Got Breakup Rage? Avoid This One Common Venting Mistake

Breakups: The Anger That Follows A Bad Breakup
Heartbreak, Self

Don't let our anger stick around. Learn the proper ways to let it go.

You just broke up with your ex. You're hurt. You feel betrayed, confused and maybe even humiliated. You check your email fifty times a day — what if he changed his mind? Your stomach leaps at the sound of your phone buzzing — it's probably him calling to apologize!

The familiar number flashes across the screen of your cell, but you don't answer. Then a text message follows: "Hey, do you have my blue sweatshirt with the white sleeves? I kind of need it. Let me know. Thanks."

All hope of reconciliation quickly fades. You feel your face turning red, your hands trembling, the unmistakable signs of anger bubbling up under the skin. That insensitive jerk! It's only been two weeks and he's demanding his stuff back? After all he put you through?

You grab your phone, punch in your best friend's number and wait. 

"Hello?" she answers, sounding tired. This is the fifteenth time you've called her this week. She's a good friend, so she'll listen to you for hours, but it's wearing her down. 

"I just can't believe him. How can he do this do me!"

"What happened this time?"

You feel yourself getting angrier as you tell your friend the story of the sweatshirt request. You realize that you are ranting but hey, you were there for her when she broke up with her ex. Ranting is all part of the human healing process, right? Catharsis and all that? Wrong. In fact, according to recent studies, venting anger can actually be counterproductive. Instead of letting air out of the balloon, venting keeps the balloon afloat.

It doesn't seem to make sense. From an early age, we are taught that anger is a bad toxin that needs to be actively eliminated from the body. The English language extols the virtues of venting with phrases like "let it all out," "blow off some steam" or "I just need to get this off my chest".

As children, we are told to punch pillows to release anger. College students at Harvard University take part in a Primal Scream the night before finals, where undergrads throw open their windows and yell as loud as they can to release stress. But scientists have discovered that blowing off that steam can actually increase angry feelings and aggressive actions. You may, in fact, end up feeling much worse than if you had done nothing at all.

In one study, people were asked to write an essay that they believed would be evaluated by a stranger. In reality, the experimenters were the evaluators — and they gave everyone poor grades on the essays. They even scribbled, "This is one of the worst essays I have read!" on participants' papers, no matter how good the essay actually was.  

Understandably, when people got their essays back, they were angry and upset. Experimenters then told some of the participants to punch a punching bag while thinking about the person who had graded their essay. The rest of the participants were told to just sit there and do nothing. 

You might expect the people who "let it all out" on the punching bag to feel much better. But researchers actually found that the punching bag group felt significantly more angry and aggressive than people who just sat there and let their anger pass. Unfortunately, angry emotions often come with the breakup territory. Relationships can end in arguments and insensitive comments. Insults flung at one another in the heat of a breakup can sting for months and even years.

Talking to friends about how you feel can be an important part of healing a broken heart. But venting often involves rehashing the same ideas and feelings over and over again rather than providing release. So you've talked to your friends already and you still feel angry. You want to avoid venting and setting off a fresh wave of anger.

Before you pick up the phone to rant about your ex's latest Facebook profile picture or the passive aggressive email you received from his best friend, try this: Write it out.  Research shows that people who write about traumatic or stressful events show marked improvement in both physical and psychological health. Writing out a detailed story is a technique often used in the treatment of assault survivors.

This can be painful, but after multiple repetitions, the traumatic memories and awful feelings no longer evoke the same emotional response. In the end, one feels relief and closure as one habituates to the story. Instead of picking up the phone, pick up your pen. Write out a story and release your emotions without engaging in a cycle of venting and anger.

For more scientifically supported tools on healing from a broken heart, visit Amelie at


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