17 Jan

Anger: Just Let It Out?

For years people have been told that if they are angry they should just “let it out.” In my family I witnessed this first hand. Once, my brother was so angry my mom suggested that instead of taking it out on people he should “go outside and punch a tree.” As you might have guessed, that didn’t work out so well. The next time my brother got upset he punched a tree…and broke his hand. And that just made him even angrier.

Sigmund Freud believed that the best way to handle anger was to just let it out, which he called “catharsis”, or emotional cleansing. This belief led to more recent suggestions that those with anger problems should vent, or let their anger out by hitting a punching bag or a pillow, slamming a door, screaming, or beating an object with a stick. Many therapists suggest these actions as a means to “get out” the anger.

 

Hammer Out Your Anger?

However, the results of psychological research over more than fifty years indicate that this is NOT an effective strategy for managing anger, and may even have the opposite effect. In a landmark study over 50 years ago (Homberger, 1959), a group of subjects was insulted, and then half were given nails to hammer into a block of wood. Researchers expected that those who hammered the wood would “get out” their anger and so they would be less hostile after doing this. Instead, they found that the opposite was actually true. Participants who hammered nails into the wood after being insulted were more hostile than those who did not.

A more recent study found that the practice of “letting it all out” actually increases a person’s hostility. I once worked with a client whose previous therapist suggested he purchase a set of dishes to smash and break to pieces whenever he became angry. Unfortunately for this client, this action is illegal in the state of Colorado and so when he practiced this intervention he was arrested for domestic violence, since destruction of property is a crime and can be seen as intimidating.

Find a Healthy Way to Deal with your Anger

Venting leads to more–not less–anger and aggression, as well as increases in hostile attitudes and behaviors and an escalation in anger. It simply does not work. So the next time you get mad, don’t just let it out! If you do then you are just making your anger (and your problems) worse. You have to find another way to deal with your anger!

For help with finding healthy ways to control your anger, call (720) 489-8555 to request an appointment with Dr. Ballard today!

Dr. Michael Ballard, Ph.D is a licensed professional counselor with Grace Counseling, and is the author of Take Control of Your Anger.

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