Venting Doesn’t Help With Your “Life In China” Frustrations

Rage face.

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.


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  1. King Tubby

    My attorney has advised me not to go all confessional on this, but I do agree with your take on venting. However, Kai, I hope your views were arrived at via healthy secular reasoning and not any virus of christian forgive-all-and sundry theology.

    Yes, it can become a routinised self-destructive behaviour.

    As for excessive self-abuse in the shower cubicle, that is an addiction belonging to a different cathartic register. Men simply look ridiculous, but women get a big pass on this one.

    Welcome back.

    • B-real

      I wondered when the next post was coming. Without the vent then there is the blow out. Fuck what people think about you after secretly beating off, smashing in a door, banging your head against the table. Those are considered suitible releases for self destruction. Worry about those who have no release and just blow up. Hence the large amount of people stabbing kids or in the states shooting sprees. As crazy as it looks let them yell out of no where, let them break a window or 2. In my office I have a speed bag because Chinese customs is really fucking me and my ex-wife won’t leave me the fuck alone. My assistant tells me its a no go on some shit I punch the fuck out of my speed bag. My ex calls me, I turn the phone off and punch the speed bag then I go home and jack off (TMI). The punching keeps me from hiring someone to take out my customs official because I can do that and it keeps me from running over my ex-wife because she needs to feel pain.

      Come on KT pardon the jack off kings of China, this is the only way they can save grief, pain, embarrassment, and money.

      • B-Real,

        Be sure to read the original article that I linked to. It addresses the “blow out” that you mention. Like you, I’m still having a hard time reconciling this with those who “crack” and go nutso. However, for example, with some school shooting cases, we do see the culprits previously “venting” through other means, thereby possibly reinforcing their aggressive behavior that eventually led to their ultimate crimes.

        King Tubby,

        Re-reading my post, I think my source falls in the “healthy secular reasoning” camp. At the least, that site has never given me a religious vibe.

        • B-real

          I was starting to think you were never coming back.

          Don’t trip kai I have no legit argument. What ever the articles argument was Im sure its has some good points.

  2. First, welcome back.

    Second, it sounds like you’ve hit some cultural re-entry turbulence. You’ll be fine in a week or so.

    The Chinese government could do with reading this post, especially given their growing inclination towards inappropriate apoplexy. You know how it goes; every time they feel frustrated they claim another island in the South China Sea (and you’re right – this aggressive behaviour increases over time!).

    • LoL, thanks, stuart, but apart from there being actual turbulence on the flight (as there usually is), the only thing that has really bothered me is the hot and humid Shanghai weather. Los Angeles was unusually cool this summer and was very pleasant.

    • King Tubby

      Stuart. Yes, the language is becoming increasingly bellicose. Shorter sea lanes and petro/gas supplies. To be sure one of these Dong Feng 21 thingies could land on a US flight deck. The bigger picture is far more unsettling for China.

      Its only two allies DPROK and Mynmar are international polecats, and Vietnamese suspicion of it northern neighbour is deep ingrained in its culture. The Vietnamese authorities devote considerable effort hosing down popular anti-Chinese sentiment on the net and elsewhere.

      The US is just one concern for the Chinese military. Japan’s blue water navy is no slouch (a country with a serious naval tradition), and it can also go nucleur in about six months.

      South Korea adopts a lets-get-along approach, but China would do well not to seriously threaten them in any serious manner, since they have dead serious military assets. Then there is Taiwan.

      I suspect this latest bout of chest thumping by various Chinese generals is so much hot air intended for domestic consumption, possibly something to take attention away from the string of man-made environmental disasters. Just orchestration for the chattering classes. On the quiet, the Chinese military take a much more realistic assessment of their military capabilities.

      The fact remains, that while the US has a ravaged economy, its high tech military assets are going to rule the global roost for quite some years to come. They get enough practice, whereas all the goodies carted out on National Day remain untested in real conflict situations. That is only one issue for China. Effective logistical support and coordination of its various assets are the other untested variables. Keep in mind the PLA’s less than stellar performance during the Sichuan earthquake.

  3. Nathan

    So-called ‘venting’ usually just prolongs whatever grievance you’re feeling, or worse, magnifies it disproportionately.

    Standing in line at the Chinese consulate in Toronto today waiting for my visa, watching my compatriots’ apoplectic passive aggressive rage at imagined queuing offenses I couldn’t help but wonder what people expected to achieve with their footstomping and hostile muttering. It certainly didn’t make the queue move any faster and just made the wait that much more unpleasant.

