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the vent trap

I have coined a new term! It is somewhat of an oxymoron, since a vent is supposed to let air escape or let air in. So why is it a trap? In this case, it is not your vent in your home, but the action of « venting. » Said in another way, the belief that venting anger is good for you, or a catharsis, is a trap.

While there is no « anger » receptor in the body, and we cannot measure your levels of anger directly, what we can measure is your body’s response to anger, via hormone, brain activity, etc. And it is precisely your response to your emotion, and not the emotion itself, that in Chinese Medicine, explains how your body may fall into a pattern of disharmony or imbalance. What happens is, anger responds to anger with anger. And so, the more angry you get, the easier and more explosive it becomes. And so, with venting, you are continually re-creating your anger, causing more anger. With this comes resentment, the extreme of anger that can be even more difficult to quell. And so, in Chinese Medicine, the organ system associated with anger is the liver – and your body becomes less efficient at detoxifying – thus making you more sensitive in general, and accumulating both toxic chemical and emotional burden. The liver is responsible for both detoxification of drugs and hormones, and for regulating your blood sugar.

Research has shown that either extreme of anger, either venting or catharsis, or the opposite, suppression and rumination, do not lead to positive health outcomes (1). And so, each person then becomes responsible for managing their anger, or better, the response to their anger. There are many ways to do so, and here are but a couple of suggestions to think about.

Right-brain activity is stimulated with aggression, and left-brain with anxiety and rumination. Analysis and planning is associated with the left brain, and creativity and intuition with the right. Which, in terms of managing your anger responses, you can implement activities to correct your dominant or deficient state. And so, it could be hypothesized that right brain people with lots of creativity, can be angry when there is lack of planning and precision. Left brain people who are good at planning, need to express more creativity to balance their anger.

If the anger stems from an interpersonal relationship, looking at the Chinese Medicine virtue to counter-balance the emotion of anger, is benevolence. This means, doing good to others, regardless of what the situation is. And this means, if you are angered by the person, understanding that your anger will also hurt them if not more, leads you to direct your anger in a different way, or learn to approach the situation with a new perspective. Not always easy to do, and one may say that justice plays an important role here… However, when it comes to your health, what is more important? Can justice be served in the absence of anger?

(1) Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive RespondingPers Soc Psychol Bull June 2002 28:724-731,

(2) When Anger leads to Rumination Psych Science. Feb 2013. 24(2)

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