My favourite phrase when anger boils up is “Let’s sleep on it.” I am not afraid of confrontation, and I know that many issues need to be faced and talked through – but many more, in my experience, are issues of the moment that will dissolve overnight. What seems desperately important at first sight can often be side stepped or simply resolved … as long as the mind is operating coolly.”Let’s sleep on it,” is the perfect cooling-off phrase.
It suggests that everyone concerned has a valid point of view; that we are all getting a little heated; that this is an important subject which deserves mature, rational treatment. Very often I wake up the next day and my old objections have melted away – even more often, the situation has sorted itself out and I’ve saved a friendship.
I know that my advice is not fashionable. Many therapists advise “letting your anger out,” in screams and tantrums and foot-stamping. I believe that anger stirs up more anger – remember Michael Douglas in Falling Down, as the mild-mannered guy who loses his temper in a traffic jam and abandons his car, only to react with increasing violence to each new provocation? A psychologist at Iowa State University, Brad Bushman, ran an experiment to prove this, asking volunteers to work out their anger on a punchbag. Subjectssaid they felt better, but even angrier: “It’s like using gasoline to put out a fire,” said Bushman – “you are keeping the anger alive when you yell and scream.”In any situation where anger is starting to bubble, you should never resort to threats, either verbal or physical. If you shake your fist, or say, “I’m going to punch you if you don’t clam down,” you will stir up more anger – in yourself and your antagonist. Threats always lead to escalation – they solve nothing. By the same token, stay away from foul language, insults and abusive name-calling. No one ever won an argument by calling their opponents “idiots”!
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