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The myth that it’s better to express anger than to hold it in

There is an extensive debate on whether expressing anger or not is the better way to go about releasing tension. Based on earlier research, many people believe that failing to express anger in a healthy manner is a negative practices that strikes back. Moreover, it is often concluded that people who do not express their anger healthily will then express them in a much more destructive, pent-up manner, like turning into Bruce Banner, ‘The Hulk’ character from the Marvel comic book world or becoming passive aggressive. There is even a type of therapy which follows this thesis, one which is called destructo-therapy and which involves destroying things which are symbols of our anger.

However, repressing anger usually comes from being unable to express emotions in general. Which means, focusing on releasing anger will not solve the underlying issue of dealing with one’s emotions. Based on the wide-ranging and numerous studies conducted since the 1960s by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio and Beyerstein it seems that encouraging the expression of anger towards a person or object actually turns up the heat on our aggression and makes most situations worse in the long run.

This is not to say that destructo-therapy is entirely without merit. If it is accompanied by constructive problem-solving to reduce the source of one’s anger it can have its place, but generally speaking the idea that expressing anger is the best way to stop it has proven to be incorrect.

Punching a dispensing machine which just stole one’s dollar might make them feel better very briefly, but in the long run it is ineffective in resolving the tension and fails to deliver catharsis. Without a personal coping strategy put in place to deal with highly emotional states, anger will still build up with time and the regular discharge will likely cause a lot of destruction in one’s relationships.


Bach, G. R., & Goldberg, H. (1974). Creative aggression. New York: Doubleday.

Brown, L. T. (1983). ‘Some more misconceptions about psychology among introductory psychology students’, Teaching of Psychology, Vol. 10, pp 207–210.

Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., & Phillips, C. M. (2001). ‘Do people aggress to improve their mood? Catharsis, relief, affect regulation opportunity, and aggressive responding’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 81, pp 17–32.

Freud, S. (1930/1961). Civilization and its discontents (Standard ed.). London: Norton.

Lee, J. (1993). Facing the fire: Experiencing and expressing anger appropriately. New York: Bantam.

Lewis, W. A., & Bucher, A. M. (1992). ‘Anger, catharsis, the reformulated frustration–aggression hypothesis, and health consequences’, Psychotherapy, Vol. 29, pp 385– 392.

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2009). 50 great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior. John Wiley & Sons.

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