I’m a very calm person. I rarely get angry, upset, or even annoyed. If I have a dispute with someone, I feel only sadness if I wish to work it out or disdain and pity of they were wrong. If someone has a chance to get under my skin and start digging, I’ll most likely just leave and if I can’t I’ll become very quiet.
My temperament has often made me the subject of amateur psychologists who would diagnose deep emotional problems like repressed anger or deeply buried malcontent. I’ve never understood why this has to be the case. Surely they all must understand that being angry is not a good thing. If this is true then I’m not dysfunctional, I’m exceptional (as has long been my suspicion). I suspect this is just another case of people projecting their feelings onto me: if they would be angry they assume I must be, if I don’t look angry I must be repressing it. The most common solution that people propose is to let it out.
Well I’ve been delighted to learn that letting your anger out may in fact make you more angry. It was Stephen Fry hosting QI who tipped me off. He suggested that letting out your rage, or catharsis as psychologists have called it, makes you more aggressive. An article in psychology today confirmed these findings. Enraged people, when invited to punch a punching bag, will act significantly more aggressively in a game where other players are abused by the honking of a horn. The theory is that acting out makes an emotional connection between feelings of anger and aggressive actions.
That’s not to say that you should deny your feelings. Admitting when something is wrong, it seems to me, is rather important. But the physical manifestation has never been shown to have any benefit, and has been shown in some cases to make things worse.
So, in defense of all the cool cucumbers out there, stick to your guns. You needn’t let out a primal scream when something gets under your skin. Just stay stoic, bite your tongue, and let it pass.