Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion

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9780671675233: Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion

"This landmark book" (San Francisco Chronicle) dispels the common myths about the causes and uses of anger -- for example, that expressing anger is always good for you, that suppressing anger is always unhealthy, or that women have special "anger problems" that men do not. Dr. Carol Tavris expertly examines every facet of that fascinating emotion -- from genetics to stress to the rage for justice.
Fully revised and updated, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion now includes:
* A new consideration of biological politics: Should testosterone or PMS excuse rotten tempers or aggressive actions?
* The five conditions under which anger is likely to be effective -- and when it's not.
* Strategies for solving specific anger problems -- chronic anger, dealing with difficult people, repeated family battles, anger after divorce or victimization, and aggressive children.

Le informazioni nella sezione "Riassunto" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.

About the Author:

Carol Tavris, Ph.D., earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of Michigan. She was senior editor for several years of a then-new magazine, Psychology Today, and went on to develop a career as a teacher, lecturer, and psychology writer. She is coauthor (with Carole Wade) of The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective and an introductory textbook, Psychology. In addition to writing the "Mind Health" column for Vogue magazine, she has written many articles and book reviews on diverse issues in psychology for a wide variety of magazines, including The New York Times, Discover, Science Digest, Human Nature, New York, Harper's, Geo, Ms., Redbook, and Woman's Day. While living in New York, Tavris taught at the Human Relations Center of the New School for Social Research, and in Los Angeles she now teaches from time to time in the department of psychology at UCLA.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Rage and Reason -- an Eternal Ambivalence

Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:9

They have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

Deuteronomy 32:21

On the train to Brindavan a Swami sits beside a common man who asks him if indeed he has attained self-mastery, as the name "Swami" implies.

"I have," says the Swami.

"And have you mastered anger?"

"I have."

"Do you mean to say that you have mastered anger?"

"I have."

"You mean you can control your anger?"

"I can."

"And you do not feel anger."

"I do not."

"Is this the truth, Swami?"

"It is."

After a silence the man asks again, "Do you really feel that you have controlled your anger?"

"I have, as I told you," the Swami answers.

"Then do you mean to say, you never feel anger, even --"

"You are going on and on -- what do you want?" the Swami shouts. "Are you a fool? When I have told you --"

"Oh, Swami, this is anger. You have not mas --"

"Ah, but I have," the Swami interrupts. "Have you not heard about the abused snake? Let me tell you a story.

"On a path that went by a village in Bengal, there lived a cobra who used to bite people on their way to worship at the temple there. As the incidents increased, everyone became fearful, and many refused to go to the temple. The Swami who was the master at the temple was aware of the problem and took it upon himself to put an end to it. Taking himself to where the snake dwelt, he used a mantram to call the snake to him and bring it into submission. The Swami then said to the snake that it was wrong to bite the people who walked along the path to worship and made him promise sincerely that he would never do it again. Soon it happened that the snake was seen by a passerby upon the path, and it made no move to bite him. Then it became known that the snake had somehow been made passive and people grew unafraid. It was not long before the village boys were dragging the poor snake along behind them as they ran laughing here and there. When the temple Swami passed that way again he called the snake to see if he had kept his promise. The snake humbly and miserably approached the Swami, who exclaimed, 'You are bleeding. Tell me how this has come to be.' The snake was near tears and blurted out that he had been abused ever since he was caused to make his promise to the Swami.

"'I told you not to bite,' said the Swami, 'but I did not tell you not to hiss.'"

Rolling Thunder

Many people, like the Swami's cobra, confuse the hiss with the bite. It is an understandable mistake, for ambivalence about anger permeates our society. Once thought to be a destructive emotion that should be suppressed at all costs, anger is now widely thought to be a healthy emotion that costs too much when it is suppressed. In the abrupt transition from Puritan restraint to liberated self-expression, many people are uncertain about how to behave: Some overreact angrily at every thwarted wish, others suffer injustice in silence. We are told in one breath not to rock the boat, and in the next that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Some people take a dose of anger like a purgative, to cleanse the system; others dread any ripple on their natural placidity and fear the loss of control that the demon anger, like the demon rum, might bring.

