We humans have been grappling with how to understand and manage ANGER for a very long time. Consider the words of Aristotle written in the 4th Century, BC: "Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, for the right purpose, in the right way, this is not easy."
And much later in time, Ben Franklin weighed in on the subject in 1754: "Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one."
Two particular groups of research have shed more light on this difficult emotion and how to manage it. One is the work at Duke University on risks for heart disease. The evidence is clear: Anger is very hard on the heart. People wonder, is it better to hold anger in or express it? Research shows that from the heart's standpoint, anger hurts.
Then there are the remarkable studies on successful marriages conducted by John and Julie Gottman. Here is what makes their work so extraordinary: They can interview a couple for 15 minutes or less and predict the likelihood the couple will be happily married versus miserable or divorced, with 93 percent accuracy.
Basically, they found two predictors of future happiness. Surprisingly, one is how couples argue. Are they able to disagree without being hurtful and defensive? Do they stay engaged during the argument or does one withdraw. Withdrawal is a major danger sign. (The second predictor is the couple's ability to show affection and appreciation when they are not arguing.)
Anger is a complex emotion and stepping back to examine it can be beneficial. For example, you might be angry that a friend or mate forgot your birthday. You were hoping for some special attention and instead got none. Underlying the anger though may lurk a fear that you are unimportant, not worthwhile. Without the fear, the unmet need would simply trigger curiosity. But when combined with a fear of being irrelevant, the unmet need can be experienced as the more intense emotion of anger.
Indeed, counselors often regard anger as a sign of two separate emotions: a sense that one's needs are not being met by another person accompanied by a fear about why the need is not being met. Sometimes just recognizing the components of anger may make it easier to manage.
Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist, consultant and author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life.