Meditation and relaxation. Meditation or yoga and relaxation can be
used to allay anger as well as anxiety (Carrington, 1977). Suinn (1990) and
his students developed a training procedure involving the arousal of anxiety
or anger (by imagining an irritating scene) and then practicing avoiding or
reducing the anger response by relaxing. This procedure--relaxing, arousal of
anger, attention to anger signs, replacing anger with relaxation--is repeated
over and over for 4 to 8 sessions. The advantage of this procedure is that the
relaxation techniques, such as a pleasant scene, deep muscle relaxation, or
deep breathing, can be immediately used anytime unwanted anger occurs.
This is similar to method #10. Also see chapter 12 and #11 above.
Use catharsis. Privately vent your feelings, get them off your chest.
There are three skills involved: (a) realizing your feelings, (b) learning to
express feelings, and (c) learning to drain or discharge your feelings. Some of
the hotly debated pros and cons about this method have already been
reviewed under "Frustration and Aggression" above. The pro-catharsis side is
made up of dynamic and psychoanalytic therapists and popular folklore
(Lincoln recommended writing down your feelings, then tearing up the
paper). The anti-catharsis side is made up of personality researchers who
believe that venting anger is just one more trial of learning to be aggressive.
Certainly, one has to be on guard against this happening. Recall that under
"Internal Dynamics" we discussed that one way for anger to build was via
anger-generating fantasies, i.e. reliving an irritating experience over and over
and getting madder and madder in the process (actually if you remained
calm, it would be desensitization!). Thus, current theories make all kinds of
predictions: anger is thought to grow if it is fully expressed or unexpressed or
imagined or totally denied. In other words, psychologists don't agree, strongly
indicating we don't understand anger very well yet.
The practical distinctions between a "swallower" and an "exploder" are
especially clear when applying this method. An inhibited, suppressed person
must first learn to accept all of him/herself, including the scary boiling rage.
The "swallower" has had years of socialization: "Don't get so mad." "Stop
acting like a little baby." "Wipe that smirk off your face before I knock it off."
So one of his/her first tasks is to recognize his/her anger and learn to express
it when alone. Part of method #8 in chapter 12 deals with the "swallower's"
difficulties with expression. On the other hand, the "exploder" should have no
difficulty venting his/her anger; it comes naturally, except now he/she has to
learn to do it alone so it won't hurt anyone.
Healthy, effective venting will probably involve (a) exhaustion, i.e.
vigorously expressing the feelings (punching a pillow, crying about the hurts)
until you are drained, (b) an intention and belief (or self-suggestion) that
venting will rid you of the accumulated anger forever, and (c) an open-
mindedness to new insights as the angry feelings are expressed physically,
verbally, and in your thoughts. See method # 10 in chapter 12 for a full
description. Observe the consequences of your venting carefully, if it isn't
working, try some other approach.
Even a major anti-catharsis writer like Tavris (1984) cites Scheff (1979)
and says, "Ventilating anger directly can be cathartic, but only if it restores
your sense of control, reducing both the rush of adrenaline...and reducing