We can recognize self-defeating personality habits and styles in others. We can also sometimes recognize them in ourselves. Psychologist Henry Kellerman says although our personalities are set early in life, we can change as adults, but only if we understand how behavior patterns are formed. Our individual personalities are, he says, directly related to how each of us learns to cope with anger — anger that is almost always deeply repressed. Please join us for a conversation with psychologist Henry Kellerman on personality patterns and how anger drives us.


  • Henry Kellerman Psychologist and author.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from “Personality: How It Forms” by Henry Kellerman. Copyright 2012 by Henry Kellerman. Reprinted here by permission of American Mental Health Foundation Books. All rights reserved.


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. According to psychologist Henry Kellerman, we spend much of our lives trying to manage anger, a process he says we are almost never even aware of.

  • 11:07:08

    MS. DIANE REHMIn a new book titled "Personality," he details the unrecognized power of anger in all our lives and its critical role in determining our behavior patterns, Henry Kellerman, on understanding how anger shapes us and different personality types.

  • 11:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMSo join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir, thanks for being here.

  • 11:07:44

    DR. HENRY KELLERMANGood morning.

  • 11:07:44

    REHMGood to have you here, Dr. Kellerman. You've written so many books. I'm looking at the latest, which is simply, as I said titled, "Personality."

  • 11:07:58

    KELLERMANIt's titled "Personality: How It Forms."

  • 11:08:00

    REHMExactly, that is the subtitle. And I'll turn to you and ask, how does it form?

  • 11:08:12

    KELLERMANWell, if you ask a psychoanalyst or if you want to know if we boil psychoanalyst down to one word what would that word be and that word would be remembering. Psychoanalysts want patients to remember.

  • 11:08:35

    KELLERMANSo I'm going to read a couple of sentences from the book. "What is it we need to remember? Isn't it that each of us remembers different things, different experiences? Surely it can't be that we all do, in fact, remember the same thing. Or another way of putting it is to consider that when we do finally remember, is it possible that it is the same thing that we all remember?"

  • 11:09:01

    KELLERMANDiane, do you think that we can all remember the same thing?

  • 11:09:05

    REHMOf course not.

  • 11:09:06

    KELLERMANWell, is that what we're getting at when we're asked to remember our past, that we're all the same?

  • 11:09:14

    REHMOf course not.

  • 11:09:14

    KELLERMANWell, the fantastic answer, however, is, yes, we will all remember the same thing.

  • 11:09:20

    REHMAnd what is that same thing we will all remember?

  • 11:09:28

    KELLERMANRight. Yeah, well, when we say what is that thing, are we talking about a table in the kitchen or a chair in the living room? Is that what we need to remember? Is the thing an inanimate object? No, the thing is an animate object.

  • 11:09:43

    KELLERMANSo it's a person. We need to remember something about a person. So when we're all infants and as we grow into small children, if we round up the usual suspects, how many people in our population do we have to remember?

  • 11:10:01

    KELLERMANWe have to remember a caretaker or two, or maybe one or two other people, but generally a caretaker and that usually is a parent.

  • 11:10:13

    REHMAnd from that parent...

  • 11:10:16

    KELLERMANWell, from that parent, we begin to learn the most important word in any language. And what is that word? What's the most important word in any language, Diane? You tell me. It has two letters and the first one starts with an N. What do you think it could be?

  • 11:10:37

    REHMIt is no.

  • 11:10:37

    KELLERMANI know you're very smart, right? I know you're very smart, yes. It's no.

  • 11:10:42

    REHMAnd we remember that person who said, no.

  • 11:10:47

    KELLERMANWell, let me expand that a bit. You're right, of course, but you see with a no, is accompanied a certain implication and that implication is two words, or else. We always experience the or else. So that is known as birth of compliance.

  • 11:11:14

    KELLERMANChildren begin to comply because they're always worried about a certain kind of experience that they don't want to have, just like all little animals that want to have that experience with their mommies. And that is they don't want to be abandoned. The or else always refers to abandonment.

