while recalling their angry episode, on the feelings and sensations they were
experiencing (the what focus) and the other half were asked to focus on the
underlying reasons for the specific feelings (the why focus) they had when angry.
Thus, there were four different groups of about 39 students each: immersed-what,
immersed-why, distanced-what, and distanced-why. Later, after remembering the
event, each subjects degree of anger was assessed.
The results of this study indicate that two conditions, (1) self-distancing from the
event and (2) focusing on understanding ones emotions, may enable a person to
process a hot emotional experience so that the anger can be understood and cooled
a bit. On the other hand, the authors suggest that asking a patient (or yourself?)
Why do you think you are feeling this way? while he/she is deeply and personally
immersed in reliving a highly stressful experience might trigger an emotional over-
reaction. (I have some doubt about this prediction of dire consequences from asking
Why? My experience with a few thousand students has been that most of us are
well defended against disturbing explanations of our behavior. Yet, if the person is
highly emotional, one should, of course, be cautious.) In summary, the distant-why
strategy is recommended. Note that the underlying emotions and the causes of the
emotions are faced so this method is not to be confused with intellectualization or
with emotional avoidance.
One of the advantages of this research technique is that it is a laboratory method
using college students which closely resembles psychotherapy methods. There are
many opportunities for universities to do similar research. Relatively little process
research of this sort is being done by therapists in practice. It may be that the most
effective instructions given a person attempting to cope with and understand their
strong emotions, such as in this study, differs depending on the emotion or the
problem being dealt with
and depending on the purpose of the treatment method,
such as gaining understanding and Cognitive Therapy--or desensitization and
Traumatic Incident Reduction.
Using methods from different levels for developing your
own self-help plan
Level I: Anger or aggression-control methods that focus on
simple behaviors and thoughts
Reduce your frustrations. You know who makes you mad, what topics
of conversation upset you, the situations that drive you up a wall, and so on.
Can you avoid them? This could be the best way to prevent anger. Even if you
can't permanently avoid a person whom you currently dislike, staying away
from that person for a few days could reduce the anger. See method #1 in
You may need to clarify or change your goals. Having no goals can be
uncomfortable. Having impossible goals can be infuriating. You may need to
plan ways of surmounting barriers in your way.