Stef (firecat) wrote,

Ways of dealing with various kinds of anger 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?

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