The basis for the piece is the Harvard Study of Adult Development , a longitudinal study of 824 men and women over 60 years, which tracked psychological, social and biological factors leading to vitality in old age. The research showed that those who bottled up their anger and emotions (=energy in motion) were more likely to acknowledge hitting the glass ceiling at work and to feeling less fulfilled in their personal lives. It suggests that anger is a healthy emotion, which aids communication and emotional development by helping us work out what is important to us, and how to move forward.
The key factor, says George Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard and co-director of the study, is learning how to channel our anger constructively. This is important for our emotional development and physical health. I can relate to this. My partner, Matt and I have very different attitudes towards anger. He has no qualms about expressing it vocally (usually road rage in the car) and I don’t particularly like confrontation and negative atmospheres and avoid them if I can. I get angry and frustrated about all sorts of things (people who litter, lack of manners and respect, my daughter in the mornings) and I often internalise it and try to let it go, rationalising that in the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter and isn’t worth getting stressed about.
This might work in the short term but in retrospect, all I’m doing is quashing my feelings, which isn’t good for my health. I then wonder why I’m in floods of tears some days, feeling like everything is on top of me and I can’t cope. Yet, I’ve let things get to this stage.
I’m getting better though. This morning Matt washed my lovely grey merino wool cardigan on a normal wash. It came out toddler-sized and matted. I tossed it aside with a resigned sigh and walked off cursing his stupidity. When I sat down to work I couldn’t focus on anything, feeling a flush of anger. I can’t believe he’s done this again. Why doesn’t he check what he’s putting in first? (We had a huge argument about this last Christmas after he ruined my silk shirt and he responded by saying that I shouldn’t put such clothing in the washing basket, how was he to know and so on).
He came in, asked me if it was ruined and I went off on one. He walked off and left me to it. We spoke about it later after a session at the gym and I can see his point of view so I won’t put my ‘special clothes’ in with the rest of the wash anymore. I hope he sees mine and I still want a new cardigan.
So, what’s the best way to channel anger productively? The article has some useful tips from Mike Fisher, director of the British Association of Anger Management who has written a book on the subject . In my case, regular exercise helps. I try to express how I’m feeling rather than bottling things up. I’m trying not to be afraid of my anger and viewing it as a negative thing. I challenged a group of boys recently who were littering the town centre. It might not achieve anything in their case but I felt better after saying my piece.
Anger isn’t a ‘bad’ emotion or a negative thing. It’s part of our makeup and relates to our survival instinct. It shows that we are alive and engaged with things. Repress that and you dull your personality and creativity to a degree. If you let everything go then gradually things cease to matter. A friend of mine who has been taking anti-depressants for anxiety and panic attacks said that she stopped after a while because she didn’t like the way they made her feel. Like she didn’t really care about anything, wrapped up in her own cocoon. She is a writer, artist and musician and needs to feel to create. Learning how to express anger appropriately and how to direct it to achieve results is fundamental to our health.