On the Wisdom of Counting to Ten: Personal and social dangers of anger expression, by Carol Tavris, PhD

This post offers a different perspective on anger expression – and the perils of doing so – that I think is pertinent to discussions about treatment for multiple personalities via the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Unfortunately, many therapists who treat multiple personalities believe anger is an emotion that needs to be expressed as often and as deep as it runs –  if one desires to get better.. crap, crap, crap thinking. Been there, bought the script.

What I experienced (and witnessed from other patients) during Repressed Memory Therapy, is that anger leads to more anger the more the expression of anger is angrily encouraged and expressed by angry alter personalities. Make sense? Of course not.

Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder is largely about suppressed or repressed anger and how it  impacts the sufferer. Therapists and patients alike think that expressing deep anger is cathartic and, therefore, doing so is one of the focuses of treatment.

I have a few simple questions:

  • How many alter personalities does one need to create before the anger-well dries up?
  • How many years do alter personalities have to express themselves before the anger-well  dries up?
  • At what point is the expression of anger finished?
  • How much anger, and the expression of it, is too much?
  • At what point do alter personalities learn that living in a state of anger is not physically or emotionally healthy?
  • When are rageful alters calmed?
Various personality states, as noted by people who have them, sometimes include very angry and often destructive alter personalities. These alters sometimes engage in self-harm and other suicidal-like expressions that may lead to emergency treatment. Make sense? Of course not.

Coping with disappointment, hurt, and learning to deal with anger and other uncomfortable emotions is not usually an important focus during treatment for multiple personalities. The primary focus of this long-term treatment is trying to remember abuse, sometimes decades after it allegedly occurred. Be mad, be angry, rage.

What happens when someone becomes overwhelmed with intense emotions and does not know how to come down or cope with the aftermath? Spiking up and down emotions is a hallmark of Dissociative Identity Disorder treatment.

I have an idea.

Lets encourage DID treatment to shift it’s focus from the right-to-rage- like-a-child to the right-to-act-like-an adult model of mental health care? Raging is not necessarily cathartic and can become a vehicle to more anger and out of control emotions.

Give Carol Tavris, Ph.D. a read. Pick any publication or book. Take a peek into a different way of  being – challenge archaic ways of thinking. Come on  – take a chance on a more peaceful existence.

English: Carol Tavris receives an award for he...

Carol Tavris receives an award for “Mistakes Were Made: But Not by Me”. CFI Headquarters, Hollywood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)*

On the wisdom of counting to ten: Personal and social dangers of anger expression.
Tavris, Carol
Review of Personality & Social Psychology, Vol 5, 1984, 170-191.
This article discusses whether the expression of anger is always a good reaction. Some theoretical and methodological issues that cause confusion in the study of anger include definitions of anger, metaphors for anger, and the emphasis in American psychology on a universality of anger among individuals and cultures.
          A review of the literature on the dangers of expressing anger indicates that while suppressing anger is obviously unhealthy for Type B (noncoronary prone) individuals, expressing anger is just as obviously bad for hostile Type A (coronary prone) individuals who may block off an important route to close relationships.
          The psychological consequences of dealing with anger by talking it out or acting it out are reviewed, and the notion of catharsis is addressed. The author concludes that expressing anger may have cumulatively unhealthy effects: Such repeated anger expression tends to solidify a hostile attitude; emphasize the emotion of anger to the exclusion of other, simultaneous emotions; create an angry habit; rile up one’s opposition; and make other people angrier.
*Owner of the pic above please contact me so I can give you proper credit. JB
updated: 9-23-14.

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  1. Hi Seth, Your story closely resembles mine. Getting worse means you are getting better. Right. Good way to keep people in treatment. Makes me sick.


  2. Seth

     /  09/25/2014

    Hi Jeanette,

    Thanks for getting back to me. It’s clear that we are very much on the same page. Any therapy that insists on picking at you is, in my opinion, extremely bad therapy. When I seek a therapist (for short term, goal orientated work to do with the here and now), I run a MILE at therapists who believe ‘you have to get worse before you can get better’, and ‘the only way to heal is by dredging up the past and reliving it repeatedly’ and especially ‘you have trauma you don’t even remember’. I’ve had therapists with these views (like any DID therapist) and wow, what a righteous mess they made of me, all in the name of ‘healing’. No-one seemed bothered that I wasn’t healing, was getting rapidly worse, drugged up, incapable of work and unable to even leave the house or do basic things like wash and feed myself. This was all part of the ‘healing process’, and I was ‘doing so well’. Gah, writing it like that… it’s sickening. I know this is a story you know all too well. I’m gobsmacked that these practises are so widespread.

    I love your use of the word excited there, this is SO TRUE! The last therapist I saw for DID was one of those. The look on his face when I told him was almost lustful, ridiculously eager. I was a bit strapped for cash, so rather than book a room which would cost me more he came to my house (in hindsight a bad idea, but I didn’t see that at the time). He used to get so frustrated with me when I wanted to talk about day to day problems instead of trauma, apparently me talking to him about day to day problems and trying to help myself in the here and now was me ‘resisting my path to recovery’. So he pushed and pushed. It was in many ways ‘soft’ interrogation, he would just blast at me, until I said what he wanted to hear. If it wasn’t enough he’d just start yelling at me. If I want getting emotive enough, he’d yell at me. If I wasn’t giving him every last gruesome detail, it wasn’t good enough and I was never going to get better, apparently. I swear he got off on it. Even when I ran out of cash to pay him, he said he’d like to be my ‘mentor’, so he could keep seeing me without me having to pay. That was the point at which I figured enough is enough. I moved out of town so he couldn’t find me, weaned myself off medication, and stopped telling mental health professionals anything other than I’m fine. Since then, despite being told that I’d fall apart and get worse and all sorts of other rubbish, THIS was the point at which healing began, when I took back control of my own life and responsibility for my own mind. I think this ‘excitement’ therapists get over DID is utterly revolting. It honestly turns my stomach.

    This has kind of turned into a very long winded way of saying ‘I agree with you’, but I suppose all relevant points.

    In some ways I would love to write something, but honestly, I don’t believe for a second that anyone (male or female – you only said women) with DID would take me seriously. It’s become such a culture, a way of life, that the few times I have spoken out to others with DID I get slated. People think I’m lying, trying purposely to ‘hurt feelings’ and just generally trying to cause trouble rather than trying to actually help. In the end I gave up, since I kept getting banned from places. My approach is unorthodox and not fitting with the DID model, so I am a ‘toxic and harmful person’. Kind of funny really, since I have a mortgage, a full time job, am off meds and getting better by the day, while most of them sit round on welfare drugged out of their minds. I know which I’d rather be.

    I’m going to stop writing now, this could go on and on but I’ve said more than enough for now I think.

    All the best to you, Jeanette.




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