The “Catharsis Myth” is the idea that venting anger is good for you. The idea is that by acting aggressively, viewing aggressive content, etc. we release our anger in a way that is healthy and safe.
The problem, of course, is that catharsis doesn’t work. In fact, the research on catharsis shows that it increases anger rather than decreases it. According to Bushman and colleagues (1999), it increases cardiovascular disease risk and increases the likelihood you will become aggressive toward those around you (including innocent bystanders).
To learn more about the “Catharsis Myth,” see Four Questions on the Catharsis Myth with Dr. Brad Bushman.
Learning to relax is obviously a useful strategy for dealing with unwanted anger. There are lots of ways to relax, however (see here for examples of mediation, deep breathing, and taking timeouts). One of the best is to use visual imagery where you visualize a relaxing experience from your memory or your imagination (a trip the the beach, a hike in the woods, etc.).
In fact, if you’re not good at coming up with visualizations on your own, you can even find a few websites with free visualization scrips for you to practice with (see here for an example).
Anger isn’t caused directly by things that happen around us. It’s caused by our interpretation of those things that happen around us. Imagine if someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store. You can interpret that a couple of different ways: intentional (“he saw me and just didn’t care that he was cutting in front of me”) or unintentional (“he must not have seen me”).
Sometimes, considering alternative interpretations of the provocation can be a nice way to alleviate anger. Ask yourself what evidence you have to support your angering interpretation. Try to consider other ways of looking at the situation and maybe even try to test those alternative interpretations. What would happen if you, for example, were to say politely to the person that they accidently cut in front of you?
When you find yourself becoming angry, try to visualize yourself as calm and peaceful. Imagine yourself relaxed, your voice calm, and your hands steady. You’ll find that as you imagine yourself this way, you’ll start to become this way. Over time, your anger responses will reflect this.
For some people, it helps to have a phrase they repeat over and over. Words or phrases like “relax,” “take it easy,” or “anger isn’t the solution” can help distract people as they get through the initial angry response.
Sometimes anger results from expectations that are too high. We expect everything to go smoothly and perfectly and then, bam, something goes wrong and we get angry. If we just adjust our expectations a bit to include the fact that things are complicated and don’t always go as we hope they will, we’re likely to feel less anger when things go wrong.
Many people think of guided meditation as a particular type of relaxation technique. While it is relaxing, it has the potential to be even more useful than that. Relaxation has its effect on by decreasing physiological arousal (you can’t be angry and relaxed at the same time). Meditation, however, has the added benefit of offering an opportunity to think through your feelings in a healthy way.
Click her to give it a try: Guided Meditation for Anger
Photo Courtesy: jakub_hla
On the one hand, talking with people about your anger can be useful and positive. It can give you some perspective, help you process what you are feeling and better understand your emotions, and even offer an avenue to receive some constructive criticism regarding how you handled a situation.
That said, that’s only true if you are looking for perspective, understanding, and constructive criticism. Most people aren’t. Most people are just looking for another person to agree with them that they should be angry. That’s ok every now and then but too much of it isn’t good for you. If you want to rant, go for it. But make sure you do some self-reflecting at the same time.
Triggers are those situations, people, places, etc. that tend to set people off. Everyone has a trigger or two and being aware of them is important. You don’t want to avoid your triggers, necessarily (though, sometimes that might be smart). But you do need to be aware of those situations that may require greater patience. When you do, you’re more likely to get through those situations unscathed and anger free.