Anger: The Mismanaged Emotion

Sandra P. Thomas

Disclosures

Dermatology Nursing. 2003;15(4) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Mismanaged anger is a significant problem in health care settings. Research-based information is presented on the angry emotionality that nurses frequently encounter. Gender differences in anger are examined. Strategies are presented for dealing with angry patients, physicians, and colleagues.

Introduction

Over 20 years ago, psychologist Carol Tavris (1982) wrote a popular book entitled Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion. She sought to dispel a number of myths about anger, such as the widespread but mistaken notion that "venting" for catharsis was a healthful thing to do. Anger is expressed in a variety of ways, from episodes of "road rage" on the streets to bursts of profanity in the workplace. It remains not only a misunderstood emotion but also a mismanaged emotion. Too many people are using weapons or fists to express their angry feelings. New terms such as "desk rage" and "air rage" have been coined by the media to describe the ever-increasing tendency of Americans to erupt and lash out. To this list of trendy terms, nurse researcher Linda Aiken (Bergstrom, 2001) has added "ward rage" to describe the epidemic of anger and frustration in hospitals. In addition to the disastrous social consequences of such out-of-control behavior, this mismanaged anger has significant consequences for Americans' physical health. Poorly regulated anger has been linked to hypertension, coronary heart disease, and a number of other conditions (Kawachi, Sparrow, Spiro, Vokonas, & Weiss, 1996; Suinn, 2001; Williams et al., 2000).

The "emotional intelligence" movement, spurred by Goleman's (1995) book, attempted to counter this spate of free-floating hostility and interpersonal violence. Drawing on the research of Salovey and Mayer, Goleman concluded that emotional intelligence -- the regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living -- may be more crucial to personal and professional success than IQ or proficiency at the tasks of an individual's job. While emotional intelligence involves several elements, this article focuses on just one: the effective regulation of anger. Tice and Baumeister (1993) showed that people have fewer successful strategies for controlling anger than for any other emotional state, including fear, anxiety, and sadness. Likewise, this research demonstrates that both men and women lack skill in anger management.

The causes and manifestations of anger in daily life, and differences between men and women are examined. Next, the types of angry emotionality that nurses commonly encounter in health care settings are considered. Finally, research-based anger management strategies that nurses can use and teach their patients are presented.

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