  • 11:11:33

    KELLERMANAnd therefore with these nos that we hear, we're constantly getting our wishes blocked because little children always want what they want when they want it, how they want it, to what extent they want it.

  • 11:11:49

    REHMHowever, the growth of sensibilities, sensitivity and maturity comes with recognizing as one grows that what you want may not be able to be yours exactly when you want it.

  • 11:12:14

    KELLERMANWell, that's exactly the point and that's known as the ability to tolerate frustration and to postpone immediate needs for future goals and that relates very much to maturity.

  • 11:12:29

    REHMSo you're saying that our personality type, which may divide into several pieces or may develop into different types of personality is a better way to put it, all evolve from that idea of being said no to and then how we deal with that no.

  • 11:13:05

    KELLERMANYes, and that brings us back to the issue of anger that you talked about because when the no is said so many times, wishes are blocked. The child can't have what the child exactly wants when it wants it and when wishes are blocked, the child or the young child will become dissatisfied or moody or upset or stressed.

  • 11:13:37

    KELLERMANAll of them are code words for anger and the anger is instantly repressed and forgotten. Why? Because of the fear of abandonment, you cannot be angry. You can be a little bit dissatisfied. You can show a little bit of momentary dissatisfaction, but you really can't be rage-ful consistently and to a very intense level. If you are, then we call that a bipolar, you know, emotional disturbance.

  • 11:14:01

    REHMBut if we, each of us, tries to remember back to those earliest days -- I had Marilu Henner on the program the other day, one of apparently only a dozen or so people in this country who can remember not only everything she did, but everything she wore and every day it occurred back to the age of three, which is also when people start saying no a lot.

  • 11:14:48


  • 11:14:49

    REHMAnd hear no a lot because they're doing various things. She must be awfully overburdened with the consequences of having heard no, unless she didn't.

  • 11:15:07

    KELLERMANWell, the issue really involves this repression of anger because it is the birth of symptoms. See, we all have symptoms. Some are acute, some are chronic. If they're acute, they're likely to disappear more quickly. If they're chronic, they're likely to remain. But the fundamental issue.

  • 11:15:31

    REHMWell, Dr. Kellerman's cell phone just went off.

  • 11:15:36

    KELLERMANI turned it off.

  • 11:15:40

    REHMWe hope it's off for good now.

  • 11:15:42


  • 11:15:43


  • 11:15:45

    KELLERMANOh, my gosh. Okay, sorry. so the fundamental issue is when anger is repressed. You see it's the birth of a symptom. No symptom can survive with repressed anger whether it's a phobia or whether it's an intrusive thought or whether it's a compulsion or an obsession. No symptom can survive with repressed anger.

  • 11:16:09

    KELLERMANThe axiom or the self-evident truth would be, where there's repressed anger, not only will there be a symptom, there must be a symptom.

  • 11:16:17

    REHMTell me about...

  • 11:16:17

    KELLERMANWhere there is no repressed anger, not only will there not be a symptom, there cannot be a symptom.

  • 11:16:23

    REHMTell me about how you perceive your own personality development.

  • 11:16:31

    KELLERMANMy own personality.

  • 11:16:32

    REHMYour own personality.

  • 11:16:33

    KELLERMANOkay, give me some, give me some. What about respect? What do you mean by that specifically? You know details need to be specific.

  • 11:16:42

    REHMAll right. I'll be specific, the development of your own personality type going back to your own childhood. As a psychoanalyst, I realize you have been through psychoanalysis...

  • 11:16:57

    KELLERMANThat's right.

  • 11:16:58

    REHM...and that's a very important part of your own growth...

  • 11:17:06


  • 11:17:06

    REHM...and training. How would you describe your own remembrances of having heard no or else?

  • 11:17:18

    KELLERMANWell, as an only child from a middle-class Jewish family, you know, I was a little bit of a prince, I guess, right? And only children have a kind of universal, ubiquitous characteristic, which we call grandiosity. Now if the grandiosity is kind of limited and reality takes over, it could work wonders. If it prevails over everything else, it's no good.

