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Anger. Possibly the most confounding emotion there is. It overwhelms us, can completely silence our rational voice, and it’s unavoidable. Whether it’s a fight with a family member or frustration at the state of the world, we all have to deal with anger at some point.
As Christians, we might be tempted simply to suppress our anger out of fear of committing a sin by lashing out. However, according to science, this can be dangerous, and there is actually a more effective and guilt-free way to handle it.
If suppressing anger keeps it inside well enough, why is it dangerous? Well, one of the key problems with suppressing any emotion is that this ultimately strengthens the emotion. This causes overactivity in the amygdala, a part of the brain strongly associated with emotions, and that stress decreases our ability to experience positive emotions … but not negative ones. While our ability to feel things like anger, stress, and depression remains strong, our ability to feel positive emotions like joy, pleasure, and peace is slowly weakened.
But suppressing emotions isn’t just bad for you; it’s bad for the person you’re angry at, as well. Studies show that suppressing your own anger can actually increase the stress experienced by the person you’re angry at. This then leads to relationship problems.
“Individuals who typically use suppression report avoiding close relationships and having less positive relations with others; this dovetails with peers’ reports that suppressors have relationships with others that are less emotionally close,” according to the Handbookof Emotion Regulation, a scholarly review of the theory and research on expressing and repressing emotions.
So we should vent our emotions then, right? Not quite. Studies show that venting your anger causes increase in the emotion rather than its resolution.
What is the answer? Reappraisal.
Reappraisal is a method of distraction that re-evaluates the situation by considering that you don’t have all the information. “You don’t get frustrated because of events; you get frustrated because of your beliefs,” the noted Columbia psychologist and researcher Albert Ellis said once said. When you’re in the middle of an argument, it’s easy to assume that the situation is about you, but by challenging this belief, you can more easily let go of your anger.
For example, if someone snaps at you, you can choose to take it personally or you can choose to consider that the other person is having a bad day, or just received terrible news, or is dealing with long-term stress. By “reappraising” the situation, our brain is distracted, focusing on a pathway to compassion rather than on the anger itself. When we do this, our amygdala calms down and decreases in activity.
Remember the damage that suppression caused the brain? Well, reappraisal does the opposite! This method increases our ability to feel positive emotions and decreases our experience of negative emotions, such as anger and irritability. This means that the more often we practice it, the happier and calmer we’ll be overall.
So, the next time you get angry or overwhelmed, give it a try! Find out more here.
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