Bea Larsen is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility and Senior Mediator, Center for the Resolution of Disputes.bea2

Do you subscribe to the belief that the expression of anger results in a healthy catharsis, helps to dissipate those roiled up feelings and even reduces blood pressure?

Well, not so, according to two prominent social psychologists, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Together they authored a book: “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)”.

They point out that in recent decades, experimental research has found exactly the opposite. The premise that “if you throw a doll, hit a punching bag (while imagining the source of your anger), or shout at your spouse, you’ll feel better afterward is simply untrue…. when people vent their feelings aggressively they often feel worse, pump up their blood pressure, and make themselves even angrier.”

The reason, the authors suggest, is because “when you do something that harms someone else, gets them in trouble, verbally abuse them, or punch them out, a powerful new factor comes into play: the need to justify what you did.”

Studies detailed in their book show that following angry outbursts, the mechanism of self-justification takes over, so that we can continue to see ourselves as the good person on which our self-esteem is based. In mitigating or excusing our own behavior, the predicable next step is to place blame on the “other”, which in the moment of increased aggressive feelings often leads to revenge.

The conclusion: “justifying the first hurtful act sets the stage for more aggression. That’s why the catharsis hypothesis is wrong. A vicious cycle is created. Aggression begets self-justification, which begets more aggression.”

Good to know.

One thought on “the catharsis hypothesis”

  1. “The Village Effect” by Susan Pinker elucidates “doing good to be good,” for adolescents especially, to seize their positive personal narratives through serving another.

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