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Venting

Is Letting Off Steam a Good Way to Control Anger?

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Updated June 10, 2014

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Is Venting a Healthy Way to Control Anger?

Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience intense anger, which is sometimes called "borderline rage." Often this anger comes in response to perceived interpersonal slights -- for example, feeling rejected or criticized by a loved one.

If you experience this kind of anger, you may have a hard time controlling it. Some people feel that the only way that they can manage their anger is by venting, or "letting off steam." Sometimes this takes the form of relatively harmless behaviors (e.g., punching a pillow), but sometimes venting can cause physical harm to others or damage to property.

The idea that letting off steam can help you manage your anger is not a new one -- for many decades mental health professionals thought that this type of venting was essential to anger management (they use the term "catharsis" to describe this process). But new research is suggesting that venting may not actually work, and in fact could cause more harm than good.

Is Venting Effective?

Obviously, becoming physically aggressive in harmful ways is a bad strategy -- one that could lead to serious consequences for yourself and other people (including legal problems). But what about the more harmless form of venting, like punching a pillow?

Research suggests that letting off steam, even in its most harmless forms, is not an effective way to control your anger. In fact, these supposedly harmless forms of venting have been shown to increase aggressive behavior later on. So, while you may temporarily feel better, the act of venting can lead you to have more difficulty with your anger down the road.

In the past, therapists have advised people to do things like go punch a pillow, but we now know that this isn't always the best advice.

If you're looking for healthier ways to manage your anger, try these tips for 10 Healthy Ways to Manage Your Anger.

Sources:

Bushman BJ, Baumeister RF, Stack AD. "Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 76(3):367-376, 1999.

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