  • 11:17:47

    REHMThen it's a real problem?

  • 11:17:48

    KELLERMANThen, it's a real problem. So mine, hopefully, was subservient to reality considerations, but with a mother and father and an intact family telling me and being wonderful about all the things I did, that I did well and in addition to which I was an expressive and verbal child so that was very important in my development and also because I wanted to be a good boy I guess and my mother made sure that I'd be a good boy.

  • 11:18:22

    KELLERMANSo the nos were integrated reasonably well, but, like, everybody in life not perfectly.

  • 11:18:27

    REHMPsychoanalyst Henry Kellerman, his newest book is titled "Personality: How It Forms." A short break here and when we come back, we'll talk more and take your calls.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. Henry Kellerman is with me. He is a renowned psychoanalyst operating in New York. His newest book is titled, "Personality: How It Forms." And of course we are going to open the phones very shortly and hear all about your impressions not only of your own personality, but perhaps of others as well. We were talking earlier, Dr. Kellerman, about the word no.

  • 11:20:43


  • 11:20:43

    REHMAnd you said it also implies or comes with or else. Alan from Lauderhill, FL writes, the word no also represents the child's first sense of empowerment, when he or she says no.

  • 11:21:09

    KELLERMANThat's exactly right. And it also means that it's driven by a certain kind of angry impulse, because the angry impulse says, what do you mean I can't have it. Yes, I can have it. I want it. And so the no is driven by anger. And anger is always an empowerment, always an empowerment. Here's the personality of anger. Are you ready for this?

  • 11:21:35


  • 11:21:36

    KELLERMANIf I can find it.

  • 11:21:38

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:21:38

    KELLERMANYeah, the personality of anger, okay, here it is right here. Anger has an aggressive drive. Like all primary emotions, it's inborn. Anger is expansive, it wants to get bigger. It has explosive potential. It wants to burst out. It has a confrontational inclination. It wants to get tough. Anger has an attack inclination, it wants to attack. It has an entitled frame of mind. It feels the right -- it feels it has the right to get tough.

  • 11:22:10

    KELLERMANAnger is an empowerment. It eliminates feelings of helplessness. So that anger is usually considered a negative emotion, but it's not always a negative emotion.

  • 11:22:21

    REHMSo, when that child says no, that child feels empowered until the confrontation with parent or caregiver comes and says, yes, you will.

  • 11:22:36

    KELLERMANThat's right.

  • 11:22:37

    REHMSo it's that balance between the expression of "I will not" with "but here are the reasons it makes sense."

  • 11:22:52


  • 11:22:54

    REHMSo there's got to be some rational discussion. I just don't want parents thinking, as they're listening to this, that, you know, sort of intervening when the child says no is the wrong thing to do because that child needs discipline as well as empowerment.

  • 11:23:19

    KELLERMANYes. It's always a conflict with children growing up, with all of us. The conflict is between what we have to do, which is usually good for us; and what we want, which is not always good for us. So that, yes, of course, we have to comply. We have to comply.

  • 11:23:38

    REHMWhat happens in your own analysis when that child begins to harbor anger for whatever reason and there are a myriad of reasons why the child could harbor that anger. What happens when the anger becomes the dominant factor of a personality and how it forms?

  • 11:24:13

    KELLERMANWell, when it becomes dominant like that, we get certain diagnoses that are very, you know, detrimental to the person's functioning in life. For example, there's a diagnosis known as borderline personality. And it's a person with what we call a thin ego, and anger is constantly just a scratch beneath the surface. And, you know, it takes over the person's life. It's very difficult to live with such a person. And such a person usually winds up, you know, very much alone.

  • 11:24:46

    KELLERMANThere are other diagnoses like aggressive personalities that are similar, psychopathic personalities. There are always riddled with a lot of repressed anger as well as a certain amount of anger above the -- on the surface. So when anger takes over like you're suggesting, you know, it cripples the person emotionally.

