STEP THREE: Vent the unwanted emotion full force until it is drained

 You may find yourself in two conditions: (1) overwhelmed with intense emotions and needing to get them under control or (2) boiling with "bottled up" emotions inside and needing to express these feelings. The venting methods below work well with both conditions. Primarily we are talking about anger (frustration) and sadness. You may find it easier to gradually express stronger and stronger emotions until you feel safe to totally "let go."

 If angry, find a private place where you can make noise (if necessary reassure the neighbors everything is okay). Obtain an object you can hit: a punching bag, a large pillow, a bean bag chair, a bed, a sofa. Be sure you will not hurt yourself as you hit the object. Some people prefer to hit with an object rather than their fists, using a tennis racket to hit a bed works well.

 The idea is to drain out or use up the anger (or other emotion), so that in the end you are calm and more able to cope. So, go into a rage. Shout, scream, cry, snarl, growl, cuss, shake your fists, kick, bite, and above all hit and hit and hit, until you are exhausted--completely drained of hate. Do it again and again, after you catch your breath, if necessary to feel the anger has been completely discharged.

 Another approach is to throw a temper tantrum. Lie on your back and kick the floor or the bed with your feet and hit the floor with your fists. Shake your head and yell, "No, no, no, hell no! I hate you, you SOB." Don't stop until you are drained.

 Some people do hard physical work or play a sport, like tennis, when they are angry. If it works, that's fine. But many of us have to consciously express our anger while working or playing for it to do any good. Just hitting balls or smashing bricks with a sledge hammer or scrubbing a floor doesn't help. If we think of smashing the person's head we are mad at, as we pulverize bricks or scrub a floor, that might help. Remember: this is never to encourage violence to another person, it is to drain us of anger and, thus, prevent violence.

 Other people, often women, aren't as comfortable with physical aggression as they are with verbal aggression. An alternative is to launch a vicious verbal attack on a cassette recorder. In a loud, screaming voice spew out all the hate you can: brutal threats, nasty name-calling, cussing, dirty words, suspicions, destructive wishes, or whatever you naturally say to yourself when you are mad (don't try to cuss if that isn't natural for you). The idea is to verbally aggress more vigorously and longer than usual, so you are emptied and ready to handle the situation more rationally. (It will be enlightening to listen to the recording a day or two later, looking for the irrational ideas underlying your anger).

 If you are sad, disappointed, or have the "blahs," try crying it out. Find a quiet, private place. Start remembering everything that has gone wrong. Let yourself feel deeply disappointed and sad. Cry without holding back. Moan and breathe heavily; tell yourself how awful it is. Talk to yourself about how bad you feel, how crushed, how depressed, how gloomy. Cry until you are cried out.

 A few people release their anger in writing or in humor. Abraham Lincoln recommended writing down your negative feelings--then throwing the paper away and in the process reducing your anger. Most of the time it would be a mistake to show your "poison pen letters" to anyone, certainly not to the target. On the other hand, I have found it helpful to write a poem or a note to someone when I was sad. If one is in the midst of a terrible personal trauma, like the breaking up of a relationship, it may be helpful to write out a detailed explanation of what happened--then file the "report" away and forget it.

 Lincoln also used his sense of humor to handle anger, like the time when a heavy-set lady visitor to the White House sat on his high top hat, which he had left on a chair, and he said to her, "if you'd just asked me lady, I could have told you it wouldn't fit." A similar story is told about Winston Churchill when an irate woman was criticizing him and concluded, "if you were my husband, I'd poison your tea." Winston quickly responded, "Lady, if you were my wife, I'd drink it!"

STEP FOUR: Tell yourself the emotions have been reduced to manageable size and make plans to cope with the situation

 After thoroughly discharging your feelings, shift your attention to considering reasonable, constructive action you can take (including forgetting the whole thing). Make specific plans and carry them out (look up "I" statements, method #4 in chapter 13). Most importantly, keep in mind that these exercises are to reduce unwanted emotions and control them in interaction with others. You may rage in private but remain rational and controlled with others, even with people who have done you wrong.

Time involved

 If you are emotionally inhibited, it may take several hours and a few patient friends to become more aware and expressive of your feelings. If you can freely vent your feelings already, it may take only 30 minutes or an hour to discharge the emotions. Fifteen minutes of rage is a lot...and tiring. Keep venting (with rests as needed) until you feel drained.

Common problems

 You may act mad or sad on the surface without feeling intensely in your gut. If so, this will not help you much; indeed, Zen Buddhists have criticized Lowen's (1976) Bioenergetics as not being "belly-centered" enough. The belly is thought to be the "seat of self-expression." Intense, complete expression is necessary.

 You may not take the task seriously, especially when with a friend. Joking and playing around is a way to avoid a scary, serious task. Some people are terrified of their own anger; others fear an authority's disapproval. Some people are afraid or ashamed to cry. The idea of losing control is scary. You may want to have a supportive friend with you and you may want to approach an intense emotion gradually, i.e. experience some emotion, then relax, feel more emotion, relax again, express more and more intense anger or sadness but continue to feel "in control" and, at the same time, "let go."