    I bet You Are Not So Smart has already covered this…

  4. King Tubby

    I think we could be talking about a much more complex state of affairs than a direct casual relation between – unresolved emotional tensions – aggro venting – consequent (short) periods of balance/harmony. This sounds just too Pavlovian: human beings are much more complex creatures.

    Possibly unresolved emotions and contradictions in one sphere of one’s being, ***which may not even be acknowledged and recognised***, are displaced and then gain expression via this acting-out cleansing process. Psycho-analytic concept of condensation. (No handy reference text at hand, so I probably have been a bit imprecise here.)

    B Real
    I would offer you a free online consultation for your multitude of woes, but the local Analysts Board rejected my application because of a bad biography. So all I can recommend is the New Testament message of forgiveness, peace and love to all who sin against you.

    • B-real

      KT I appreciate all the help, and you are right im going to have to get out of this situation soon before I lose my ability to forgive, and love those that have trespassed against me. In the mean time I still have my speed bag and “Palmela” and her 5 pudgy sisters. If things could just go right for a change!!!

  5. Tim


    Not all of the examples you’ve provided are necessarily catharsis. Deciding not to breakdown in front of your terminally ill loved one may be because you’ve decided not to burden them with your own pain. Grieving, even alone, is a part of the healing process. Now granted, spanking it to thoughts of your hot secretary probably isn’t a good idea. But you writing a ‘rant’ (although I do not always agree with you I’ve not encountered a rant from you or the other authors on this blog) may be your way of forming your opinion as well as expressing dissent. This may have a cathartic effect but the question would be: is that the only reason why you are writing these posts?

    Before I first arrived in China I was warned to be wary of other foreigners who, gathered at the local bar pounding down beer after beer, commiserate on their litany of China complaints. The You Are Not So Smart post was geared towards these people and their ilk. The late great blog Sinocidal was, on its surface, nothing more than a series of rants from what appeared to be a resentful group of laowais. But it was some of the best satire that has ever been written on China and on many levels memorialized the absurdities of life as an expat here. Pure catharsis? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    I’ve enjoyed reading Your Are Not So Smart since you put me onto it through this blog; however, if you’ve ever tried to read half a dozen of his posts in succession, it’s rather easy to convince yourself that you and everyone around you are emotional shipwrecks.

    • Hey Tim,

      Not a big deal but I’m pretty sure “break­ing down and bawl­ing your eyes out after stay­ing strong through­out a late loved one’s bat­tle with can­cer” could be an example of catharsis.

      Framing our blog posts as “rants” is really just tongue-in-cheek, even self-deprecation. Frankly, we’re not going to stop blogging because as you say, we do so largely as part of our own personal opinion formation process and to express simple dissent. I was just playing to some people’s understandable perceptions that we’re just ranting. We actually have no qualms about ranting. Stan, in particular. Either way, no, catharsis is not the only reason we blog.

      Glad you enjoyed the recommendation on YANSS. If you like satire, let me point you over to, something our good friend Charles Custer recently showed me. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

      • Tim


        You’re right, it would be cathartic and apparently my ironical radar is on the fritz as well. BUT I’d still categorize this as a mostly healthy reason to vent.

        Cheers on the blog site.

  6. Nice but with linking to an article with a Penn and Teller “B.S.” clip. Now if you can dig up the clip from the same show talking about the differences between the P.R. Chinese and the U.S. Constitution… then this will be an interesting catharsis of a thread. {Smile}

    As for the subject at hand… seen too many people “bottle it up” only to be eaten from the inside from stress, or just simply snap at a “higher level” – i.e. “Going Postal”

  7. lolz

    “Video games, horror movies, romance novels – all fun, but no psychologist would prescribe these outlets as a cure for anger or fear or loneliness.”

    Well, from personal experience some video games does cure anger and loneliness, like WoW or Starcraft 2. Moving my way up on the Gold ladder playing 3v3 with friends is pure fun even if we lose.

    • I think the argument is that those video games provide catharsis but don’t cure the real underlying cause for that emotional tension, for that anger, fear, or loneliness.

      I’m afraid to play multiplayer SC2. Having played my brother, I have confirmed that my skills cannot be salvaged for modern times. No idea what ladder I’d be placed in if I tried. As such, I’m just working my way through completing the campaign achievements. LoL.

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