How to Get Mad Right
by Paul Wolf
It may go against pop psychology, but some say ventingóletting it all outóis a bad habit, not a healthy catharsis.
If venting worked, we wouldn't call it "road rage." It'd be a "highway heart-to-heart." And we'd all have found the path to peace and tranquility a long time ago. Instead, many of us get fired up over the same issues time and again.
"Like any mode of behavior, anger can become automatic," says cognitive therapist Kathleen Burton. "Venting usually perpetuates more anger and rage."
When angry people get together, says Burton, they look for new things to be angry about; they cultivate anger as opposed to, say, cultivating appreciation, good feelings, optimism or humorous repartee.
In most situations, turning the other cheek is more valuable than giving everyone a piece of your mind, says Dean Hamer, a geneticist with the National Institutes of Health, who has studied aggression.
"[Venting] will only escalate the situation and fill you with rage," he writes in Living With Our Genes.
This red-hot mode of existence may not lead to barroom brawls or dramatic boardroom meltdowns, but it will not promote peace of mind either. Venting is usually unconstructive, unedited and indiscriminant.
In short, venting is a habit. Tranquil people face frustrating situations too, but they think and react differently than venters. They take things in stride and come up with solutions.
If you suspect you're a venter, change is possible, says Burton. But it takes conscious effort. Instead of relying on immediate reactions, carefully consider your responses. You have to understand the triggers that produce venting behavior.
Plan ahead by giving yourself instructions for coping with crucial moments of anger. Tell yourself, "If the twins act up again, I'm going to keep my cool." Or, "The next time someone cuts ahead of me in line, I'll let them. I don't have to be in a hurry all the time."
Hamer says genetics has much to do with whether a person grows up to be placid or pugnacious, "but how the person actually behaves depends on habits-habits learned by exercise and repetition. Learning to control and channel anger effectively is a lifelong task."
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