 Completely out of control, hysterical expression of intense emotions should be avoided, unless you are supervised by a professional. Occasionally, a disturbing thought or feeling may occur to you. Try to accept it (see chapter 15) and assume you are more able to cope with the feeling when you are aware of it, rather than unaware. Some people object to expressing emotions by using cuss words and obscenities. You should use whatever words are naturally expressive for you. On the other hand, don't let your desire to "be nice" inhibit your expression (in private) of your true thoughts and feelings, some of which are hostile (remember 2/3rds of us would wipe out someone if we could), evil, vulgar, and nasty.

Effectiveness, advantages, and dangers

 We have two sources of data: (1) patients in insight therapy vent feelings and generally report feeling better, but (2) subjects in laboratories observe or experience and express aggression and become more aggressive (Bandura, 1973; Tavris, 1984). Many therapists also doubt the efficacy of catharsis and abreactions. Unfortunately, there is little or no research about the effectiveness of self-induced discharging of emotions, as described in this self-help method. Tentatively, one might assume that public expressions of anger or sadness, like aggression or crying, which are reinforced (yield some payoff) by others, are likely to continue in the future. Private expressions of feelings, as in this self-help method where the intent is clearly to reduce the unwanted emotions, could result in decreasing both internal emotional stress and overt expression. You may want to try it and see how you respond but use caution. Much more research is needed. Please note the warning given in the introduction of this method and read the "Dealing with Trauma" section in chapter 5.

 Remember, anger, fears, and sadness probably grow, if one obsesses about the situation. In fact, just talking about a highly emotional problem and expressing your feelings with a friend is not always helpful. If the focus is on how to stop the unwanted feeling, the talking may help. And, interestingly enough, talking about other things (not the upsetting problem) can be helpful. So, anything that distracts our attention or helps us forget the distressing situation should be helpful. See if venting your feelings helps you put the troubles aside or if it just reminds you more of the problem.

 There are possible dangers. The emotional reaction could be unexpectedly intense. So, having a friend with you, who has plenty of time and knows what to expect, may be wise. Also, know someone to call or a crisis hot line or a hospital emergency service if it should become necessary (not likely). Remember, if your emotions are intense enough that harm could occur to yourself or others, you should seek professional help, not just rely on self-help.

Additional readings

Converting Emotional Energy

Constructive Use of Energy.

 Humans vary greatly in terms of their productivity under stress. As stress increases, some are super effective; others are incapacitated. Do you "fall apart" or "get going?" This approach involves developing a detailed plan, translating it into a daily schedule, and using the emotional energy to motivate us to do what needs to be done (which is what the super effective do).


 Many negative emotions--fears, embarrassments, inferiority, disappointments, anger--are a call to action, a signal that things need to be changed. The emotions are probably intended to motivate us.


STEP ONE: Avoid a defeatist attitude. Select a way of converting energy from unwanted emotions into productive drives.

 Some people respond to frustration with an "I'll-show-you-attitude." Such a response can be very productive, if it is competitive and not hostile. Indeed, many outstanding people started with real handicaps or imagined weaknesses for which they compensated. Great runners had injuries to their legs. Body builders were skinny. Excellent students felt they were inferior. Great speakers stuttered. Some people work incredibly hard to overcome handicaps; others give up.

 Sometimes resentment can become a motivator. The teacher or supervisor is critical or overly demanding. You might resolve to be near perfect. Another student or co-worker is a braggart or show-off. You might resolve to do better than they have done. If you experience success and develop some skills that are rewarding, you may become more invested in achieving even when no one irritates you.

 Motivation in most school and work situations is based on fear, i.e. fear of being fired, fear of making a low grade, or fear of having a poor record. Many students say they work harder in college than high school because they have been warned about college being hard and because they are afraid of making C's and D's. Such fears can also be self-generated by setting demanding goals, such as straight A's or all A's and B's, and emphasizing to yourself the bad consequences of low grades.

 A competitive spirit will help. Such an attitude comes from setting reachable goals for yourself and from giving yourself pep talks when motivation lags.

STEP TWO: A carefully planned approach to the problem is more likely to be facilitated by emotional energy.

 Emotions increase the strength of the strongest response tendencies. Without careful planning, anger might prompt aggression, fear might lead to running away or procrastination, etc. But, with careful, detailed planning of your time, you can probably make constructive, tactful responses stronger (more likely to occur) than hurtful, self-defeating responses. Then, using emotions to increase your motivation should benefit everyone. This means planning what to do each minute, each hour, each day in order to reach your goal. Example: if you feel inadequate, you need detailed plans for becoming adequate or even better than average. If you are aiming for all A's, you must have the self-discipline and motivation to study 30-40 hours per week beyond going to classes. That is six hours per day for studying. That means giving up TV, partying, goofing around, time with friends, etc. It means being considered a social nerd.

STEP THREE: Use your emotional drive to carry out your plan for coping.

 Whenever you become emotional, think of your schedule and the plan you have for coping, and use the energy to accomplish your goals.

Time involved

 Very little time is required, unless the planning is extensive.

Common problems with the method

 Many people become so absorbed in the emotions that they do not think to use the emotions constructively.

Effectiveness, advantages, and dangers

 Obviously, some people are very effective in this process. There is no known research evaluating the procedure, however. An unlikely but possible danger is that unwanted emotions, such as anxiety, will be seen as helpful and, thus, reinforced in the process. If that happens, anxiety might reoccur with greater frequency.

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