Venting Theory Outdated

I used to think it was healthy to express anger and unhealthy to hold it in, so I said what was on my mind when I was angry. Of course, I hurt people’s feelings — unnecessarily.

Anger can be a dangerous and destructive emotion. Although you can’t eliminate the emotion from your life, the way you respond to it can make it less dangerous and more constructive.

Research has shown that expressing anger only makes you angrier. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid saying anything about what makes us angry. It’s just that we should avoid saying it while we’re angry. It doesn’t do much good anyway: The person listening to you only sees and hears your anger and puts up her defenses right away. Nothing gets through. And she gets a very bad impression of you.

But you need to say something. So follow these two rules and you’ll do yourself and other people a big favor:

1. Make it your personal policy not to say much or decide anything while you’re angry. Leave it alone, go on about your business, and the intensity will subside. Then think about what you need to do or say or decide. If you’ve calmed down and decided to talk to someone but find you can’t seem to say it without getting angry again, write it in a letter.

2. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Say your complaints in the form of requests. Instead of “You never do such and such,” say “Would you please do such and such?” It’s easier to hear. It’s more likely to cause the effect you want. Say clearly what you want and why you want it.

Usually you're angry because you want someone to change — to do something different than what they’re doing. That’s perfectly legitimate. What you want is to have an impact on the other, which, according to the research, is what will really and truly clear up your anger. Not venting, but not remaining silent either.

Those two steps will help you effectively cause change in other people while reducing the amount of anger you experience over time. Even when you make a request and someone says no, you’ll feel better. At least now they know what you want. You’ve said it. It’s off your chest.

This is a good way to increase others’ respect for you while also making things go the way you want more often. Turn complaints into requests and make those requests when you are calm.

This is a chapter from Principles for Personal Growth.

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