Catharsis by david mcraney (from youarenotsosmart. com)

The Misconception: Venting your anger is an effective way to reduce stress and prevent lashing out at friends and family.

The Truth: Venting increases aggressive behavior over time.

Let it out.

Don’t hold it all in.

Left inside you, the anger will fester and spread, grow like a tumor, boil up until you punch holes in the wall or slam your car door so hard the windows shatter.

Those dark thoughts shouldn’t be tamped down inside your heart where they can condense and strengthen, where they form a concentrated stockpile of negativity which could reach critical mass at any moment.

Go get yourself one of those squishy balls and work it over with death grips. Use both hands and choke the imaginary life out of it.

Head to the gym and assault a punching bag. Shoot some people in a video game. Scream into a pillow.

Feel better?

Sure you do. Venting feels great.

The problem is, it accomplishes little else. Actually, it makes matters worse and primes your future behavior by fogging your mind.

It’s an old assertion, probably much older than Aristotle and Greek drama from which the word was cobbled from kathairein and kathoros, to purify and to clean.

Building tension, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, and then releasing them right when they think they can’t take any more.

Releasing pent-up energy, or fluids, was Aristotle’s counter argument to Plato who felt poetry and drama filled people up with silliness and made them unbalanced.

Aristotle thought it went the other way, and by watching people go muck through a tragedy or rise to a victory you in the audience could vicariously release your tears or feel the rush of testosterone. You balanced out your heart by purging those emotions from the safety of your seat.

It seems to make sense, and that’s why the meme grafted itself to so much of human thought well before the great


Releasing sexual tension feels good. Throwing up when you are sick feels good. Finally getting to a restroom feels good.

So, it seemed to follow, draining bad blood or driving out demons or siphoning away black bile to bring the body back into balance must be good medicine.

Be it an exorcism or a laxative, the idea is the same: get the bad stuff out and you’ll return to normal.

Balancing the humours – choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine – was the basis of medicine from Hippocrates up to the Old West, and the way you balanced out often meant draining something.

Fast forward to Sigmund Freud.

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, Freud was a superstar of science and pop-culture, and his work influenced everything from politics and advertising to business and art.

The turn of the century, 19th to 20th, was an interesting time to be a scientist devoted to the mind because there weren’t many tools available. It was sort of like being an astronomer before the invention of telescopes.

The rising stars in psychology made names for themselves by constructing elaborate theories of how the mind was organized and where your thoughts came from.

These psychonauts were pioneers, explorers on an undiscovered continent. Since the mind was completely unobservable, and they didn’t have much data to fall back on, their personal philosophies and conjectures tended to fill in the gaps.

Thanks to Freud, catharsis theory and psychotherapy became part of psychology. Mental wellness, he reasoned, could be achieved by filtering away impurities in your mind through the siphon of a therapist.

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Catharsis by david mcraney (from youarenotsosmart. com)