A Middle Way for Anger

“What is called for today is NOT the ungoverned gush of raw feelings, but a new civility that accommodates the expression of angry emotions.”

For a marriage class I am teaching, I have been reading Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion. Apparently there is indeed a middle ground between suffering in silence and unbridled self-expression, and it is a myth that we have “bottled up” emotions that have to be let out. Not surprisingly, finding a balance in the middle is best.

  • We have a choice regarding what to do with our anger. “We do not need to deny our mammalian, primate heritage, but we do not need to reduce ourselves to it, either.”
  • Ventilating our anger just makes us more angry, especially if we can’t really make a change. Want to hate ____ (liberals, George W. Bush, militant atheists, CEOs, Hollywood, Evangelicals, Utah, Mormons, war, gays, anti-gays, broccoli, WalMart) even more? Continue to talk about your dislike, as passionately as you can. It really works!
  • Controlled use of angry expression or catharsis can indeed be beneficial and promote change, only when certain circumstances are in place: 1-It must be directed at your target, 2-It must give you a sense of control, 3-It must change your target’s behavior OR give you new insights, 4-You must speak the same anger language as your target (i.e. both parties at least understand the way the other side is using anger), and 5-There must be no retaliation from your target. If there is, contention will usually ensue and the problem will only get worse.
  • Emotions almost never occur alone. When we are angry about something, there are often other emotions involved, such as hurt, fear, sadness, loneliness, etc. Expressing only anger will exclude and drown out the other emotions. In relationships, a key is to express your other feelings, which may be more likely to lead to fixing the problem, rather than defensiveness from your partner.
  • Rage or venting is not a biological imperative, but rather a learned and habitual way of dealing with anger.

I think it is important to realize that not all anger is the same, and that it can be beneficial. Again, moderation.

How do you deal with your anger? How do you respond to your kids when they are angry? How is anger in public (online, in politics, protests, arguments) used, and when is it effective–or not?

About shenpa warrior

"Patience is not learned in safety." View all posts by shenpa warrior

14 responses to “A Middle Way for Anger

  • Allie

    If I'm angry about something, I try really hard to not be mean. I'm not always successful, but "I'm really frustrated because of abc" is a lot easier to my Mister to hear than, "you're a jerk". 🙂

    When my kids are angry, I remind them to take a deep breath and use their words. Sometimes they need to take breaks in their rooms until they can calm down. In public, I do the same thing, we've had to sit in the car and calm down a few times.

    If anger turns into a tantrum (in kids or adults) it is no longer effective. Anger is only effective in communicating if you are in control of yourself.

  • Deanne Hill

    I've always been a writer of my angry feelings. It totally leaves when I write about it. My posterity is probably going to think I was one angry/depressed/bitter person!
    I've found that it is a lot harder for me to teach my boys how to properly deal with anger than the girls. The boys always act out by hitting when they get angry; the girls always cry and then hold ridiculously long grudges. My older son slowly seems to be catching on to the "it's not okay to hit when you get angry" idea, so maybe it comes with a little bit more emotional maturity? I'm hoping!

  • adamf

    Allie"I try really hard to not be mean."

    That is great! And you're right. People generally respond better to expressions of feelings rather than personal insults.

    Deanne"it's not okay to hit when you get angry" idea"

    Take a look at this book: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child if you're interested. It talks a lot about basically coaching children through their emotions and helping them learn that it is okay to feel something but not necessarily act on it, e.g. feeling angry vs. hitting.

  • Bravone

    I have always disagreed with the expression, "Never go to bed mad." Sometimes I think it is better to go to bed mad than say or do something you might later regret. Things always look a little brighter in the morning.

  • adamf

    Bravone, your disagreement is backed up by research! Fact is, plenty of happy couples break this "don't go to bed angry" rule. The key is that the repair to the relationship is indeed happening. Whether it's before bed, in the morning, or etc. doesn't matter. It just needs to happen. Also, (just my opinion) you are right on with the thought that it is better to talk when "things look a little brighter."

  • Mormon Heretic

    I have found it is very important for me to vent my anger. I'm not sure I understand what you said about ventilating anger makes us more angry especially if we can't change the source.

    My post has been a very cathartic place to talk about disagreements with the church, and I can't change anything in my ward, or with HQ. However, since I started venting some things, I find that I am happier at church. My blog allows me to spiritually grow.

  • adamf

    Thanks for the comment MH. If that is working for you, I certainly would not recommend changing it. I think the author's point was (based on research on anger) that "venting" is a learned way of dealing with anger; not necessarily a judgment call there.

    "I'm not sure I understand what you said about ventilating anger makes us more angry especially if we can't change the source."
    Honestly I'm not as sure how this applies to issues in general, but specifically for couples it does not work. There was once a marriage counselor named George Bach who had his couples (during sessions) hit each other with foam bats while venting all their anger about each other. He thought that the problem in marriages was the lack of an outlet to air anger. The results were the opposite, however, and those couples generally ended up even more angry than when they started. As for the findings in the book and your experiences, I agree, having a place or a way to talk about things is very helpful. At the same time, strident expressions of anger about something make people MORE angry rather than less. They may feel a sense of catharsis for a while (of course, because emotions are ephemeral) but then it will build up again.

  • adamf

    Re: couples and anger – I also have to note that not ALL types of anger are the same. Some can be helpful in a relationship. The key is they are not overly aggressive, mean, insulting, etc.

  • Allie

    My Mister can go to bed angry and be fine in the morning. I have to talk about it or I can't go to sleep. I just sit there getting more and more angry that he is so untroubled by whatever it is that he can just go to sleep. It makes me want to kick him. 🙂

    I need resolution so I can sleep.

  • Anonymous

    If there are other emotions attached to anger, it seems to me that there would be a benefit to "venting" to your partner if (s)he offers an empathetic ear (via empathetic listening).

    I also wonder, if "venting" is learnt behaviour, then why the need for emotion coaching? The biological baseline ought to be no crying and no tantrums, and without a need to teach the child how to express being upset, right? 😉


  • adamf

    Haha. 🙂

    There is a difference to me between "venting" anger and expressing it, i.e. screaming and hurling insults, punching holes in the walls to feel better, vs. expressing how you feel angry (along with the other feelings). The better place is in the middle I think.

    And yes, if one can vent as I described, and their partner is like superman or something and responds with empathy, then perhaps it would work. 😉

  • adamf

    When I did this lesson in my marriage class a few people thought I was telling them not to express anger, even though I did not say that. I think they were worried they wouldn't be able to, lol, and were getting a little defensive.

  • Anonymous

    Then I suppose there is a rub, it is necessary for a person to define clearly and link the emotional term to the emotional expression before condemning it. Your "vent" is another person's "release". To carry it into the classroom, if there were students confused with the teacher's message, then the teacher may need to modify the presentation. You definitely know what you mean, but others may not be in synch with your parlance. 🙂


  • adamf

    "if there were students confused with the teacher's message, then the teacher may need to modify the presentation."

    I agree. At the same time I also think that some people are just not going to get it, or like it, or agree. I also get impatient sometimes with people in classes who pick out stuff that triggers them without hearing the rest of it. Re: your advice – perhaps if something may trigger someone, I should be extra careful and precise around those topics.

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