Violence in movies and on the small screen is, in case you hadn’t noticed, ubiquitous. Indeed, violent films can gross several hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Why are such films so popular? One theory is that they, vicariously and, therefore, innocuously, allow viewers to express their own suppressed anger and violent impulses in the form of shootings, stabbings, garroting, strangling, poisoning, torturing (think Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Taxi Driver etc) – the list goes on ad infinitum.
It is suggested that many individuals feel a sense of release by viewing such material – the classic ‘letting off of steam’, helping them to keep their own aggressive impulses under control. (There is also the opposing argument, of course, namely that watching violence desensitises people to it and, thus, makes them more likely to perpetrate acts of violence themselves).
THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF SUPPRESSED ANGER:
Many who have suffered significant childhood trauma have suppressed anger directed at a parent or parents (or primary carer/s). Such anger that has no outlet can turn inwards and become directed at the self, leading, often, to depression and/or physical (psychosomatic) illness (such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension etc).
BENEFIT OF ‘LETTING GO’ OF ANGER:
‘Letting go’ of anger can help us recover from these damaging effects. Indeed, one study that involved training individuals to let go of their anger found that it led to a significant drop in their blood pressure.
Another study indicated that chronic feelings of intense, unremitting anger and resentment are linked in some individuals to premature death.
CHANNELLING ANGER POSITIVELY:
Suppose, for example, we belong to a particular sport’s club and are angry with the manager for not selecting us for the 1st team. Rather than, say, going up and punching him (which is likely to prove somewhat counter-productive), we can channel ( or sublimate, as Freud would put it) the energy provided by our anger into training especially hard, thus securing that elusive place in the team after all.
Or, say our boss at work undervalues our talent; rather than confront him and tell him he’s an idiot who should be immediately sacked (again, this could prove less than fruitful), we may channel the energy we can derive from our anger into excelling in our job to such a degree that we eventually eclipse our boss’s work-related achievements and become his boss, thus satisfyingly putting him in his place.
Indeed, it is almost a cliché to point out that many high achievers have been motivated by the fact that one or both parents constantly belittled, denigrated and derided them as they grew up. Their achievements, in their eyes, constitute a kind of revenge. (This can, however, be psychologically unhealthy, if, for example, it turns one into an obsessive, neurotic workaholic who can never be satisfied by his accomplishments because, what he really seeks, on an unconscious level, is his parents’ approval).
RELINQUISHING ANGER :
Being angry is a psychologically tormenting state which frequently harms the person harbouring the anger more than anybody else; relinquishing it allows us to experience some emotional peace and solace and is very likely to lead to a significant improvement in both our mental and physical health.
By giving up our anger towards a particular person also serves to deprive that person of any further power and control over how we feel – we no longer allow them to damage our mental equilibrium and become free.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).