By Carol Rodriguez and Emily Sabbah
As a mediator, anger is a very common emotion with which we regularly assist our clients.
However, did you know that anger can kill brain cells in seconds? In fact, anger is the most dangerous emotion to express out loud in the presence of others. It is a primitive defense mechanism, and the neurochemicals that are released (like cortisol) damage the learning/memory centers in your hippocampus. This "protects" you by pushing everyone away....especially those we love. “Real” anger is a neurological response to an actual threat happening in the present moment. If a person feels anger from past memories, or is chronically irritable or suspicious, the research consistently shows that it's damaging to your body, brain, and emotional well-being.
While it is not healthy to suppress anger, it also has negative effects on our body when expressed. As an alternative to expressing anger, it is recommended that one meditate on their anger and mindfully watch it. They will find that it often dissipates in 5 – 10 minutes, and that the anger is actually transformed by this practice of mindfulness. This type of meditation and mindfulness is taught in most major universities, including Harvard University. In fact, meditation and mindfulness are considered by many top neuroscientists to be more important that getting a good night's sleep and drinking plenty of water.
Remember: Every second of anger releases stress chemicals that damage the brain!
How does this apply to mediation? We can share this type of information with our clients before they begin mediation. We encourage them to discuss angry feelings with a friend before addressing another party in mediation. We can also apply these same techniques outside of mediation by discussing angry feelings with friends before having a direct conversation with the person that upset us. There are now hundreds of studies showing that mindful reflection on anger - especially when doing it with another mindful companion - is one of the most effective ways to learn better emotional coping skills. The old "expressive" therapies like Gestalt, Primal, Reichian, etc have been shown to do more psychological harm than good. That includes many of the encounter groups from the 70's and 80's, like EST....bad psychology and bad medicine!