anger that can get you in trouble or not.

What signs should people be aware of that might show that they’re not necessarily dealing with the aftermath very well and might need help?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real phenomenon. It’s what happens after an event occurs to us that is outside the realm of what we usually experience. This certainly was one of those things.

So folks may begin to have sleep disturbance. They may begin to feel anxious for no apparent reason. They may begin to startle. One of my friends who was right there went to a movie a week ago — he thought he was fine, but there was some explosions in the movie, and he found himself jumping out of his seat. So we’re going to be experiencing some of these things, and we are going to be on high alert.

With Tamerlan Tsarnaev now apparently buried or entombed and out of the funeral home in Worcester at least, do you expect the public anger to subside? And do you think that it could possible ratchet back up again though when we move closer to trial and as other news stories come out?

The entombment of the body is different from the entombment of the memory. So, yes, that anger is right beneath the surface of our civilized response to the world. It’s right there. People deserve to be angry; we have been disrespected. But we now have to model the way we respond.

How does the individual manage anger so that it doesn’t turn into aggression? Or if it does, so that it doesn’t simply consume that person?

The first step is to recognize you’re angry. Channel that anger. It’s a great emotion. Some of the most important things in our world have come out of anger: the civil rights movements, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, all these things. Decide how you’re going to manage it.

Generally speaking, do you think that people in the greater Boston area have acted pretty well considering the severity of the episode and the shock that still permeates the atmosphere?

Personally, I’ve never been prouder to be a Bostonian. Not only did we manage the immediate aftereffect by people coming together to help each other, we’re doing something that is powerful, sends a message to the world that we are a peaceful people who have been aggressed upon but will not retaliate in the same way.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

    “People deserve to be angry; we have been disrespected. But we now have to model the way we respond.” ~Dr. Joseph Shrand

    The oldest murder story in the book is motivated by anger from being disrespected.

    We need to learn civil and non-violent ways to respond to recurring episodes of disrespect. Perhaps that is what the Humanities and the Arts are for.

    As I reckon it, anger is most commonly experienced as a reaction to feelings of injustice. But systemic injustice is ubiquitous in our culture. A psychologist once put it to me this way, “The world is not a Just Place. It’s just a place.”

    Unprocessed anger is one of the root causes of anhedonia, depression, and mood disorders. It’s also one of the root causes of reactive violence.

    The obvious solution is to learn to treat everyone (especially our foes, our antagonists, and our designated enemies) with a greater measure of fairness and respect. Otherwise, the cancers of injustice and disrespect will continue to reverberate and metastasize throughout the culture like a never-ending pandemic of bad karma.

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