Dr. Madan L. Kharé
(First Published In 2005)
I recently spoke to a veterinarian’s wife who decided to call me after she read my last article. We had a long conversation, but basically what she told me was that for the last few months, her husband has been growing angrier and angrier. Everything makes him angry, whether things are right or wrong. At first she thought that there were problems only at home, but to her surprise, she found out that her calm, likeable and personable husband had become unbearable at work also. As a matter of fact, a few of the staff members were planning to quit. Her husband wouldn’t talk to her and he downright became very abusive verbally, and sometimes, physically, toward humans or animals. When asked what’s going on, he would not say.
Does this sound familiar to you? Well I bet most of us have gone through or are going through this, to some degree, one way or another, at one time or another.
Some of you might remember the famous alleged animal abuse case against a veterinarian in the state of New Jersey that ruined his career and his life. In another case, the veterinarian put his own child into an animal cage.
What was the reason?
The answer is very simple: ANGER.
We live in a very angry society. And veterinarians are not immune.
The definition and origin of anger is very complex and is beyond my realm of expertise, even though I have two years of non-degree psychological training. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and neurologists all have a different definition, increasing its complexity.
To continue the story of the veterinarian’s spouse, I called the veterinarian and at first his reaction was, you guessed it, anger. He told me that it’s none of my --- business. However, after several calls and negotiations, he finally agreed to talk to me. He agreed to have an open staff meeting at his hospital. I told him that his wife and two teenage children must be included.
All the staff members openly expressed their feelings at that meeting. They said that lately “Dr. Smith” has been acting very mean, vengeful, bitter, accusatory, paranoid, resentful. Nothing pleases him. He’s been sarcastic, insulting, and openly critical, finding fault with everything and everyone.
His wife and children expressed the same things. No one could understand the turnaround in his behavior. Finally, it was Dr. Smith’s turn. I told him, be honest to yourself. You are a professional, a diagnostician. Tell me the real reason why your behavior has changed. He took a deep breath, looked straight into my eyes, and said, “Madan my father died at the age of 60 from a massive heart attack. And do you know how old I am? I am 59 and a half. And I’m approaching 60 very soon.” Unable to hold back his tears, he got up and left the room. I was not surprised to hear the stunned gasps of several people in the room. His wife, children, and a few staff members started crying.
It was quite a revelation.
Well, to cut the story short, Dr. Smith went through several rigorous diagnostic procedures. Blood tests, stress test, x-rays, angiogram, endoscopy, and colonoscopy. And guess what. They did find something. It was not heart disease. But he does have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and he was immediately put on the purple pill. And his heart symptoms have disappeared.
Dr. Smith, with the memory of his father’s death, and having symptoms of heartburn, wrongfully assumed that he also had the fatal heart disease and that generated his fear. And that fear turned into anger. But there was a happy ending and Dr. Smith is now happy as a clam. He gave his staff a hefty raise, bought new equipment, and is thinking to renovate his hospital. (I was also happy with my consulting fee.) He also decided to take a week off this summer and spend some time with his kids. Now his wife has only one complaint-that Dr. Smith is behaving like a teenager again. Oh well.
The veterinary business is an extremely competitive client and service-oriented profession. It’s like being on the witness stand 24/7, with the feeling one must “perform or perish”. This situation is compounded by the fear of financial failure, professional letdown, with numerous negativity and situations, consisting of the “what ifs” when dealing with clients, animal care, and practice management.
Anger is an emotion that varies in its intensity-it could be just a mild irritation or it could spew out as viciously as a volcano. No one knows its exact origin but it could be innate, genetic, hormonal, or learned behavior; or it could be triggered by frustration or certain environmental situations which are beyond our control.
The bottom line is, no matter what the reason, you must understand and know how to handle anger before it controls and destroys you. Every psychologist, therapist, and patient knows that realizing the problem is 90% of the cure.
Veterinarians are experienced with the training of problem solving in animals. There is no reason why you can’t use the same training to solve your own problems.
What I’m trying to say is, take yourself out of the scenario and utilize your diagnostic training to analyze the situation. Ask yourself, what’s the history? Where did it originate? What could be the reasons? Write down the rule ins and rule outs. Think about prevention, control, and how it can be treated. Some of you might say, “but I’m not a psychologist or physician”. I politely disagree with you. You are trained, so use your training. The only difference is the environment.
Following are a few self-help pointers.
They may vary from person to person.
1. Avoid situations and environments that instigate aggression, belligerence, or violent behavior.
2. Instead of angry outbursts, calmly express your feelings for a more productive outcome.
3. Make a conscientious effort to explain your feelings and to understand others.
4. Put an end to thoughts of hostility. Obsessive and irrational thinking or repeatedly talking about the situation will only increase and prolong your feelings of anger.
5. Don’t allow yourself to use your temper to get your own way.
6. Reward yourself for controlling your temper; punish yourself if you show anger, aggression, or abuse.
7. Make efforts to atone for your angry behavior.
8. Reduce your frustrations by knowing your trigger points. Evaluate what sets you off as well as what works to maintain self-control.
Strategies to keep anger at bay:
1. Take deep and long breaths.
2. Go for a walk outside and look at the sky.
3. Do some stretches or other exercises that will reduce the tension in your body.
4. Find a distraction (listening to music, meditation, or humor) to help curb your anger.
5. Grab a piece of paper or get on your word processor and put your thoughts in writing.
6. If you believe in a higher power, spend time in prayer.
7. Role reversal-consider how you would feel if someone was angry at you.
8. Invite open discussions with your family and staff members. Ask them “how am I doing”.
9. There are tons of books on the subject available. You can go to places like Barnes and Noble or Borders where you can relax with a latte and read them for free.
10. If all else fails, don’t be embarrassed or afraid to get help from a professional counselor.
Anger is a very complex human emotion and has various shapes, sizes, and colors. Sometimes it’s very difficult to understand and control.
Personal and professional stresses affect not only your performance at work; they also have a tremendous effect on your family life. Therefore, making efforts to control your anger will lead to a smoother work environment as well as peace and harmony with your family and loved ones.
You are a member of a unique, problem solving oriented professional community. Recognize if there is a problem, zero in on your target, and go for it. Believe in yourself.