Where is the Best Place to Go to Vent Anger?
You know many ways to vent anger already, especially if you’ve grown up in a culture where venting is popular. You have likely ‘let it all out’ at one time or another, ‘blew off some steam’ when you felt you needed to, or ‘released your aggressions’ on a punching bag instead of your friend.
Our cultural metaphors for anger frame it as if it’s the substance inside an aerosol can with the warning, “Contents Under Pressure” –and you are that aerosol can. When someone or something makes you angry, you just need to let it out so you don’t explode.
Despite the absence of any verifiable cases of spontaneous human combustion, many of us still come very close to taking our cultural metaphors for anger literally. Rarely do we question whether the metaphors we use still work with the latest science on anger, or if the advice we often give each other based on this vestige of pop psychology is even helpful.
A Little Disclaimer
Before continuing please understand that are not anger management specialists, and that no blog should serve as a substitute for professional help, including Little Change.
If you truly believe you have what is called an anger problem, please see a therapist who specializes in anger issues with a track record of success with their clients. Therapists are not hard to find, and many are willing to provide sessions via phone or video call so that you can get the help you need while in the comfort of your home.
Venting vs. Sharing
Okay, let’s get back to venting. Many of us use the words venting and sharing interchangeably and might not realize the important difference between the two. Since either of these might make us feel better in the moment, the line between them is blurred even further.
Both venting and sharing would also sound nearly alike to any passive eavesdropper, so what’s the difference? Your goal for providing the unsettling information to your trusted friend or resource is what makes all the difference. In other words, whether you are sharing or venting is a matter of intent.
If you want to discuss a disappointing situation with another for the purpose of receiving compassion, feedback or advice you are sharing. On the other hand, if you just feel like you simply need to release frustration and have no intention of discovering a resolution you are venting.
If you want to discuss a disappointing situation with another for the purpose of receiving compassion, feedback or advice you are sharing. On the other hand, if you just feel like you simply need to release frustration and have no intention of finding a resolution you are venting
Sharing Feels Good
It feels good to share a problem, especially with a close friend, significant other or trusted family member. This kind of communication enhances emotional bonds between people. Not only does it feel good in the moment, but sharing is a good long term strategy too. Successfully sharing our dilemmas helps remind us that we don’t have to face our challenges alone, and that we are not alone. The habit of sharing enhances our well-being.
Venting Feels Good Too
Many of us vent because we believe it is good for us, or even necessary in order to overcome a bad experience. Since it sometimes feels good to vent, many assume this fact to be proof that venting is a valid way to ‘release’ anger.
Snorting a few lines of cocaine or injecting heroin also feels good in the moment for those who consume them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s best way to handle a distressing situation.
Many chronic venters never get the opportunity to realize that anger gradually subsides on its own, whether or not it is ‘vented’ after they’re provoked. Since they feel good while venting, they assume the anger they no longer feel was ‘released’ when they vented. The most up-to-date psychological research contradicts this common assumption.
Snorting a few lines of cocaine or injecting heroin also feel good in the moment for those who consume them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s best way to handle a distressing situation.
One reason venting gives us a rush is because acts of aggression release the neurotransmitter dopamine. Anything that triggers a dopamine release will give us at least a hint of pleasure and may be habit forming. When we begin venting on a regular basis and perceive the outcome to be a positive experience, we may begin to seek out new opportunities to vent.
When venting continues to provide the feeling we expect, we might be less likely to seek out resolutions to future conflicts. Even delayed venting provides the perception of a greater reward than the awkwardness of confrontation.
If we allow ourselves to operate on autopilot (i.e. unaware of our metacognitions) we could find ourselves more willing to get angry at future triggers, and experience an increase of triggers overall. The great reward of venting is just around the corner, and we may be unwittingly preparing ourselves to achieve it.
We might not like the feeling of anger. We might enjoy the experience of venting. This is an interesting paradox to be sure. The fact that we might enjoy the latter could explain why those who perpetually vent are angrier in general than those who don’t. Every angry episode is a harbinger for a rewarding venting session.
Where is the Best Place to go to Vent Anger?
You probably saw that coming! Studies that span the last few decades suggest that the habit of acting out anger either directly or indirectly increases the likelihood of getting angry in the future, and intensifies the anger feelings associated with future provocations.
Sadly, these important research findings have yet to permeate the minds of all professionals and influencers.
So set aside your boxing gloves, keep your dishes intact and save your time to spend with friends for sharing the things that matter to you most, as opposed to using people as merely a sounding board for all that’s wrong with your world.
Bottle it Up, Then?
There is no value in attempting to ‘bottle,’ ‘block’ or ‘stuff’ feelings of anger. You are not responsible for pushing away any information your nervous system provides for you in the form of feelings.
Your only responsibility is to refrain from using the energy that comes with anger to do harm. Like all feelings, frustration will subside over time. You might not need to do anything at all.
Does This Apply to Everyone?
If you have recently experienced trauma, or have been a victim of a violent crime we suggest you seek the professional counseling services of a therapist who specializes in these things.
The advice provided here is for handling the common, everyday frustrations that happen at home, on the road or in the workplace.
Finally…The Little Change
Stop venting. It doesn’t work. It makes you worse.
Instead, share your frustrations with a trusted friend who would be likely to offer an alternative perspective, and/or help you with resolving your conflict.
If such a friend is not available, writing about your frustration in a constructive manner has been shown to work almost as well. Simply write down whatever it was that got you upset. Should the angry thoughts and feelings surface later; rather than venting, gently remind yourself that you already handled the situation by documenting it, and that this too shall pass.