Scotland and anger: The psychiatrist’s verdict


By Alex Robertson
A friend of mine has been seeing a psychotherapist to deal with a problem of what is called, apparently “fallangst” in psycho-speak, “fear of failure” in English.
This is a sapping condition which makes you afraid of failing at something even before you start, and it has a habit of self-fulfillment, making sure you fail even if you are perfectly capable of succeeding otherwise.

It is usually most evident in exams, or some performance, like athletics or theatrical, where the person is so afraid of failing they almost certainly ensure their failure through their approach to answering the questions.  But it is pervasive, and affects practically all aspects of leading a life, with devastating consequences.

Apparently we all know someone who suffers from the same success-sapping ailment.  And it is taught us at an early age.  We learn it from our parents, as they did from theirs, and we tend strongly to pass it on to our own children.

This friend lives in mainland Europe, and the psychotherapist threw in for good measure – my friend being Scottish – that it is particularly prevalent in Scotland among Scots, as simply observed, without comment.

That stunned me.  But there was more.  Anger is apparently, according to research results, much more prevalent in Scots than in other European peoples.  In Sweden, for example, a man might experience anger two or three times a month.  But in Scotland the figure is four times a day.  Again, no comment is offered as to the cause, but a simple measured observation.

I find these observations astounding and deeply disturbing.  And the more I look around me the more I detect signs of how true, how accurate, they seem to be.  I have my own hypothesis as to why this should be, totally unscientific, but reasoned and logical nonetheless. 

I am no psychiatrist or psychologist, but it seems evident that if you condition people to think of themselves as useless, inferior, subordinate, for long enough, then three things will happen.

Firstly, the people will start to believe it of themselves.  Secondly, they will cause their children to think the same way about themselves, since we learn subconsciously a great many attitudes and values from our parents.  Thirdly, it the crippling fear depriving us of success and achievement, fulfillment even, will generate immense frustration.  And frustration is a very common cause of anger, if not the most common cause.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I was educated as a scientist in my salad years, and am well aware of the perils of amateur science.  But it is too good a ‘fit’ to ignore when it comes to the case of Scotland.

As far as I can tell, there is inadequate research being done as to why Scots are far more prone to anger than their Scandinavian counterparts, and not much is known about the effects of schooling a nation in the belief that they are too small, too stupid, too weak, but I would bet a fair amount of money on the answer being very close to an increased fear of failure and high levels of frustration.

These are profound and serious matters, and they are potentially closely associated to our behaviour and attitude as a nation.  More research is called for, and in the meantime, let us all be aware, teachers, parents, friends, that we do not pass on these negative and corrosive attitudes to our children.

For, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt: “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” when it comes to building a far better homeland for ourselves and our descendants.  And now is the time to put a stop to this debilitating self-inflicted malaise.