Dr. Randy Young
6 February 2010
_____Thought Paper #3
_____Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame?
_____Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction,
_____Anger, and Aggressive Responding
_____As I read the introduction to this article, I was excited about the topic of confronting anger because it is a topic I consider fairly often. I do not consider anger often, necessarily, but frequently think about the different methods of approaching and resolving negative situations and negative emotions. My personal favorite method of resolving any type of negativity is simply to write about it in order to reflect upon it and draw a conclusion about how to resolve the problem. To me, writing about an issue constitutes “venting” and I expected this article to be similar to an article I read last semester for Statistics: “Stress Management Through Written Emotional Disclosure Improves Academic Performance Among College Students with Physical Symptoms” by Lumley and Provenzano (2003).
_____However, the article discusses a different kind of venting, that of releasing anger in some physical way, such as hitting a pillow or punching bag. In regards to emotion, “venting” is defined as an “expression, utterance, release” or “to give free play or expression to” (dictionary.reference.com). To me, venting certainly involves the release of some negative, otherwise pent-up, emotion. However, I think there are healthier ways to vent than acting violently, such as writing in order to get negative thoughts out of one’s head.
_____Bushman describes Freud’s theory of catharsis based on the hydraulic model of anger, which says that “frustrations lead to anger and…anger…builds up inside an individual…until it is released in some way” (2002, p.287). I agree with this model, but disagree with the conclusion that anger must be released physically in order to be overcome. Instead, the most effective way to deal with anger would be to confront frustrations before they develop into full-fledged anger. However, there are still times when frustrations are not caught in time and they do turn into anger and there may even be times when a person becomes angry without first being frustrated.
_____In these cases, when there is anger to be dealt with, I believe there is a much healthier way to confront and move past anger than releasing tension through the kind of venting described in Bushman’s article. Bushman’s article involved studying both rumination (releasing anger through a physical activity) and distraction (dissipating anger over time by thinking about other things). While participants in the rumination group felt angrier than the distraction and control groups, differences between aggressiveness were non-significant.
_____I believe that there was non-significance between the rumination and distraction groups because, although these methods of dealing with anger are different, they essentially are founded on the same principle. Even though rumination confronts anger directly and distraction somewhat ignores it, neither of these strategies are completely effective in resolving anger because neither of them directly confront the source of a person’s frustration.
_____Neither rumination nor distraction deal with actually resolving the problem. Perhaps the distracted group is immediately less angry, but since the anger remains unresolved, if that conflict is brought to a person’s memory, he or she will still be angry. If he or she is not angry after employing the distraction strategy, he or she must have confronted the conflict in his or her own mind and declared it unworthy of the time and energy it takes to remain angry. Because of this, research must be done to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of both rumination and distraction.
_____Near the end of the article, Bushman asks, “Does venting anger extinguish or feed the flame?” (2002, p. 293). This causes a problem because venting is never clearly defined within the article and it is possible that there are many different ways to vent, some that work and some that do not. A little later in the article, he proposes the possibility that positive results may have been stronger if a group had focused on resolving their anger. This concept of resolving anger is what I think is the most important and fundamental part of confronting and moving past anger.
_____Although I believe reflective writing to be a very effective method for releasing frustration, anger, or other negative emotions, writing simply removes the negativity from one’s mind. This is important so that the situation can be evaluated objectively and decided whether one can simply move on or if the source needs to be confronted. Ultimately, in regards to dealing with anger, I agree most with Geen and Quanty (1977), who are cited by Bushman to say that venting can reduce heightened arousal if expressed directly to the source and that substitute targets do not satisfy the need for resolution. However, it is also crucial to remember that such a confrontation must be open and honest, as well as gentle and sensitive.