One friend of mine, a forty-year-old businesswoman, illustrates perfectly our culture's conflict about anger. She won't express feelings of ire, she said, unless she is really "boiling."

"What do you fear about expressing anger?" I asked.

"Retaliation -- I don't want that. Or open warfare -- very frightening. There's a fear that once you start screaming at people you'll end up like one of those hollerers on Forty-second Street. If you start, where's it going to stop?"

"But surely you've been angry at people before, and I don't see that you have lost all shreds of self-control."

"Actually, I think I'd be perfectly willing to get angry if I thought people would put up with it. But they don't. That's the kicker. They fight back. When you express anger, the person receiving it doesn't simply say, 'Point well taken!'"

"Well, then, what do you do when you are angry?"

"I retreat and sulk. Anger lust sits there, like an uncooked doughnut."

It is instructive, if also comical, that two popular embodiments of anger in America are antithetical types -- Superman and the Incredible Hulk. Clark Kent never really gets angry at injustice, merely impatient: "Oh, gosh, I'd better save the city again." Then he chooses to jump into his flying suit and charge off to right wrong. When David Banner gets angry, he becomes, uncontrollably, a giant green id, a bilious beast. He is not a man at all, super or otherwise. These incarnations of anger represent dual attitudes: is anger handsome or ugly, righteous or dangerous? Is it under our control, or do we have as much chance of telling it what to do as of regulating the carotid artery? Is it a human blessing, or a bestial sin? (The Bible does not answer, now recommending the furious smiting of the unjust, then the ameliorative turning of cheeks.)

Although my friend occasionally berates herself for her ambivalence about anger -- and spends a lot of time in therapy trying to "resolve her feelings" -- she is in fact part of a long and noble debate in Western tradition. In the eighth century B.C., Homer's Iliad offered an epic story of a man's anger -- indeed, The Anger of Achilles is the title of Robert Graves's beautiful translation of the saga. When the Greek King Agamemnon appropriates Briseis, a girl whom Achilles has won in battle, Achilles' masculine pride is wounded. Stifling his angry impulses to kill Agamemnon at once, Achilles retreats to sulk in his tent and pamper his rage. But Achilles feels better about sulking than my friend does. "How delightedly I nursed my grudge against the High King Agamemnon!" he recalls. "It smouldered in my heart, and was as sweet to me as trickling honey." The tragic events of the Iliad unfold when Achilles stops sulking and acts to avenge the killing of his friend Patroclus.

In contrast, The Trial of Sören Qvist, written in the 1940s by Janet Lewis, is an exquisite novella about a peaceful parson who is roused to fury by his stupid, arrogant servant. When the servant is found murdered, Qvist is arrested; and the trial that ensues for him is both legal and spiritual. At last, although he knows he is innocent of the deed, Qvist convicts himself of the desire. He remembers an earlier time when anger had defeated him, an experience that I expect is familiar to modern readers:

No sooner did he feel himself alone than his anger disappeared. His bones seemed to turn to water, and a most awful sickness took possession of him. He sank to his knees, shaking, and covered his face with his hands....This anger, which came upon him so suddenly and with such absolute power, had been the greatest trial of his life.

Memories rushed upon him. The face of a young German student, blond, arrogant, and opinionated, rose before him. He felt again the sword in his hand, and in his heart the furious desire which had possessed him to kill that young man. The reason for the quarrel escaped him.

Two more unlike stories you could not find, for the anger that is sweet to one hero is anathema to the other; Achilles nurses his anger and Qvist curses his; one uses his anger and the other feels used by it. Over the centuries, the pendulum of opinion has slowly swung to the Qvistian position, a result of profound changes in our attitudes about the nature of humankind.