  • 11:25:05

    REHMBut can anger be a positive motivating force as well?

  • 11:25:12

    KELLERMANYes, but not if it's part of this diagnosis that I'm talking about.

  • 11:25:15

    REHMI understand that.

  • 11:25:15


  • 11:25:16

    REHMYou're talking about an extreme.

  • 11:25:18


  • 11:25:18

    REHMAnd now I'm asking you about the development of a normal, quote, "normal" individual, who has a certain amount of anger, but that anger is mostly under control and that anger becomes a motivating force.

  • 11:25:41

    KELLERMANIt does, of course. But I have to also offer a qualifier and say that it's very important to know the distinction between anger, aggression and assertion. It's perfectly possible for people and desirable for people to be able to assert their needs, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's driven by anger. People need to feel entitled to assert their needs. But many people, I might even say most people feel a little reluctant to do that for various reasons.

  • 11:26:12

    KELLERMANAnd so usually that kind of assertion is driven by the anger and it interferes and it distracts from the objective.

  • 11:26:20

    REHMLet's go back to the young child and how parents can balance that reaction of theirs to the child who begins to say no as a development of childhood, as development of a certain amount of maturity that happens when the child is quite young. How can the parent positively encourage that development while confronting his or her own anger that the child continues to say no.

  • 11:27:06

    KELLERMANOkay. You see, most people, all of us probably, like to solve problems. And problem solving, especially in a marriage -- let me just sidetrack for a sec -- in a marriage can kill the marriage. Problem solving is not a good idea.

  • 11:27:22

    REHMWhy not?

  • 11:27:24

    KELLERMANBecause the best thing to do is to reflect the feelings of your partner. You see, problem solving means that you're not really listening. So, going back to the thing with the child and the parent is when the child was going through a no period is very important for the parent not to get angry because they need to realize that the issue is not trying to solve the problem, the issue is to try to reflect the child's feelings by saying, oh, I see that you really didn't want to do that rather than to say, you know, Johnny, it's not a very good idea to do that because if you do that Chicken Little might fall from the sky.

  • 11:28:02

    KELLERMANThat's not a good idea. So it's much better to reflect the feelings, continue to reflect the feelings and that will help the child and the parent will get angry, because the parent realizes there are not two children in that room, there's a parent and a child.

  • 11:28:18

    KELLERMANAn adult and a child. So you can't take everything literally and concretely. You need to be able to be the parent. And that means being able to suffer inordinately as a parent and distinctly reflect the feeling and not expect the plant to grow immediately from the seed that you just planted. It takes time.

  • 11:28:39

    REHMHow can we, as adults, if we are having difficulty in our lives begin to reflect back on those early years in a positive way to better understand ourselves. And here I'm not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of psychoanalysis. I'm talking about how we do that on our own.

  • 11:29:12

    KELLERMANOkay. It's a tough question because it's a tough task. Is it an impossible question or an impossible task, I'm not sure, but it's very tough. You have to have an introspective tradition in your personality. And if I ask you what percentage of the population has an introspective tradition, you might get stuck on that question because few do. A small percentage of the population anywhere has a real introspective tradition.

  • 11:29:42

    KELLERMANAnd that means that you have to sort of realize that current reactions to people very much are isomorphically, meaning the scale one to one related to historical people in your life. And you have to make that connection. If you can make that connection, A, you won't get so angry. And, B, if you can tolerate frustration, you can work with that.

  • 11:30:05

    REHMLet's spell that out. Are you saying if you can recall a particular person, a particular moment when that difficulty, that really agonizing tension arose between you and person, that that will help you become more aware of what's going on with you.

  • 11:30:35

    KELLERMANYes, it will help you become more aware but in the following way. You see, we are all involved in struggle. What is the objective of a good psychotherapy? It's the same objective as life, as we had in life. The objective is to learn to struggle better, because it's always a struggle.

  • 11:30:55

    REHMI cannot believe your telephone has gone off again. He's a busy man who's...

  • 11:31:07

    KELLERMANThe phone is not working well. The phone is not working, that's the problem.

