Write In: How to Deal With Anger

Someone emailed me a question recently about how to deal with anger. In this case, the anger was at another person's inconsiderate behavior.

My answer:

Dealing with anger is tricky. I think the general advice is to focus on other things and don't let yourself ruminate on what you're angry about. This is the main reason I meditate-- to gain this control.

Buddhists say you should be accepting of your anger, but not let it control you. Think of it as a baby that's crying. You need to soothe it to quiet, but you can't stuff it in a closet. You have to love it, and understand it, but try to have some distance from it. One strategy for this is to try to visualize where in your body the anger is, and remind yourself that your entire being is not angry, just that part of you. The visualization makes this a little more concrete when you try to distance yourself from it.

Unnoticed beauty is all around you, always. Take moments to experience it, especially when experiencing negative emotions.

Another strategy I've come up with lately is to tell myself that I don't have time to live other people's lives for them. You have a mission on this Earth, and spending too much energy trying to control other people is foolhardy. They are on their own path, get back to yours.

Expressing anger, contrary to popular belief, makes it worse. The following quote is from Skeptic Magazine (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/10-09-01/):

...more than 40 years of research reveals that expressing anger directly toward another person or indirectly toward an object actually turns up the heat on aggression.[1] In an early study, people who pounded nails after someone insulted them were more critical of that person.[2] Moreover, playing aggressive sports like football results in increases in aggression,[3] and playing violent videogames like Manhunt, in which participants rate bloody assassinations on a 5-point scale, is associated with heightened aggression.[4] Research suggests that expressing anger is helpful only when it’s accompanied by constructive problem-solving designed to address the source of the anger.[5][6]
  1. Bushman, B.J., Baumeister, R.F., & Stack, A.D. 1999. “Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 367–376; Tavris, C. 1988. “Beyond Cartoon Killings: Comments on Two Overlooked Effects of Television.” In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Television as a Social Issue (189–197). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  2. Hornberger, R. H. 1959. “The Differential Reduction of Aggressive Responses as a Function of Interpolated Activities.” American Psychologist, 14, 354.
  3. Patterson, A.H. 1974. Hostility Catharsis: A Naturalistic Experiment. Paper presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans.
  4. Anderson, C. A., Gentile, D. A., & Buckley, K. E. 2007. Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents. New York: Oxford University Press.
  5. Littrell, J. 1998. “Is the Re-Experience of Painful Emotion Therapeutic?” Clinical Psychology Review, 18, 71–102.
  6. Lohr, J. M., Olatunji, B. O., Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. 2007. “The Pseudopsychology of Anger Venting and Empirically Supported Alternatives.” Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5, 54–65.

Recommended books:

Teachings On Love


Pictured: Bananas. Be happy about them, if you can't think of anything else.
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Anger is really hard.... I've always found Aristotle's views interesting. Being angry to the right degree, in the right situations, and for the right reasons, is virtuous. For example, anger might be an appropriate response to certain kinds of injustice. In these cases, failing to be appropriately angry would be a vice. The tricky part is knowing which situations call for anger. Isn't there a similar teaching in Buddhism?
Jim Davies said…
I don't believe so, Jeanette. I think the Buddhists see anger as a destructive emotion, and would advocate acting correctly in a situation without being angry about it.

Seems that someone who lost the ability to be angry would have a potential moral deficit, according to Aristotle.

In any case, this post is not about that kind of anger, but the kind that is clearly maladaptive.

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