About as soon as man could think, he thought thinking was superior to feeling. (I use the word "man" advisedly, and not generically, either. I'm afraid man also thought thinking was not a female capacity.) The battle lines were drawn early for what Pascal would call the "internal war" between reason and emotion, and for most of our history a brave confidence in reason prevailed. Reason, or at least religious faith, gave man a fighting chance to control anger, pride, lust, covetousness, envy, gluttony, sloth, and any other deadly sin that happens to be his weakness; philosophers and theologians sought to distinguish man from beast, and from woman, by praising his intelligence, rationality, and upright posture (in both the moral and vertical meanings of "upright"). And so, for most of the twenty-five hundred years since Plato, the healthy individual was someone who did not fly off the handle, who was not, in Hamlet's felicitous phrase, passion's slave. Far from advising emotional self-expression, our predecessors came down firmly on behalf of self-control:

Hesitation is the best cure for anger....The first blows of anger are heavy, but if it waits, it will think again.

Seneca

In the march towards Truth, anger, selfishness, hatred, etc., naturally give way, for otherwise Truth would be impossible to attain. A man who is swayed by passions may have good enough intentions, may be truthful in word, but he will never find the Truth.

Gandhi

To behave rightly, we ourselves should never lay a hand on our servants as long as our anger lasts....Things will truly seem different to us when we have quieted and cooled down.

Montaigne

The principal use of prudence, of self-control, is that it teaches us to be masters of our passions, and to so control and guide them that the evils which they cause are quite bearable, and that we even derive joy from them all.

Descartes

Short temper is a loss of face.

fortune cookie

It is only in the last two centuries, just yesterday by historical standards, that confidence in the power of reason yielded to doubt, a transformation midwived by the work of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud. Whereas Plato assured us that reason (ego) could control our worst impulses, Freud and his followers bet gloomily on the id, on the sway of instinct. Plato and his intellectual heirs tried to show that man was better than beast; Darwin showed that man was just another species of beast, and many of his successors now argue that most beasts are wiser and kinder than man. Popular ethologists (students of animal behavior such as Konrad Lorenz, Robert Ardrey, and Desmond Morris) and lately the sociobiologists (such as E. O. Wilson) make an impassioned case that man is not a reasonable creature.

Because the legacy of Darwin and Freud has so profoundly shaped contemporary attitudes about anger, I would like to offer a few reminders of what they did, and did not, have to say about this powerful emotion. I do not wish to imply a "great man" theory of historical change here. It takes countless intellectual contributions to chip away at an establishment view of the world, before it falls; and although Darwin and Freud are the best examples of the theories they promoted, they were by no means the only ones. Further, scientific and theoretical ideas must fall on fertile ground if they are to take root, and the social and economic conditions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have surely buffeted human self-confidence, making the world ready for evolution and psychoanalysis.

But Freud's and Darwin's theories represent a crucial pivot point in Western thought: for once the belief that we can control anger -- indeed, must control it -- bowed to the belief that we cannot control it, it was then only a short jump to the current conviction that we should not control it.

THE FALLACY OF THE SWAMI'S SNAKE

My neighbor describes a family crisis that she watched unfold on her patio. A baby bird, struggling from its nest, has made its way to a precarious perch on her clothesline. Terrified equally of flying and falling, it does not budge, but whimpers piteously. The mother, chirping her support and encouragement, shows her baby how to take off, flutter around, and land. No luck; baby doesn't move. The mother becomes chirpier. No reaction. She flies off, leaving baby in panic. Suddenly, from a nearby tree, comes an angry, unmistakable paternal note, a deep squawk: FLY! Baby stops whining at once and soars away.

