People assume that all emotions are felt. Yet they will acknowledge times when someone was obviously angry but didn’t know it. Like other emotions, anger is more complex than is usually thought. One school holds that an emotion is a state of bodily arousal: preparation for action that is delayed. For example, grief is bodily preparation to sobs and tears that have been delayed.

To put it more crudely, a good cry is the orgasm of grief. If this cry happens immediately after a loss, there would be no sadness by the time the cry is finished. In the case of anger, what is the bodily state that it prepares for? Most people think that venting is the answer, getting the anger “off your chest.” But many reliable studies have shown that venting doesn’t help, to say the least. What might?

My nomination: Explain why you are angry to the person that caused your anger. Explain courteously, without raising your voice. If the right person is not available, explain it to a friendly listener, or even to yourself. It might take several repetitions to get to the payoff: bodily heat that metabolizes the anger adrenaline. It sounds impossible, but ridding the body of adrenaline calms us immediately.

Next stop: the kingdom of fear.

About the Author

Thomas J. Scheff

Thomas J. Scheff is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara.

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