Is Venting Your Anger a Good Idea?

New research shows "letting off some steam" may actually be harmful

Couple arguing on city street
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Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) struggle to learn how to vent anger in a way that is healthy and not destructive. If you have struggled with bouts of anger in the past, you may have been encouraged to let it all out. But new research shows that venting may not be as healthy as once thought. 

Is Venting Healthy if You Have BPD?

Many people with BPD experience intense anger which is sometimes called "borderline rage." When this happens to you, you may be struck by such intense emotions you have to lash out, either through yelling, self-harm or other dangerous behaviors.

This extreme anger comes in response to perceived interpersonal slights, such as feeling like you failed at something or feeling rejected by a loved one. 

If you experience this kind of anger, you may have a hard time controlling it. Past therapists may have advised you to manage your anger by venting or "letting off steam." Sometimes this takes the form of relatively benign behaviors like punching a pillow or yelling in the shower. However, sometimes venting can escalate to the point where it causes physical harm to others, yourself 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. The release of intense emotions was described by healthcare providers as catharsis

Does Venting Help Manage Anger?

Becoming physically aggressive in harmful ways is a bad strategy, one that could lead to serious consequences for yourself and other people.

In some cases, it could also cause lasting legal issues for you. 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.

It actually trains your body to use violence as a way to manage your BPD symptoms. 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 punch a pillow, but we now know that this isn't always the best advice; it's an unsustainable solution with potentially negative consequences. 

How Should I Vent Anger Instead?

Rather than venting, talk to your therapist about methods to better cope with your symptoms. There are some techniques that will allow you to manage your anger:

  • Take a break: Give yourself some time away from what angers you. Whether it's a ex-partner or a former friend, stepping outside or leaving a party early to avoid them can help prevent the rage from starting in the first place. 
  • Exercise: Take a walk or hit the gym. That will allow you to get out your energy without engaging in any harmful behaviors. 
  • Write it down: Jot down how you're feeling in a journal or on your personal blog. By letting out your thoughts and reflecting on your feelings, you can get a better handle on your emotions.  

    If you're looking for more ways to control your emotions and outbursts, 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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