  • 11:31:10

    REHMWell, maybe Sandra can come in and get...

  • 11:31:12

    KELLERMANYes, that's a good idea.

  • 11:31:14

    REHM...your telephone for you.

  • 11:31:15

    KELLERMANYeah, that's a good idea.

  • 11:31:16

    REHMAnd I promise not to get overly angry about that. It is certainly an interruption and one that we have a problem with. Here's an email which says, it's from Luke who says, I wonder if you're guest would include cultural remembering as the primary form of individual adult ways of being in dealing with anger. As persons we are both greedy and communitarian, warlike and peaceful.

  • 11:32:02

    KELLERMANWell, that's a good question because it talks to the title of the book. And the reason it's a good question with respect to the title of the book is that the title of the book is implying how can we reform personality, how can we change. And the answer is actually, with respect to culture, is important because we all have a culture of our personality. And in culture -- culture is composed of traditions. And so the traditions in our personality very much are dependent upon the kinds of characteristics that we develop in our personality, which we call character traits.

  • 11:32:44

    KELLERMANSo with respect to the culture of the personality, we need to expand that culture and practice new forms of relating.

  • 11:32:53

    REHMPsychoanalyst Henry Kellerman, his new book is titled, "Personality: How It Forms." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a great many callers waiting. I'm going to open the phones. We'll go first to Kalamazoo, MI. Good morning, Tom, you're on the air.

  • 11:33:20

    TOMGood morning, Diane. Love you.

  • 11:33:22

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:33:22

    TOMAnd I'm glad you didn't get angry because it's only because your mother said no to you.

  • 11:33:27

    REHMI think you're right.

  • 11:33:29

    TOMMy feeling about personality -- I only had one daughter but I've seen grandchildren grow up is that their personality is pretty well intact when they come right out of a chute. That is that first year before you're dealing with nos and such, they have a distinct personality, very different from their siblings and everybody else, way before you start forming them. And I love the terrible twos because they do say no. I don't see it as an angry gesture, I see it as an assertive gesture, saying what they want with a very limited vocabulary.

  • 11:34:02

    KELLERMANWell, that's very good that you see it that way. But when they say no, they're not saying it with a smile. And it is assertive, but it's driven by anger. And, yes, they come out of chute that way. I think you're absolutely right. But we have to deal with epigenesis now and that means that if the child is born with a certain kind of personality disposition. And the environment in which the child grows supports it.

  • 11:34:32

    KELLERMANAnd it's the kind of environment that reinforces that kind of disposition, then that disposition flowers into its full form. But if the environment is, let's say, contrasting to that, then we have a difficult problem and the disposition that the child's born with will usually not prevail over the cultural environment. So the question is, is it culture over genes or is it genes over culture? And I think the evidence is surprisingly that culture is very powerful.

  • 11:35:05

    REHMSo that if a child is born into a family with certain expectation, certain ways of behavior, if that child has differences of thought about behavior and tastes, for example, that child could be in some trouble within that family.

  • 11:35:34

    KELLERMANThat's right, that's exactly right. So that, you know, this epigenetic issue of culture is very important, very important, crucial. It will prevail over genetic endowment even though the traits that the child was born with or the dispositional tendencies will still infiltrate, bleed into the child's functioning day to day, yes. So it's a problem.

  • 11:36:04

    REHMBut that puts it in conflict.

  • 11:36:06

    KELLERMANExactly, exactly.

  • 11:36:08

    REHMHere's an email from Jean in Chapel Hill, NC. Each member of the family may remember the same memory in different ways. It happens and then it becomes a memory to the individual and we each remember it, but often alter it slightly.

  • 11:36:40

    KELLERMANWell, that's a different issue because we are discussing or I'm not discussing the issue that whether all family members are focusing on one particular person's early memory. I'm simply saying that all of us, individually, are going to remember the same thing, not whether the father remembers the same thing, the child remembers about the child. That's different. We're not talking about a group memory. We're talking about individual memory.

