Anger Self-Control: Venting Versus Letting Go Are Different

person pouring water on white ceramic mug

There’s a myth about anger that goes back a long time. I call it the steam kettle syndrome. 
The idea is that anger is like steam in a kettle on the stove. So long as there is heat, the steam builds up, and unless it “goes somewhere”, the kettle will eventually explode. If you allow the steam to escape, the risk of explosion disappears.

Often anger feels that way. It can feel that if you don’t let it out, it will build and build. So some people vent their anger — talk about it, get snarky, or otherwise do things that may or may not be constructive.

Venting Doesn’t Mean “Letting Go”

Venting anger doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to “let it go”. They are actually two different things. Venting is a behavior and usually involves talking or in its destructive forms, yelling, insulting, swearing, or even throwing things.

Letting go is a process of managing anger, so that it loses its power over you. Letting go means the issue, and the anger no longer “are there”. 

Sometimes they go together. For some people, in some situations, venting allows them to let go. For others, it only increases the power of the anger, while at the same time, negatively affecting the ability of the couple to deal with the anger so one or both can “let go”.

Venting is the more “child-like” way of dealing with anger. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if it works for you and isn’t destructive, abusive or offensive. Letting go is the more adult way of dealing with problems, and usually comes about when both the issue that caused the anger, AND the emotion are dealt with through a calmer, discussion that ends up putting both parties “on the same side”.

For many people loud venting of anger doesn’t calm them down, but has the opposite effect and simply fuels a vicious cycle where the venting actually increases his or her emotion.

Venting Isn’t The Same As Communicating

That’s not to say that venting anger means you have to keep your mouth shut and suffer in silence. That doesn’t work other, since it’s more likely you’ll end up harboring resentment about the issue, the other person, and the actual anger. When you are resentful, you WILL end up using many of the Imperfect Phrases described in the book, so silence (without letting go) means you take “the war” underground, and snipe.

Communicating your anger is different because it focus on problem-solving, on working together, and on being heard, acknowledged and “We” — the working towards common goals. Venting is about letting off steam.

ommunicating anger is about being heard and solving the problem so you CAN let go.

How To Let Go of Your Anger

If only there was universal solution. There isn’t. You have to find out what works for you. For some people, distracting themselves by doing something different or taking a time out from talking to the other person, at least to let the power of the anger lessen. Of course, the problem with that is that while it may lessen the anger, it doesn’t SOLVE or address the cause of the anger.

The Self-Talk Solution

If letting go of anger is a problem in your life, you might benefit from professional help. It’s heard to break the anger patterns of a life time on your own. However, here’s some basic principles that might help you learn to let go.

  • While our emotions clearly affect how we behave, what we say to ourselves — self-talk affects our emotions. If you change what you say to yourself, then you can change (and learn to let go) of negative emotions.
  • Reframing situations (looking at them differently) can make a huge difference. For example, if you look at a situation as an example of your wife or husband “not respecting you” you’ll be angrier, particularly if you repeat that to yourself.  If you reframe it as: “I guess he/she is overwhelmed and doesn’t know what else to say”, then you are more likely to feel less insulted and angry, and more likely to offer help. When you move to help mode, you are 90% of the way to “letting go”
  • We all distort reality. Many of us distort it in such a way as to draw conclusions that fuel our own anger, and then use self-talk to wind ourselves up (get angrier). For example, we catastrophize –make something into something much bigger than it really is. Your spouse i s late. It’s not the end of the world, but if you distort it, and extend that simple event and start saying to yourself “He doesn’t think I’m important, and this is the end. I can’t take it”, you are going to make yourself much more fearful or angry, and probably dump it on him, causing a nasty argument.

    That’s very different than saying to yourself” “I guess traffic is heavy, so I’ll just grab a coffee and relax”.

Need More Help?

There is no substitute for professional help, and there is no shame in seeking it out, either in the form of couple or family counselling or individual counselling. Psychotherapy has changed and improved a lot in the last twenty years, and many therapists specialize in helping you alter your self talk and manage your anger.

If you don’t know where to get help, and you feel your anger is turning into rage, try calling the crisis support phone line in your area. Most cities have a line, and while there primary function isn’t to help you defuse your anger, they will likely have resources for you. For less urgent situations, you might talk to your family doctor for a referral.

If you are interested in learning more about the role of self-talk, how we distort our realities, and make ourselves angrier, download your copy of Using Self Talk To Manage Your Anger Learnbytes.

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