Healthy Anger?

Academic psychologists have conducted many systematic studies showing what may be an extremely important finding about anger: venting doesn’t help (Summarized in Berkowitz, 1962). As far as I can tell this scientific finding hasn’t yet even reached the public, much less caused changes in the management of anger.

Perhaps one of the problems with these studies is that they don’t offer a better way of handling anger. They also contain what seems to me what might be an error in interpreting their findings: They think that they have disproved the idea of catharsis of anger.

However, long ago, Aristotle, and many others later writing about the theatre, proposed that a properly conducted play allows the audience to manage their emotions in a positive way, which in current humanities is called “aesthetic distance.” Members of the audience can be properly distanced from total involvement in emotions, because the theater allows them to feel their emotions, but also see themselves as if outside of them (Scheff 1979).

Since the venting of anger can lead to aggression and violence, especially in presidents like Trump, it may be important to familiarize the public with a way of dealing with anger in a positive way. We can’t go to theaters all the time, but we can learn to view ourselves momentarily as if we were in a theater.