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Newsroom anger is normal, not aggression, advise CEJ Wellbeing Centre psychologists

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It is perfectly normal and healthy to feel angry in a newsroom. It is the expression of anger that we need to be careful about, advise clinical psychologists who counsel journalists.

“Anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions,” explains Dr Asha Bedar. “That is because it is a core emotion, an underlying emotion and a cover emotion.”

Dr Asha Bedar was speaking about anger in the newsroom for a special Facebook live session on World Mental Health Day Oct 10, 2020 organised by the IBA-CEJ’s Wellbeing Centre in collaboration with Deutsche Welle.

Dr Bedar has been the lead clinical psychologist at the centre that has provided over a hundred media workers free counseling since 2018.

Dr Bedar was joined by psychologist Mahnoor Shaikh, who also worked with the Wellbeing Centre.

Both psychologists said that the journalists at the clinic brought up anger during their sessions. “It was often a background issue that came up, a cover issue or an underlying issue,” adds Dr Bedar.

Journalists confess to struggling with anger in the newsroom. Newsrooms are places where it isn’t very easy to express your anger but it is part of the job.

For example, you feel anger when someone rejects your story. You can feel anger when someone rubbishes a point you have made or information you have shared.

“Anger is a very normal, natural core emotion,” said Dr Asha Bedar. “But people think anger is wrong. People think if they feel anger there is something wrong with them.” From childhood we hear that getting angry is wrong. From the beginning, then, our relationship with it becomes a negative one.

We feel guilty when we get angry, try to suppress it, make it go away, deny it, avoid taking about it. We want anger to be hidden away. So the first thing a clinical psychologist will do is to tell the client that there is nothing wrong with feeling angry.

The pure feeling of anger is completely natural. We get angry when someone threatens our identity, our basic needs (food, shelter), or our higher mature needs such as authority, respect, explained Mahnoor Shaikh.

Good things come out of anger as well. For example, take the movements we’ve seen in history for the rights of people, the civil rights movement, the freedom movement, Aurat March are all expressions of anger because people’s rights were threatened. Our culture does not train us to deal with anger as an emotion. Women in the newsroom are often shamed and labeled over getting angry.

“Some genders have been given the concession for anger,” said Mahnoor Shaikh. Women are told it doesn’t behoove them to express anger but men are even told that anger is their ‘husn’ in some cultures.

Dr Asha explained that men express other emotions through anger because in our society, men are not given the space to feel other emotions. “They are told they can’t cry, they can’t say they feel fear, anxiety, vulnerability,” she said.

“The only emotion allowed to men is anger. So when they feel sadness, they express it with anger.” When they feel anxiety, they express it with anger. When a man feels grief, he smashes things. Very often anger is a cover for other emotions. So what can newsroom staff do to handle their anger better and face the anger of others better?

1. When you get angry ask if you’ve made assumptions, stop and assess why you are feeling angry. React based on that.

2. We should not use the same levels of anger for all situations. Anger should be proportionate to the mistake. If you get the same level of anger for each situation, you will not be taken seriously.

3. There is a difference between being assertive and aggressive. In conflict speak respectfully rather than attacking the other person. Use ‘I’ at the start of sentences to convey what you needed or wanted the other person to do. Walk away from aggressive people. Say you will talk about it later.

The session was moderated by Wellbeing Centre team member Mahim Maher, who works as editor for digital properties at SAMAA TV.

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