To vent or not to vent? That is the question.

“Am I better off expressing my anger, or should I keep it in?”

This is a question I was asked by a patient recently, which led to a stimulating discussion on the psychology of anger and tools for improving communication and regulating emotions. I was inspired to share these insights with all of you.

First, some psychoed:

Popular psychological wisdom would suggest that when you are feeling angry, you should get it all out, releasing any and all of that pent-up anger and hostility. Punch that pillow, throw your rage at a punching bag, or smash some dishes. You’ll feel better afterwards. Right?

Maybe not. As author Carol Tavris comments in her important book, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, “Expressing anger makes you angrier, solidifies an angry attitude, and establishes a hostile habit.” Recent clinical studies have shown that emotional catharsis (the active expression of anger and hostility by physically releasing anger) can work against you. Researchers found that when people acted out their anger this way (hitting or punching something) they felt more aggressive afterward, not less aggressive. Worse, by giving people permission not to control their feelings, the people experienced more episodes of aggressive anger in general.

Can I at least yell?

Yelling doesn’t appear to help reduce anger. Screaming, “You’re a stupid jerk and I hope you rot in hell!” to someone who has just done you wrong clearly has a lot of emotional appeal. And it may even feel pretty good in the short run. However, it may not be the best thing for your health and overall stress level. When you yell, your body becomes stressed. Your heart rate increases. We know that raising your voice, and certainly yelling, can lead to an increase your blood pressure as well. Yelling can have psychological effects as well. In one study of 535 subjects, yelling, screaming, and lashing out resulted in greater feelings of low self-esteem. Because in most cases the yelling did little to resolve the problem, the subjects felt – and were seen – as being out of control rather than taking charge and acting competently. You can be sure that yelling – and feeling out of control or incompetent – doesn’t elevate your self worth.

Should I suppress my anger?

Anger can be destructive when it steeps and simmers within you. When you keep your angry feelings inside it’s often the only thing you can think about. The anger remains fresh and you re-anger yourself over and over by ruminating about the injustice. You remain trapped with these feelings and are unable to enjoy the moment and live life well.

So what does all this mean? If your therapist is advising that you avoid yelling and also avoid suppressing, you may be wondering what’s left? My next blog post will offer several suggestions for how to deal with anger.

In the meantime, I have an assignment for you, the reader. Use the message board to share your experiences & answer the following questions:

Questions for the message board:

  • How do you deal with anger?
  • Do you lash out or keep it all inside?
  • What have you found are the results of how you express anger?
  • What do you think is the best way to deal with anger?

One Comment on “To vent or not to vent? That is the question.”

  1. Very good points Noah-I find meditation helps. It helps to take a moment to “collect” yourself. Otherwise we very often become more anxious and feel anxious that we had a tantrum.
    Indeed, something for us all to work on and good food for thought as usual!!

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