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By Carol Tavris. It is a rare author who is given the chance for second thoughts about a book. But since this book was first published, several developments have occurred that made me want to get my hands back on it.
I wrote it because I was angry, with a small a , at the destructive advice and commonplace notions about anger that I believe wreak much havoc in our society and our relationships. Nevertheless, as it must to all of us, anger came home to roost on my doorstep. Two events in particular occurred to teach me viscerally what I had written about intellectually—the unnecessarily destructive power of anger. One was a family rift: not the usual quarrels and grievances I was used to—those heal, and often make a funny story later—but a real severing of connection, both physical and emotional.
The other was a lawsuit, brought against my husband and me by a former friend who fell off a step in our house and broke her hip. In both cases, anger itself was not the problem; anger is inevitable, as is conflict, between friends and loved ones. In both cases, I learned, anger served an ulterior goal: It was merely the excuse, providing the energy to carry out a decision that had already been made. In the family quarrel, the reasons for the anger did not cause the rift.
The reasons were trivial in the great scheme of things, and, as is often the case with great angers, no one can remember them now anyway. The rift was widened, however, because the four participants all spoke different anger languages, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. One of the four can be furiously, volcanically angry, which is intimidating to a calmer person, but he never says anything unfair or cruel; and then the tempest is over, done, forgotten.
Another is more easygoing; he is rarely angry and has trouble expressing it when he is; his style is to accumulate his grievances, sometimes for years, and then spit them all in your face. The third is quick to express anger and moral outrage. When she is angry, she says anything that comes to mind, because she believes that anger is safe and empowering. My own style, as the fourth participant, is the one I liked least.
I learned that I am slow to anger but, once angry, equally slow to forgive and forget. I take accusations and hard words literally, and brood over them. Tempests are over quickly; my storm clouds, once generated, hover for months. Writer, heal thyself, I hear you saying; I have used the opportunity of revising and updating this book to do just that. My experiences have not changed my views of anger, based on the research I did the first time around.
On the contrary, they have enriched and verified them, because now I understand how applicable this information is in what psychologists charmingly call real life. I have also benefitted from talking with many people who labor in the anger trenches—therapists, teachers, parents, people living through the intense rage of divorce and disaster—who showed me how the research described in this book can be used.
In lecturing and conducting workshops with all sorts of groups across the country, I was touched and impressed by the responses of these audiences.
I heard from marriage and family counselors, who agreed that their problem is getting couples not to express anger, but to shut up long enough to listen to each other. I heard from couples who had settled into patterns of exasperating, debilitating quarrels, sniping, and meanness, and mistook this for honest communication of grievances. I heard from coaches and athletes, who told me encouraging stories of how temper control improves performance.
In the last few years, research on anger has blossomed. On the other hand, new evidence persuades me that the physiology of emotion is not so similar across all emotional states, as I wrote in the first edition, and I have changed Chapter 3 accordingly. Chapter 3 also contains a new essay on the growing tendency in psychology and law to excuse angry outbursts and violence thought to be caused by biological conditions such as postpartum depression, high testosterone levels, or drinking.
I have also learned more about the importance of confession as opposed to catharsis : The conditions under which the revelation of emotional secrets not necessarily anger itself is important to health. Thus Chapter 5 contains a whole new conclusion, in which I draw together five conditions of catharsis under which the expression of anger is likely to be effective. Unfortunately, these conditions are rarely met in real life!
Thus an important addition to Chapter 5 is the clarification of the circumstances under which the expression of anger can be beneficial, and those under which it can be hazardous. I have added more on the increasing problem of highway anger Chapter 6 and expanded the discussion of anger and violence in sports; fortunately, many coaches and athletes are beginning to understand the value of anger control for better performance Chapter 6.
The studies failing to support the prevalent belief of sex differences in anger pile up like autumn leaves, and I have included more of this confirming evidence in Chapter 7. However, my goal was not to delve into the fascinating and complex reasons that men and women are angry at each other, or to write up lists of what each gender objects to in the other. There are plenty of books that do that. One friend of mine observed that the first edition was useful, as far as it went, in helping people think about generic anger, but that in everyday life people have specific difficulties.
Living with the anger at a spouse you are divorcing, she said, is different from working with an infuriating employer whom you dislike, feeling angry with a rebellious teenager whom you love, or transcending anger at an abusive parent who is dead.
So I have added an entirely new concluding chapter on new approaches to living with, or getting through, some of these all-too-common difficult anger problems. Revising this book helped me. I have learned to appreciate, if not entirely eradicate, the remarkable self-deception and self-righteousness that anger so often involves. I have certainly learned the truth of my own lesson in Chapter 4: Depression is not anger turned inward ; if anything, anger is depression turned outward.
Follow the trail of anger inward, and there you find the small, still voice of pain. I am enormously grateful to my editor, Frederic Hills, and to Simon and Schuster for giving me the opportunity of revision. As ever, I am thankful for my agent, Robert Lescher, who, among other things, has taught me the virtue of the persuasive letter over the irritated one while freely allowing me to rant at him. For this edition, I would like to add my special thanks and gratitude to Leonore Tiefer for her continuing editorial and moral support; my pen pal Harriet Goldhor Lerner of the Menninger Foundation for our years of correspondence on the subject of anger and other matters ; Charles Spielberger of the University of South Florida for our continuing discussions of anger-in versus anger-out ; James Pennebaker of Southern Methodist University for our many helpful discussions on the difference between confession and ventilation; Robert Solomon of the University of Texas and Steve Gordon of California State University, for their non-psychological perspectives; and William Lee Wilbanks, Professor of Criminal Justice at Florida International University, for his staunch efforts to persuade people that they are not pawns of fate or biology.
