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Robert Jaffe

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Is the exteriorisation of angry feelings a good thing or a bad thing?

Years ago there was a fashion that advocated getting angry when you felt angry. It was thought at the time that it was better for the angry person to show and demonstrate their anger than to repress it. Now psychologists have changed their minds and reversed their position. It's now believed by almost all professionals that getting angry when you feel angry makes things much, much worse, both for the person feeling angry and for those around him or her. This issue is related not only to violence, but also to current political polarization. What do you think? What do you feel is the proper way to deal with angry feelings?

Topics: violence
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      May 20 2011: As to who the professionals are, they include but are not limited to psychologists, social workers, therapists, counselors, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts with whom I have dealt in connection with my professional work for the past 35 years. From my point of view as a long-time family mediator working with couples who are having difficulties with each other, anger is entirely counterproductive. You'll never be able to truly listen to your spouse if you're enraged at them, and real listening is essential, in my view, if a couple wants to stay together.

      As for their suggestions, for starters you might want to read Kathy K's post above. She has a good grip on the most frequent advice to angry people: first, realize that you're angry (many people manage to hide from this realization.) Second, consciously locate each particular "trigger" that sets off your anger. Third, think about how to avoid such triggers as best you can in the future. Fourth, figure out (with or without professional advice) how to channel your anger into healthier pursuits, such as (Kathy K. writes) exercise. Other people suggest any form of energetic (but not necessarily aerobic) activity, including playing a musical instrument, doing garden work, washing your car, walking to and from the store instead of using your car (if that's realistic), or (obviously) doing any kind of sport. I myself have found it valuable in eliminating anger to consciously work on positive relations with other people, in a much more attentive and caring way than I have before.

      I'm not familiar with Eckhart Tolle but I do know of and highly respect the Dalai Lama, a wonderful man several of whose works I've read or listened to. I can't agree, though, that "venting" anger is ever any better than getting rid of anger in another, less socially toxic, way.

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