  • 11:37:07

    REHMAnd so each of us is remembering our own.

  • 11:37:11

    KELLERMANOur own thing we need to remember, which is who blocked the wishes. That's why mothers are always getting bad reports because it's the mothers who are loving the child but are saying no a lot. And so every folk wisdom has this saying, no kindness goes unpunished.

  • 11:37:32

    REHMThe book is titled, "Personality." The author, psychoanalyst Henry Kellerman. Short break, right back.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Henry Kellerman is with me. He's a psychoanalyst who has written numerous books. He's also written a novel titled, "The Making of Ghosts," but his newest book and the one we're talking about today is titled, "Personality: How It Forms." And we are going to go right back to the phones after I read this email from Jack in Ohio, who says, "I suffer from passive aggression. And as the father of two young children how can I keep from passing that trait on to my children?" First you might describe passive aggression.

  • 11:41:00

    KELLERMANWell, passive aggression is usually attributed to what's known as the passive-aggressive personality. And there are three types, essentially. One is called passive-aggressive passive type. One is called passive-aggressive aggressive type. One is called passive-aggressive dependent type. So I don’t know which type you are, however, the objective of the passive-aggressive personality is to make the other person angry. That's the objective.

  • 11:41:32

    KELLERMANSo as a parent, you have to be very careful because your objective, if you're truly a passive-aggressive personality, is to make your child angry. And I would guess that you really don't want to do that. But emotions, you know, primary emotions stand outside of civilization. Anger wants to attack. Fear wants to flee. Disgust wants to eject. So we have to be in civilization. And if we're in civilization we know you don't want to make your child angry.

  • 11:42:04

    REHMSo speak specifically to how this young father can check himself in relation to those young children.

  • 11:42:18

    KELLERMANOkay. You see, if it's a passive-aggressive passive type, then what you will do to satisfy your objective in making the other person angry, in this case a child unfortunately, is to be impatient. Actually, I should say that it's to delay. Delay is more characteristic. If you're a passive-aggressive aggressive type, then you'll be impatient. If you're a passive-aggressive dependent type, you'll begin to depend on the child and the roles will be reversed. The child will become the parent and you'll become the child in terms of your behavior.

  • 11:42:58

    KELLERMANSo you have to be careful of not being too impatient, not being a person who delays too much and not reversing roles. In every one of those respects, anger will be the objective with respect to the child's reactions because the child will get angry with any one of those kinds of behaviors toward that child.

  • 11:43:21

    REHMWell, Jack, in Ohio, I hope you take those words to heart. Let's go to Ashville, N.C. and another expression of anger. Jonathan, you're on the air.

  • 11:43:38

    JONATHANOh, I'm not here to express my anger.

  • 11:43:42

    REHMI'm glad.

  • 11:43:43

    JONATHANI love your show, Diane.

  • 11:43:45

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:43:45

    JONATHANThis has been great. I wanted to say that I was cured of chronic back pain by a doctor, by an M.D. whose theory is that 98 percent of human back pain is caused by the desire to distract ourselves from our own anger. And I was cured in 1989, early 1990 and I have not had a recurrence of back pain since then. And by learning how, when I started to feel a twinge of pain over there, near the sciatic nerve or wherever it cropped up, just thinking, okay, what's my state of mind? Am I angry?

  • 11:44:38

    JONATHANAm I angry at somebody? Am I angry over something that just happened recently? Just the realization that I am angry at something would cause that back pain to evaporate, to go away.

  • 11:44:52

    REHMYou know, you can argue it even the other way around that your back is a good reminder to check what's going on in your head.

  • 11:45:07

    KELLERMANYeah, of course, the way this caller describes it, it sounds like a psycho physiological disorder he had in his back or it's known as psychosomatic disorder, but we have to say that not all back pain or...

  • 11:45:22

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:45:22

    KELLERMAN...is psychosomatic.

