DANIEL Goleman, the author of the best-selling, influential book, Emotional Intelligence, says that anger is the most seductive of the negative emotions. It is “the self-righteous inner monologue that propels it along, fills the mind with the most convincing arguments for venting rage. Unlike sadness, anger is energising, even exhilarating”.
That is probably why anger is one of the most intransigent emotions. Ms Diane Tice, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University, found anger to be the mood people are worst at controlling.
In fact, many don’t even feel the need to control it; they feel self-righteous about their anger. Indeed, anger does have a positive side to it, as it can also motivate us to be proactive and take the necessary action to get out of certain undesirable situations.
Unfortunately, it is when people do not know how to manage their anger well, that they do harm, not only to others, but to their own health and happiness. Some keep their anger bottled up, thus giving rise to health problems like heart attacks, hypertension and strokes.
On the other hand, many believe that catharsis — giving vent to anger — is an effective way to handle anger. University of Alabama psychologist Dolf Zillmann, after a lengthy series of experiments, found this to be not necessarily true.
Ms Tice agrees and concludes that ventilating your anger is one of the worst ways to cool down — angry outbursts typically pump up the emotional brain’s arousal, leaving people feeling more angry, not less.
When people take their rage out on the person who provoked it, the net effect prolongs the mood rather than end it. Far more effective, says Ms Tice, is to first cool down and then, in a more constructive or assertive manner, confront the person to settle the dispute.
Very often, anger is the result of ineffective communication. Perhaps the other person has misunderstood you or simply is not able to see your point of view. Or, you could be the person who has misinterpreted the whole situation.
Learn to communicate persuasively so the other person not only understands your message, but also feels what you feel, and is persuaded to take action or move forward based on what you have put across.
One presupposition from neuro-linguistic programming I have found very useful is: “We all respond according to our map of reality, not reality itself.” Everybody has their own “map” for navigating the world, based on gender differences, personality types, environmental influences, upbringing, and individual life experiences.
So based on such a map, you may have felt insulted by someone else’s comment, but to the other person, it may have been a totally harmless remark, based on his or her map.
Understanding and accepting this simple presupposition will indeed take the stress off ourselves. Not everyone will have the same opinion as us. As the saying goes: “We just have to agree to disagree.”
There is a story about an old farmer who had suffered a lifetime of afflictions and injustices, but had kept his sense of humour. He was asked: “How have you managed to keep so happy and serene?” He answered: “It isn’t hard. I’ve just learned to cooperate with the inevitable.”
Don’t let anger rob you of your own happiness and peace of mind. Learn to reframe events in a more positive light. Tell yourself: “I’m in control. I choose not to be enraged.” Deep breathing also helps. Only when you have calmed down are you better able to think things through and find the best way to resolve the conflict.
Remember, anger can only strip the music from life if you allow it to.