Early in my career, I spent a lot of time venting. I’d get worked up over
something my boss, client, or colleague did. I feared confronting would only
make it worse, but I also worried that holding it in would eventually me to
explode later on. So instead, I’d blow off a little steam by venting to a
trusted co-worker or friend. If I could just release a little pressure, I’d get
over it and move on, right? Maybe not. New evidence shows that venting doesn’t
make things better, and it can even make things worse.
According to University of Arkansas psychologist Jeffrey M. Lohr, research
has consistently shown that venting anger is at best ineffective and in some
cases is even harmful. Lohr and his colleagues reviewed the research on anger
expression going back as far as the 1950’s to identify the efficacy of venting
as an anger management strategy.
"In study after study, the conclusion was the same: Expressing anger does not
reduce aggressive tendencies and likely makes it worse," Lohr and colleagues
wrote in "The Pseudopsychology of Venting in the Treatment of Anger:
Implications and Alternatives for Mental Health Practice," which appeared as a
chapter in Anger, Aggression, and Interventions for Interpersonal
Violence, edited by Timothy A. Cavell and Kenya T. Malcolm of the
University of Arkansas.
Aristotle advocated catharsis or emotional release from negative feelings and
Sigmund Freud theorized that repressed emotions could build up and cause
psychological symptoms. Lohr notes that some companies "now have anger web pages
and ‘rap sessions’ that allow employees to vent anger and blow off steam."
However, the notion of catharsis has not held up under scientific
"Research has shown that people often vent because they expect it will
improve their mood…Perhaps because venting temporarily decreases arousal,
people often report that it makes them feel better inside," Lohr and his
colleagues wrote. "However, this emotional improvement is short-lived and it
does not translate into less aggression. At best, venting may make you feel
better for a short time, but that comes from enjoying the angry actions rather
than from any meaningful reduction in angry feelings or aggressive tendencies.
At worst, venting fosters the illusion that it is healthy to express one’s
anger." In other words, because Ben & Jerry’s tastes good, you want more,
but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
"If venting really does get anger ‘out of your system,’ then venting should
result in a reduction of both anger and aggression. Unfortunately for catharsis
theory, the results showed precisely the opposite effect," Lohr and colleagues
So if letting out the anger doesn’t help to make it go away, what’s the
In contrast to the venting experiments, other studies Lohr and his colleagues
reviewed have shown that anger dissipates faster when people take deep breaths,
relax or take a time out. "What people fail to realize is that the anger would
have dissipated had they not vented. Moreover, it would have dissipated more
quickly had they not vented and tried to control their anger instead." Any
action that "makes it impossible to sustain the angry state" can help defuse
anger. Here are some ways that may help you let go of your anger:
- Take some deep breaths.
- Count to 10.
- Listen to some good music.
- Intentionally get into a good mood.
- Think about something you are grateful for.
- Call a friend or your kids to say hi.
- Take a time out.
- Stretch, walk or move around.
- Re-frame the situation to put it into a different perspective.
- Acknowledge that you have control over how you respond and react, and that
feeling good simply feels better than being angry.
Few of us mean to be malicious when we vent. We definitely don’t do it so we
can feel more angry and frustrated. We just want to get over it and move on. But
with a deeper understanding of how we process our anger, we can find more
effective ways of enhancing our work and enriching our lives.
About the Author: Productivity consultant and trainer Cristin Lind of Clearwater