Just saw this new post about catharsis on You Are Not So Smart. Catharsis is the “purging of emotional tensions”. In other words — more relevant to readers of this site — it is willfully making racist comments about China and the Chinese on some website like chinaSMACK or forum like the Beijinger each time you’re frustrated by something or another. In other words, it is also like me writing a long rant on this blog whenever I read something I consider patently offensive if not inexcusably ignorant. Catharsis, of course, is not limited to anger. It can include you masturbating furiously in the shower after leering at your secretary all day long. It can even be breaking down and bawling your eyes out after staying strong throughout a late loved one’s battle with cancer. The initial China examples were just me making this immediately recognizable to those who know me.
Succinctly, the key points of the You Are Not So Smart post:
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.
If you think catharsis is good, you are more likely to seek it out when you get pissed. When you vent, you stay angry and are more likely to keep doing aggressive things so you can keep venting.
It’s drug-like, because there are brain chemicals and other behavioral reinforcements at work. If you get accustomed to blowing off steam, you become dependent on it.
The more effective approach is to just stop. Take your anger off of the stove. Let it go from a boil to a simmer to a lukewarm state where you no longer want to sink your teeth into the side of buffalo.
If you get into an argument, or someone cuts you off in traffic, or you get called an awful name, venting will not dissipate the negative energy. It will, however, feel great.
That’s the thing. Catharsis will make you feel good, but it’s an emotional hamster wheel. The emotion which led you to catharsis will still be there afterward, and if it made you feel good, you’ll seek it out again in the future.
Video games, horror movies, romance novels – all fun, but no psychologist would prescribe these outlets as a cure for anger or fear or loneliness.
Flailing in a mosh pit or screaming along to death metal doesn’t release your demons, it prolongs your angst.
Smashing plates or kicking doors after a fight with a roommate, spouse or lover doesn’t redirect your fury, it perpetuates your rancor.
If you spank your children while infuriated, remember you are reinforcing something inside yourself.
Common sense says venting is an important way to ease tension, but common sense is wrong. Venting – catharsis – is pouring fuel into a fire.
Hm. Now what am I going to do?
Sorry for the lack of updates on china/divide lately. Now that I’m back in Shanghai from my 2 month trip to the States, I hope updates will be more forthcoming.