Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Should You Vent Your Anger?

Once upon a time therapists believed that it was good for their patients to expel their toxic emotions. Anger was high on the list. By getting in touch with their anger, therapists believed, and expressing it openly patients would be freed from it and would become more loving and empathic.

As for how people should express their anger, therapists had different points of view.

Some awaited a moment of insight where their patients would discover how badly their parents had brought them up. Then they would become angry about it.

Others acted rudely toward their patients, ignoring them and dismissing them, the better to provoke anger. Once their patients got angry at them, these therapists would explain that the anger was displaced: they were expressing the anger they could not reveal to their fathers.

Still other therapists gave their patients whiffle ball bats and instructed them to express their anger and aggression by pounding away at pillows. No kidding.

As often happens, therapists were channeling Freud. His ideas made sense as a narrative; unfortunately, they were bad advice.

Sigmund Freud talked about the hydraulic model, saying that if someone holds anger inside without letting it out, it will build to dangerous levels, much the way steam in a pressure cooker will build if it is not vented. Dr. [Brad] Bushman [of Ohio State University] says most people still believe this to be true, even though there is no scientific research to support it.

Obviously, there are times when it is right and useful to express anger, so long as one does it with the right person at the right time in the right place in the right way under the right circumstances. So said Aristotle, and he was right.

If it is wrong never to express anger it is also wrong to express it promiscuously, whenever and wherever you feel like it.

Freud having been largely superseded, therapists now know that impulsive and spontaneous expressions of anger—aka venting—are unhealthy. And yet, Bernstein points out, we keep doing it. And the internet facilitates the process by making it easier to vent anonymously.

Many people know that in the instant that they vent, they feel better. It feels like they have released some inner tension. But then, after a time of reflection, they regret what they have done and risk becoming angrier and more aggressive.  

Bernstein explains:

In studies, people report that they feel better after venting. But researchers find they actually become angrier and more aggressive. People who vent anonymously may become the angriest and most aggressive.

For those who are familiar with the practice of deconstruction, if you are expressing your feelings by speaking to someone who is present to you, it will cause you to moderate your emotions. For most of us, for those of us who want to have constructive relationships, this is a good thing.

If, however, you have access to a medium that involves writing and not speaking, where the interlocutor is absent, not present, you are more likely to lose control. This is why the proponents of deconstruction believed that spoken conversation was a way to repress your inner violent and vulgar Self and that only writing could allow it to express itself. Not for nothing was this method invented by a Nazi.

Note Bernstein’s description:

We all vented before the Internet, of course. But it wasn’t so immediate. We had to pick up the phone and call someone, or wait for our spouse to come home from work. This gave us time to cool down and maybe even have a relaxing cocktail. And venting in person, or even over the phone, allowed us to get immediate feedback and gauge when we were going overboard.

E-venting is particularly risky, experts say. We think it’s private because we can do it in a secluded place, like our bed while we’re in our pajamas. We have our phones with us all the time so we often e-vent before we’ve had a chance to calm down. A rant put out via the Internet is a click away from being shared. And shared. And shared

With e-venting you don’t get immediate feedback from your listener, so you might not know when to stop. “You can’t see the eye rolling,” Dr. Bushman says.


Dennis said...

Many years ago I had a commanding officer that I came to really dislike even to the point of thinking of ways to kill him. It was about this time that I began to realize that I was allowing this person to control my life. I was the one with the bad stomach, who didn't sleep well at night, et al while he keep doing things that were prejudicial to good order and discipline. It was at that time I took an oath that I would try never to hate another individual and allow anger to run my life.
Anger is a wasted emotion that would be better served being channeled into improving yourself and creating the conditions that lead to succeeding in whatever one's chosen endeavor. Anger controls you vice you controlling anger. There are so many good things that even a dislike for a person or some condition can be channeled that benefits one personally. I do that now by spending time practicing a musical instrument and feeling the joy of creating music.
"Go placidly amid the noise & haste & remember what peace there may be in silence. As Far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons." I have a plaque containing the "Desiderata" in my office to remind me that anger and hate serve no real purpose for it keeps you from seeing the resolution of problems. A good martial artist will try to instill anger in his/her opponent because anger leads to mistakes. Many a US soldier in Iraq used insults to question the manhood of the enemy with the results of the enemy doing things that lead to their ultimate demise.
I have stated before that I limit my comments so that I do not allow myself to get to involved to the point of not seeing what the real problem may be. By the way the officer in the above I eventually got RIF'ed. Little did he know that I started working with the base commander and sergeant major.

I do wonder how many mistakes psychiatrists have to make before they take the time to reevaluate the real damage they do. Nothing more dangerous that those who think they have a degree and think they are better than others.

David Foster said...

I have a recent post which is related: Some Thoughts on Anger


Anonymous said...

'Punching a pillow isn't venting your anger...it is practicing your anger.'