I first learned about the You Are Not So Smart blog from someone on Twitter. What a great site, and right up my alley. A recent post takes on the idea that venting one’s anger helps diffuse it. Turns out, not so much. Gretchen Rubin discovered this as well in the course of her Happiness Project. More often than not, “letting it out” through a seemingly cathartic action such as yelling, etc. just continues the feelings and releases all sorts of stress chemicals in your body that can make things worse. Even “positive” physical stuff like exercise can perpetuate the emotion rather than alleviate it.
This runs WAY counter to the conventional wisdom proffered by all kinds of well-intentioned folks, including Mr. Rogers, whose musical prescription for anger is to “pound some clay or some dough.” (Although later in the song he sings, “I can stop when I want to,” so maybe his position on the matter is more nuanced.)
I was a big believer in the venting theory—just get out all that negative energy in one big cathartic typhoon—usually through a big slamming-around cleaning spree. I still do that sometimes, but I am working to wean myself off of it. I always tried not to vent “at” people, but venting near them is unpleasant enough, so away it goes. As my kids will attest, I put myself in timeout a lot these days. Important addendum to all this, according to the blog post I linked above: “Cooling off is not the same thing as not dealing with your anger at all. [The author of the study] suggests you delay your response, relax or distract yourself with an activity totally incompatible with aggression.”
Fair enough. What I’m still trying to figure out, though, is what to do with this from a parenting/teaching perspective. How do you help kids deal with anger in a way that acknowledges the feeling but tries to curb their unhelpful indulgence in it? It’s one thing for me to decide not to go down the angry/venting path, but cutting someone else off from it (even if it’s “good for them”) doesn’t seem quite right—it could be taken as a denial of the feeling rather than a way of showing them a different way to handle it. For example: “Hitting your sister in the grocery store is inappropriate… here, can you help me put these tomatoes in the cart?” Message received: anger is a bad feeling and something to be suppressed.
The trick for a parent is not to drop the matter entirely, but to make sure to revisit it at a less emotionally charged time to talk about it. Which I agree with, but it is easier said than done, practically speaking.
What do you think? Are you a venter?
Image: I know those poster parodies are so overdone but how could I resist a Star Wars one?