To Vent or Not To Vent

by Stephen Mills on May 17, 2010

Anger

We all know that venting, letting off some steam and then moving on, helps us right?  Venting anger is supposed to be cathartic.  Punching a pillow, yelling at no one in particular, banging your damn it doll, etc. are ways to vent anger or frustration and “get it out of your system” in a supposedly harmless way.

Actually all of that is false.  Decades of research have repeatedly shown that venting does not work.  Venting increases aggressive feelings instead of decreasing them.

Venting involves behaving aggressively, often against “safe” inanimate objects. To vent, people punch pillows, wallop punching bags, beat on couches with foam baseball bats, throw dishes on the ground, kick trash cans, scream and swear into pillows, and so forth. In essence, venting is practicing how to behave aggressively. Such aggressive activity should prime aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavioral tendencies, especially if the people think about the source of their anger while venting. Thus, venting should keep angry feelings active in memory and also should increase the likelihood of subsequent aggressive responses.

Brad J. Bushman

The above was taken from this article on catharsis which is a description of a specific experiment, but many experiments have shown the same thing.  Venting does not work.  It makes the situation worse.  Do nothing is better than venting.

Calmly informing someone that they have angered or upset you in some way probably does work.  Deep breathing, putting down those rocks, not minding what happens, and other ways of non-reaction are they way to go.

It may seem that venting works because momentarily you feel better.   My instinct is that it works for me.  But the reasons why it shouldn’t work plus the research that shows it doesn’t, is enough for me.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills May 17, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Hey Stephen, remember in the 70′s when primal therapy was popular? The premise was much like that of venting. Couples were encouraged to let it all out and express all of their frustration and anger against each other in the presence of a qualified therapist.

It’s not hard to guess the results of such an uncontrolled display of hostility on the future of the couples involved. Crushing feelings or inanimate objects will not produce a positive outcome. Learning to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously seems to be a much better alternative.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..How to Turn Hindsight Into Insight =-.

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Sandra Hendricks May 18, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Hey Stephen,
Venting is so close to complaining. I see them both as an ineffective, or a passive-aggressive approach to life. :)
.-= Sandra Hendricks´s last blog ..The Little Things in Living Count =-.

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Zeenat{Positive Provocations} May 19, 2010 at 6:57 am

HI Stephen,
This is such an interesting study. More so cause me being a therapist…i’ve been taught that its ok to vent..but my experience has taught me otherwise. IN the beginning of most couples counseling sessions or conflict resolution sessions…we as therapists encourage a form of venting..though its not aggressive physically…but verbally it is equally harmful. I believe the tongue has the power to kill with torture…and thats the worst kind. With experience I have introduced the word gentle and calm into all my sessions…and those words dropped subtly help the people vent…but in a more calm and gentle way…where people don’t get hurt..but they rather understand where the anger or hurt or betrayal is coming from. It becomes easier for them to resolve the problem in a calm and gentle environment.
I personally dont believe in violence…be it towards animate or an inanimate receiver. Its never justified!
And really why waste your precious time and energy on venting…when there are far better things in life to focus on :)
Much Love,
Z~
.-= Zeenat{Positive Provocations}´s last blog ..The Magic of Being Truly ALIVE =-.

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Jason May 19, 2010 at 3:55 pm

The referenced article on catharsis took a very narrow view of “venting” IMHO.

The key point for me was the use if the term “rumination” for those folks in the venting group. I researched it a bit, having never encountered it before and came up with this link: http://stress.about.com/od/psychologicalconditions/a/rumination.htm

I don’t think that the published results of the https://illinois.edu/lb/files/2009/03/26/9293.pdf article are a “smoking gun” in the vent or not vent debate.

Things are just not that simple.

Cheers

Reply

Nea | Self Improvement Saga May 26, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I can’t speak for everyone, but I think venting is great for many people. If a person is naturally aggressive, I guess venting could be more like practicing what comes naturally for them. That may or may not be a good thing for them. On the other hand, there are many people who notoriously hold their feelings in. For such people, a moment of venting may be awesome.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..Want to Get More Out of Your Life? The Universe Says Yes =-.

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Stephen Mills May 26, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Hi Nea, yep that’s the catharsis theory for the last 40 years. The problem is that whenever there is an experiment to test it, the results come back the opposite. People who vent have more aggressive feelings after venting than those who don’t.

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