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Ways of dealing with various kinds of anger

http://sarahmichigan.livejournal.com/520259.html discusses so-called myths of pop psychology (as described in the book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and Barry L. Beyerstein).

One of the myths discussed is "It's better to express anger to others than to hold it in." I haven't read the book, but sarahmichigan sums up the book's viewpoint as "Expressing anger, whether verbally or by punching a pillow, generally makes you angrier and more aggressive."

I've done a lot of reading on emotion, some of it from a Buddhist perspective. I think the myth as stated is in fact a myth much of the time, but not always. So I left these comments.
I agree that "It's better to express anger to others than to hold it in" is a myth if it's stated as a universal fact. But I don't think that "It's better to hold anger in than to express it to others" is true either. I think it depends on context and on the individual.
I'll have to read the original book to know more about the studies, but my guess is that experimental design was limited to making someone angry about something specific in the moment, and the studies did not test anger that builds up over time regarding long-term situations.

Also I wonder if any of the studies controlled for the level of physical arousal. Given a particular irritant, some people get more aroused than others.

Also I wonder if they studied the self-reported quality of the anger, as opposed to just the physical arousal symptoms.

When the myth is "it's better to vent than to hold it in," you have to define "better." Does this refer merely to how long the physical arousal lasts, or does it refer also to the internal sense of the quality of the arousal (how the person feels)?

If we're talking just physical arousal, then I agree ignoring it will make it go away faster. But ignoring it might also feel very painful/difficult while the arousal lasts. Whereas if you do something with the arousal, it might stick around longer, but the arousal might start to feel better internally.

For me, if my anger level (the physical arousal I feel) is "mild" or "moderate," and the anger is due to an immediate one-time irritant (as opposed to a repetitive irritant or a long-term situation) then it will dissipate quickly if I don't do anything. And since I mostly don't like feeling that low level of arousal, I tend to choose the method that will make it go away the fastest.

But if my physical arousal/anger is very strong, then suppressing my desire to do something physical feels really painful. The same applies if my physical arousal includes both anger and anxiety (which is often the case). I will still be aroused for a while if I do something physical (cry/scream/punch pillows/yell), and I might be aroused for longer, but the arousal doesn't feel as painful.
When I wrote "anger that builds up over time regarding long-term situations," I was thinking specifically of anger that develops out of repeated experiences of discrimination, oppression, or abuse. I think it's too simplistic to say that "holding in" these kinds of anger rather than retelling them to other people is "better."

sarahmichigan reported "[the authors] also mention that coupling anger with productive problem solving *can* be helpful." So political anger might be covered under that, if retelling the incidents is part of a strategy for addressing the problem.

What is your experience?

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/672159.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
There's another issue. It's better to be aware that you are angry, than to be in denial to yourself. If you're angry, accept it, and let it go, then the anger has a better chance to fade. On the other hand, if you refuse to acknowledge your anger to both others as well as yourself, you can create a lot of ugly situations.

So it's better to express anger ("I am angry,") than to deny it.

May. 19th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
My personal experience is that acting out by slamming doors, beating on things and screaming just makes me angrier and angrier. I remember getting lost on a college campus trying to visit a relative there, and swearing and pounding on my steering wheel and just getting angrier and angrier.

Usually for me, the way to dissipate my anger is to consciously decide to "let it go" because it's not doing me any good. This holds true with short-term annoyances and repeated annoyances. My husband and I have unresolved issues that frequently anger me over and over again. We sometimes talk rationally and try to resolve them, but sometimes, these things just never get solved, or they may dwindle for a while and then spike again during times of stress. Instead of expressing my anger, I find that trying to be sympathetic and turning it into compassion and remembering times I've really pissed him off help de-escalate my anger quickly and getting self-righteous about the unfairness is a sure-fire way to make me hold onto the anger.
May. 19th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)
For mild to moderate angry feelings, I do the same thing that you do. Probably about 90% of my angry feelings are mild to moderate.

For very strong angry feelings that come up occasionally for me, my personal experience is that it sometimes helps me if I scream/yell briefly, or hit something/stomp/slam a door once, or cry for a minute or two.

This helps for two reasons.

1. It lets me do something with the physical tension that is associated with anger for me. Sneezing would probably work just as well for that, but I can't sneeze on demand. :) If I can't do something physical, then I shake, and it feels to me like the shaking is more unpleasant and lasts longer (not making a scientific claim here).

2. For me, a physical expression of anger counts as self-acceptance and acknowledgement that there's something going on that I get to feel negative about. When I was growing up, it wasn't OK for me to have any feelings ever. So now if I slam a door it's a way of telling myself "I'm angry and it's OK to have these feelings about this situation; it doesn't mean I'm crazy or a bad person."

Once I've done that one thing, my frame of mind is usually "OK, I've acknowledged and accepted my anger, now let's deal with whatever is causing it, or let's go distract ourselves until the feelings dissipate."
May. 19th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
I can understand the idea of letting yourself feel angry if you've been discouraged from showing feelings.

For me, I have a partner with a very different anger style than me. I get *really* tense and upset when someone expresses anger loudly or with slamming doors, punching objects etc.

He also held onto the myth that expressing his anger loudly helped him get rid of it, but I've been trying to help him see that, from the outside, that really doesn't appear to be true. For instance, when we're in the car & someone pisses him off, if he rants about it, he stays angry longer and drives less carefully. If we're listening to an audiobook, he's less likely to rant at length, the anger diffuses faster, and he remains a safer driver.

I think he finally *got* it that I might be right when he recently got a ticket for unsafe driving after someone else on the road "made" him drive badly because they angered him by being pushy on the road.
May. 19th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)
I get *really* tense and upset when someone expresses anger loudly or with slamming doors, punching objects etc.

Me too. And I've frightened people by doing stuff like that, and I don't like it when that happens. So I mostly have my "tantrum minute" where other people can't see.

If your partner believes that a lot of loudness and physically violent behavior helps him get rid of anger faster, then I understand why this matters a lot to you.
May. 20th, 2010 12:09 pm (UTC)
If your partner believes that a lot of loudness and physically violent behavior helps him get rid of anger faster, then I understand why this matters a lot to you.

Thanks- that made me feel heard and understood. I guess I didn't realize quite how passionate I felt about all this until we had the discussion, so it's been good for me, too!
May. 20th, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad you started this dialogue. I find that i have to be cognizant of the situation, and proceed accordingly, as best as i can determine that.

i also came from a background where my feelings were very stifled, and i find it helpful for me to express the intensity of my anger sometimes (by myself, i don't think those demonstrations do any good directed at another person, i've flown off the handle before and felt mostly ashamed afterwards, not fun). But by myself, if i need to scream or throw a pillow, i feel like i'm somehow releasing the energy out of my anger so that i can move on to a more appropriate interpersonal expression, like what was mentioned earlier, of just stating that i'm angry and then trying to see another perspective to help me put it in a context of everyone is wronged and also hurts other, so it's best to be compassionate, and move forward.
May. 20th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's pretty much how it works for me.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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