In my last post, I wrote about how our society seems filled with incidences of rage and violence due to the impact of anger. Consequently, all kinds of ideas arise about anger that are not completely accurate. So, before we look at some of the research about the nature of anger, I thought we should take a look at some of the myths about anger.
What do you really know about anger?
Several common myths about anger are described and analyzed in the book by Carol Tavris, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion. It may be helpful to surface those popular notions in order to encourage a more accurate understanding of what anger does not do.
Myth #1 – Anger causes ulcers. The latest research has disproved the theory that suppressed anger results in stomach ulcers. Bacterial infections or drugs that attack the lining of the stomach cause most ulcers.
Myth #2 – Some psychoanalytic theorists once saw anger at the core of depression. Researchers have discovered that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between anger and depression. Sometimes there is just anger, and sometimes there is just depression.
Myth #3 – Suppressed anger will have negative medical consequences to you. This is not always true, particularly if we are in control of the situation that is causing the anger. Suppressed anger may cause difficulty in life but it is not a guaranteed cause of medical problems.
Myth #4 – Aggression is necessarily the instinctive catharsis for anger. Researchers have indicated that in a high percentage of anger cases, the anger does not lead to aggression. Aggression can also be perpetuated without event of emotion; it can be a cold, calculated and straight-forward attack with the intention of doing harm.
Myth #5 – Talking out anger gets rid of it, or at least makes the person feel less angry. As Tavris states, “Talking out an emotion doesn’t reduce it, it rehearses it.”
Myth #6 – Tantrums and other childhood rages are healthy expressions of anger that forestall neurosis.
On the contrary, most of the time, the frequency and intensity of the temper tantrums lessen when a) children’s temper tantrums are ignored, or, b) are in no way reinforced, or c) when children are expected to talk about their anger and take responsibility for it.
Do we excuse anger?
Interestingly, James Averill, Professor Emeritus, Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, observes that we Americans have somehow learned to excuse our behavior when we act angrily and out of control.
He states that because we excuse ourselves, we believe we do not have to be held accountable for our anger and its impact on others. Further, because we excuse our anger, we are then logically expected to tolerate the incidence of others losing their temper.
How we are supposed to deal with anger?
For many years, theorists and therapists have used selected myths (such as those from the list above) as a way to help individuals deal with anger. We have been taught to scream, hit pillows, write angry statements, punch things or create more acceptable aggressive behaviors to reduce anger.
In other words, if we do not get the anger out, it will build up and become more and more toxic to our systems.
In times of anger, we may have tried some of these tactics and may have felt better. But these types of approaches do not help deal with the true causes of anger.
Stay tuned to learn effective approaches
In future posts, we will begin to explore the nature of anger and the most effective approaches to deal with its awful consequences. For now, I hope we can recognize what does not work regarding anger in relationship to children or adults.
Having a research-based approach to dealing with the serious issue of anger will allow us to better help our friends and family members who have struggled to manage theirs.
Gerry Vasser, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Some information taken from Understanding Anger, 2004, Diane Wagenhals.