The Bible possesses all three themes of anger, aggression, and venting. For example, Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool vents all of her/his frustrations at once, but a wise person holds them back.” Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin.” The imperative is not to avoid or deny one’s anger. Proverbs 29:11 suggests that there is a way to vent that will not produce a benefit for one’s anger. Ephesians 4:26 intimates the possibility of being angry in a way that is not detrimental or deleterious.
I know, too, from experience and study that there are adaptive and less adaptive ways to “vent.” “Hit a pillow, punch a cushion, but don’t hit people,” my mom would say. All of these adages may sound like good advice, but are they really? In which scenario(s) will holding back frustrations, hitting a pillow or punching a cushion produce catharsis? And, what should be done with anger and aggression, particularly among congregations?
The research is complex. On one hand, venting can increase measures of trait anger. On another hand, social sharing – a particular form of venting, discussing stories of experiences with anger and aggression – has been shown to increase social support. In this case, social sharing increases the presence of non-verbal, comforting behaviors. Venting, as social sharing, then, can have health-related benefits that lead to positive coping and positive growth.
What is important for pastors and church leaders to understand is the phenomena of anger and aggression, and the ways pastors can facilitate spiritual practices that process anger and aggression into positive outlets. Anger, and its effects, aggression, can be troublesome. Some people are afraid of their own aggression and may suppress their anger and their aggression for fear of violence. As pastors and congregational leaders, it is important to construct a theology of anger, that is empirically-oriented, to facilitate healthy forms of aggression. While there are many ways to express one’s anger, three modes of “venting” have proven particularly helpful: drawing, journaling, and social sharing. Anger is a common human experience, one that occurs on a daily basis. Research suggests that drawing, and other forms of creative art, can reduce the emotional load of anger. Journaling helps individuals to process their experience by learning more about the antecedents of anger, the event of anger, and the consequences of anger to learn to cope with and express anger more adaptively. Social sharing increases one’s social network and social support.
Pastors and church leaders can create collective communities, or small groups, that can support and retain anger and aggression through positive spiritual outlets. Worship and the arts is one direction, social and community-based groups are another, and spiritual resources, like a journal, are additional areas that pastors and church leaders can help and support individuals positively cope with anger and aggression.