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Why Anger Is the New Sex

Switch off the Housewives they're making you crazy. Joanne Chen on how to keep your temper in an angry age.

WebMD Feature from "Marie Claire" Magazine

Marie Claire magazine logoBy Joanne Chen

Whether it's Wall Street bonuses, the Gulf oil fiasco, or cultural icons (David Letterman! Tiger Woods! Al Gore?!) flagrantly cheating on their wives, Americans have more reason than ever to be pissed off - a sentiment Charles Speilberger, Ph.D., University of South Florida psychologist, says we're also quicker than ever to express. As coeditor of the recently published International Handbook of Anger - just one of the new releases examining our current age of rage - he should know. Because not only are there more reasons to get angry today, there are more outlets for it as well, from social media to reality TV to books, including Koren Zailckas' tellingly titled memoir, Fury, out this month. Anger, it seems, is the new sex: It sells. And none of us, especially women, can get enough - just check out the bonanza ratings enjoyed by any reality show in which there's even the potential for a hissy fit. So how will we ever calm down, and, more importantly, do we even want to? Take a deep breath (or two), and we'll tell you.


WHAT'S MAKING YOU MAD

(And How to Stop It)
Once upon a time, we told each other off in person. Discussions grew heated, doors were slammed, and we moved on. Now, with so much of our daily communication done via e-mail, texting, or Facebook, many of the impulse controls we'd normally employ in confrontations have gone out the window. "Electronic media disinhibit the expression of anger," says Michael Potegal, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Minnesota. Alone, typing angry thoughts to a friend or a loved one, we don't have the benefit of seeing a facial reaction, reading body language, or hearing a voice - we're wearing conversational blinders, so we end up typing things we'd never say in person.

This, in turn, breeds an anger-making dynamic all its own. Scott Wetzler, Ph.D., department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at New York City's Montefiore Medical Center, calls this sort of one-sided expression of emotion "venting." When we e-mail or text, which allows us to ignore the other side of the argument, "we feel justified; the more justified we feel, the angrier we get." What's more, typing a thoughtful response to your boyfriend in the heat of an argument is particularly tough when shorthand expressions (whatev!) roll so easily off the fingers. Soon, our inbox and Twitter feeds can devolve into rage-filled echo chambers, leaving us feeling vulnerable and guilty over things we wish we could un-type.

And according to University of Minnesota researchers, even cell-phone communication is fraught with risk. Chatting as we run errands may make us feel like great multitaskers, but the reality is that it means we take longer to react. Add poor sound quality and other distractions into the mix, and you have a recipe for misinterpretations and unintended interruptions - all of which, researchers say, lead to "hurt feelings, conflict, and misunderstandings." What's more, the fallout from this is often hardest on women: Says Ray Novaco, Ph.D., professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, women relive angry incidents more, and stay angry longer, than men do.

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