So there you are, you’re there, burning with anger. How do you refrain from acting on it?
In an intense situation, the most efficient and easiest way is to cozy up with your favorite drug. (And for argument’s sake let’s say “drug” can mean more than the obvious, like lashing out) But when that gets tiring because the drug’s effect no longer works like it used to or you find yourself coping with more problems after you use, what else is there to do?
Let’s start off with what not to do.
Do not suppress your anger
There is a long, yet recent, history about the effects suppressing anger, a form of self-silencing, has on the body. One of the universal truths seems to be that even if you hide, conceal, or substitute your angry feelings, those feelings will find a way to come out of hiding; for example, having a shorter temper that leads to you randomly snapping at family members, co-workers, and strangers.
Not only that, but the practice of silencing anger over the long-term has the serious potential consequences of damaging your heart, creating an eating disorder, and giving you high blood pressure and/or certain types of cancer, to name a few things. It could also make you prone to acting in ways that are destructive to your self-esteem.
For example, an internal bully who speaks to you in negative absolutes: you always fail, this always happens badly for you, things will never get better, you’re a complete failure at this, etc. That type of self-talk has a long-term negative impact on self that can lead to depressed feelings and more self-deprecation.
A study from the United Kingdom’s Economic & Social Research Council, done in 2002, had a group of men and women view video clips that would usually elicit anger and sadness. Some of the group were asked to express how they really feel, others to suppress whatever feelings came up, and a third group were asked to substitute feelings elicited by a happy memory.
When the group was shown a second video, the group was asked to respond spontaneously. Those who had suppressed or substituted the feelings the first time felt more strongly. The women who had suppressed their anger were more likely to want to swear than men in the same situation. But men who had substituted their feelings were more likely to be upset, outraged, or disgusted than those men who had suppressed them.
Researchers suggested that the difference between gender reactions could be because of the different social attitudes towards men and women in expressing anger. The difference is society’s view that it is more acceptable for a man to express anger.
Anger: Men Vs. Women
The acceptance theory was touched upon again by Victoria Brescoll of Yale University and Eric Uhlmann at Northwestern University. In their studies, both men and women were shown videos of actors portraying men and women who were ostensibly applying for a job. The participants in the studies were then asked to rate applicants on how much responsibility they should be given, their perceived competence, whether they should be hired, and how much they should get paid.
Both men and women in the studies reached the same conclusions: Angry men deserved more status, a higher salary, and were expected to be better at the job than angry women. Brescoll says it pays to stay emotionally neutral and, if you can’t, at least explain what ticked you off in the first place.
So for women especially, we must be mindful of our anger and embrace it instead of suppressing it.
Next up: How do we get to an emotionally neutral place?