Anger & Catharsis

theshining

 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
–  Viktor E. Frankl

I read this interesting  Psychology Today article about some research pertaining to anger management.   The researchers had two interesting things to say about anger.

The first was that cathartic venting doesn’t help reduce anger in the long term.  Sometimes not even in the short term.   Though internet rants were primarily mentioned things like punching a pillow were also covered.  Venting tends to increase anger. Doing things like punching pillows increased the chances of going on to doing more destructive things.

The second interesting thing the researchers had to say was what worked better than venting for reducing anger.  Calmly describing why you are angry, in detail, in writing, and additionally explaining what would make you stop being angry was far more effective for reducing anger.  People who do that instead of cathartically venting, acting out, ranting, punching pillows, etc … reduced their anger a lot more in the short term, as well as making it less likely they would get as angry again in the future.

I found that article interesting because I grew up with a father with quite a childish temperament.   He could go from zero to ballistic at the drop of a dime.  Yelling at the top of his lungs, saying the most offensive things he could think of, and doing things like punching walls.  You know, basic two year old behaviour.

I was so disgusted by his temper I vowed as a teenager to simply not act like that.  I learned how to clamp down on my responses.  I think I was helped by my involvement with karate and having to do things like hold painful positions for a long time.   In those endless moments of shaking legs and sore muscles, I think I learned what I later discovered in the Victor Frankly quote above.

I exploded in anger a few times in college.   At one point I realized that acting out was a choice.  There was a very small moment when I could choose to flip out or clamp down.  I think I chose to flip out because not flipping out seemed alien to me and that I had the belief I would hurt myself if I suppressed my anger.

Time showed me the stupidity of that.   You can always revisit a conversation after you have calmed down and you can always apologize, but no matter what anyone says there are some things you just can’t take back.

Avoiding the damage from acting out is the most important part of anger management, but that isn’t the only important part.  The second most important part, in my non-expert opinion, is stopping the emotion itself to be kind to yourself.  Many people believe that anger clamped down on tends to turn inward and cause other emotional problems.   The technique in the article offers a potential cheap and easy tool to deal with that.

 

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