Moms are turning to scream sessions and rage lines. Why psychologists say venting may be 'ineffective'

Moms are under pressure — but does screaming it out actually help? (Photo: Getty Creative stock image)
Moms are under pressure — but does screaming it out actually help? (Photo: Getty Creative stock image) (AaronAmat via Getty Images)

As the weight of two years of parenting through a pandemic — including challenges like addressing the mental health strain on adolescents, protecting children too young to be vaccinated and struggling with classroom exposures, closures and testing protocol — wears down moms, some are gathering together to scream it out. Those who don't have the childcare to step away for a screaming session can instead turn to a new "rage line" set up by the grassroots mothers advocacy group Moms Rising. As part of its efforts to amplify the frustrations of caregivers, the organization is inviting moms to vent over phone, video or email in messages that will be shared with policymakers.

But beyond the possibility of a blistering voicemail swaying a member of Congress, is unleashing our anger — via joining a scream circle, punching a wall, letting loose in a rage room or engaging in some other form of so-called destruction therapy — actually beneficial? Psychologist Andrea Bonior, the author of Detox Your Thoughts, tells Yahoo Life that it depends; some may feel a cathartic release, while for others, "it's just going to make things worse because it's just going to accentuate and feed into some of those deeper feelings that already feel unmanageable — and now if you get to a point where you feel like the only way to manage them is to yell and scream, it's not going to be helpful."

Bonior likens it to reaching for a glass of wine to take the edge off a rough day. That drink may help one person relax without any repercussions, but at the same time be a "really problematic" solution for someone who struggles with alcohol abuse. As such, as a psychologist, she'd refrain from recommending a drink as a coping mechanism in general, just as she'd hesitate to give a blanket endorsement of rage-channeling practices

"There are going to be a lot of people who are not served by stuff like that," she says of people leaning into their rage.

Simon Rego, chief of psychology at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, notes that tapping into anger could also "backfire."

"The idea that venting is a means of catharsis has been around for decades — often linked to the work of Sigmund Freud — with a commercial industry of everything from foam batons, to dummy punching bags, to padded venting rooms and, more recently, 'rage' rooms to accompany it," Rego tells Yahoo Life. "In fact, for several decades even mental health providers mistakenly believed that venting was an essential component of anger management. Fortunately, scientists decided to test out the belief and there are now also decades of research that clearly suggest that venting, even in less extreme forms, is not only an ineffective way to manage anger, but that it backfires and can increase rather than decrease anger and aggression, and also increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior down the road.

He adds, "while relying on physical aggression to manage one's anger may, for some individuals, temporarily help them to feel better in the moment, it ultimately conditions them to use physical aggression and violence to manage their anger and rage down the road."

That said, Bonior points out that there may be some benefits to expressing anger in a safe way. The benefit of joining a scream circle with other moms, for example, may be less about the screaming and more about the fellowship. She notes that there's a psychological value in sharing your experience with others and feeling like you're not alone in the fight.

She also recommends observing how these activities make you feel. Did letting out that primal scream feel cathartic and productive? Or pointless? Did a heated rant make you feel better because you released that anger, or put you in a sour mood? Different people will have different answers, but it's important to know what works for you, and whether other coping mechanisms, such as exercise or prioritizing self-care and sleep, might be more productive.

"If you want to give it a try, give it a try, but pay attention to whether or not it seems to help, and think about other additional coping mechanisms," Bonior says. "You never wanna have all your eggs in one basket. And so this is like anything else in that way, like, 'Yeah, that's a fun thing. But if I start needing to scream every time I'm really, really stressed, that's not going to help me as well. Or if I start conditioning myself to associate frustration with screaming, maybe that doesn't work for me as well.'"

Talking through your frustrations can also lighten the load and "validate" those feelings, but she advises framing it in a solutions-oriented approach.

"Venting means different things for different people," Bonior says. "For some people, it means ruminating and cycling and you're not coming closer to the solution ... you're just repeating and rehashing, and it's just stoking the flames of the emotions. ... You're working yourself up. You're not validating your emotions. You're saying things in such a way that your emotions are getting the best of you and you feel less in control over them and you feel less like you have strategies to manage the situation.'

But for others, "venting [can look like] talking in a more healthy way and it helps them gain insight. And maybe if they 'vent' for 10 minutes with a spouse or a friend or a family member, it's like, 'OK, I've seen this a little bit different. Maybe I got some distance from it, and actually, I can see what I can do now.'"

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