Ever since Freud declared that depression was anger directed against one’s Self, therapists of the Freudian persuasion have encouraged people to express their anger… openly, honestly and shamelessly.
They believe that people contract all manner of illness when they repress their anger… when they do not give full-throated expression to their rage.
Whether for this or another more profound reason many young people, especially those of the politically correct persuasion seem to be in a permanent state of anger.
They do not know that it is compromising their health.
As promoted by Freud and his avatars the principle lacks subtlety. It has led people to believe that all expressions of anger are intrinsically healthy. It has led them to think that self-control, modulating the expression of one’s anger is a form of repression.
They fail to recognize that there are right and the wrong ways to express anger… just as there are right and wrong ways to express any emotion.
This ethic, invented by Aristotle, is based on the notion that the right expression of anger facilitates interaction and communication while the wrong kind is a narcissistic effort to be regulate one’s imagined internal barometer… regardless of the effect it produce on others.
One likes to think that people who express their anger are so full of rage that they cannot constrain themselves. But, they are also following a culturally-defined, and supposedly scientifically-determined rule: that tells you that expression is a good in and of itself.
The rule took root because more than a few people, encouraged or goaded by their therapists to express their anger—at times by beating cushions with sticks—have found the experience to be cathartic. Perhaps not cathartic in the Aristotelian sense, but cathartic nevertheless.
After a time, psychologists discovered that these outbursts were Pyrrhic victories. Those who had felt a sense of relief after expressing their anger had, in retrospect, felt chagrin at their appalling behavior. No one has ever felt pride for having let loose, lost control, expressed his or her anger fully, without restraint or without any sense of what it was communicating to other people.
Be that as it may, medical researchers have confirmed that outbursts of anger are bad for your physical health. The same applies to those people who feel excessive anger. Whatever you think it is doing for your mental health, at the least, we know scientifically that angry feelings are damaging your body.
Jeanne Whalen reports in the Wall Street Journal:
Medical researchers increasingly are finding just how toxic outbursts of anger can be.
New evidence suggests people increase their risk for a heart attack more than eightfold shortly after an intensely angry episode. Anger can also help bring on strokes and irregular heartbeat, other research shows. And it may lead to sleep problems, excess eating and insulin resistance, which can help cause diabetes.
“Anger is bad for just about everything we have going on physically,” says Redford Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University Medical Center and co-author of “Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health.”
Obviously, we are not trying to eliminate anger, to produce anger-free zones. But, what purpose does anger serve?
Here is one suggestion:
Strong anger releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, which can trigger an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and sugar metabolism. This is useful if the body requires a burst of energy to mount a physical attack. “Amongst cave men, the more angry you got, the more aggressive you were, the more food you got,” says Scott Wetzler, vice chairman of the department of psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
I like Darwinian explanations as much as the next person, but still, we need to define the issue more precisely. Too much anger can make you reckless and foolhardy… thus less likely to get more food. There is much more to successful hunting than being in a state of permanent rage. Sometimes people hunt because they are hungry.
Besides, a man who is angry and aggressive all the time will not be a very good husband.
To be fair, the research does not limit itself to the expression of anger. It focuses also on feelings of anger, on feeling overwhelmed by anger.
Obviously, people who feel overwhelmed by anger believe that they must express it. The culture tells them to do so, but the culture might also be encouraging them to feel the anger in the first place.
When the culture tells you to interpret certain gestures in a certain way it is encouraging you to remain in a permanent state of rage. Lately, some researchers have decided that chivalrous behavior in men is sexist. Thus, a woman who is subjected to what used to be considered respectful behavior is being told to feel anger because she is being insulted and slighted. If she isn’t angry at the man who offers to pay for her dinner or who opens the door for her, she is a stooge for the patriarchy and is selling out the feminist cause.
The same rule applies to behavior that seems to insult someone’s race or ethnicity.
If you become hypersensitive to insult in all, or nearly all of your interactions you will become permanently angry.
If you believe that people wish you ill, or that the world is a vast conspiracy against people like you, you will find more occasions to feel angry.
As the research shows, these emotions will make you sick.