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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: Hmmmm. I would tend to think that only a small percentage of angry people would be able to eliminate their anger in the way you describe, Mr. Schulte. Many people, particularly angry people, for many different reasons, don't find themselves in a mental or emotional position from within which they can access essentially oriental wisdom. This may well be different for individuals who have actually been raised within Buddhist societies. For most westerners, though, I believe that more basic methods have to be employed. After all, however bright and cultured and sophisticated we may be, much of our being is animal, for we are animals, with an all-too-frequent animal existence on several levels. And however unhappy we may be to do so, we have to be realistic about dealing with the animal parts of our nature.
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      May 20 2011: I think you have real insight into the anger problem, Ms. K. And that your ideas about how to deal with that problem have to be taken quite seriously. As for anger's contribution to mental and physical disease, I'm not as sure. Yes, we've been told (in my case for fifty years) that depression "is anger turned inward." And I haven't heard anything that would make me think the psychological professions have changed their minds about that. I have, though, heard from both psychologists and physicians that they are presently rather dubious about unexpressed anger causing cancer. See, e.g., www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/69/7/667.full.pdf
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          May 24 2011: Hi Kathy, Psychological studies do not support the much promoted idea of pounding on other things to get our anger out. In fact, studies indicate that it augments the level of overall anger and violence. There are studies underway right now on the correlation between anger and disease as well.
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          May 25 2011: HI Kathy,
          I haven't been looking at that area of research in a couple years but I'll see if I can find a reference or two. (I have no current research on the make up sex either! ; )

          There is certainly good evidence to support the idea of running or a good work out - that works great! That is a form of distraction and evoking endorphins to change mood. There is no evidence of what was advocated a few years back that punching pillows, yelliing to get it out or even boxing lessens anger though.Kathy, if you know one thing by now it is that you go with what works for you! I have seldom interacted with anyone who was as sponaneous and intuitive as you are! Trust your gut.
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          May 25 2011: Kathy, That is another important issue. I wonder why we have kids spend so much time in school and never deal with the really important things or give them the tool for life. Anger management skills should not be taught only to violent offenders and wife beaters. All people should have the skills to deal with rage.

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