The Bird Family scene seems so familiar to us that it is almost impossible to describe it without using anthropomorphic terms: The fledgling is "terrified," "panics," and "whines"; the mother "encourages," the father remonstrates sternly. Charles Darwin, for all his powers of observation, likewise had no difficulty in seeing human emotions in the animals he studied. In Descent of Man, he wrote that animals feel pride, self-complacency, shame, modesty, magnanimity, boredom, wonder, curiosity, jealousy, and anger -- in short, all the blights and delights of the human species. "There can, I think, be no doubt that a dog feels shame, as distinct from fear, and something very like modesty when begging too often for food," Darwin wrote. (He was talking about dogs that live with people.) And one day, while walking in the zoological gardens, he observed a baboon "who always got into a furious rage when his keeper took out a letter or book and read it aloud to him; and his rage was so violent that, as I witnessed on one occasion, he bit his own leg till the blood flowed." One wonders what the keeper was reading...and why he persisted.

Darwin's purpose, however, was not to equate people with baboons, in spite of what we call each other in the heat of anger, but rather to demonstrate that the origins of virtually all the human emotions could be found in lower animals. Emotional expression, he said, serves the same adaptive purpose. The smile, the frown, the grimace, the glare: all were biologically based, common to many animal species through the course of evolution. Darwin sought to establish a theory that applied to human beings and to other species, and in so doing he significantly tipped the balance between reason and rage in favor of the latter.

When animals are threatened or perceive danger, they do respond in ways that we liken to anger: Hair (if the animal has hair) stands on end, pupils dilate, muscles tense, fins flap, warning growls or chirps or rattles sound, and the organism readies itself to fight or flee. When provoked by another stickleback, a male stickleback must attack, for it is programmed to be a feisty fish. If a foreign wolf enters marked territory, the defending wolf is not going to be laid-back about it. In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, written in 1872, Darwin argued that rage is a simple response to threat, which requires an animal to become aroused to defend itself. In fact, D...

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Descrizione libro SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 1989. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Revised edition. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. This landmark book (San Francisco Chronicle) dispels the common myths about the causes and uses of anger -- for example, that expressing anger is always good for you, that suppressing anger is always unhealthy, or that women have special anger problems that men do not. Dr. Carol Tavris expertly examines every facet of that fascinating emotion -- from genetics to stress to the rage for justice. Fully revised and updated, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion now includes: * A new consideration of biological politics: Should testosterone or PMS excuse rotten tempers or aggressive actions? * The five conditions under which anger is likely to be effective -- and when it s not. * Strategies for solving specific anger problems -- chronic anger, dealing with difficult people, repeated family battles, anger after divorce or victimization, and aggressive children. Codice libro della libreria BZV9780671675233

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Descrizione libro SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 1989. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Revised edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. This landmark book (San Francisco Chronicle) dispels the common myths about the causes and uses of anger -- for example, that expressing anger is always good for you, that suppressing anger is always unhealthy, or that women have special anger problems that men do not. Dr. Carol Tavris expertly examines every facet of that fascinating emotion -- from genetics to stress to the rage for justice. Fully revised and updated, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion now includes: * A new consideration of biological politics: Should testosterone or PMS excuse rotten tempers or aggressive actions? * The five conditions under which anger is likely to be effective -- and when it s not. * Strategies for solving specific anger problems -- chronic anger, dealing with difficult people, repeated family battles, anger after divorce or victimization, and aggressive children. Codice libro della libreria BZV9780671675233

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Descrizione libro SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 1989. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Revised, Updated ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. This landmark book (San Francisco Chronicle) dispels the common myths about the causes and uses of anger -- for example, that expressing anger is always good for you, that suppressing anger is always unhealthy, or that women have special anger problems that men do not. Dr. Carol Tavris expertly examines every facet of that fascinating emotion -- from genetics to stress to the rage for justice. Fully revised and updated, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion now includes: * A new consideration of biological politics: Should testosterone or PMS excuse rotten tempers or aggressive actions? * The five conditions under which anger is likely to be effective -- and when it s not. * Strategies for solving specific anger problems -- chronic anger, dealing with difficult people, repeated family battles, anger after divorce or victimization, and aggressive children. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780671675233

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