Dear Thelma: I’m just 15 and full of anger

Dear Thelma,

I am a 15-year-old who is preparing for the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3) next month. I have a lot of anger and hatred bottled up inside me.

My dream is to work as a parasitologist in the United States. My parents told me that in order to pursue my dream, I have to get into the science stream. Which means I need to get an A or at least a B in English, Maths and Science for my PT3.

My English and Science marks are fine but I am weak in Maths. In the assessment test, I did poorly in Maths. My parents were mad with me. They hurled insults at me. The insults made me very angry. I began to bottle up anger in my heart.

I have a brother who is two years younger than me. To add salt to injury, my mum started comparing my Maths test results with my brother's results. Now my brother claims he is better than me in everything.

My mum got me a tuition teacher to help me get an A in Maths. But I can't follow her lessons because she teaches too fast for me. When I tell the teacher I cannot understand a particular chapter, she calls me a dumb-ass!

When I complain to my mum about this, she scolds me instead. I am so angry with my mum. My parents are not understanding at all.

My Maths marks improved in the mid-term exams. My parents were happy but I was not, as the marks were not up to my expectations.

A week before my birthday, I asked my parents for an iPhone 6 Plus because my present phone is a hand-me-down and it is not in good condition. My parents said they would only get me a new phone after the PT3. A year ago, my mum got a Zenfone for my brother even though he only scored 4As in the UPSR.

I love my mother but her actions make me hate her. Meanwhile, my tuition teacher continues to torture me. She restricts me from using a calculator, saying that students are not allowed to use any calculator for the PT3 Maths paper. But this is not true.

She tells my mum that I am lazy, a spoilt brat and an irresponsible idiot. And my mum believes her.

My younger brother behaves arrogantly towards me but my mum does not scold him. Instead, she says I am a sadist. Right now, I have so much anger and hatred bottled up inside me that I feel I am about to explode. Due to this, I get chest pains occasionally. Please help me. - Vader


Dear Vader,

You cannot change people or control how they behave. You only have control over yourself and your own behaviour. In a situation like yours, that is what you have to fall back on.

While you may feel that others' judgment of you is unfair, they may have reasons to support their point of view. It is pointless for you to point fingers. Continuing to blame them - and having them find fault with you - will only get you stuck in an unproductive cycle which makes you angry and frustrated.

Your anger is not helping you. When you are angry, you are likely to speak and behave in a more aggressive tone and manner. You may not be aware of this, but others can see it. For someone your age, such behaviour can be read as rudeness. Thus you confirm what others think of you. They speak to you in a way they deem fit. And you become angry. The cycle continues.

The only way to break this cycle is to change your pattern of behaviour. Before you can change your behaviour, you must be aware of it. It is normal for you to feel angry with the situation you are in. However, you have to learn to handle your anger in a healthy manner.

The first thing you have to do is to stop seeing other people's behaviour as antagonistic towards you. In order to bring about change in a situation, you have to let your guard down and stop being defensive. This will allow you to listen to what others are saying.

When you stop being defensive, you are less likely to get on the offensive when someone tells you how they feel about you. And when you are less offensive, you are less likely to get caught in this cycle of anger and frustration.

With your teacher, perhaps the problem is not that you don't understand what she is teaching you. It could be a problem with the way you are communicating this to her. What words are you using? How are you saying it? Does she feel that you are unappreciative of her? As a matter of fact, have you ever thanked her for teaching you?

Perspective is important in a situation like this. Instead of seeing others as criticising you or putting you down, why don't you see it as feedback? Feedback allows you to be aware of the kind of message you are sending about yourself, and how others perceive it. Feedback from others allows you to understand how you can improve yourself. Improving yourself helps make you a better person. None of this means that you are a bad person, or that you are at fault. Instead, try and understand why they - your mother and your tuition teacher - seem to think such about you. Why is your mother convinced that you are irresponsible?

Obviously, telling her that you are responsible is not helping. In cases like this, action speaks louder than words. What can you do to change her mind?

It is very easy to get caught up in what we don't have, and the bad that others are doing to you. Think about it, though. Is it really that bad? You don't have the phone that you want. But do you have a phone? Can you use it to communicate?

Your parents may not be encouraging you the way you want them to. But have they ever discouraged you from pursuing your dream or ambition? It is not uncommon for Malaysian parents to use disparaging remarks in an attempt to encourage their children. It reflects the reality of the lives they once led. You cannot expect them to become the parents you see on television shows from the West.

Your parents and your tuition teacher are not bad people. They want the best for you. They just have their own way of showing it. Call it the school of tough love.

Softening your stance on them may trigger a change in their behaviour towards you. You can start with something as simple as saying "thank you".

Your younger brother is probably behaving the way all siblings do - with a healthy amount of disrespect. This is to be expected.

I am not in a position to say why your parents treat the two of you differently. Where the two of you are concerned, you will have to accept that all siblings have their fair share of issues. You have to learn not to take things too seriously and to stand up for yourself in a respectful manner.

You are working hard, and that is good. Keep it up. Do not give up. Keep your goals and ambition in mind. The best thing you can do right now is to work hard. Do your best. The field you have chosen is one that requires a lot of studying. So training such as not using a calculator for Mathematics is beneficial. It is not torture or ill treatment. It is a means to your goal.

You must remember that in life, one cannot expect to get special treatment. If you want others to change the way they behave towards you, then you have to start the change. To quote Mahatma Gandhi: be the change you want to see.

Life is full of challenges. It is normal to become angry with things that happen. Anger is not going to help, though. What will help is the ability to feel the anger, let it pass and then address the problem at hand. -Thelma


Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800