  • 11:45:24


  • 11:45:24

    KELLERMANWhat happened to this gentleman, I think, is that, if you remember, I said at the beginning of the program that no symptom can survive if the anger is made conscious. You know, Freud said, consciousness is curative. He was half right. Consciousness is curative only if what's made conscious concerns the repressed anger, but it's the repressed anger towards a particular who. Who was the other person toward whom you were angry? When you put your finger on that the symptom cannot survive and so this gentleman probably put his finger on that who.

  • 11:46:06

    REHMWell, you also said earlier that quite often it is the mother who bears an awful lot of the direction of anger because she's most often the disciplinarian who says no, you can't do this. So are we going back to Freud and saying everything is Mama's fault?

  • 11:46:36

    KELLERMANNo. What we're saying is that -- well, maybe we are saying that, but not the point I'm going to make. The point I’m going to make is that the issue is who is blocking the wish. You see, we're all pleasure-soaked individuals. We want what we want and we want it and so forth, just like we did when we were children.

  • 11:46:55

    REHMBut if we have to go all the way back...

  • 11:46:57

    KELLERMANWe don't have to go all the way back. We just have to make conscious the who in the current life who is doing it. And automatically, by a tacit assumption it goes back to history. We just need to make conscious who is blocking the wish. The wish is the most derivative form of the pleasure principle in human life.

  • 11:47:18

    REHMAll right. I want to ask you, Dr. Kellerman, about a very sad subject. And I've read about this. You raised four beautiful sons. One of whom was murdered. How did you deal with the anger that must have come from losing that son?

  • 11:47:51

    KELLERMANOkay. You know, grieving in the literate and psychological literature has a certain kind of process and phases. It's not all correct. People grieve differently. People manage going through this minefield, navigating it differently. It's not all the same. Some people will get angry at the person they lost because the person wasn't in the right place at the right time and so forth.

  • 11:48:24

    KELLERMANSome people will just decompose and you can't put them back together. Humpty Dumpty can't get put together. It depends on the ego. It depends on what's the level of your protest. In my particular case I say I lost my son Sam, but I don't accept it. I do not accept it. I don't cotton very well to the word murder. I don't like the word death. I just say we lost him. And I don't accept it. I insist that the past doesn't necessarily verify reality, although I'm very realistic.

  • 11:49:05

    KELLERMANIn certain cases I can protest. So my protest -- I understand what happened, but my protest is very strong and it's stronger than the event. Along with that, I have him with me all the time, you see. And I can talk to him and I can see him and he's still one of my four boys. So my way of dealing with it is that way. Okay. You didn't expect that, but you got it.

  • 11:49:36

    REHMAs a matter of fact, I appreciate it.

  • 11:49:41


  • 11:49:41

    REHMAnd I think it is, in a sense, a very wonderful way...

  • 11:49:49

    KELLERMANThank you.

  • 11:49:49

    REHM… to be able to look at that loss. The book is titled, "Personality." Psychoanalyst Henry Kellerman is with me. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones, 800-433-8850, to Charlottesville, Va. Good morning, Julius.

  • 11:50:17

    JULIUSOh, yes, good morning. I keep thinking there are more far-reaching effects of anger over our lifetimes. And I wonder if, you know, decades of repressed anger, which could lead to heart disease, which lead to stress actually and then lead to heart disease, if these are some of the more far-reaching effects and how do we cope with these things?

  • 11:50:40

    KELLERMANYou're absolutely right. I believe that repressed anger over decades is very dangerous for hypertension, for heart disease, for all sorts of things, but, you know, you mentioned stress. It's very interesting because I had a patient once that came in to see me and I asked her why she was there and she said, well, you know, things happened that bothered me. I said, okay. I thought I'd take a chance because you really can't tell people they were angry. They don't accept it.

  • 11:51:10

    KELLERMANBut I wanted to take a chance and I said, well, I guess you feel angry at that -- whatever it was. And she says, no, no, no. I don't feel angry. I just feel upset. Okay. So upset is a code word for anger and people -- you see, if you're upset, it's socially desirable. If you're angry it's socially undesirable.

