by Dennis Bradford
in emotional well-being
Poor Anger Management
It’s important to avoid poor anger management. What is it? What’s the right way of dealing with anger?
There’s a wonderful old story from Japan that’s been retold by, among others, Daniel Goleman.
Once upon a time there was a belligerent samurai who challenged a Zen master to explain heaven and hell. The monk said, “You’re nothing but a lout–I won’t waste my time with the likes of you!”
With his honor attacked, the samurai flew into a rage, pulled his sword from its scabbard, and yelled, “I could kill you for your impertinence.”
“That,” the monk calmly replied, “is hell.”
Startled at the truth in the Zen master’s response about being gripped by fury, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed respectfully to the monk while thanking him for his insight.
“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”
Anger is natural. Let’s think about dealing with anger. Let’s begin by identifying it.
Based on cross-cultural studies of facial expressions, Paul Ekman argues that anger is a core emotion (see, for example, his EMOTIONS REVEALED, especially chapter 6).
At least etymologically, an emotion is an impulse to act or move. Our word ‘anger’ comes from the Latin verb ‘motere‘ that means ‘(to) move’ and the prefix ‘e‘ connotes ‘move away.’ Evolution has equipped you with emotions that enhance your ability to survive and reproduce. (Neuroscientists have discovered that emotions are rooted in the amygdala, which is a part of the brain. Removing the amygdala creates “affective blindness,” a wholesale inability to gauge the emotional significance of what is happening.)
When you become angry, blood flows into your hands, which makes it easier to strike out or to grasp a weapon; your heart rate increases; and a rush of hormones (including adrenaline) generates a burst of energy that prepares you to move (either fighting or fleeing).
Your life experiences as well as your culture have shaped how your biological propensities manifest themselves. It’s not just a physical threat that can trigger your anger, but also it could be, as in the case of the samurai, a threat to your dignity or self-esteem. Emotions can hijack your reactions. If so, your options for dealing with anger are limited.
The word ‘anger’ actually covers a whole family of endangering emotions. There is not just a range of intensity from mild annoyance to rage, but also there are different kinds of anger (for example, there is the self-righteous anger of indignation, the passive anger of sulking, and the anger of having one’s patience excessively tried of exasperation). Typically, fear frequently both precedes and follows anger.
So the question is not whether or not to become angry. The question is what to do about anger.
My thesis here is simple: avoid venting anger.
The justification for this recommendation is simple: venting anger only increases or prolongs anger. Anger stimulates more anger. The more you focus on being angry, the angrier you’ll become. It’s a psychological law that whatever we think about expands in importance.
Catharsis, venting anger, simply does not work to reduce or eliminate anger. There’s no better tactic of poor anger management than catharsis. Want evidence? Consul your own experience.
There are many differences about how different people experience anger and other emotions, and there are different responses available to us. However, what’s common about responses is that venting anger (or other emotions) doesn’t work.
Anger is hell. It doesn’t feel good. You may feel pressure or tension. You may feel hot. Your heart and respiration rates increase. Your blood pressure increases. Your face may redden. You may clench your teeth and feel impelled toward moving forward toward whatever you take to be the guilty party.
If you decide to avoid poor anger management, the next question to ask is, “What is good anger management?”
I encourage you to think seriously about that. If you are able to figure out an effective plan and execute it, your life will go better. Helping you to do that is what this blog is all about.
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