Friday, September 3, 2010

Anger Management

The prevailing wisdom asserts that stuffing anger causes depression. Therefore, most psychotherapists used to recommend venting anger or at least talking about it. However, Martin and Deirdre Bobgan ( argue,

• “When anger is expressed it increases. When children, for instance, are encouraged to act out their anger, they become more aggressive and belligerent in their subsequent behavior. While people may initially feel relieved to ‘get it all out,’ their anger does not go away. It actually continues to grow and cause further problems.”

As a confused college student, I had gone to see two Reichian therapists, called “Organomists.” They compared humanity to onions. The outer corrupted layers had to be pealed away in order to arrive at the healthy inner core. This would be accomplished by breaking through our bodily armoring, which repressed our emotions. Once the emotions could be expressed, they could be released – another layer pealed away!

I would lay down on a mattress in the center of a bare room while the therapist would inflict pain in order to provoke my anger. I was instructed to scream anything I wanted. The more emotionalism, the better! I asked if there was anything else I could do to help the process along. He answered, “Lay back and leave the driving to me!” I never once considered that after the onion layers were removed, there would be nothing left, but I never had to. The layers remained in place, even after hours of crying.

In "Anger Diffused," researcher Dr. Carol Tavris wrote,

“The psychological rationale for ventilating anger does not stand up under experimental scrutiny. The weight of the evidence indicates precisely the opposite: Expressing anger makes you angrier, solidifies an angry attitude, and establishes a hostile habit.”

What then do we do about our feelings? Do we simply stuff them? I think that we need to admit that we have them, at least to ourselves. This isn’t the same thing as repression, which denies the truth about our feelings, and places us in conflict with ourselves in our attempt to keep them suppressed. It sometimes represents mature assessment that, perhaps in this situation, little is to be gained and much might be lost.

But once again, we’re left with our uncomfortable feelings. What’s the answer? Maturity requires perseverance, a willingness to endure painful feelings. As tree tears through its confining bark as it grows, we too cannot grow without some form of tearing. It’s unavoidable, and therefore we have to expect it. When our expectations fail to include this inevitable reality, we will be blind-sided and needlessly disappointed. Psychology Today states,

“Constant cultural pressure to have it all – a great sex life, a wonderful family – has made people ashamed of their less-than-perfect relationships and question whether such unions are worth hanging on to. Feelings of dissatisfaction or disappointment are natural, but they can seem intolerable when standards are sky-high” (March/April 2004, 38).

When we’re unprepared for the disappointments, they can be crushing. So how can we accept them without blowing our stack? How can we accept stale bread after we’ve ordered caviar?

We need to be assured of two things – that the stale bread really serves a necessary purpose, and that there’s a future eternal life of bliss with a Savior who loves and forgives us and will make up for all the hurts. With this perspective, we can endure the disappointment, injustice – whatever circumstances that might have provoked our anger! In fact, this is the very promise of our Lord:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away… To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life…I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev. 21:4-7).

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