  • 11:51:25

    REHMAnd what about depression? Is that the flip side of anger?

  • 11:51:29

    KELLERMANI wouldn't even say it's a flip side, but, you're right. It's a synonym. And it's a displaced symbolic, you know, way of expressing anger. You know anger has the largest glossary of any primary emotion. For example, dissatisfied, depressed, moody, bored even, frustrated, upset and the cardinal synonym for anger that people use, this code word, stressed. Stress is nothing but feeling angry underneath. People don't want to know that they're angry, but they don't mind knowing that they're stressed. They don't mind knowing they're upset.

  • 11:52:09

    KELLERMANAny word that is socially desirable is okay, but anger's not okay because it's socially undesirable. Even anger related traits are socially undesirable. Sullenness is not desirable. Argumentativeness is not desirable. These are anger related traits. Fear related traits are much more desirable. Caution, for example is considered desirable.

  • 11:52:29

    REHMBut you're talking about all of the ordinary feelings that all of us have, perhaps not every moment of the day, but certainly throughout the day those feelings can come and go. And Julius is saying, you know, I worry, he's saying, that this could lead to heart disease or high blood pressure, as you mention. What do you do about it?

  • 11:52:59

    KELLERMANWell, one thing you do about it is to make a rather important distinction between major wishes and minor wishes. And the problem is we don't make these distinctions because every wish is major. If my alarm on my phone goes off, uh-oh, I better duck because Diane Rehm is going to get very mad at me.

  • 11:53:23

    REHMBut did I?

  • 11:53:25

    KELLERMANNo, you didn't. But let's hope you don't get a symptom.

  • 11:53:30

    REHMNo. I don't think I will.

  • 11:53:32

    KELLERMANRight, okay.

  • 11:53:33

    REHMBut I think we're still at that point where we're hoping that through this conversation people can become more aware...

  • 11:53:45


  • 11:53:45

    REHM...of those factors which do happen and which do lead to very serious health problems.

  • 11:53:53

    KELLERMANRight. So that if people begin to recognize that there really is a difference between major wishes and minor wishes, between real trouble and just aggravation, you see with most people there's no difference between trouble and aggravation. It's always trouble. And there's no difference between major wishes and minor wishes because it's every wish is always major. If you run to catch a bus and as you get to the door of the bus, the bus door closes and it takes off, you curse. That's major.

  • 11:54:24

    KELLERMANBut it's really not major, it's just minor. And it's not trouble, it's just aggravation.

  • 11:54:28

    REHMThanks for your call, Julius. Here's an email from Gregory in Cary, N.C., who says, "How likely is it that a person with anger issues can change his personality? Someone I know has alienated most of the people in his life because he cannot control his anger. What would the process of the friend be toward this person?"

  • 11:55:04

    KELLERMANYou know, Diane, we have to recognize, it seems to me, that there are certain things in life that not always can be easily addressed. And one is if someone's angry, very angry for a long period of time and just flips out at virtually everything and can't control anything, it could be a function of a certain diagnosis, which we call a borderline personality. And that is very resistant to talking cures. Some problems need medication, plain and simple. There's no doubt about it. I published a book called, "A Psychoanalysis of Symptoms," in which I describe two classes of symptoms.

  • 11:55:54

    KELLERMANOne is an acute symptom that people get and they come and go. And those can be cured through the talking method, but chronic, very chronic, lifelong symptoms really need medication. That's the way I would answer that.

  • 11:56:08

    REHMSo would you say to this caring friend, perhaps just being there for that person, as opposed to trying to help, actively trying to help that other person would be the better choice?

  • 11:56:30

    KELLERMANI'm not sure about that, Diane. I think that when someone's very, very angry people don't stick around too long.

  • 11:56:36

    REHMAnd that's clearly what's happening in that case. Psychoanalyst Henry Kellerman, his new book is titled "Personality: How It Forms." Thanks for being here. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.

  • 11:56:52

    KELLERMANAnd it's been a pleasure for me to be here, thank you.

  • 11:56:54

    REHMThank you. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm

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