Maybe you can relate to Marcy’s story.
She was at her wits end. It had been a pretty cruddy day.
She slept late that morning. Work had been…well, work. Certainly not a vacation. She missed her spin class that afternoon. And to top it off, Peter cancelled their dinner plans at the last minute. Why? To go to a game with some friends.
You’ve been there, right? He does something that makes you want to scream. But, like Marcy, you don’t scream. Instead, you call a trusted friend, meet for coffee, and indulge in an epic venting session.
Venting often feels good in the moment. But sadly, venting can make things worse in your actual relationship. In fact, research shows that it’s far more likely to intensify negative emotions in the long run. That was certainly Marcy’s experience.
As they were finishing up their conversation, Shannon gave her a hug.
“Feeling better?” she asked.
“Yes, it feels good to talk. I just wish he wasn’t such a jerk.” Even though she’d griped about Peter, she still felt upset.
But it’s not good to keep anger all bottled up inside, right? Aren’t you supposed to let it out?
That idea came from an antiquated theory of how emotions work. It started back in Sigmund Freud’s day when it was commonly believed that emotions work like hydraulics. As if an emotion was a substance that would squirt out your ears if it did not come out some other way.
But modern science has disproven that way of looking at anger and frustration. Emotions arise live, in the moment. They depend on our beliefs and perceptions.
That’s why you can be furious one moment, and suddenly happy the next when one tiny bit of information changes everything. Like you miss a flight and feel miserable about the wasted money. But then you learn the aircraft went missing somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Now you feel grateful. And it wasn’t because you “let your anger out,” about missing the flight.
Therapists no longer advise people to punch a pillow when they’re angry. Because the research shows you’re better off relaxing your muscles and thinking calming thoughts. Or writing down your options for how to respond to an upsetting situation.
You see, anger is not something you can purge. Expressing anger isn’t enough. If all you do is talk about why you’re mad, you’re just dwelling on your anger.
And, according to psychological research studies, dwelling on anger will only make you angrier. Which, ironically, SETS YOU UP for a fight with your guy instead of defusing it.
Kind of the opposite of what you want.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to deal with anger.