Everybody gets mad and everybody likes to vent
It just feels great to yell, say something awful, or even break something. Some people might read that sentence and make fun of the whole thing. But, there is a great deal of music of various genres dedicated to lashing out in anger. Even country songs exist about destroying people’s trucks, etc. Legal literature goes into great detail about the relationship of anger to intent. And a great deal of people approve of angry outbursts as a form of positive expression.
Anger may start as a sudden shock of personal offense and instantly move to the deep desire to be avenged, to return insult for insult, or to visit destruction upon a whole tribe for the injury of one personal friend or confidant. Dallas Willard defines anger as a “response towards those who have interfered with us, it includes a will to harm them, or the beginnings thereof.”
Of course, not all anger is bad. In fact, anger can be a very good thing. Richard Baxter wrote in his Christian Directory, “It [anger] is given us by God for good, to stir us up to a vigorous resistance of those things, which, within us or without us do oppose his glory or our salvation, or our own or our
The problem with the cluster of coping practices called venting is that there exists a long and apparently clinically honored pedigree in their favor. Freud rather stupidly thought that practicing self-control led to pent up anger.
This makes sense. Aristotle basically described the human person as a collection of habits. Freud preferred the notion that we’re really bundles of neuroses and that any good habit is you develop is really a repression of some deviant behavior that is actually better for you.
Aristotle’s way of describing human beings makes more sense to me, and it anticipated better research thousands of years in advance. Lorh, again,
“When people are highly aroused, they may not think much about their behavior and its consequences.(Lohr, 62)
Insteadthey revert to what they have learned to do (or what is permissible) in similar situations. If a person has learned to react to frustrating events by venting (e.g., hitting something), it may make little difference whether the object is animate or inanimate.”
The observable reality was not lost on Richard Baxter (who lived prior to Freud, statistical analysis, or Baumeister) when he wrote:
Direct. V. ‘Command your tongue, and hand, and countenance, if you cannot presently command your passion.’ And so you will avoid the greatest of the sin, and the passion itself will quickly be stifled for want of vent. You cannot say that it is not in your power to hold your tongue or hands if you will. Do not only avoid that swearing and cursing which are the marks of the profane, but avoid many words till you are more fit to use them, and avoid expostulations, and contending, and bitter, opprobrious, cutting speeches, which tend to stir up the wrath of others. And use a mild and gentle speech, which savoureth ofRichard Baxter, William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 3 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 296.
love,and tendeth to assuage the heat that is kindled. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” And that which mollifiethand appeaseth another, will much conduce to the appeasing of yourselves.
If you learn to control your tongue and your body when you cannot turn off your feelings, then eventually your passions will follow the habits of your body. This is not necessarily true without the context of a broader system of life with time for contemplation of the Scriptures, prayer, service to the poor, trust in Jesus Christ to forgive those who wrong you, etc. But, it is true and replicable enough that a study of several populations of people who practiced venting or different versions of reflection upon frustrating circumstances (either alone or with a group) has shown that without religious context, a reflective approach to anger is much better than a venting one. If you wish to read the rest of Baxter’s chapter on anger it is available here (its a pdf, so scroll down to page 284).
Conclusion: Anger is a problem-solving reflex and should be treated as such. Venting by punching,
*I have no idea if this kind of thing is common knowledge. I learned about it helping somebody write a research paper about corporate liability in cases of poorly tested medical equipment. Is there a guilty mind when shortcuts are taken with knowledge of the potential effects of those short cuts (the common sense answer is yes, but the legal answer might not be so clear)? But to determine that I had to read about intent in several other sorts of cases.
**Lohr, Jeffrey M., Bunmi O. Olatunji, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brad J. Bushman. 2007. “THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ANGER VENTING AND EMPIRICALLY SUPPORTED ALTERNATIVES THAT DO NO HARM.” Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice 5