Naturally, responsibility for the interpretation of their work rests entirely with me. For this edition as for the first, I celebrate my mother, Dorothy, who is slow to anger; the memory of my father, Sam, who was quick to anger; and my uncle Reuben, who is quick to anger but slow to tell you—for showing me that all three reactions have their uses.
Finally, my thanks and gratitude to the men and women I interviewed, who so freely and cheerfully told me stories of bellowing, sulking, sarcasm, humor, ranting, and now and then reasoned argument; and to the readers of the first edition, for their letters and stories. They have reassured me that a book is not a message in a bottle sent aimlessly into the sea; they got it. Arnold took the humidifier from the bedroom into the bathroom, filled it with water, and brought it back.
An hour later, when I went to the bathroom, I saw the place was a mess—shower curtain askew, towels fallen into the tub, everything soaked, pools of water on the floor. I was furious. I asked him how he could be so thoughtless and insensitive—the equation between thoughtfulness, that is, putting things back the way you find them, and he loves me is very clear in my mind.
He apologized, sort of, but later that evening, over dinner, he asked me why this trivial episode made me so disproportionately angry.
How would you answer? Are any of the following facts about this couple relevant to your interpretation? The humidifier fight occurred on the first night of a two-week cohabitation made possible by the temporary absence of his wife. She is used to doing things her own way. Jane is expected to have no other relationships with men. Your judgment about why Jane was so angry with Arnold, and whether she should be angry, will depend on your age, sex, marital status, and politics.
Or you may prefer a feminist analysis: Jane should indeed regard the actions of her lover, including that psychoanalytic self-justification, as a sign of selfishness. The selfishness may have been inadvertent he never learned to clean up because there was always a woman around to do it or a political act of control the male demand that women do all the housework serves to keep women in submission , but either way Jane is entitled to feel angry with him. By his action, Arnold was asserting her inferior status in their relationship.
Or perhaps you will find a physiological explanation congenial: Jane was already upset and agitated by other events in her day—stress and uncertainty at work—and this trivial irritation was the catalyst to discharge her accumulated energy. Or you may choose among an array of therapeutic analyses that look for unconscious motives. There are nearly as many of these as there are therapists, but they share what we may call the really question.
Was Jane really angry with Arnold for not divorcing his wife? Or for his maintaining a double sexual standard? Was she really angry with herself for some mistakes she made at work that afternoon? Or for staying with Arnold in spite of having no future prospects with him? Was she really angry at her university for denying tenure to all of its female assistant professors? You could play the game all night, and this, mind you, is only a small incident.
Imagine the explanations you could generate for a complicated, long-running marital battle. The road to the understanding of rage runs two ways: in the direction of causes, and in the direction of results. Well, if she accepts his analysis, so what? The so what is that the explanation Jane believes is the one that will guide her future action.
One of the founders of modern sociology, W. Thomas, observed that if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences ; so it is with psychological judgments. If Jane believes that she is not really angry with Arnold for leaving the bathroom in a mess, but really angry with her mother for teaching her to be angry with men who leave bathrooms in messes, her relationship with her mother is likely to be affected; her relationship with Arnold, unchanged.
If she thinks her anger with Arnold is legitimate, and if she convinces him that it is, she may get him to be more sensitive to her feelings. The harder we try to pin down one explanation, the more certain we are to fail. The reason, I will argue, is that anger is not a disease, with a single cause; it is a process, a transaction, a way of communicating. With the possible exception of anger caused by organic abnormalities, most angry episodes are social events: They assume meaning only in terms of the social contract between participants.
The beliefs we have about anger, and the interpretations we give to the experience, are as important to its understanding as anything intrinsic to the emotion itself. It is why people can feel very angry and not know why, or at what. There is no one-to-one correspondence between feeling angry and knowing why, because the knowing why is a social convention that follows cultural rules.
We all seek meaning to our emotions and actions, and we accept the explanation most in harmony with our preconceptions, needs, and history. I am not saying that all explanations are created equal; rather that we have to be careful which explanation we choose, because then we have to live with it. There are, certainly, ways to determine why we feel angry and how we might then behave, but they have to do with which actions will ease the feeling and which will escalate it.
Many of us know people who have been in therapy for years and are just as scratchy as they ever were, still blaming their mothers for their unhappiness. Others blame their spouses, or life. The task for a quarreling couple, say, is not just to negotiate a mutually acceptable understanding of why they are angry with each other, but to decide what to do about it. And then to do it.
Try another Subtraction sum, [said the Red Queen].
Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion
Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Carol Tavris expertly examines every facet of that fascinating emotion--from genetics to stress to the rage for justice. Read more Read less.
Her long, meandering and cliche-ridden essay simply serves to validate Dr. Tavris's thoroughly researched argument: Anger is, indeed, a very misunderstood emotion. We are led to believe that Dr. Tavris's whole argument justifies the practice of female excision clitoridectomy by some third world families. We are also told that Dr.