“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.